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35 days in jail for not standing up for the national anthem

By Shobha Warrier/
December 15, 2014 12:36 IST
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'At first, a few inmates tried to attack me saying they would make me sing the national anthem, but another group rescued me from the assault. When I got out of jail, so many of them cried and asked me, "When will we see you again?"'

Image: School children sing the national anthem.
Photograph: Getty Images

Salman Mohammed, 25, from Thiruvananthapuram was arrested at midnight on August 19 under charges of sedition and the IT Act.

His crimes: He refused to stand up when the national anthem was played in a movie theatre and allegedly abused Independence Day on his Facebook page.

Now out on bail, Salman Mohammad spoke to Shobha Warrier/

Reports say you and your friends refused to stand up when the national anthem was being played.

Some of the theatres here play the national anthem before the film starts. I never stand up when it is played.

When I continue sitting, the so-called nationalists used to stare at me and sometimes, they tried to even physically abuse me.

So I go inside the theatre only after it is over.

We are expected to stand up when the national anthem is being played. Why do you not stand up like all the others?

I don't believe in any kind of boundaries or nationalism of any sort. My politics tells me to be an anarchist and I consider nationalism as violent.

In India itself, wherever you have boundaries, like in Kashmir, Manipur, etc, you see lots of violence.

I am not talking about India alone. Whether it is China, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, or any other nation State, the 'Other' is always sidelined, marginalised and crushed. It is but natural too.

When someone questions a fixed identity -- here it is nationalism -- that someone becomes the 'Other' in such a society and he will be crushed.

This is violence and I cannot be a part of such violence.

Does that mean you don't believe in India as a nation State?

I don't believe in any kind of nation States.

Has it anything to do with you being a Muslim?

I am an atheist. But the truth is Muslims are suppressed everywhere.

I feel our society is very Islamophobic. So I call myself a cultural Muslim.

Religiously I am an atheist. So I also describe myself as a Muslim atheist.

The patriarchy in Islam does not allow me to be one and I question that too.

Do you think there is only one identity, and that is the Muslim identity?

I am against pan Islam and I don't believe in an Islamic State or an Islamic world or any such thing.

I would say, enjoy the difference and celebrate the difference. I don't believe in any sort of common laws or rules for people.

You spoke of a world without boundaries. Is it not utopian?

Yes, we can say that loving the 'Other' is a utopian idea because love is very rare in this world. The world we live in is selfish.

Yes, just because a few like me say so, the world will not be one without boundaries, and it is not possible to have a world without States. But it is possible to involve ourselves ethically and with love. That is what I am trying to do.

Anarchism is my ethic; for I believe that nobody should rule over the 'Other.'

In your opinion, who is the 'Other' and who rules?

In my opinion, in a nation State, the 'Others' or those who are alienated include the Dalits, the Adivasis, women, gay people, children, Muslims, and many others.

Without boundaries and without a nation State, how is it possible to administer?

I do not know how to answer the question politically. Before 1947, there was no India.

But the administration was conducted by the princely states.

Yes, boundaries will not vanish in a jiffy. Those who don't believe in boundaries can only interfere ethically. We are not only interfering, but also protesting.

If you look at the concept of a home in a patriarchal society, the father has all the powers. So when you question patriarchy, you are not killing the father figure or insulting him; you only want a world where both the father and mother have equal standing.

Salman MohammedWhen we live in a country, are we not bound to follow the rules and regulations of the land? Is standing up when the national anthem is being played, one such law?

A land consists of all kinds of people and laws are made for people and people are not created for laws. There is a difference in it.

Similarly, many schools had prayers in the morning, and I never used to stand up then as I don't believe in praying to God.

Such prayers and forcing people like me to stand up is a kind of violence.

What is the kind of violence you see in standing up when the national anthem is played or when prayers are being said?

I agree there is no direct violence in this, but there is emotional violence. Violence need not be physical; it can be mental violence too. Sometimes, physical violence also happens.

The first thing they ask me and people like me is, are you a Pakistani spy? They don't call you an American or a Chinese spy; they only call you a Pakistani spy. China also attacks India, but it is said to be a secular fascist country.

This, I consider an Islamophobic viewpoint.

Do you feel Islamophobia started with 9/11?

Though Islamophobia was there earlier too, it intensified after 9/11. Today, anyone with a beard is looked upon as a terrorist. Many innocent Muslim men are inside various jails without any trial and evidence.

In my case also, they picked me up at midnight only because I was a Muslim. They arrested me under Section 124 A of the IPC (sedition) and 66 A of the IT Act.

