Let me be heard as a mere Muslim youth: Sharjeel Usmani’s speech at Elgar Parishad
The following is the transcription of the speech that Sharjeel Usmani gave at the 2021 Elgar Parishad. Usmani discusses what it means for a Muslim youth to be a citizen of India in a time of rampant majoritarianism and structural violence. He laments how the current regime has voided the Indian Constitution of its egalitarian principles.
Respected dignitaries on stage, dear friends and elders, I sincerely request all of you to separate me from my name, my citizenship, my rectitude, my goodness, my shortcomings and let me be heard as a mere Muslim youth.
As a Muslim youth, I am here to express my pain, tell the story of my looted house, send a message of my anger and declare my battle. I greet you all with great politeness Assalamu alaikum wa Rahmatullah hi wa Barakatuhu (May the blessings of my Lord be upon you)
When Harshali Ji invited me to come to this program, I was worried, I had a fear because this was for the first time when I was going to speak to primarily a non-Muslim audience. I was not able to extrapolate what to say and how to say it. If you disagree with what I said, or if you find any of my words offensive, then I apologize in advance, and secondly, I would like you to express your opinion here.
When brother Prashant [Kanojia] spoke here, there was not much left for me to say after he had spoken but when we talk about unity, when we talk about suppression, when we say that all oppressed communities should come together and fight against this oppression together…[and] this has been going on for almost 30 years in this country but the problem is that a leader of the Dalit community speaks from his stage that we are with Muslims, a Muslim leader speaks from his stage we are with Dalits and the rest of the oppressed community, but collectively there is no friendship between any of these two communities in fact they hate each other.
When they come and sit in this gathering they remember their friendship, they start observing the pain of others. Unless we can get this message across to our homes and neighborhoods, talking about big alliances and talking about the unity of the oppressed is mendacity in itself.
We are here to remember the battle of great Bhima Koregaon, remember Bhima once, remember that majestic battle when you raised the slogan of revolution against peshwai and went ahead to fight [against their oppressive rule], were not the Muslims with the slogans of Takbir and swords in their by your side in the battle? If Muslims can be with you, and fight oppression, then why not now?
I am often identified with the anti-CAA protest that took place all over the country. I was asked to say something about it here. You must be knowing about the complications of this bill and what it says. This bill says among the immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh people of all religions except Muslims will be given citizenship in India, and citizenship will be given to those who are being persecuted. There will be 25 crore Muslims in this country and the total population is said to be 130 crores. The remaining 105 crore people, did they asked about Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka, there are Buddhists in Afghanistan, and what about the genocide that took place in Burma, don’t they need shelter?
No one will ask this question. Then let’s see this way… why will someone from Bangladesh come and settle down in a country like India. What do we have to offer? At present their [Bangladesh’s] GDP growth is better than India, they have better and more job opportunities. Why would anyone come here? There’s politics behind all this. The founder of RSS clearly mentioned in his book that Christians, Muslims, and communists have no right to live in India, if they want to live here, they have to choose Hinduism, otherwise, they will have no right to citizenship.
Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar denied and stated, “Dalit are not part of your community”. Qaid e Azam and Maulana Hasrat Mohani said neither Muslims are part of your community. I have to discuss something really important first, we have been told a big lie that is ingrained in our hearts and minds: we all are one people, every citizen of this country is of the same community. This lie was told by the Congress Party of India in around 1930. Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar denied and stated “Dalit are not part of your community”. Qaid e Azam and Maulana Hasrat Mohani said neither Muslims are part of your community. Anyway today after keeping everything aside it was assumed that we are one nation because of which these people come and chant the slogans “Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, all are brothers.” These people are very dishonest people. Firstly, other than Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian, there are other communities as well in India whom you do not share in this slogan, this your fault. And secondly [this] question that should I ask or not that if Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians are all brothers then why only one brother is oppressed every time? Why is only one brother beaten? This is an important question. How will we continue this fight until the right answers to these questions are found?
They said that India is one community, one nation. Whoever has the power to define the community, the nation will decide how the nation will run, who will have power in the nation and who will get the rights. Until now, the hegemony of this country was with those who are in authority today. We and all the other oppressed communities of this nation should come together and snatch that hegemony from them and remind them that this country belongs to us, not them.
When it comes to the Constitution – what is the Constitution? If we have to explain this to someone in simple language. what would we say? An agreement was made to keep all the communities living in this country together in peace with equality. The deal that was struck at that time, the contract that was signed is our Constitution, and today, when it comes to saving the constitution of this country, you have to fully implement this contract as well. You and I are all equal, for that, we have to put aside our fights and our grievances for a while. We have to come together and fight this battle.
