In the wake of #TalkToAMuslim, the trending Twitter campaign aimed at countering Islamophobia, there’s a story I know that refuses to be ignored: my story. You see, I am an Indian Muslim and of late, I have been feeling quite unwelcome in my very homeland.
Of course, this feeling of alienation isn’t entirely new. Ever since I was old enough to have a legitimate opinion, there have been times where I felt ‘othered’, like I didn’t really belong. Since such occasions were rare, I was able to brush them off after a while. I would reason that these were just a few bad apples; overall we are a secular nation where Hindus and Muslims coexisted peacefully. It saddens to me say that I can no longer apply this logic today.
Present-day India has become a dangerous place for its Muslim population.
Not only are the majority of Muslims feeling socially isolated and discriminated against, they are being brutally beaten up, even murdered by angry mobs. However, as disturbing as this is, this is not what I want to talk about.
What I want to talk about is something that is not life-threatening (yet), but is seriously insulting to any true-blue Indian who happens to be Muslim as well. Each time some atrocity is committed by a so-called Muslim in India or any other part of the world, for some reason liberal and progressive Muslims like me are supposed to condemn it – and as publicly as possible. If one is not outspoken about such issues, they invite both hostility and suspicion.
Keeping quiet is not an option because that only means we are silent supporters of said atrocity. And they say that silence is golden. Ha! Saying nothing is on its way to becoming as condemnable as an act of violence itself.
So for a good number of years, I have been doing the former – citing my disgust out loud whenever I hear of say, a terrorist attack, murder, rape or any crime committed by those who claim to be followers of Islam.
Sadly, much of the pressure to make such statements is external. I am afraid that if I do not make these declarations, I will be looked down upon as unpatriotic (!) or worse, considered an actual threat to national peace. Given that my surname gives away my religion instantly, I have had to make these uncomfortable and honestly, completely unnecessary apologies over and over again for most of my adult life.
I think it is unfair that I have to keep this up just because I belong to a minority faith. As a visibly peace-loving, apolitical individual, I would rather talk about the things that matter to me, like socio-cultural issues and art. To me, faith is personal and peaceful. I would rather not write about it as I have nothing new or groundbreaking to say on the matter. Neither am I a fan of public displays of nationalism (or affection, for that matter).
This is not to say that I support extremists who harm others in the name of religion.
I am repulsed and I want them to pay for their violence. My question is: why should I have to demonstrate where my loyalties lie? Just how many times will I have to prove my patriotism? And how long do I have till this too will be inadequate for the people who view me as an unwanted outsider? The ranks of the intolerant are growing after all.
Do I sound like I am exaggerating? Well, I am not going to lie – I have had a privileged life so far. I will probably never suffer the way poor, uneducated Muslims have. Plus, since I do not wear a headscarf, I can and have passed off as a Hindu/Parsi/Christian girl. However, given the communal climate of our country, I hesitated a lot about whether I should be writing this post for the world to see. That itself should give away how bad things are right now. I was afraid of the backlash that I would have to face once this went live. I couldn’t help but picture the number of trolls that would leave vicious “go back to Pakistan” sort of vitriolic comments for me to read.
But then I thought if I do that, then fear and bigotry win.
And that is the last thing I want. If that is the last thing you want too, fellow Indians, hear my plea. Firstly, let’s stop looking at each other through the myopic lens of religion. Not only are we all human first, but our diversity is also what makes us beautiful. It’s time all of India comes together as one and puts humanity first.
Secondly, please stop expecting your Muslim friend/neighbor/coworker/employee/acquaintance to denounce despicable crimes committed by someone they don’t know – and never want to know. That just doesn’t make sense, does it? Remember, the person you are putting under the scanner is already a victim by default.