Communal profiling of Muslims on trains is not a new phenomenon
When some passengers noticed a Muslim individual or family in the compartment, they would start making provocative statements about Islam and Muslims. Train journey used to be a harrowing experience if any of our family members looked or dressed like a Muslim, and we never reacted in fear.
The death of 15-year old Junaid Khan who was brutally beaten up along with his brothers by a mob in a Delhi-Mathura train last week, supposedly due to their Muslim identity, is the most tragic incident. While attacks on Muslims have increased in India recently, their communal profiling, slurs and bullying on running trains is not a new phenomena.
I grew up in 1970s travelling between Delhi and Moradabad, Aligarh and other towns in Uttar Pradesh, and witnessed harassment in various forms. Often, when some passengers noticed a Muslim individual or family in the compartment, they would start making provocative statements about Islam and Muslims. Train journey used to be a harrowing experience if any of our family members looked or dressed like a Muslim, and we never reacted in fear.
Incidentally, this attitude is not limited to the unreserved or ‘general’ coaches – some passengers even in the First Class or AC coach make comments like “Muslims marry four times and produce 25 kids”, etc. Also, it isn’t just unruly youth – even elderly people make spiteful comments to enrage a Muslim.
Usually it is the regular passengers, the ones commuting to work from nearby small towns, who form such groups and bully co-passengers.
The mob that attacked Junaid and his brothers was probably one such group too – of course with a new rumoured reason: ‘Beef consumption’.
In 1993, after the Babri masjid demolition riots, I found myself in a scary situation in a Mumbai local train where the entire crowd started singing bhajans in Marathi. They were looking at everyone’s face to see if anyone was not singing. I had to hide my face or move my lips to trick them, and managed to get out of the train at the nearest station with much difficulty.
Muslims may not be the only target of such harassment – women, the elderly, and people with disabilities are equally vulnerable. Even if a woman being harassed is travelling with family or a male companion, they, in most cases, do not dare speak up or retaliate, as there have been cases of people being pushed out of running trains following altercations.
While our cities are getting shiny metro trains, this progress doesn’t seem to have changed people’s prejudices? The Delhi Metro has seen several cases of communal, racial and gender slurs recently. One wonders if there is any solution to this menace. Of course, education about giving respect to people of all communities, gender and age is sorely needed. But do the authorities have no role to play?
When we purchase a train ticket, does the Indian Railway only promise to take us to the destination, or is there a commitment to ensuring the passenger’s safety? Ironically, there have been cases of passengers being thrown out of running trains by the ticket collectors and Railway Police Force themselves!
Many Indians desperately need to learn about the right to life and respect that all citizens deserve.
Yousuf Saeed is a Delhi-based writer and filmmaker
The views expressed are personal