Journal of a Muslim Entrepreneur (Philosophical)
The Muslim founder of a respected Rs 100 crore food company is forced to clarify – after a vicious Islamophobic attack on social media – that his dosa dough does not contain cow bone and calf rennet, only ” 100% natural and vegetarian food products. ”. Crowds attack unfortunate Muslim vendors such as a bracelet seller in Indore for selling to a Hindu customer. As Halal products are targeted, the bug of “economic jihadAdds to the poisonous vocabulary of Hindustva groups. In the midst of all this Islamophobia, how does it feel to be the head of a business run by Muslims?
I have asked many entrepreneurs but at first I did not find anyone willing to speak. Until we finally agreed, on condition of anonymity. He started the conversation by quoting Faiz Ahmad Faiz:
Nisar principal teri galiyon ke ai vatan ki jahan,
chali hai rasm ki koi na sar utha ke chale,
jo koi chahne vaala tavaf ko nikle,
nazar chura ke chale, jism o jaan bacha ke chale
(My offerings to your sacred streets O beloved nation, where a tradition has been invented, according to which no one should walk with his head held high, if ever we go around, we should walk with downcast eyes, body crouching in fear ).
Here is his story in his words:
“As an entrepreneur, I face more prejudices than my religious identity. Our aspirations may have changed, but our deeply rooted prejudices remain the same. We don’t like someone new wanting to step into the big leagues – it’s a cultural issue, not a religious one. We are patriarchal and feudal. Our standards for how to make money were set generations ago. We do not accept the new standards of making money. We still haven’t embraced the knowledge-based economy.
In a larger context, it’s a country that really doesn’t like entrepreneurs. We still meet resistance.
What happened with iD fresh was tragic, and perhaps a forerunner of something large Muslim-run companies will see in the next two or three years.
The impact of these sellers is so deep that Sarojini Naidu even immortalized the latter in his poem, Bracelets sellers.
The current wave of hate you see didn’t start in 2014. Preparation for it was already underway in 2006 and 2007. I remember noticing systemic attacks in the comments section of articles on a particular website at the time and felt alarmed that no one was checking the vitriol.
I have not experienced any religious biases in my entrepreneurial journey, with the exception of the trolls in the comment sections of websites where I have been profiled and interviewed. I cannot say that I have been discriminated against in a ministry or when I go to work in a government agency. My peers have always been receptive, although it is very difficult to assess what people have in their hearts.
We all know that challenging anything in any way, whether through the law, in a tweet, or in a seminar, comes with an inherent risk. In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, venture capitalists, funded companies, unfunded companies all avoid taking a stand. They feel their careers will be stifled or maybe they are too focused on money.
Do you know what the official currency of the US state of New Hampshire is? Live Free or Die. My employees know my political position and I will not change or compromise it. These are the values that define me. I have opinions about the recent erosion of our privacy or how the vaccination campaign was mismanaged and I share them in the workplace. But will I tag and publicly blame the government? The answer is no.
I am not afraid. I’m afraid we are reinventing the wheel. We will go back, therefore, in time, when we wake up, we will have to catch up with a lot of things. Or maybe – you never know – it will become the norm. When a large mass of people accept this kind of intolerant behavior, it is not an aberration, it is the norm, especially when they are made to internalize hatred. This is what worries me.
Whether you are a member of a minority community or not, if your business becomes a hindrance in the larger big fish dream, they will not negotiate and acquire you legally. They’ll just find a way to shut you up.
We had invented the story of India in 2002-2003 until 2015. We had a beautiful reverse migration. Now we are fighting crony capitalism. Everyone knows it but nobody wants to talk about it. I think we will end up like Russia.
The country has become unpredictable, as has this Rajasthan Tourism slogan: Jaane Kya Dikh Jaaye! (Who knows what you’ll see next).
I cannot imagine traveling on an overnight train with my child in northern India. I remember we used to every summer — train travel was a big part of childhood — but my kids didn’t travel by train in this country. I feel like a lot of people are not taking full advantage of what this country can be.
I often say to young people, “When you get older, don’t save your money for generations to come; offer it. I find it disturbing that we are creating people in this country who are only focused on getting rich, richer, richer.
I don’t think they are minorities and that is why I am not afraid. Everything is a question of economy, it is about a few people who want to get rich under this administration. People should wake up and they should say, show us the jobs. “
Priya Ramani is a Bangalore-based journalist and member of the Article-14.com editorial board.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.