Kanpur: Arshad Khan (not his real name), 31, runs a small business in Kanpur. In this interview, he explains why voters in his polling booth have lost interest in elections.
I live in Chamanganj in Kanpur, what you would call a Muslim ghetto. The place has had a history of communal violence, especially when the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya. I was a toddler then.
I knew of the BJP’s anti-Muslim positions but in 2014, I thought Modi was trying to do something different. He was emphasising development over the BJP’s traditional politics of religion. And so, despite being a Muslim in Chamanganj, I voted for Modi.
That was not all. I voted for the BJP again in 2017. I thought that the Samajwadi Party (SP) or the Congress had no solutions. They were not taking us anywhere. What have the SP or the Congress ever done for Chamanganj? These parts remain the city’s most under-developed — stuck in time.
By 2017, one had seen incidents such as the lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri. For me, that was all the more a reason to engage with the BJP. We should vote for them, join them, make ourselves matter to them, I thought, because they’re clearly sweeping election after election.
I even went around telling my friends to vote for the BJP. Some of them said I was mad. Did you know, they asked, BJP will make Yogi Adityanath the chief minister?
Come on, I said, don’t be ridiculous. Modi won’t make someone that anti-Muslim the chief minister. I thought Modi wanted to at least keep up the pretence of being moderate. He wants to say he’s doing Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.
When Yogi Adityanath became chief minister, we went into a shock. As a result, Muslims in Chamanganj and Kanpur had no interest in the election this year (Kanpur voted on 29 April). Whether it’s thanks to Balakot or Hindutva or EVMs, we know that it is the BJP that will win anyway. Why then should we waste our time voting?
I did go and vote myself this time — and not for the BJP — but the polling booth was nearly empty. I haven’t seen a duller election in Chamanganj. I went around checking people’s index fingers. No ink. They’d rather play cricket or watch TV.
The SP and BSP came together this election but it is the Congress that is strong in Kanpur. The SP gave the ticket to a dummy candidate and SP workers went house to house to tell people to vote for the Congress. The Congress workers from here were busy helping Sriprakash Jaiswal campaign in non-Muslim areas.
Ironically, the BJP candidate, Satyadev Pachauri, came to Chamanganj to ask for our votes. I’m not anti-Muslim, he insisted, don’t believe what people say. The Congress candidate, Sriprakash Jaiswal, didn’t even come here to campaign.
We were not surprised. He’s never done a thing for the Muslim areas of Kanpur. He doesn’t feel the need to even talk to us. We are just the vote-bank he thinks he is entitled to by virtue of being in the Congress party.
That he doesn’t even feel the need to ask us our votes makes us feel like dirt. “Hum to gire pade huay log hain (We are a fallen people),” said one friend while explaining Jaiswal’s lack of outreach to us.
Something has died inside us in the last few years. Dil mar gaya hai. Muslims here feel more besieged than ever. There has been no violence but the general anti-Muslim sentiment has increased so much, it’s suffocating.
The other day, three Muslim schoolchildren were playing cricket in the Green Park stadium. One of them was wearing a skullcap. A group of adults went up to them and said, why are you playing here? Don’t you support Pakistan? They called them ‘katua’ and asked them to say Bharat Mata Ki Jai.
Incidents like this make me ask just one question: Why?
Another such incident was when a skullcap-wearing Muslim was passing by a Hindu religious procession. They dragged him into the crowd and forced him to scream Hindu religious lines.
Such incidents didn’t happen earlier. It is after Yogi Adityanath became chief minister that troublemakers feel empowered. As a result, one is afraid to even go into Hindu-dominated areas.
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The worst of this is when we have to deal with government officials. The moment they discover we are Muslim, they turn aggressive and start taunting us. You may have gone to get some papers or make an application for something, and the official will start talking about irrelevant things. “Haan ji, Haji sahab, kitnay bachchey hain aapkey? (Haji sahab, how many children do you have?)”
He won’t take two for an answer. You must have at least two wives and six children, the official will reply. Then he will lecture us against animal sacrifice on Eid, the triple talaq and so on. Finally, he will turn his attention to the work at hand and find an excuse to not do it.
Non-Muslims can get their work done through jugaad, for Muslims, the only way is corruption. Muslims here tend to not be very educated, and this comes in handy to fool them and extract more money out of them. Women in burqa get stared at as though they have come from Mars.
If the BJP wins this election, we’ll need to adorn our windows with BJP flags.
Not everyone behaves this way, but the 25 per cent who do have been emboldened. It’s shocking to see even young people talk such language. If there’s a Muslim official, however, he is afraid to not offend a Hindu.
In such a situation, I was forced this time to vote for the Congress and not the BJP. I realised my mistake by voting for the BJP twice.
I asked some people who did vote, about whom they voted for. Some young women said BJP!
I said why are you making the mistake I did. Can’t you see how anti-Muslim the BJP is? They have shut the Muslim-owned industries in Kanpur in the name of pollution but industries owned by non-Muslims continue to pollute Gangaji.
Who isn’t anti-Muslim, they replied. It was hard to defend Jaiswal.
These young women who voted for the BJP were not very politically aware. They voted BJP only because they hear Modi’s name the most. Just like my four-year-old son, who will see a Modi poster and say that’s Modiji. He doesn’t know who Rahul Gandhi is.
Header photo: Globalistan Films
This piece originally appeared in The Print and has been reproduced with permission.