Seema Mustafa, The Citizen

Dear Prime Minister of India,

I do not like to write such letters, but after your election speech attacking the Muslims as infiltrators there seems to be no option. Not because I think you will actually ever read this, or because my words might make you care, but because sometimes we ordinary humans need to vent, to get the bile being infused on a daily basis out of our systems. And for hacks like me who know only to write — having found it a cathartic experience in the past when faced with the worst kind of violence– the keyboard beckons in the face of such renderings.

The problem is that try as I might I cannot write to you as a Muslim. ‘Oh we poor people’ is a sentiment missing from my upbringing where my father served the Indian Army, and my mother came from a stock of freedom fighters who gave up their all to fight for the independence of this country. Her father was killed in the hate of partition, and my young grandmother joined with Mridula Sarabhai and Subadhra Joshi to work ceaselessly for the resettlement of women hit by the agonies of those gruesome days.

So I cannot write as a Muslim, even though your trolls have spent the last ten years making me conscious of my Muslim identity because of my last name. Any word I write, any position I take, and I am targeted as a ‘jihadist’, ‘an Islamic traitor’, a ghuspaith perhaps? I cannot cry about my minority status as you perhaps might want me to; i cannot wring my hands to plead ‘I belong’; I cannot and will not speak of the Muslims patriotism, my patriotism; I will not talk of how “we” are the victims; I will not cry copious tears or write reams about the contribution of Muslims as a community to the growth of India; I will not join the game of isolating the Muslim from India, and putting the community into a victim box. As all these arguments do precisely that.

I am an Indian Mr Prime Minister. As Indian as you or Mr Mohan Bhagwat or anyone else you espouse. The difference is that I believe in inclusiveness, in an India that has a space for every single citizen; for every gender; for every caste, community, creed. I do not believe that we can have an India as we know it if we continue this discrimination; if we start placing people out on the periphery of existence; if we use hate and divisiveness as the British did to rule and colonise their subjects. (Take a look at the UK now, just 70 plus years after it was a Great Empire, where the sun has set, and the country is struggling with all its inner contradictions symbolised by Rishi Sunak!)

I am an Indian Mr Prime Minister, and nothing anyone can say can take that away from me. It is part of my being, and cannot be measured by CAA certificates, Aadhar cards, Passports. The measurements are the pride I take in India; my love and desire that we develop and move forward to leave the world behind; my passion for peace and democracy; for inclusiveness and equality; for rights and liberty. Tolerance defines India, and we emerged out of the throes of Partition as a country of diversity united by the Constitution of India, a historical document that wove into its very foundation the colourful fabric of this vibrant country.

I am an Indian Mr Prime Minister first and last. The other identities exist alongside – and I have multiple identities. I am a woman, a mother (and grandmother!), a sister, a daughter, a journalist, a Muslim — all important and integral to my being. And when you stereotype a community of Indian citizens as infiltrators, as beggars and thieves after others gold, and doing little else but adding to the population of India it does not upset me as a Muslim, but as an Indian who sees the future of this beautiful country being jeopardised. For history has shown us the havoc that discrimination and prejudice can wreak on peoples and nations. As unrest and chaos cannot be segregated and locked into a box, it spills on to the streets and hits and hurts everyone.

There is so much more I want to write, actually I wrote it and deleted it. As there is no point in a long missive, telling you what you know already. Elections are important, but victory cannot be by any means. As the means define humanity, and the future of a country.

An Indian.