Incidents of bigotry tarnish Lucknow’s Ganga–Jamni fabric

The Lucknow passport row involving an interfaith couple and trolling of the MEA minister highlight that country’s secularism has been put at stake for the sake of politics, writes Kulsum Mustafa

Lucknow — a city renowned for its secular Ganga-Jamni cultural fabric today is drawing headlines for bigotry, religious intolerance and shaming of people with the interfaith alliance.

Three incidents, coming on the heels of one another seem to have shaken the world and set a bad example through the growing incidents of narrow-mindedness, intolerance and gestures reeking of pure prejudice. The most recent is the gruesome experience of a Noida-based, Lucknow interfaith couple when they were ‘humiliated’ and shamed by a passport officer just because they came from different religions and because the lady did not wish to change her Hindu name for the passport. Just a few days before, another incident where a Lucknow-based Hindu girl refused to take help from a Muslim technician for an issue in her Airtel Digital TV network shocked people and left secular-minded people shocked and stunned. Incidentally, the solutions meted out in these two cases were hugely different. There was another incident in the city when a VHP functionary refused to travel by an Ola cab, which had a Muslim driver.

While in the case of the couple, the passport authorities came into action, immediately transferred the errant employee, the VHP man’s tweets drew huge criticism and Ola reacted sharply. In the case of Airtel, a private telecom firm, the request of the girl was heeded and she was connected to a Hindu technician for the solution of her TV network.

But what happened in the capital of the most populous city of India to Mohammad Anas Siddiqui and Tanvi Seth, an interfaith couple married for the past 12 years with a six-year-old daughter, was clearly an eye-opener for all who believe in applying secular yardstick in judging any citizen. Both Anas and Tanvi hail from Lucknow and have studied here. The couple was in Lucknow to celebrate Eid with the family of Anas. They had been planning a holiday for a while now, and for this Tanvi had to get her passport made and Anas had to get his renewed.

They had taken the requisite appointment online with the passport authorities in Lucknow situated at Ratan Square. But when they reached the passport office on June 20, 2018, and were called in after their number was announced they were in for a big shock. The officer on the seat, Vikas Mishra, subjected them to what Tanvi calls ‘humiliating behaviour’.

She alleges that she was ‘shamed’ for her alliance and questioned why she did not change her Hindu name after her marriage to a Muslim man. On the other hand, it is alleged that the officer asked Anas to convert to Hinduism and take the ‘pheras’ (as per Hindu tradition).

When the two protested and said that religion was a personal matter and they had the right to choose their life partners as adults, the officer put aside their papers and was rude to them.
“His tone was loud, gestures intimidating and disposition humiliating and aimed at shaming us,” said Tanvi.

Shaken but not cowed down by the behaviour of the officer, the gusty couple immediately took to the social media to narrate their harrowing experience. Tanvi’s tweets to Union Minister Sushma Swaraj spread like wildfire on the social media. News of the couple being harassed allegedly on account of their interfaith marriage became breaking news within seconds.

Vikas Mishra in his defense maintained that all he had told Tanvi Seth was to get her nikahnama name Sadia Anas endorsed on her passport, which she refused to do. But within hours, not only was the officer transferred and an enquiry instituted, but the regional passport officer called the couple to the passport office in Gomtinagar, and with the media camera flashlights all around and a milieu of journalists waiting to record this significant moment, handed over the passports to the smiling couple.

But such was not the fate meted out to the ‘victim’ by private telecom company Airtel. Shoaib, who for no fault of his had to suffer the ‘religious bias’ at the hands of a customer just because his name was Shoaib and he was a Muslim. This case crosses all barriers of logic and decorum and leaves a lot to be said for the mindset of people and the desire of private companies not to ruffle feathers.

Just a few months back, another case of religious intolerance had come to light in the City of Nawabs. A Lucknow-based Hindu girl, Pooja Singh, a management professional, seeking assistance to fix her Airtel Digital TV network allegedly blatantly told the technician who responded to her complaint and gave his name as Shoaib that as he was a Muslim she did not trust him and that she should be provided with a Hindu executive who can resolve her complaint. Seems the private telecom player heeded to her demand and replaced Shoaib with Gaganjot Singh, a Sikh, to address her complaint.

Pooja’s preference for customer resolution team members on the basis of religion has drawn a lot of flak on social media. Her tweets generated a lot of furore on the social media after they went viral. She was subjected to a lot of criticism and ridiculed and poked for her attitude and mindset. She was mocked and told that even if she supported the Hindutva parties like the BJP or believed in RSS ideology she had no right to discriminate on religious grounds.

In a tone derived from the Shahrukh Khan’s popular dialogue was a tweet, “I am a Hindu too. Kindly assign Mr Shoaib for all my future customer care requests! Also, please refer Ms @pooja303singh case to a qualified psychiatrist. She needs a different brain, not a different representative.”

Seems the former J&K Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, adopted a practical and impactful way. He declared that he would immediately change his mobile operator without delay.

But while Omar has made his intention very clear and public, there may be many who will not be so vocal but will do as he did. Airtel may not even know but one tweet by one Pooja may have cost them the loss of huge business. While religious intolerance is growing and many youths are talking a language of bigotry that has not been spoken out so blatantly, at least not in Lucknow, which has a fabric of social harmony and respect for interfaith alliances. But such violent, vocal outburst of hatred and distrust are sure to have retaliation. This is what is termed ‘moment of truth.’ It is a reaction to this outburst which will have ‘momentous impact.’ And many times the one who does this is blissfully unaware of the huge psychological as well as financial loss his outburst can cost not just to an individual, organization but to the society at large.

Tweets of Tanvi Seth to Sushma Swaraj

*Ma’am I never ever imagined that in a place like passport office we would have a people who are moral policing the citizens. He didnt just put my passport on hold he even put my husband’s @5220manas passport on hold. This is clear grudge. I was shocked at this 1/2

*“I have never felt so insulted in the last 12 years of my marriage with my husband. It is my personal choice to choose a name I want to after marriage. This is our family matter and last thing I expected to hear at the passport office was 2/2

Tweet of Pooja Singh

“Dear Shoaib, as you are a Muslim, I have no faith in your work ethic….requesting you to assign a Hindu representative for me.”