The Anxiety of Being Muslim in India

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S1: The first question I have here to you is how would you identify yourself, like if I asked you where you came from? What would you say?

S2: Well, that’s a good question. This is Rana Ayoob. I’m an Indian at heart and that’s where I belong. Rana could identify herself other ways as a Muslim, as a woman, or maybe as a journalist. So you would identify yourself as in India? Always will.

S3: I was surprised to hear Ronon talk about her Indian identity because of how much her own country has fought against her and the work she does there as a journalist. She’s covered the ruling party, the BJP, aggressively as a Muslim. She’s alarmed by the party’s Hindu nationalism.

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S1: Romney’s first big investigation traced the murders of Muslim men to a high ranking politician.

S4: I put him on the cover of the magazine that I used to work with the Helga and I said, why is this man still free?

S1: This politician ended up getting arrested, but he didn’t stay in prison. And looking back, Rana can’t stop thinking about how naive she was.

S5: It was an explosive investigation. I was only 26 and I was quite an idealist. And I said, wow. I mean, I managed to get this man behind bars. And then, of course, six months later, he was out.

S3: And this politician now he’s one of the leaders of the Hindu Nationalist Party. Second only to the prime minister himself. You can imagine how popular that makes Rana when she goes home. She’s become a punching bag for both government loyalists and Internet trolls because she’s Muslim.

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S1: They call her jihadi a few years back. Someone made this video, actually photo shopped Rana’s face onto porn within like an hour.

S5: That video was everywhere on my social media, on Instagram and Facebook, on Twitter. And I was doxed the same evening at my my address and phone number were leaked on social media. So every every 10 minutes, somebody sent me a message in WhatsApp saying, hey, is this you? I mean, do you offer your services for free? ET. Is right. Those messages go on and on. It was almost on every phone in the country. My father’s side when when my father’s phone, too.

S6: And he didn’t know what to tell me.

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S4: And I realize why they hate me so much, because what I speak is not something that they know that they want to hear.

S2: It’s ugly. It’s ugly. It is. It is ugly. Yeah.

S7: Today on the show, Rana Ayoob is going to explain India’s ugly truth. You might have heard how the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is cracking down on Indian Muslims. Rana’s experienced what that crackdown feels like firsthand. She’s hoping more of her fellow Indians will start speaking out. She’s hoping India puts this ugliness in the past for good. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next. Stick with us.

S1: Part of why I wanted to speak with Rama is that this summer something happened in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only majority Muslim state. For decades, Kashmir’s enjoyed semi-autonomous status within India. They had their own flag and their own constitution. They had their own legislature. But in August, the law protecting the status, it got revoked. It was something Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to do. And once it was done, thousands of Indian troops flooded into Jammu and Kashmir. Local politicians were put under house arrest. Phone services and Internet were shut off. Jammu and Kashmir became a state on lockdown. Ron, you travelled there recently and what she found was a local population that had lost any love for India.

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S5: There was not a single person that I met who actually know chhota pro-India feeling. They felt betrayed. Even the elite I mean, earlier when I used to meet the elites in Kashmir because the privileged. They would say, oh, we are fine the way things are because, you know, we love our life. But there’s a sense of betrayal even amongst the elites. And as far as the middle class and the youth are concerned, this that have we always told you this is what India thought of us for them? Gosh, me was just a piece of land, a real estate. It was never about us.

S1: You’re one of the few journalists who has been there to see what is happening. Can you just tell me what you saw?

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S5: When I went to Kashmir and I went to South Kashmir. I was an invidious boss when the violence has been reported. There was not a single house where a child was not picked up by the paramilitary forces. I met an 80 year old woman who was in dialysis. She had lost both. I mean, both her kidneys were not functioning. And she said, I have two children, ma’am. And she kept on calling me mam. And she said she was speaking in Kashmiri and somebody was translating it for me. He said that took them overnight. I don’t even know where my sons are. She said, you know what? I go around attending weddings. I go on meeting people so that it eases my pain, but they’re my children. I met families whose eight and nine year olds have been arrested and detained and they don’t even know where where they’ve gone. What jails are they in? They’ve constructed a new jail in fifteen days time in the valley so that they could accommodate the children and the children that they can’t accommodate. They’re sending them all over the country and jails. How do you expect the families to reach out to the children? You don’t even know where they are. Is this how a state endears itself to its citizens?

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S1: When you ask your contacts in the ruling party, what is the plan here? That’s they don’t have a plan.

