Modi chose to respond only indirectly. “Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP‘s well wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development & good governance,” he tweeted about no one in particular. “I disapprove any such irresponsible statement.”
Modi was chief minister and home minister of Gujarat at the time, and directly responsible for the security of his state’s residents. Yet, the police, which lodged an FIR against the VHP leader for hate speech, did not bother to arrest him. The Muslim man and his family should be given 48 hours to vacate their house, Togadia is heard saying. “If he does not relent, go with stones, tyres and tomatoes to his office. There is nothing wrong in it…there is nothing to fear and the legal case will go on for years. I have done it in the past and Muslims have lost both property and money.”
Well, Togadia has finally had his way. After being harassed, threatened and brow-beaten for nearly a year, the Zaveri family finally sold their home to a Hindu and moved elsewhere.
What kind of a country are we where our leaders are unwilling to prevent, or condemn or even react to a campaign to drive a minority family away from the place they are legally entitled to live in? There is no mainstream politician who would not be willing to declare that the ouster of the Pandits from the Kashmir Valley under the threatening shadow of militancy in the 1990s was a tragedy, a wound on our collective conscience that needs fixing even 25 years later. But the ouster of the Zaveri family passes without a flutter from our rulers. Worse, there is hardly any comment in the media either.
In Subodh Mukerji’s 1957 classic, Paying Guest, a young Hindu lawyer (played by Dev Anand) is unable to rent a flat in Lucknow because potential landlords don’t trust his youthful exuberance. Our hero then disguises himself as a bearded, elderly Muslim gentleman — complete with the exaggerated sartorial and linguistic appurtenances of a Bollywood ‘bade mian’ — and is warmly taken in by a Hindu landlord with a young daughter (Nutan). Seeing the film 52 years later, one is struck by how improbable this scenario is in the urban India of today.
Today, it is not uncommon to find ‘Hindus-only’ housing complexes in Maharashtra and Gujarat. I have seen an advertisement for a ‘Brahmins only’ housing project in Bangalore and have read about a builder’s plans to build a ‘Muslims only’ tower in Greater Noida. (Footnote: When news about the Noida project emerged, the same chauvinists who wanted to send Zaveri packing from the ‘Hindu’ mohalla clucked their disapproval and said, ‘Look how parochial the Muslims are!’)
If Paying Guest were remade today, a ‘Muslim’ Dev Anand, would have to knock on many, many Hindu doors in a city like Delhi or Mumbai in order to find a room for rent. Along the way, he would be told by prospective landlords that he can’t be taken in because he may eat meat. Or any other reason the landlord chooses to conjure when he realizes the potential tenant whose name he had not paid attention to on the phone is actually a Muslim.
Of course, the one reason our house hunter will not be given is that he is a Muslim. This is because those who are bigoted enough to discriminate against fellow citizens on the basis of their religion also like to pretend they are saints.
Modi doesn’t like answering unscripted questions but if I had the chance I would like to ask him: When you told an audience in Paris on Friday that your government will defend the rights of citizens of all faiths, does that include defending the right of a Muslim citizen to live where he wants? If the answer is yes, do you intend to arrest Togadia and others like him who constantly attack the rights of Indian citizens of the Muslim faith? Since you became PM, you have given us all sorts of great advice. Don’t defecate in the open. Pay your taxes. Make in India. Would you consider exhorting the Hindus of Gujarat to stop discriminating against Muslim citizens? Are you prepared to tell India that Mr Zaveri’s house can be wherever he wants it to be?