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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 51 New Delhi December 7, 2019

Islamophobia: What’s Common between Payal Tadvi and Fathima Latif

Sunday 8 December 2019

by Ram Puniyani

Lately committing of suicide in higher places of learning has been in the news more often than before. Most of the victims belong to the Dalits, Adivaisis in particular, while a few others have also done so due to academic pressures. In the case of Rohith Vemula, it was a case of caste discrimination and his activities as Rohith was labelled as anti-national. Two other cases which stand out are that of Payal Tadvi, an aspiring gyanecologist, and Fathima Lathif, who was pursuing her post-graduation in IIT Madras. Tadvi was a Bhil Muslim, wife of Dr Salman Tadvi, and she was harassed by her senior in day-to-day life. Fathima was a bright young student who was topping in most of the examinations and after joining IIT-M, she met with the stone wall of prejudice, where despite her calibre she was given poor score in ‘internal evaluation’. She named one of her teachers for denigrating her and wrote to her father “Dad, my name itself is a problem.”

While other types of humiliations have abounded based on caste, being a tribal or being transgender, these two cases of Payal and Fathima relate also to be a part of the subtle and overt dislike-hatred for the Muslim community. This phenomenon is not present only in India but globally as it picked up after 9/11, 2001, when the US media coined and popularised a phrase “Islamic Terrorism”. Surely terrorism is an all-pervasive phenomenon where people from many religions have indulged in it for various reasons. There have been those belonging to the Irish Republican Army, Buddhist monks indulging in such activities in Sri Lanka, there has been the LTTE, with Dhanu killing Rajiv Gandhi, but never was religion associated with terrorism till the WTC attack. This attack was most horrid, killing nearly three thousand innocent people from across different countries and different religions.

The blame for this was put on Osama bin Laden-Al-Qaeda. It is another matter that it was America which helped in bringing up the Al-Qaeda by funding it massively (eight thousand million dollars and seven thousand tonnes of armaments). Scholar Mahmud Mamdani in his book Good Muslim Bad Muslim, based on CIA documents, gives the details of the mechanism in which America operated to prop up the Al-Qaeda, how the syllabus of its indoctrination module was prepared in Washington. Later of course the US policies in West Asia, policies aimed at controlling the oil wealth of West Asia led to the other dangerous fallouts of the Al- Qaeda, in the form of the ISIS and IS. US Vice-President Hillary Clinton in a blunt statement did concede how the Al-Qaeda was propped up by the US to fight the Russian armies in Afghanistan. She says, “Let’s remember here... the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago...Let’s go recruit these mujahedeen. ...importing their Wahabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union.”

The roots of global Islamophobia lie in the American machinations. In India this came as an add on to the prevailing prejudices against Muslims. These prejudices, part of ‘social common sense’, do have roots in the British- introduced communal historiography, presented in a selective way. While the roots of these anti- Muslim perceptions do lie in the British introduced syllabus, the proliferation of this took place through various mechanisms, the roots of which les in communal organisations particularly the RSS, while the Muslim League made its own contribution by adopting the historiography which presented Muslims as the rulers. In RSS shakhas the acts of Muslim kings in destroying Hindu temples and spreading Islam on the point of sword and selective stories of Aurangzeb form the base for indoctrinating young minds. This was supplemented by the chain of Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and many other acts, organisations floated for glorying Hindus and demonising Muslims.

This demonisation got a big boost in the decade of the 1980s, when rath yatras were taken out to build the Ram temple. What was propa-gated was that Babar’s general, Mir Baqui, had destroyed the Ram temple at the site of Lord Ram’s birth. A good part of the recent Supreme Court Judgment on the Babri mosque is that as per the SC there was a ‘non-Islamic structure’ below the mosque. And as per the ASI report, there is no proof that it was a temple or that it was destroyed or that was a place of birth of Lord Ram.

All this truth coming out is a bit too late in the day as by now the falsehoods spread against Muslims are a core part of the understanding of most of the people in the society. So Fathima’s teacher or Payal Tadvi’s seniors are in a way no exception to their subtle signals about dislike for their Muslim students or junior Muslim-Tribal colleague.

The power of the media in shaping people’s perceptions is infinite. The acme of the power of the media was seen when the US went on to attack Vietnam on the pretext that its liberation from colonialism is an attack on the free world. Noam Chomsky rightly calls that the US media ‘manufactures consent’ for the imperialist ambitions of the US. Today while the US media is most powerful in spreading global Islamo-phobia, in India the media during the last two decades had caught up tremendously in following not only what the US media has been spreading, but also the socially divisive pro-paganda generated by the RSS organisations, which are working strongly for the last many decades.

Can Fathimas and Payals be saved from the humiliation, insinuations and insults to which they are being subjected by their peers? It is quite likely that Payal and Fathima are the tip of the iceberg! Not much has been done to counter the hateful propagations done by the US media impacting global media and by Hindu nationalists’ machinations, here at home. The plight of the Muslim community, which has to bear the brunt of such prejudices and misconceptions, are infinite. Can we raise ourselves to counter the falsehoods against the weaker sections of society, prevailing all around us? 

(Courtesy: Secular Perspective)

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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