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Where’s Eidi, Mr Prime Minister?

A migrant labourer walks barefoot towards COVID-19 registration office in Srinagar on May 11 2020 to register for going back to his hometown (Photo: KM/Umar Ganie)

Ajaz Ashraf

I made calls to Muslims to try to figure out how they would remember Eid 2020. They said their stomachs grumbled, their tongues parched, yet their discomfort was incomparable to that of people, famished and thirsty, marching out from cities brought to a standstill because of the national lockdown, imposed to check community transmission of the novel Coronavirus.

There are obvious differences between the two types of hunger. Muslims forsook food voluntarily, in adherence to their religious duty, their forbearance bolstered by the thought that iftar, or the evening meal, awaited them at sunset. The hunger of those who streamed out of cities or languished in ghettos was imposed on them by the god of power. Their suffering threatened to consume them at every turn on the burning highway.

Empathy flowed from their experience of denial during Ramzan, said some of those with whom I conversed. This had them divert zakat, the 2.5 per cent of the wealth that Muslims are ordained to spend on charity, for funding the supply of cooked food and dry ration to those who had lost their livelihood. Until recently, zakat was mostly distributed to itinerant maulanas from madrasas visiting families possessing wealth above nisab, or bare minimum. They could not travel this Ramzan because of the lockdown.

Many did not just dole out money but took the lead in purchasing, packaging and distributing ration, given that they had time as their workplaces were shuttered. This experience will likely lead to a shift in the utilisation of zakat, which, according to writer Karen Armstrong, is an ideological declaration: “It is wrong to stockpile wealth to build a personal fortune, but good to… distribute the wealth of society.”

Zakat, in recent years, has been increasingly perceived as a resource that could be tapped for lifting the community’s social and educational standards, for which the Muslim youth have been striving. Take Mohammad Saif and Javed, who on graduating from Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia in 2017 opened four restaurants to fund the Zahra Educational Foundation, which runs a school providing free education to 500 underprivileged children, Hindu and Muslim alike. For Saif and Javed, the changing norm of dispensing zakat in 2020 is a harbinger of social transformation.

The Muslim youth relied on the network they had built during the protests against the new citizenship laws to displace Muslim netas as the community’s comforters. Yet, quite ironically, it is them the Indian state has arrested and booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly fomenting the communal violence in Delhi in February.

Think of what Eid 2020 could mean for them, or for those whose family members were killed in the riots, or those who were shot at during the anti-citizenship law protests in Uttar Pradesh, or had to pay hefty fines. Think of the message inherent in the devastation of over 12 mosques during the Delhi riots. Imagine their thoughts at the state not incarcerating Kapil Mishra, a Bharatiya Janata Party wannabe, whose provocative speech was allegedly a trigger for

the riots.

So it will be that Muslims will remember Eid 2020 for the resistance they mounted against the state’s discrimination and its endeavour to demonise them, evident from the Tablighi Jamaat episode. But they will also have learnt that the state mistreats all those who are marginalised, palpable from its disdain of the migrant labourers. Among them communitarian bonds persisted, testified by stories of Hindus and Muslims gallantly coming to each other’s assistance. These too will constitute the memory of Eid 2020, to which Muslims will turn to draw solace and hope.

In Kashmir, however, Eid 2020 will signify the annulment of its special status. Its people will remember Eid 2020 for their worries over whether the new rules on domiciliary status would open the floodgates for people outside the Union Territory to settle there and alter its demography. They will say they could not speak on Eid 2020 what they wanted to speak, as a journalist friend told me.

Muslims will think of Ramzan 2020 as the time in which they did not hold Taravih, the special night prayers, in mosques, nor hosted iftar parties. Tamil Nadu will remember that mosques did not prepare Nombu Kanji, the rice-lentil porridge that is provided free for iftar. 2020 will be etched in the memory of Muslims for the congregational Eid prayers that were not held, for the shopping they did not do in markets that would bustle until the wee hours every Ramzan.

The economic downturn, hopefully, will not dissuade elders from giving Eidi, or money, to those younger to them. A young man thought Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have had the nation light candles to brighten up the most staid Eid in decades. That would have been as good as giving Eidi to the community. The young never give up on hope and Eidi, do they? Eid Mubarak, stay safe, stay sane.

The writer is a senior journalist. Feedback at [email protected]