Hundreds of kilometres apart, two young men: one is awash with fury, on the verge of losing his way, the other has already made that journey of rage, and knows the road ahead.
Management graduate Irfan Shaikh wears Nike shoes, is clean shaven, and does not head to the mosque when the call of the muezzin resonates through the Nashik neighbourhood. But scrape the calm urban veneer and spot the new face of the young Indian Muslim: he is furious.
As India’s second largest community comes under siege and stands at a crossroads that will have a far-reaching impact on this nation, many Muslims like Shaikh are now increasingly tottering on the brink of radicalisation.
“There seems to be a deliberate attempt to malign the community. Every Muslim lives in this fear that he might be the next to be picked up by the police and touted as a terrorist by the gullible media,” said Shaikh, 31, breaking his Ramzan fast at the local mosque.
That cycle of thought, and the feeling of victimisation, also ends up making people rationalise the killing of civilians by terrorists, or look the other way.
“For how long can we take this lying down?” said Shaikh, who declined to be photographed. “This fight is not against India’s secular ethos. This fight is against those demagogues who want to form a nation based on the hatred for a particular community.”
The perceived discrimination against Indian Muslims is an awkward subject in India. But for countless men like Shaikh, it is a reality and is fuelling anger. “The dynamics of any society are such that there is bound to be discrimination against minorities. I accept that,” he said. “However, in India, it seems that discrimination against Muslims has become institutionalised and become severe over the last 15 years.”
Muslims are at the lowest rung of social indices in India, now worse-off than Dalits who invested into their future with education and foresight. Many Muslims did not, and the poor educational and social conditions, combined with the perceived lack of justice for them, is constantly fuelling rage.
Young men like Shaikh view and interpret several trends with rage, especially the lack of action against accused in riots against Muslims. And this latent anger is now increasingly getting channelised against the government, the police force and political parties.
Hundreds of kilometres to the northeast in the small town of Azamgarh, a 39-year-old man has already made that journey with rage — and come to terms with it.
This is where many of the terror suspects blamed in recent bombings, including the serial September 13 blasts in New Delhi, came from.
The man is Maulana Aamir Rashadi Madni, whose madrasa was in the news twice: once when he was falsely implicated in a terror case and jailed, and when his student Iqbal Abdullah hit the headlines by claiming 10 wickets in six matches in the U-19 World Cup at Malaysia.
“We can remove all misgivings by simply following the Hadees — the sayings and deeds of Prophet Hazrat Muhammad,” he said. “Why is Mother Teresa is not born in Muslims? If we had only one, there would have been no need for Deoband to issue a fatwa against terrorism.”
When Madni’s friend’s nephew fell critically sick and he needed two units of blood to save his life, the friend — a staunch Hindu nationalist — knew that a recommendation from Madni could get his blood from the hospital. Madni swiftly arranged it, and the patient recovered.
The Hindu nationalist was stunned to learn later that the blood of two Muslim students of the madrasa was flowing in his nephew’s veins.
“That changed his heart. No more Muslim bashing in their daily gupshup (chats) nowadays,” Madni said.
Some time later, Madni had to rush his sick father to New Delhi for treatment. Blood was needed urgently, but the three prospective donors with Madni were declared medically unfit to donate. At that time, a stranger — who Madni remembers as one Mr Sharma — gave blood and saved his father’s life. “He also called his friends — a Sikh and a Christian — to donate blood,” Madni said. “That day I understood the couplet “Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai (Christian).” When he returned, he started a blood donation camp that continues every year. “As we are spread across the country, this would help instill some sanity in the minds of mischief-makers also,” he said. “Instead of issuing fatwas, Deoband should encourage Muslims to follow the path laid down by the Prophet. Let there be more Mother Teresas among Muslims.”