Tricolour, anthem — India’s Muslims on why they’re using national symbols in protests

Many Twitter users trolled protesters & credited the Modi-Shah brand of nationalism as the driving force behind the singing of the national anthem near Jama Masjid. 

FATIMA KHAN 11 January, 2020

People protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens at Jama Masjid, Delhi | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
People protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens at Delhi’s Jama Masjid Wednesday | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

New Delhi: A video of protesters singing the national anthem at Delhi’s Jama Masjid Wednesday night as part of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests went viral and became an instant talking point. 

While the gesture left many people overwhelmed, there were others who saw it in light of the heavy Muslim participation and the location.

Many Twitter users sought to troll the protesters and credited the Modi-Shah brand of nationalism as the driving force behind the singing of the anthem near a mosque. Others said it was the ultimate display of patriotism by a besieged minority. 

What Modi has done!

Those who opposed singing National Anthem in theatres and gave every possible argument against it, are today not only singing National Anthem on roads but are also flaunting it in every possible way!

Asim Ali, a research scholar at Delhi University, said the use of national symbols was a conscious strategy adopted by Muslim protesters. 

“Muslims right now are fighting for, and displaying, their faith in the symbols of a republic that is failing them. This is the highest expression of patriotism,” he added.

“This stands in sharp contrast with the decades-long rejection of the national flag and parts of the Constitution by the RSS.” 

He said it didn’t imply Muslims were being coerced into showing their patriotism. 

“(American writer) Ernest Hemingway said ‘courage is grace under pressure’. This display of patriotism by Muslims, far from being meek submission to the diktats of the Hindu Right, is the most courageous reclamation of the idea of India,” Ali added.

Activist and JNU alumnus Umar Khalid, who has been leading many anti-CAA protests, described it as an attempt by Muslims to redefine “nationalism”.

“When the Right-wing mob marches in support of the accused rapist in Kathua holding the national flag, they are doing an utter disservice to it,” Khalid told ThePrint. “The invocation of the national symbols by Muslims is an attempt to redefine nationalism as we know it today.” 

Khalid said Muslims were actively employing the national symbols and the Constitution “precisely because it is Muslims who the CAA seeks to exclude”.

He was referring to the fact that the CAA seeks to ease citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from India’s three Muslim-majority neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — a provision that has been widely condemned as divisive and biased.

However, there are those who feel there was no strategy behind the use of the symbols.

“These protests have been very spontaneous, so the choice of political symbol hasn’t been imposed on the participants from any leader or party,” said Hilal Ahmed, author of Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islams in India

“So, there is no particular ‘strategy’ or ‘plan’ to use the national anthem or the national flag to show any patriotism,” he added. “Instead, these national symbols are reclaimed to assert the point that Muslimsness is an inseparable part of Indian identity.”

Also Read: For headline-manager Amit Shah, JNU violence is a gift that distracts from CAA protests

‘Inaccurate to see Muslims… in isolation’

Even among those who were part of the protest, there are different explanations.

Social activist Irtiza Quraishi said there was a certain strategy to the use of national symbols, especially Muslims, adding that the community had been “forced to constantly prove its Indianness”. 

Asked about troll attacks, he added, “Yes, the Right-wing, with the help of their IT cell, have created an environment where we (Muslims) have to constantly prove not only our Indianness but that we are not terrorists.” 

“Now we have reached a stage where we feel that it is impossible to argue or debate with people who do not have any potential of being receptive to a logical argument,” he said. “So, yes, to be honest, this is a conscious strategy because there is no other way to show our love for the country.”

Another participant from the Jama Masjid rally, however, had a different take. Noma Faruqi, an Ambedkar University student, said Muslims had been singing the national anthem since much before the Modi government came to power. 

“The Jama Masjid protest was not led by any political body. It was organised by students of the walled city and led by its women,” she added. “So, singing of the national anthem was a conscious choice and not an imposition or an obligation.” 

Writer and activist Farah Naqvi said it would be inaccurate to see Muslims holding the national flag in isolation, adding that all anti-CAA protesters were doing so. 

“Every single protest I have been to since the CAA was passed has used the tiranga. This is not a particular Muslim response, this is a truly secular national response,” she added. “Everybody is reclaiming the national symbols, not just Muslims.” 

Ahmed also rejected the suggestion that Muslims were employing national symbols as a reaction to the Hindutva provocations. 

“We must remember that these women and young students are the product of the republic, and national anthem and national flag are intrinsically linked to them,” she said. “This is, therefore, not entirely a reaction to Hindutva allegations.”'

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