18 Crore Muslims In India, And You Think #TalkToAMuslim Is Something To Be Proud Of?

Let’s call #TalkToAMuslim what it really is: another opportunity for virtue signalling and chest thumping.

Just when you thought that the level of collective foolishness on social media could not possibly plunge lower, along comes a breathtakingly vapid, noxious hashtag like #TalkToAMuslim.

Over the last few days, many eager twitter users have been seen exhorting the people of India to ‘talk to a Muslim’, ostensibly to humanise them and fight back against Islamophobia. This latest round of ill-advised online activism was unleashed as a response to the ruling party’s snarky comments about Congress turning into a “Muslim party”, when its leader Rahul Gandhi met a group of Muslim professionals and intellectuals to hear their thoughts on public policy.

Many Muslim folks have posted grave-looking, softly lit photographs of themselves holding placards assuring those among us that were confused or otherwise misinformed that they are Indian and human too(!). And so we can talk to them. In response, Hindu folks are magnanimously posting their own photographs claiming they are Hindu and they talk to Muslims, because (these enlightened souls) guess they are humans too. “Guess”, because obviously one can’t commit to the revolutionary notion of Muslims being human without exhaustive scientific proof.

The patently insulting and obnoxious phrasing of the widely-shared hashtag aside, there are several problems with such displays of cosmetic secularism. First, it is churlish in the extreme to believe that holding placards and saying ‘I am human too’ and ‘Guess they are human too’ is going to make one jot of a difference to those who think of Muslim identities and anything related to Islam, as profanities. If glib online proclamations like these could affect anything at all, we would have achieved world peace by now. Several times over.

So let’s call this “campaign” what it really is: another opportunity for virtue signalling and chest thumping. And we all know who among our political cadres is all about the chest and its unwarranted expansion.

To the Hindus who are feeling enormously proud for talking to (a) Muslim: I can’t begin to describe how grossly condescending we sound when we utter those words with glee. Stop, please, seriously. You’re not doing anyone a favour. And if you’ve managed to reach adulthood (or an age where you’re old enough to have a social media account) without a single meaningful interaction with a member of the largest minority in the nation — the Muslim population in the country is roughly 18 crores — you have a lot of intellectual growing up to do.

And to the Muslim millennials so heartily participating in the inanity: either we’ve set the bar so low for what you’ve come to expect from us behaviourally that you feel the need to resort to declaring your human-ness to us on social media, while encouraging us to talk to you — in which case we Hindus should be deeply ashamed. Or you are so far removed from the discrimination that the less socially and financially privileged in your community are routinely subjected to in ways that are far more insidious than ‘not talking to you’, that you are unable to comprehend how utterly despicable this performance of secularism is.

This #TalkToAMuslim nonsense reminds me of my childhood in many ways.

I grew up in middle class India of the 90s. In the glorious thought-shaping era of Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Hum Saath-Saath Hain. You know those movies where, in a sea of Hindu-ness, twin Muslim lotuses were allowed to blossom, in pristine achkanskarakuls, ghararas and short kurtas, lest their exotic Muslim-ness be lost on the hapless Hindu viewer. The sole purpose of this Muslim couple’s existence in the narrative was to underline the wide-eyed virtuousness and serene secularism of every member in the sanskaar-on-steroids, obscenely wealthy, joint family.

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So obviously, like every guileless Hindu child, I spent a not insignificant part of my childhood believing that my lone Muslim friend absolved me of any future charges of racism, discrimination, or a benevolent kind of superiority complex. As long as I had her by my side, I could ignore that I came from a family where my grandma’s eyes would become large as saucers and her lips would purse in a manner that would put Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly to shame every time we had a play date. Or that I often found my parents saying, “We’re not racist, but…” before launching into some seriously racist and shamefully derogatory monologues, egged on by the vigorous nods of their equally Hindu friends.

Who could have thought that a snaggle-toothed six-year-old with a weird obsession for medical science and vegetarianism would be the purdah behind which my family’s bigotry hid. I imagine irony would get up and do a little mujra every time they used her existence in their spawn’s life as proof of how liberal they were.

By #TalkingToAMuslim 20 years later, aren’t we doing the same?