Mumbai spirit was working overtime that morning. Like any other day reeling under the beating of an overnight rain, city’s traffic was at its peak. My roommate and I, after facing innumerable rejections from taxi drivers, were finally able to beg our way into a Kaali Peeli.
As is my wont, I thanked the driver as soon as we sat in. Little did we know that a frustrating ride through Mumbai’s road-turned-ponds was going to be an eye-opener.
No sooner than we had thanked the driver, whose name I did not know yet, we were posed with a question! ‘Are you both from Bihar? Given the accent of his passengers, I could not blame him for jumping the gun. “You can say so”, we replied together, resisting the temptation to explain why and how of it!
“Lalu or Nitish?” he continued. “Nitish”, I replied. “And given how Lalu is in jail I don’t see a comeback in near future”.
Although the gentleman was not from Bihar, he had pretty strong opinions about the Nitish government, as the JD(U) has an alliance with the BJP in the state.
“Lalu will make a comeback and so will Akhilesh in UP as the only thing Adityanath government has done is extra-judicial killings of people (not criminals)”, he said as we asked him to avoid the Curry Road. Ten minutes into the conversation and he had revealed he was a Muslim. Although we did not make any effort to know that. In fact, later – looking at my beard of course, he went on to ask, are you also one?
Before we could control the tone of the conversation to let it all go and not get into a discussion that had all the ingredients to spiral into a heated argument and his naïve and ill-cooked counter arguments that ranged from ludicrous to scary, given his radicalized thought process, started blurting out prejudices inculcated into him after years of conditioning. “EVMs were hacked in UP elections, Shias cannot be Muslims, they have different mosques. Owaisi did not say anything wrong in that(infamous) speech. And… a true Muslim will never vote for the BJP“, said the driver. The last two lines left me numb and it took me a while to gather my wits. I tried to reason, “But BJP has Muslim leaders too”.
“They are all Shias, and hence not Muslims”, the driver said.
It’s pretty unusual for me to give up during such arguments. But it’s only human to feel helpless while arguing with someone unwilling to face the reality. I could not see myself changing the opinion of a person, who seemed like a product of the misinformation that is being spread across media and social media. So instead, I tried to find out where was he getting these information from? Much to my dismay and friend’s frustration, we could not get him to reveal what his source of information were. Every time I asked, ‘but aapko ye bata kaun raha hai?’ (Who is telling you all this). Pat came the reply, Main janta hun bas!
Isn’t it a little disturbing to find out that a cabbie living in Mumbai, struggling every day to fend for his family settled far off in a village in UP, firmly believes that the malfunctioned EVMs were imported from America to help BJP win during the assembly elections. Does it not pose a threat to the faith we all should have in the election process of India? Especially, when no such thing has happened and the allegations were never proved right!
In their pursuit to target the current government in centre, the opposition and a large chunk of media have given rise to caveats that might engulf the very sanctity of the Indian constitution. Does it not threaten to destroy the secular fabric? Isn’t the media a ‘Whatsapp University’ – you know who came up with this term! Run by the ‘pious’ left ideology responsible for leaving a big chunk of this country’s population under such delusion? If the left decides to ignore these allegations, then what is the source of misinformation and radicalization this man was under the grip of?
The freedom of press in India is on a downhill slope under this government is an argument we hear on a daily basis. But how do we curb the free flow of such information that threatens to destroy the secular fabric, like the one I was experiencing. The damage has already been done, adversely impacting the secular fabric of the country. In the past few years, we have become accustomed to reading first-hand accounts of journalists experiencing communal and radical Hindu men during cab rides, train journeys (although, I have always felt those were more of a work of fiction). But here I was seeing the other side of the story, and an ugly one. Such heady was the entire conversation that when I told my roommate how strongly I felt about narrating the incident to rightlog readers, his response was people will think it’s a made up story. And all I could utter was- “So what, people need to know. I might have a light opinion over what has happened but I will ensure there’s no mishandling of facts. And given your neutral ideological stand, is a testimony to experience.” Now you be the judge!