Also, if the conditions written in the constitution are not applied, it will not have any status, which is actually a contract, then the contract expires and if the contract expires, there is a war and I say this with full responsibility that we are in a state of war. We are living in a war.
All organs of a State – judiciary, police, legislative, executive and media these are five organs of state. Munawar Farooqui is a comedian [the one whom Prashant also mentioned], he was about to crack a joke..he didn’t crack any..he was just about to which could have been a threat to the atmosphere around. He is behind today. Judge says India is a beautiful country but I can’t grant you bail.
Look at the Babri verdict, in total I don’t want to elaborate on the Indian judiciary but at least to me, the Indian judiciary is not at all trustworthy today. I say this openly that I don’t trust the Indian judiciary, for the collaborators sitting between us I repeat “I don’t have trust in the Indian judiciary.” It is the responsibility of the State for its people to build trust between them and if the trust breaks down it’s the responsibility of the state to come forward, apologize and bridge the gap between them and it’s citizens.
Unfortunately in this country decisions like these are celebrated. Here’s an example about the police, the CM of UP, the place where I belong to..openly says we will do encounters. Encounter is mishap, if someone unexpectedly appears and attacks you just for the sake of saving their own life police can shoot the aggressor. Our CM says “we will do encounters.”
After coming into power 19 encounters took place and all those who died in these encounters were Dalits or Muslims. These Police officers, IAS [Indian Administrative Service] officers who brutally open-fired on empty-handed anti-CAA protesters and thrashed them with grievous statements like “Go back to Pakistan.”
Someone explain to me how to trust this police? “I don’t trust Indian police.” Someone explain to me how to trust this police? “I don’t trust Indian police.” Those who are sitting in legislative, those who are making laws for us, coming up with such genocidal bills, coming up with farm bills, at least we all have a general opinion on that, “we don’t trust people sitting in parliament.” When we talk about bureaucracy as Prashant Bhai already mentioned, who will the SDM [Sub-Divisional Magistrate] listen to? I will not comment on that either. I just want to make it noted, I just want to make it clear that I don’t trust executives as well. I don’t want to talk about the media. “In total, I don’t trust the Indian state today.” In all this, I’m not at fault, if someone comes and tells me “you don’t trust the state, you are an anti-national.” It is not my responsibility to trust the state, but it is the responsibility of the state to win the trust of its people.
To me, Pakistan is not a bad place. I repeat, Pakistan is not a bad place for me. Be it India or Pakistan no place in this world is. No place is good or bad, what kind of place it is, it’s decided by society, it is decided how much equality there is in this place, not that the name of this place is Pakistan. Nationalism in itself is a very scary concept. Just because a country exists, just because India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, America, Russia exist in this world we [are asked to] raise Long Live slogans for them. If you were a very good country, equality was maintained there, no one would go to bed hungry, your prisons were empty, if you had justice, everyone would have happily spoken with pride, whether it was India, Pakistan, or any other country. But here we have the same problem and there you have the same problem and the third country is no different. So why should I praise you? Just because you exist? One of the major problems with Nationalism is that it needs an enemy or you will not be a nationalist. If you want to be a nationalist in India you have to do two things, firstly you have to say that Kashmir is an integral part of India..and secondly, you have to announce “death to Pakistan.” Then only you can come under the category of nationalists. Similarly, there would be a different definition of being a patriot in Pakistan and different in South Africa. I want to make it clear on my part that I do not believe in nationalism.
Now I am going to talk about what I actually came here for. Today’s Hindu society has a rot in India. 14-year-old Hafiz Junaid was stabbed 31 times [to death] by a mob in a moving train. No one even came to stop them. These people come from our society, from among me and you. I wonder what do the people who are killing and torturing others do to themselves when they return home after killing someone. Do they wash their hands in a new way, mix some medicine and take a bath? What do they do? They come back and sit among us, then catch someone the next day, then kill and live a normal life.
These people are being treated with the most love in their home, they are touching their father’s feet with respect, they are also going to the temple, they are also worshiping, then they are coming out and committing the same crime again. All of these things have been made so common that it doesn’t matter if someone is lynched and murdered. Few years back in India a reason was needed to murder a Muslim. There is a link between the person and Indian mujahideen or he is a member of SIMI [Students’ Islamic Movement of India] a story was created. He was linked with a blast after that repression started and then it was legitimized to torture and oppress [Muslim]. Now the situation has changed. Now no backstory is needed. If you are Muslim they will kill you, eating meat be it beef, chicken, or mutton… they will kill you, traveling in a train asking for seat… they’ll kill you. A calf was stolen and in return, a life was taken. Killing a Muslim is now a normal thing in India. This has been normalized. Now think that against whom are we fighting?