S4: They really do not have a Kashmir plan.

S8: As Rana talked to Kashmiri people, frantic people, sad people, people worn down but carrying on. She cried because she’d been in their shoes.

S9: I knew what it felt like to be adored in your own country. I knew what it felt like to be all night. Went out of your house and detained. I knew what it felt like when they take away your very basic, fundamental right from you.

S8: I wonder if we can go back and talk about what happened to you when you were nine years old. Because I feel like it really it frames a lot of your reporting.

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S1: Yeah. Because you felt so viscerally how the country changed. So take me back.

S10: So we love to know predominantly Hindu locality. My father was a government school teacher and beloved the lover. He was called m.c, which is a term for teachers and they do love and respect him. Now, if we felt we felt so respected.

S11: To hear Rana tell it, hers was the only Muslim family in the neighborhood where she grew up. But they were welcomed to the Hindu temple during holidays. Her sister would make sweets ahead of Hindu festivals, and when her mom had a miscarriage, a Hindu woman took care of the family. They enjoyed the community. But all that changed on the 6th of December, 1992.

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S12: This footage you’re hearing, it’s from Ayodhya, India. It shows Hindu mobs gathering growing violent just outside of the barbree Masjid, where the barbree Mosque is a historic mosque. Was a symbol of faithful Muslims all over the country. It was also built on land that is considered sacred to Hindus.

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S13: Do you remember watching people attack the mosque on that evening news that day they showed images of the visuals of people on top of the tomb with swords and they had these hammers.

S14: What followed was a massive and sudden movement into the Masjid Eubie Police and the CPF vanished.

S13: And they had these orange flags of the ruling body of the BJP. Zwilling body now. And they’re these orange flaxen, they planted one flag on the top of the dome. And it is like, this is ours now. Yeah. VFP taking control over this mosque. It was very symbolic. And a member. My father cried that day.

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S14: The first dome collapsed at about 2 o’clock. The second door finished 330.

S15: The people behind this takeover? The Hindu nationalist BJP party. They weren’t in charge of India back then. They are now.

S16: In fact, the shocking events of December 6 continued when after the Masjid was demolished late into the night, the demolition of this mosque sparked riots all over India, and Rana’s Muslim family suddenly felt very vulnerable in their Hindu neighborhood.

S5: Our Sikh neighbors started banging on door a couple of hours later and he was sweating. His name was Mr. bogar. That’s a name I I knew his first name. But, you know, we didn’t really have a culture of calling people by their first names these days, the Gollum, but Goncourt. And he’d knocked on our door, his treebeard, this turban. And Vinnie walked in that day. He wasn’t the person that we knew. I mean, he was very, very no as he was scared. You could see the fear dripping in the form of sweat from his face. And he took my father and my brother aside. My brother was my brother must have been 16 around that time. Eldest brother. And he said, dear, arrived at coming that coming for these girls and provide us that what you mean? He said all that they said. He said there is a crowd there, Sebas, some 200 people, and they want to take your your daughters away. And my father said, what do you want me to do? And a mother just held us tight as if as if somebody was taking us away. And my father said, what do you what should we do, Bugajski? And he said, I’m going to take the goes away. And he made me and my sister sit there on his bike, and he drew us to his family friend’s house, which is a predominantly Sikh locality.

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S17: But my biggest fear was not for myself. I’d left my family back home and leave it till the writers were coming. So I didn’t know if my family was safe. I don’t agree. There we. We took refuge for three months for three. We didn’t even have a phone in our house. So we would read anxiously for baganda to come home and tell us what a top what was happening. So he would come every two weeks because it was not safe to step out at that point of time. And I remember visitors in that Sikh cause woollett ask who are these two girls? And they would say, Oh, they’re refugees. And how to ask Mrs. Stewart, does refugee mean? And she said people who take shelter in other people’s houses. So why aren’t we going home? And she would say, look, this the people, the army men marching, they’re protecting us. And she was she was just she didn’t want me to worry. And know the harsh reality. She was old enough to understand the world around as it changed. I could only feel it. I could sense something was wrong. I could sense that I was sitting in the bunch of strangers on the dining table when I was eating food. David, there was hospitable people. They were really nice. And we shared a room with their daughter for like three months. As you didn’t complain even once, they really made us feel home. But it wasn’t home because it didn’t.

S18: There was my mom wasn’t there. Neither was my dad and my and my siblings. And I wanted to be back home. And when he went back home three months later, everything at changed.

