‘Spewing Abuses About Muslims in Drawing Rooms is All Right. There is No Consequence to Hate Speech’: Farah Naqvi
In a Karwan-e-Mohabbat video, Naqvi, Syeda Hameed and Natasha Badhwar speak about "a time of despair, a year of hope".
“My first brush with communalism was at age 9. It was a few years after partition. I was here in this city (New Delhi), in a very elite part of the city,” says women’s rights activist, educationist and writer Syeda Saiyidain Hameed. The former member of the Planning Commission of India added with some melancholy, “Little girls refused to play with me when I told them my name. At first, I wouldn’t tell them my name only because deep down I was afraid that if I tell them my name, something could go wrong. So looking back at this incident today in 2019, at this age, I really find myself standing against a blank wall, and no matter how many times I try, I never understand where will the light come from.”
Others share Hameed’s despair at the growing communal disparities in the nation under the rule of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As part of the Karwan-e-Mohabbat — a civil society initiative for peace and justice led by activists, writers and journalists — video series “Tathya”, Hameed is joined by author Natasha Badhwar and activist Farah Naqvi, as they speak about “a time of despair, a year of hope”.
“I’m a parent of small children, and when Akhlaq’s lynching happened 5 kilometres away from where I live, the news of that incident had reached our house before it was even published in the newspapers. We knew that something like this had happened in our neighbourhood. I’m also from a partition family, said Badhwar, referring to what is now notoriously known as the “Dadri mob lynching”. In September 2015, a mob of villagers attacked the home of a Muslim man Mohammed Akhlaq with sticks and bricks because they suspected him of stealing and slaughtering a cow-calf. Akhlaq died in the attack. Badhwar adds, “That trauma doesn’t ever leave your imagination that a mob can come to your house someday. What will you do then?”
“This is not just a political problem,” notes Naqvi, adding, “I think our understanding of communalism in this country has been extremely shallow and the narrative that even civil society like us have promoted is that people are united, political parties divide us. This was a very simple formula, and it seemed to work. Not recognising that years of this kind of stuff creates spaces, in your heart, that are divided.”
“At the moment spewing abuses about Muslims in drawing rooms is all right. Hate is paying society. There is no consequence to hate speech,” she observes rightly. One has only to look at statements made by members of not just “fringe” groups like Bajrang Dal and Rajput Karni Sena, but also members of the ruling party.
But there is hope. Natasha Badhwar says, “This is a generation of Indians who want to know how to be Indians; who want to know what is this country that we want to hand over to them.”
She adds, “The emotional stamina that will be required to rebuild the nation, the progress of which has been stopped midway, that is something we all have to summon within ourselves. Not only the political strategy but the emotional strength as well. I know you’re here because you believe that change is possible and that we can together be agents of that change.”
Naqvi also points out that while the Constitutional promises are in tatters, the template is still very much there: “So we need to work at multiple levels. We need to use the law robustly.”
The point, Badhwar says, is not for all of Indians to wallow in despair; the point is to find ways to counter it.