Gulab Pasha: When Muslims perform Seva in the time of COVID

Just weeks before March 24, 2020, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown owing to the rampant spread of Coronavirus, India’s capital was burning. Over the years, Hindu nationalists have been lynching, looting, and murdering Muslims across the country. Its crescendo hit New Delhi on February 23. Muslim communities were attacked, mosques defiled, dead bodies tossed into gutters, all aimed at turning India into a “Hindu rashtra,” erasing all traces of Muslim history. 

And yet, when the lockdown was announced with a mere four-hour warning, and millions of migrant laborers, daily wage workers, and people living under the poverty line were abandoned by the government, Muslims were among the first to volunteer their services. From raising funds to distributing ration and cooked food, they found various ways to be helpful during this time, and continued doing it through the month of Ramadan—a time when they were fasting. 

Gulab Pasha is among the dozens of Muslim volunteers in Bengaluru who started working on-ground since day one. Gulab, who identifies as a socialist, is also a member of Swaraj Abhiyan, a Bangalore-based movement calling for alternative politics, and Naavu Bharatheeyaru (Hum Bharath Ke Log), an organization that has been at the forefront of the anti-CAA protests in the city. As a part of these organizations and through his individual capacity, Gulab started working relentlessly to ensure that “no one [was] forced to sleep on an empty stomach.” 

“My life is dedicated to the service of India through the religion of nonviolence which I believe to be the root of Indianism. My mission is to convert every Indian, even a fascist, and finally the world to nonviolence. It is the only way to regulate mutual relations, whether political, economic, social or religious,” Gulab told us, adding how India was built on the principles of Ahimsa. “To me it means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbor uncharitable thought, even when it comes to those who consider you their enemy. Even when the police detained me under the unlawfully-imposed Section 144 in Bangalore in December 2019 during the anti-CAA protests, I was Gandhi.”

In the month of Ramadan, Gulab and his volunteer group worked around the clock. They would wake up around 3 am every morning for Sehri – the meal consumed before dawn by Muslims who fast during Ramadan – and then proceed to distribute cooked food and ration kits through the day. They would be back home around 6.30 pm for Iftar,  the meal consumed in the evening to break the fast during Ramadan. Following Iftar, they would work on making ration kits for the next day until midnight. In three hours, the cycle would start all over again. 

Despite all that they did – and continue to do – to serve society, these Muslim volunteers, like many others, were being harassed and targeted by Hindu supremacists. Gulab was among the volunteers who were barred from certain communities, because he wore a skull cap. Despite this, he went back and served them as he did not want them to go hungry. News articles about how Muslim volunteers were subjected to verbal and physical abuse made the headlines throughout the lockdown—Gulab and many of his friends experienced this hatred firsthand.

”I am a nonviolent warrior. I will not leave the battlefield, nor will I rush to himsa. I try to not even harbor evil thoughts. My nonviolence demands universal love, and we are a small part of it,” Gulab said regarding the inspiration behind serving the very communities that want India to become a Hindu rashtra through the oppression of his community. “I dedicate myself to serve the minorities. My nonviolence is not merely kindness to all the living creatures. It is superior to every other thing, mundane or supermundane.”

Islamophobia is not new in India. The resentment towards the Islamic conquests that date as far back as the Middle Ages was capitalized on by colonizers to implement divide and rule in the late 1850s. And then, this very ideology was repurposed by Hindu nationalist parties to vilify India’s largest religious minority. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is an affiliate of the extremist right-wing group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, came to power, this vilification and the systemic subjugation of Muslim communities have only worsened. 

“Corona jihad” is the most recent propaganda facilitated by the likes of Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary to justify the verbal, physical, psychological, and sociological warfare against Muslims. For generations, Muslim citizens of India have had to constantly prove their patriotism. While the justice system upholds the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” for an upper class and/or upper caste Hindu, an Indian Muslim is labeled culprit by the country’s media, judicial system, and its people as soon as they are accused.

Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque, where the Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation was hosted in March 2020, turned out to be a hotbed for Coronavirus, and it gave the right-aligned media the perfect opportunity to yet again portray Muslims as anti-India. News channels focused on how the event, which took place on March 13 and 14, became the cesspool of Coronavirus, and how the members who attended the congregation refused to give blood tests or stay in isolation. 

Old videos of Dawoodi Bohras licking their plates as per their tradition in order to not waste a morsel were distributed as proof of “China Muslims” spreading the virus willfully. Meanwhile, news about the many recovered attendees of Tablighi Jamaat donating their plasma to be used for plasma therapy to cure other patients, went largely unreported because it did not fit the right-aligned media’s narrative.

Meanwhile, the government was busy focusing on “Atma nirbharta,” getting people to bang pots and pans, and setting up shady fundraisers like PM Cares. The poorest of our country suffered the most, and it took people like Gulab to help them without any discrinimation. 

One particular group of people that Gulab served during the lockdown happened to be Hindu pandits who were left destitute because of the lockdown. While Gulab claimed that they were a “sensible” group of people who did not comment on Muslim volunteers providing them with ration, he did spot some RSS and BJP flags on their property. Despite their allegiance to these flags, no help seems to have come their way from BJP, the ruling party of Bangalore. Instead, it came from the very people that their party wants to eradicate from the country. 

Watch Gulab’s video to learn how he is working with other grassroots volunteers to ensure that those left behind by the government and the privileged, securely practicing social distancing, survive this ill-planned lockdown. 

*Gulab is accepting donations in the form of ration. If you would like to contribute, you can get in touch with Sabudana Things via our Instagram page. 

Published by mangaladilipk

Mangala is a writer and a former journalist who wants to use her words to influence changes, to amplify suppressed voices, to educate the uninformed, and to welcome a communist, feminist utopia in her lifetime. She is heavily entrenched in pop culture and tries to be as informed about the news as she can. She also happens to be a fan of puns and cannot help but entertain some nostalgia for cliches.

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