Three and a half score years ago, 284 great Indians in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the final versions of our constitution which came into effect on Republic Day.
This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Indians including Muslims who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice of British rule and the horrors of partition. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But 70 years later, the Indian Muslim is still a second-class citizen, in fact far worse.
70 years later, the life of the Indian Muslim is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. 70 years later, the Indian Muslim lives in fear and insecurity on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity and rising hatred.
70 years and countless heroics and sacrifices later, his patriotism is still questioned.
70 years later, he is still languishing in the corners of Indian society and finds himself in exile in his own mother land.
So I am writing this today to highlight a shameful condition and prick the nation’s now dead conscience.
In a sense, I am writing to cash a cheque.
When Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution, and the Preamble declared India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic, the architects of our republic were signing a promissory note to which every Indian was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men and women, yes, Muslim men and women as well as those from other religions, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that Mother India has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her Muslim children are concerned.
Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, India has given Muslims a bad cheque — a cheque which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this great nation.
So we have come to cash this cheque — a cheque that will give us upon demand the riches of the promised freedom, equal opportunity and the security of justice. We are also writing to remind India of the fierce urgency of now.
This is no time to put us through a religious test for citizenship.
Now is the time to make real the promises of sovereignty, socialism, secularism, democracy and federalism enshrined in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution.
Now is the time to fulfil Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of Swaraj which recognises no race or religious distinction. Now is the time to accomplish the goal of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who wished to carve a unique identity for India. Now is the time to realise Maulana Azad’s vision of an Indian nation united and indivisible. Now is the time to bring to fruition the dream of every single freedom fighter from Bahadur Shah Zafar to Bhagat Singh.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of religious hatred to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make equality a reality for all of God’s children. Now is the time to wake up from the drunken stupor of a warped sense of nationalism, fuelled by toxic political rhetoric and a pliable media.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Muslims’ legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 2020 is not the end, but a beginning.
Those who reckon that Muslims needed to blow off steam over NRC-and CAA, and will be content now that the protests are over, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquillity in India until the Citizenship Amendment Act is revoked and the atrocities against Muslims come to an end. The whirlwinds of protests will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who suffer untold miseries in the land of Lord Rama, Krishna, Nanak, Akbar and Kabeer.
In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not lose hope or be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to quench our thirst for justice by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The Islamophobia which has engulfed the country must not lead us to a distrust of fellow non-Muslims, for a vast majority of our Hindu brothers, as evidenced by their unflinching support, have come to realise that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realise that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking us, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as Muslims are the victim of the horrors of police brutality and state-patronised crimes. We can never be satisfied, as long as we are vilified and labelled jihadis and terrorists.
We cannot be satisfied as long as we are lynched over our food choices. We cannot be satisfied as long as we are turned away by real estate brokers and landlords, and now even hospitals at the mere mention of our names. We cannot be satisfied as long as the perpetrators of heinous crimes against us are not just given clean chits despite damning evidence but also rewarded with plum posts.
We cannot be satisfied as long as we live with the knowledge that the blood thirsty PAC cops who gunned down 43 Muslim youths in Hashimpura and then dumped their bodies to rot in a canal were acquitted by the court.
Or that thugs named and shamed in the Justice Srikrishna report for killing hundreds of Muslim men and raping scores of women during Mumbai riots were never brought to book.
Or that Kalyan Singh, who reneged on a Supreme Court affidavit pledging to protect the Babri Masjid, was detained in a posh guesthouse for a few hours as punishment for an act that led to the most catastrophic riots in India since partition.
Or that Mumbai lawyer Shahid Azmi who defended young Muslims framed on bogus terror charges was mysteriously gunned down and his killers were honourably discharged. We cannot be satisfied as long as fake encounters are trumpeted as genuine.
We cannot be satisfied as long as convicted killers such as former BJP minister Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi who led marauding mobs that massacred hundreds of Muslims including women and children are set free to do social work.
We cannot be satisfied as long as the government continues its relentless witch hunt against people who dare to speak out for us.
We cannot be satisfied until justice is dispensed to satisfy the collective conscience of society but eludes the families of Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Ehsan Jafri, Dr Kafeel Khan, Bilkis Bano, Ishrat Jahan, Qauser Bi and Safoora Zargar
We can never be satisfied as long as we are stripped of our selfhood and dignity by being forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. We cannot be satisfied as long as we are asked to go to Pakistan every time we raise a voice of dissent, never mind that we rejected Pakistan.
We cannot be satisfied as long as India is run from Nagpur by Manusmiriti, not our constitution. We cannot be satisfied as long as we are shunned by society and subjected to economic boycott.
No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice and righteousness rolls down like water from the mighty Ganges.
Until we remain marginalised and deprived of our rightful share in the economic pie.
India’s missile man APJ Abdul Kalam was a Muslim, as was Abdul Hamid and the brave-hearts of 22 Grenadiers who laid down their lives fighting like hungry lions against Pakistan in Kargil. Muslim cricketers and hockey players have always played out of their skin against Pakistan.
Yet nothing illustrates our unflinching love for our motherland better than the fact that despite persecution and traitor taunts we remain loyal to our country.
As Gandhi’s secular India is getting swept away by Golwalkar and Savarkar’s Hindutva, Muslims are fast losing faith in democracy.
The votaries of Hindutva use the bogey of Muslim appeasement to sow discord and create rifts. The truth is that Muslim appeasement is a myth.
Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that we are on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. Income, monthly per capita consumption expenditure and access to health, education and basic services -- we fare poorly on every single indicator. Muslims constitute more than 14 per cent of India, but just 3 per cent of India Inc.
The only place we are over represented are jails where we account for more than 30 per cent of all detainees.
Suffering is redemptive
Some of you have been left battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of endless suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Work hard to reclaim your constitution knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply-rooted in the Constitution of India.
I have a dream that one day this great nation will again rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day in the Rasina Hills of Delhi more of us will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day we will make our way to the top echelons of civil services and serve our motherland.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Gujarat, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice and the aftermaths of 2002 pogrom will be transformed into an oasis of communal harmony.
I have a dream that my three daughters will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by their religion but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day in Uttar Pradesh, with its vicious policies of wiping out Muslim heritage and its saffron clad chief minister saying that Muslims did not do a favour by staying here; one day right there in UP, people of all faiths will revive their Ganga — Jamuni Tehzeeb, the syncretic fusion of Hindu cultural elements with Muslim religious elements made famous by the erstwhile rulers of Avadh.
I have a dream today
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I sleep with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to reclaim our constitution from those chipping away at our rights bit by bit
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of India’s children will be able to sing Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer with a new meaning, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awaken.”
And if India is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom from oppression ring from the prodigious offices of the South Block. Let freedom ring from every nook and cranny. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped mountains of Kashmir! Let freedom ring from the banks of Yamuna. Let freedom ring from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Let freedom ring from the plateaus of Deccan!
But not only that; let freedom ring from the ghats of Varanasi!
Let freedom ring from the Rann of Kutch.
Let freedom ring from the caves of Amarnath
Let freedom ring from the coast of Malabar. From every alley, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of India’s children; Hindus, Muslim, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, Jains Parsis and Buddhists will be able to join hands and sing in the words of Allama Iqbal, Sare jahaṉ se acchaā, Hindositaṉ hamarā Ham bulbuleṉ haiṉ isekī, yeh gulsitaṉ hamaraā.