(Editor's note: This letter is a rejoinder to the article written by Chetan Bhagat titled, ‘Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth’ published in The Times of India on 30 June. A version of this letter was sent to The Times of India for publication yesterday afternoon but has not yet received any response. The letter was drafted by Mahtab Alam, a Delhi-based social activist and Rafiul A Rahman, a Delhi University student, and circulated, during which it received more than 200 endosements/ signatures.
The letter has been edited for inflammatory references)
3rd JULY 2013
Dear Mr. Bhagat,
At the very outset, let us make it clear that we are not fans of your regressive fiction. Therefore, we write to you not as crazy fans but as Indian Muslim youth, who felt utterly patronized, insulted and hurt after reading your article, 'Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth' . You might have not realized this, but in pretending to render "a strong modern Indian Muslim voice" to the youth and the Muslim community at large, you have ripped them of their agency. You have reaffirmed stereotypes that many in the community have been fighting against. Heard of the Muslim god and his flock?
Sir, one does not need a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, or even be a Muslim to show one's genuine concern for the community. One just needs to see beyond one's own prejudice and biases. Believe us, this disgusting piece of your writing made us more nauseous than any of your (or Madhu Kishwar's) love-verses to Modi. Your article is nothing but an extension of the thought process that anything Muslim is backward and regressive. Since you have assigned to yourself the task of bearing the moral burden of the community, would you care to explain what a 'Muslim cap' is?
We agree with you when you say political leaders make promises that go empty post-elections. And that there are Muslims who have achieved much without any "cap-wearing politician" helping them. But who is this leader that you are suggesting; one who would understand "the desire"of the Muslim youth "to come up in life" and "inspire us to do better"?
You know what hurts? That people pretend to care for you when they don’t. When in fact they use you to grind their own axe. How cleverly you turn everything that the Muslim youth face today – "being frisked with greater attentiveness, denied renting an apartment" – into a product of the community’s inherent backwardness, as if it bears no relation to the increasing communalization of our polity and society.
What makes you think that the 'cap' wallahs exercise a great deal of influence within the community? Interestingly, one particular party has been lately seeking a lot of photo-ops with precisely these kinds of community leaders. Make no mistake Mr. Writer. They don’t.
"Because of you", you write castigating an imagined Muslim leadership, "people feel we vote in a herd." Now, isn't that really clever, Mr. Bhagat. People feel we vote in a herd because certain parties never tire of screaming hoarse about 'minority appeasement' and 'vote banks', even though, any psephologist or political scientist, or even an ordinary Muslim youth at chai dukaan will tell you that Muslims vote just like any other community does: according to a mix of factors: local, national but above all, keeping in mind who will preserve their interests best. And their interests do tend to include the safety of life and livelihood.
We are sorry, Mr. Bhagat, but the "democratic republic" you talk of is not so democratic. If it were so, Afzal Guru wouldn’t have been executed to "satisfy the collective conscience of the nation". Muslim youth would not have fallen prey to minority witch-hunting, and their killers not decorated with gallantry awards. Adivasis in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa would not have been ripped of their fundamental rights to live with dignity. Dalit poets would not have been falsely charged under sedition laws.
Loving one's nation is well and good, but being blinded by patriotism is not. Why do Indian Muslims always have to prove their allegiance to India? Why can’t they also be critical of their country?
The party whose path you are treading has had Indian Muslims pass through too many Sita-like ordeals of fire, Agni Pariksha. You may have the privilege to turn a blind eye to the post-Babri Masjid demolition violence, the Gujarat pogrom, but many others don’t. How then do you think a leader who doesn't even have the integrity to apologize for his complicity in the Gujarat pogrom represent Muslim youth’s aspirations for "scientific way of thinking, entrepreneurship, empowerment, progress" and above all, "personal freedoms"? And just by the way, have you heard of the word, 'Justice'?