Last week, Comrade Santosh Roy, National Secretary of AICCTU and a long-standing leader of the DTC Workers’ Unity Centre, was traveling on the violet line of the Delhi metro. Opposite him, two young men were seated on the senior citizens’ seats. A senior citizen (who appeared to be Muslim because he had a beard and no moustache) came up to the young men and asked one of them to allow him to sit. The young men refused. When the senior citizen asked them again, the young men told him, “This seat is for Hindustanis not for Pakistanis like you. If you want a seat go to Pakistan and get it there.” Comrade Roy got up promptly and told the young men to apologize for their hate speech, and also to give the seat to the senior citizen. Some other young men came to the support of the two abusive young men, one of whom caught Comrade Roy by the collar and told him also to “Go to Pakistan.” Comrade Roy stood his ground, and several other passengers in the metro came to his support. When the metro stopped at Khan Market station, a guard entered the compartment. As the guard, accompanied by Comrade Roy and the elderly Muslim gentleman, took the two young men to the police chowki at Pandara Road, the young men’s other ‘supporters’ promptly deserted them. A complaint was filed at the police station, though the two young men kept threatening ‘Hamare log aa rahe hain’ (Our supporters will come). The police offered to escort the elderly Muslim gentleman home, but he went home on his own. The next day onwards, Comrade Roy got calls from the police saying the young men wanted to apologize. He responded that he was not interested in an apology, and in any case the apology was not due to him in the first place, but to the elderly gentleman. Some days later Comrade Roy visited the police chowki. There, the elderly gentleman had given a written statement that he accepted the apology from the two young men and that he had forgiven them keeping in mind their young age. The young men were contrite and made many apologies to Comrade Roy also, while their parents, who were also present, said that their sons had done a shameful and wrong thing.
The elderly gentleman was generous enough not to pursue the complaint against the two young men. Perhaps, also, he did not want to pursue tedious and long-drawn out legal proceedings. But the most important thing is that a communal remark by two men did not go unchallenged by bystanders, ensuring that the men who made the remark had to withdraw it and apologize to their victim. Those men had been emboldened by the prevailing communal climate to think they could get away with abusing a Muslim person. Certainly, Comrade Roy’s intervention ensured that they will feel less bold in future and will think twice before doing such a thing. Perhaps they will also reflect on the immorality of their own behaviour – since it met with public opposition rather than public support.
In times when a communal climate is being manufactured all around us, it is important for every Indian to show active support for minorities when they are subjected to abuse, indignities or violence.
In 2014, after a gunman held people hostage at a café in Sydney, Australia, Muslims in Australian feared an Islamophobic backlash. Australians then used social media messages with the hashtag #illridewithyou (I’ll ride with you) offering to accompany Muslims on public transport. After a Muslim imam was shot dead in Queens in the USA in 2016, people in the US offered to walk Muslims to the mosque to ensure their safety, using the hashtag #IllWalkWithYou (I’ll walk with you).
With Muslims being lynched all over India in the name of cow protection, anti-Romeo squads and various other pretexts, Muslims in India are insecure in public spaces and even inside their own homes. Following a minor quarrel between children in a Meerut park, Muslim women were thrashed by women of the Valmiki community whose husbands shouted ‘Aa gaya hai tera baap Yogi’ (beware, you ‘father’ Yogi is here now). Every day, in public spaces, Muslims are subjected to hate speech, threats and violence. Kashmiri students and youth in various Indian campuses too are facing hate speech, threats and violence. Africans in India are frequently subjected to racist abuse and violence. Poor people are lynched in the name of being ‘pickpockets’ or thieves. We need to intervene to stop, prevent and resist such incidents.
It’s time for Indians to tell vulnerable Muslim people around them #IStandWithYou – and speak up against every incident of communal abuse, bullying, lynching, rumour-mongering.
Let us all be public spirited human beings like Comrade Santosh Roy and let Muslims, Kashmiris, Africans and people from other vulnerable communities that we are there for them. Let us stand with them and speak up for them when we hear them abused, threatened or attacked. Let us do what we can to prevent lynch mobs from forming around us on any pretext. Each of us can make a difference. Let us share and publicise such experiences so that we can encourage all Indians to stand up for the rights and dignity of vulnerable people.