Massachusetts-based founder-editor Kashif ul-Huda says, "We spoke to the lawyer in detail, got the background of the innocents, and how their trial was delayed for years." A larger series called 'Terror Tales' puts together reports of Muslim youth arrested on false charges, tortured in custody or killed. It makes for disheartening reading and may not find its way to your Facebook feed.
Unhappy with the coverage of Muslims in Indian media, Kashif started twocircles.net in 2007. "The media tends to go for sensational and controversial topics and any marginalised community loses the ability to talk about issues that matter to them and tell their own stories in their own way."
Twocircles.net is an early entrant, but it is not the only one. Muslim voices are cutting through the online bedlam to provide alternative narratives and opinions. Sometime in 2016, Mumbai-based stylist and blogger Amena Azeez realised that there was no space for moderate Muslim voices around her. "I was tired of people appropriating Muslim opinions," she says referring to hardline around her. "I was tired of people appropriating Muslim opinions," she says referring to hardline talking heads on TV and online. She is part of @MuslimVoicesIn, which Kashif and others started. The Twitter handle is curated by a different person every week and focuses on personal experiences, history and culture of Indian Muslims. Azeez says that as an Indian Muslim woman she faces significant trolling and hatred online. "Even a critique on fashion is something that draws comments like "go to Pakistan." Why should I have to prove my loyalty to my country? My Hindu friends can speak trash but I have to think twice before I can air an honest opinion," she says.
Syed Zubair Ahmad, who started MuslimMirror.com in December 2012, points out that it is the lack of balanced views on mainstream media that has created a need for websites like his. The website recently wrote about how an FIR filed against Gorakhpur doctor Kafeel Khan accusing him of rape was closed. This came after two BJP leaders alleged that he was a rapist. The reportage about Khan, who was sacked by the UP CM Yogi Adityanath for dereliction of duty, is a case study in this lack of balance, glorified by some, slammed by others for alleged corruption. MuslimMirror.com has done several stories that were later followed up by mainstream newspapers and TV.
Ahmad also speaks about a growing anger amongst the Muslim youth. Clearly there is a gap that needs to be bridged. Journalist Saba Naqvi says, "With television portraying Muslims only in the context of terrorism or love jihad, the community has its back to the wall. I'm happy that there are websites or social media putting across alternative information but this must be done by mainstream media as well to have an impact. Why should only a Muslim Mirror talk about Muslims?"
Just before the 2014 general elections, Patna resident Mohammed Umar Ashraf noticed a website that was posting anti-Hindu content. The posts - typically decrying Indian army efforts in J&K or cheering Pakistan's cricket team - would be taken as snapshots by right wing trolls to lambast Muslims as anti-nationals. Ashraf says that after the elections, the website and its vitriolic content shut down as abruptly as it had begun. "This got me thinking. My community was being vilified for a purpose," he says. With this sprung the idea of using social media to highlight Muslim heroes, freedom fighters and those who had made a contribution to the freedom struggle, through the Facebook page Muslims of India and Twitter handle @WeIndianMuslims. The 22-year-old used public documents to find nuggets of information that range from "who coined the slogan Quit India?" (Yusuf Meher Jaffer Ali), and "who designed our national flag?" (Suraiya Badruddin Tayyabji). "I wanted to make a positive contribution amid all the viciousness online," he says.
Masarat Daud, who runs an NGO in Rajasthan's Shekhawati, agrees. She recently gave a TED talk about the burqa and the prejudices surrounding it. For her, the burqa is a form of resistance. In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, she is stopped from walking into hotels or triple- checked on the assumption that she is too poor or illiterate to be there. Daud, who was brought up in Dubai and now shuttles between UK and India, recounts a recent incident: "I don't litter in public, I collect my 'trash' and dispose it when I find a dustbin. Once, at the Jaipur airport, I disposed my bag of trash which included a packet of chips, a used pen and a few sheets of paper. When I went to the immigration queue, I noticed that I was being watched by the women in charge of cleaning toilets. One of them walked to the dustbin, found my plastic bag and went through the contents. When she found nothing suspicious, she threw it back."
Daud has not let such actions bother her though. She writes against practices like triple talaq and halala, even as she tweets and talks about the richness of her culture, heritage and food.