It’s not against any person or a religion or a politician or political party. Our fight is against hatred. The hatred that says if the person is a Muslim you are free to kill, you should not rent a place to any person if he’s a Muslim. It is the same hatred that oppresses wherever the opportunity arises. You are not killing anyone in the crowd, but if someone wants to rent your house, you will not give him a house just because he is a Muslim then you are also responsible. It is because of this hatred that the government becomes more powerful and brings more such laws. We have to bring this hatred to an end. It is not our job to eradicate this hatred, it is not the job of the Muslims, it is the job of those who are spreading hatred. “We can’t liberate you from this hatred.” He who hates must free himself from that hatred. We can only tell what you are doing and what you are doing is wrong. And we will keep telling you that.
Now the second problem here is that if you say that if Muslims are being persecuted then we are with you. A picture of a Muslim is presented, a picture that they are presenting. A Muslim is a terrorist who does not want to live in this country, kill him. Secondly, those who are presented by the good people of Hindu society, those who call themselves good, in their eyes, Muslims are poor and oppressed. So a Muslim in this country can be either helpless or bad. There is no imagination of Muslims in between.
I am a 23-year-old young boy who has just finished his graduation. What will my mother dream for me? I can study in a good place, do a good job, live a life with dignity. But my mother dreams for me that if I am traveling I should stay safe, what if police arrest me for no reason, she wants her son to come back home safe and alive. They want us to get entangled in these things so that we can’t raise the real questions. In police only 2% of our people are present but 30% of the prison is filled with Muslims. Only one, six or four percent in Parliament, a small part of the total population. We [Muslims] are the highest number in the list of encounters, in the list of people killed in riots. These people do not want all these things to be questioned. So it won’t happen now. This warning is from us to the people of Hindu society, keep that in your mind that no matter how weak a person is, no matter how weak a living thing is, if you will play with their life, they will definitely respond once and for all.
Let’s take an example of a lizard, it doesn’t bite anyone but try bothering it twice, it will also bite. Don’t bother anyone so much that one has to answer. Don’t bother anyone to an extent that he has to rebel. Think about Bhima Koregaon’s struggle, this is “Elgaar Parishad.” Elgar itself means declaration of war. We can declare war only if we have people to fight and are willing to sacrifice. In earlier times we had to sacrifice our own blood and life, but now we have to give small sacrifices. If your son is becoming a hater or a propagandist, he considers himself superior to others, then it’s your responsibility to constantly explain him, the one you hate is your own counterpart, you have to teach him how to love. In school or in any temple, wherever your children have been taught hatred it’s your responsibility to ensure and tell your child it’s wrong. If your teacher is biased, makes you feel uncomfortable and reminds you that you are a second class citizen in this country, the way it was done with Baba Saheb, it’s you who is liable to fight back. It’s also a sacrifice. These small sacrifices are more worthwhile today.
To end this hatred we must end our mutual resentments and fight. With that, when it comes to fighting, when battle is declared and there are people ready to fight, then what is left for us? The reason- why should we fight? Here I am assuming that at least the people who are here, who are connected with the Elgar Parishad are on the side of the Ambedkarites and the Muslims. We have not been able to reach the hearts of our people as much as we are carrying the pain in our hearts. We have to convey this pain to them.
Lastly, there have been constant attacks on Muslims in the last six years, and our religion [Islam] has been targeted, anyone can come and say anything they want. Last month in a program in Choudhury Charan Singh University one of the speaker openly said if anyone reads Quran he’ll turn into a ghoul and we have to kill them. We will turn this country into a Hindu Rashtra within four years, Muslims will have no status left, the honor of their home..their daughters will be with you. These people who are rotting your society badly, I raise my fingers on both our fingers, those who speak such things and those who attend [such gatherings].
It is your responsibility to get your people out of such gatherings, only then we can come together and talk about unity. It is not our duty to swear upon, to make promises and chant slogans, they are different politicians who’ll come from Delhi between us to raise slogans and they’ll leave. They will never work for you. The work will be done when you come and sit among people there will be one to one interaction and talk about things that are important. We don’t have to talk to people who already like us, we have to talk to people who don’t. We like to listen to what you say and vice versa, we come sit together in a gathering, listen and praise each other and leave. Freedom- this is not how we are gonna get it.
We have to collect our people.
ہم امن چاہتے ہیں مگر ظلم کے خلاف
گر جنگ لازمی ہے تو پھر جنگ ہی سہی
[We want peace, but against oppression,
If a battle has to be fought, so be it.]
The speech was originally published by Maktoob Media and transcribed by Mehwish Asim