Do you feel you were arrested only because you were a Muslim?

Me being a Muslim is the main reason and the other is the anarchist politics I follow. I don't go to a mosque or pray.

I don't believe in praying to God and that is because I am an anarchist. I am targeted mainly because I am a Muslim as the State itself marks my Muslim identity.

When did you become an atheist?

I was always against subjugation and power, whether it is from patriarchy or teachers or the State or God.

I stopped going to the mosque from the age of 5. You can say I became an atheist at that age itself. Any kind of subjugation irritates me.

When did you realise you were an anarchist?

I thought I believed in Communism, but soon realised it was not Communism that attracted me. Then I thought I was a rationalist. When I started reading post modern philosophy, I realised I was an anarchist.

Do you think the Islamophobia of the State and in society is responsible for many Muslim youth becoming terrorists?

In my case, what I go through is violence by the State.

With the BJP in power, the situation today is such that if the State were to start a concentration camp, Muslims would go into it. Hardcore Hindutva elements are in power. There is no secularism now.

I am not saying there was secularism when the Congress was in power, but there is a fear factor right now.

Do you feel that was why you were arrested?

I don't think so. It was the secular police that arrested me. I must say none from the BJP made any issue of this situation.

Even in a secular society, there are the marginalised or the 'Other'. Not only in India, but even in Europe, there are marginalised 'Others' in a secular society.

For example, in France, the State doesn't want Muslim women to wear purdah. In Europe and America, Blacks are the marginalised. The story is the same everywhere.

You said you used to go inside the theatre only after the national anthem was played. Did you go inside earlier that day?

On August 17, six of us went inside early. In our group, only two of us were Muslims and the others were Hindus. When we didn't get up, those who were sitting behind us protested and tried to assault us. They shouted at us asking whether we were from Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Then the movie started. After the film, some of them took me aside and started fighting with me. It was he who complained to the police.

The police picked me up at 11.45 at night on August 19. They were so many policemen and they refused to tell my parents where they were taking me. They took me to a police station far from my place so that nobody would know where I was.

What was on your mind? Were you scared?

I was blank. I did not feel scared. The only thing that bothered me was, they didn't inform my parents. I knew they would be very worried. The entire night, they were at the nearest police station looking for me.

Did the image of Rajan (of the infamous Rajan case that occurred during the Emergency) come to your mind?

You won't believe, yes, I did think of Rajan and how Echara Warrier went from place to place for years to get some information about his son.

Do you feel you were picked up at midnight because you are a Muslim?

Yes, only I was picked up at midnight. Some of the policemen asked me whether I was a Pakistani spy.

That was also the time newspapers were full of stories of Al Qaeda attacking India. I thought my fate was sealed.

Were you ever attracted by the Al Qaeda's ideology?

I am totally against any such violent philosophy and politics. I am against Maoism also. I believe in the politics of multitude.

What was life like inside the jail?

It was interesting in a way, though I was very sad initially. I felt miserable when the court rejected my bail application. I was inside for 35 days; from August 20.

There is a lot of violence inside the jail. I didn't like the regimentation and also the lack of privacy. What Milan Kundera said was true: Fascism is negation of privacy!

At first, a few inmates tried to attack me saying they would make me sing the national anthem, but another group rescued me from the assault.

When I got out of jail, so many of them cried and asked me, 'When will we see you again?' (laughs)

So many people -- from friends to family to human rights activists -- came to see me. The kind of support I received from them was overwhelming.

How has life been since you came out?

Once again, there is no regimentation in my life. I get up when I want to; I sleep when I want to. I eat when I want to.

Since the police confiscated my computer, I went to an Internet cafe to browse, but I was thrown out. They said they would not allow a traitor to enter the cafe.

A teashop owner refused to give me cigarettes.

Many people looked at me with disgust, which has come down a lot now. I also got threatening mails signed by 'Indians,' saying they would cut off my hands.

Even now, my parents are scared if I go out.

I want to ask why, when I was arrested for sedition, there were no charges registered against those who wrote on my Facebook page that my mother should be raped and I should be killed?

What are your plans now?

I want to do a PhD in philosophy at Delhi University. I have no desire to make money and lead a rich man's life. I want a job, but only want to live the life of a hermit.

Do you consider yourself an Indian?

I call myself an anarchist, as I don't believe in any kind of nationalism.

I am a citizen of the world. Like so many other objects, I am just another object in this world and I don't consider human beings superior beings.

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Shobha Warrier/ in Thiruvananthapuram
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