Abul Kalam Azad
(I would like to thank Nidhin whose brilliant article has prodded me to thread my thoughts into this piece)
"An untouchable to a hindu is an untouchable to a muslim", Dr.B.R Ambedkar.
Throughout my life, I have always been enticed and engulfed by silence- the silence of unrequited love, the silence of suffering, the silence of hatred, the silence of solitude. But, for the past few months, a strange kind of silence has been haunting me in my tormented thoughts and ruptured reflections.
Silence of Solidarity.
The silence of the souls, ruminating on the strange fruits of Badaun, regarding the brutal tragedy of Mohsin.
The silence of the people, rendered speechless by the atrocious rapes in Muzaffarnagar, on Bhagana.
The silence surrounding Modi among the voices fiercely indicting, rightly so, the hypocritical liberal-casteist obituary scripters of the 'secular India'. (I was so much disllusioned and alienated by this clan that, for a while, I deliberately restrained from critiquing these structually subtle and implicit oppressions while all the time giving a well deserved bashing to Modi & other sword wielders. I guess, in a twisted way, I was trying to protest their silence on Modi by my own silence!! I really wish we could learn to unravel the subtle Hindutva leanings of liberal intellectuals without de-legitimizing and normalizing the most palpable threat to a community, writing them off as illusions).
This silence was too loud for my young fragile ears to endure. So, I kept waiting, with bated breath, for a gentle pat of empathy,for a fierce scream of solidarity, to liberate me from the shackles of my own silence, their silence and our collection silence. Those screams. That support. That solidarity.Never arrived. Deliberate, or otherwise,erasures of solidarity paralyzed my wounded sensibilities.
Is it too much to ask of an oppressed muslim/Dalit to assert, in heart-warming solidarity,to a Dalit/muslim respectively that, "We are in it together, brother! In this fight for our dignity!"?
Can any show of ostensibly genuine solidarity, from the quarters of the oppressor, ever match the strength we, as oppressed sections, derive from the aforementioned assertion of empathy?
When did silence start sneaking in, like a river, that divided the landscapes of the oppressed, that should have been brimming with songs of solidarity and embraces of empathy?
When? Why? My ahistorical senses wander hopelessly in search of an answer.
Once I had an intense conversation with a muslim friend of mine, regarding media outlets focusing mainly on Dalit issues.
"Bhai, why don't these media outlets, for the marginalized, never issue even a token statement condemning the hideous atrocities on muslims? Why this deafening silence?"
"When have muslim organizations ever spoken against the massacres of dalits?", I wanted to say. But I didn't. Instead, I spoke, as if to myself, "It is not fair, on the part of us,to become a burden on an already marginalized community with scarce resources, as it is, for voicing their issues"
At that time, solidarity seemed like a 'burden' to me. It still does, on some confused nights. Our brahminical culture has made sure that solidarity would always remain a burden to us, not a means to launch a collective struggle against our shared hegemonic oppression, to respect each others vulnerablities and sufferings. Brahminism has rendered empathy impossible, between the oppressed, through its wily acts of assimilation and annihilation.
I hail from a locality in Andhra Pradesh, where being a christian, is synonymous, to belonging to a scheduled caste. My muslim brethren refer to Mala christians as 'Dheds' and Madiga christians as 'Chamars'. I grew up imbibing this vocabulary totally oblivious to the oppressive and offensive import of those abominable slurs. It was only, after my exposure to Dalit literature, that I started questioning, in perturbed whispers of anger, the daily, almost involuntary, usage of this casteist vocabulary in my muslim neighborhood.The answers, to these queries, would inevitably betray an unfortunate lack of historical,social,and political understanding of the issues concerning dalits. "Never marry a chamar!", my over-zealous aunties would heap their unsolicited matrimonial advice on my disturbed head.
Distressed by this ignorance, I look around for solace on the other side of the river. On that side, my dalit friends, sit worried- a stream of inadvertent guilt coursed through their unsteady veins. As I sat down, one of them, stuttered in silent shame, that Dalits and Adivasis were also involved in the genocide of muslims in Gujarat. Unable to look into each others eyes and not sure which side of the river we belong , we sulk in silence. "Dhed! Chamar!", the voice in my head, shrieked impatiently. The image of a marginalized dalit taking up arms against his muslim compadre disconcerted my friend. A palpable seperation shone between our hands. Slowly, but, consciously, we bridged the gap between our dehumanized bodies. Our desolate Miyan-Bhangi fingers entwined,and slid upon each other: with love, with empathy and with solidarity. In a sudden spurt of fury and helpless rebellion, we plunged into the river that divided our landscapes. We, drowning in the river, withstanding the hideous assault of silence, and, with our heads resting on each other, our fingers wrapped in warm embraces, we, screamed, not in silence, but in explicit expression of concern and empathy,
"Oppressed of the world, unite!"
So, I concede, with extreme pain, that a muslim to a significant number of dalits'/christians', is what he is to a Caste hindu- "The bearded enemy"
And an untochable to a hindu is still an untouchable to a muslim.
This shall remain so, until as Nidhin puts it brilliantly,"we hold hands and claim solidarity"
Not the silent type. But the delightfully vibrant type!
Abul Kalam Azad is a student at IIT Madras.