By Atiya Hasan:
I don’t have a beginning. I know what I’ am going to write about, I have a vague idea how I’ am going to end it, But I don’t have a beginning, I’ am bad at those. So we’ll just have to stick with this one, yes?
I just completed an year at college, and what a myriad of experiences its been. I realize now that my school was a safe cocoon. I’ve had Convent education and a pretty, now that I look back at it, protected childhood. So I was little prepared for the big bad world outside although I think I did just fine.
I’ve had a very open and secular upbringing. I’ve been brought up to respect all religious faiths and my school had a fairly non-partial environment, so I grew up believing that we live in sane, sensible, unprejudiced world, where religious and caste biases are a thing of the past. That, sadly, is not true. Our country is still young and our people are still learning. They maintain a pleasant, tolerant front but they seethe inside. They garner hatred and prejudice. Grandmothers, and Grandfathers pass on bitter tales of the Partition and the Riots ,and little children grow up harboring unreasonable hatred for their neighbors. I’ve known people who abhor Muslims , or Sikhs, or Christians without having personally known any throughout their lives. I used to think that this is more prevalent in the lower classes, where people do not have access to an enlightening education. But then my friend pointed out that it exists in the upper classes just as well, only they’re too rich to bother themselves about it.
Well, I’ am a Muslim, and I’ am proud of that, And I have faced my own share of prejudice. From friends ‘jokingly’ saying —Here come’s the terrorist, to other friends who wouldn’t touch my food or even drink from my bottle, considering it to be impure. And mind you I’ am talking of well-educated people who come from well educated families and are studying now in India’s top colleges. Education liberates, yes? It frees your mind from the shackles of ignorance , it broadens your horizons, makes you sane , reasonable, makes you rise above petty discriminations, right? Not true, apparently.
And I’ am not speaking from personal experiences alone, I’ve seen other people treated unfairly, humiliated before everybody. Once this newspaper vendor was giving out free copies of HT outside the metro station, some sort of a promotion scheme I guess. He handed me one too. But when this middle-aged gentleman behind me , clad in kurta-pyjama, a skull cap with a beard, reached out for a copy, the vendor rudely refused, saying, ‘Yeh tumhare liye nahi hai.’ I went back and politely asked for another copy for my friend waiting inside the station and went up to the middle-aged gentlemen and handed him the newspaper. I’ am certain that had I been dressed differently I would have been treated equally rudely. I was treated fine because nobody can guess by looking at me which religious faith I belong to. Could guess, that is. In December 2009, I started easing my way into Hijab. Those people who’ll google that will find that Hijab is covering of hair by Muslim women. I started it because it was something I felt I should do. I started of my own free will. My parents have never told to do or not to do it. So yes I wear a head scarf now and am recognizable as a muslimah. I’ am a Hasan first now, Atiya later. I don’t really mind that, I’ am patient. My more ‘liberal’ Muslim friends ask me why I have suddenly become an ‘extremist’. They say, look, we’re Muslims too. We dress decently, practice nazar-ka-hijab (not lecherously staring at anyone) isn’t that enough ?
I don’t think so. By doing Hijab I’ am not only following my religion, I’ am also taking a stand. Now that I’ am recognizably a muslimah, I like to see how the general public reacts to me. I’d like to see how much more discrimination comes my way. I know I’ am strong. I’ am well capable of defending myself against any prejudice. I’ am more concerned about those who can’t. I can’t see oppressed people. Any kind of oppressed people, the poor, the under-privileged, anyone. I’d go against the majority any day for them. I want to change the way people think, I want them to get over all their pre-conceived notions. Through me, I want people to see the other side of Islam.
Like once I was traveling in the Metro, and I overheard a rather interesting conversation between two girls. It was something on the lines of how Gandhi was “a fool”. He let half the Muslims stay back in India at the time of Partition and that is the root cause of all problems. That Muslims are rude, ill-bred, illiterate and all they want to do is convert everybody. They support Pakistan in Indo-Pak matches, the traitors !
I cleared my throat, said hello, and talked to them for the rest of the metro journey. They smiled and shook my hand before leaving. I don’t think they’re going to forget me anytime soon. You see, I’am not rude, I’ am not ill-bred, I’ am not illiterate, but I certainly am a Muslimah.
So yes, I hope I can affect things a bit. And though I get frisked a little too thoroughly by female security guards sometimes, I don’t mind , I’ am tolerant. Our country is still young, Our people are still learning. And I know this is a very… whatever… thing to say for a 19-year-old, but I hope that my children, when and if I have them, grow up in a better world. And I’ am going to change it for them, for you , for me, and for everybody else who is free.
The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.
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