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S19: Romney’s father was transferred from his job and her family moved to a new apartment away from their home. Sahar Village, where they were living among Hindus. Now they were in a predominantly Muslim location.

S18: So we had a slaughterhouse behind us and we had a dumping ground in front of us. It was this unpleasant smell that surrounded the airport and it was a very, very low Middle-Class society. And there were only Muslims living there. And I’d tell daddy as a daddy. But Sahar Village was inside, wasn’t like this. He said that only Muslims. And he said, you’ll be safe here. And then I would kind of associate being with Muslims as being safe. I grew up with that idea. And that should not have been the idea that I should have gotten out of it.

S8: What happened at the barbree mosque has haunted India and its politics to this day. There is an investigation of the mob that demolished the mosque.

S1: Then the courts were tasked with determining whose holy place graced this land first. Government surveyors were ordered to do a full excavation. And the question was, who should be able to worship on this land? This case went all the way to India’s Supreme Court.

S5: The Hindu site said that we want around Temple in that place. A Hindu tower, Hindu temple for them. And the Muslim sites said a mosques should be at that site because it was demolished and was illegal.

S1: And Prime Minister Modi had said, along with other people in his party.

S4: Yeah, I will put a Hindu temple on this site. I mean, how could you, as prime minister of the country, just 1.3 billion people, which is a secular country, which has people from all religions cost culture. How could a prime minister of a secular democracy say this before a Supreme Court ruling?

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S1: So you arrived in the United States just a day before this was announced?

S4: I was in DC and that what it was to be announced 12:30 in U.S. time. So very late at night. Very late at night. So the course started reading the judgment and the reporters outside were diligently reporting good on television, decided went step by step by the court, said with the demolition was illegal. This was illegal. So we said I said so I messaged my father to say, see, there is hope. I told you because the demolition demolition was illegal legal. Right. And then the judge rules and the judge talks about feet and how, you know, faith should be predicted and that faith is sacrosanct. And then he says that Hindus have the right to build a temple and that place.

S5: And Muslims were given five acres of land far removed from that place. It was like there’s some unwanted person and you want to please that person. This beggar on the street. And you give them something to please them, to placate them. It felt like that. And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing on television. I felt, how could the Supreme Court of India do this? Was feet above justice.

S1: You can see how a judge would think, oh, I’m splitting it. You know, I’m saying, well, we should respect faith since this was illegal, what happened here? But then at the end, bending and saying you can build a Hindu temple here.

S20: Yeah. I mean, the Supreme Court of Indiana, I mean, I’m not somebody who won. So a contempt of court notice from them. But I’ve had too many notices thus far. But I knew it was unjust. And as I expected, I had expected Muslims and Twitter and social media to react. And they were numb. I did not see a single reaction. I’ve never seen Muslims so silent. By and large, the two hundred and thirty million Muslim population, which considered the barbree Mosque as a symbol of faith, as a symbol of history, of dead history, their cultural legacy was silent. This is palpable fear in the country for which I have not seen. I’ve not seen something like this before.

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S21: This fear, this silence.

S3: It wasn’t just on Twitter.

S8: Rodda was watching all this happen in D.C., staying with a Muslim family.

S3: And as the verdict was reported on the screen, one of her hosts, he almost shrugged off the news.

S20: He looked at me, says, Why are you watching it? And they Luby’s said, You want some deep ones and biscuits. I said, I was celebrating. He said, no, I’m just trying to tell you that this is normal. You should know.

S22: Reconciled with India that we are living in right now.

S23: He was surprised that I was reacting. He said, don’t you see this coming? He said, you are romanticizing this idea of India that you still believe in.

S24: Do you still believe in it? I do. I do. I do. Why?

S23: Know the guy who saved us, a Sikh guy. But ganker, there have been many sad SEVIS in our life and not just from me, but from many Muslims in India. I still believe in the goodness of the Indian citizens, but they’re silent. I I wish they could speak out. But I know for a fact that they do love us and they do not hate us.

S3: Rana, thank you so much for speaking with me. Thank you.

S9: It was a feeling later is that. Let’s just say that I’m feeling like.

S3: Rana Ayoob is a journalist based out of India. She’s also a global opinions writer at The Washington Post. You can find links to some of her latest work in our show Notes.

S7: And that’s the show. What next is produced by Mary Wilson. Jason de Leon Morris Silvers and Danielle Hewitt. You can find me today and like every day on Twitter, I’m at Mary’s desk. I’m Mary Harris. I will talk to you tomorrow.