Who is a Muslim? Who is an Indian? Is a Muslim just as Indian as other citizens or is a Muslim’s Indian-ness always under doubt? Does a Muslim deserve equal rights? Does a Muslim actually have to bear more than other Indians? Are Muslims actually as bad as they are assumed to be nowadays? If the world had its way, I would be told that my opinion on these issues is unimportant or that I just shouldn’t have an opinion. Maybe because I am too inexperienced or too immature or maybe I am just too young. Even if for a while I concede that all these accusations may be true, still I am human and I too have a heart that feels and a brain that thinks just as much as someone experienced, mature and old.
When I was even younger than I am now, my heart asked me why my friends left me the moment they discovered that their friend who displayed no visible or audible signs of belonging to a particular religion is actually a Muslim? My heart wondered why I used to be so scared of filling up the ‘Religion’ field in all school papers and forms? My heart dreaded the next question that was usually posed after people heard my uncommonly unreligious name. My heart mourned when it saw my Muslim friends being scanned by glances full of disdain and contempt whenever they dared to venture into non-muslim areas wearing a traditional kurta-pyjama after the Friday namaz. My heart was torn into pieces when we had to run for survival to an entirely Muslim occupied ghetto during the 2002 massacre in Gujarat because the locality we lived in was too cosmopolitan to not get burnt.
Having existed through the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 in the fourteenth year of my life, one night I saw my mother unexpectedly waking up from her sleep, standing on the bed and shouting hysterically assuming that a mob of rioters had come to burn her. As shocked as I was then and as amusing as it may sound now, that incident moved me. It told me what my otherwise silently enduring mother was passing through. It brought me face to face with the emotions playing havoc within the person I valued the most — my mother. The chain of thoughts that started within me after the initial shock subsided caused me to think — Is this what every single mother goes through? Is this what every single Muslim goes through? Does a Muslim or any human for that matter deserve this extent of fear, hatred and brutality for no apparent fault of theirs?
After repeated attempts at being secular and cosmopolitan were disallowed, I tried to seek solace within people socially assumed to be my own — Muslims. To my utter disbelief, they too ostracized me because their beards were at least a few inches long as compared to my clean shaven face. Because when we kids played on the streets and their parents came out shouting at them to rush to the masjid to offer namaz, they hid in their parking lots to make it appear as if they were busy praying and I continued to play. Because I wore shorts and they wore pants. Because when the maulana from the nearby mosque passed through our neighbourhood while all of us were playing, all my friends hid inside their houses and I refused to hide and defiantly continued to stand right there. Because when my friends told me that the maulana had told them to stop watching television, I fought against them. Because when my Muslim neighbours got into discussions of apne waale (our people) against unke waale (other people), I refused to add my red pepper to their already boiling and overflowing chutney. Because they offered namaz five times a day and my formally Muslim, habitually non-practicing and mentally unreligious family never forced or asked me to pray.
I felt like how a child would feel getting abandoned by his parents, then getting adopted by foster parents and then being abandoned again. I could go neither here nor there. My guardians refused to accept me and my own disowned me. If being Muslim was a crime in the Indian uncivil code, then being a questioning and non-practicing Muslim was a crime in the Muslim uncivil code.
These days, a lot of voices are being raised over the want of a progressive voice of Muslims. To me, such a voice would include two aspects:
1. The want for treatment of Muslims as equal citizens and an immediate end to all injustice against them and all others on religious lines
2. The development of a greater degree of tolerance amongst Muslims and an urge to give at least equal, if not more importance to education, knowledge, exposure and logic as compared to the practice and interpretation of religion.
Let me try to evaluate and compare the Indian Muslim Youth’s perspective with the above two points taking references from the ‘Study on the Mindsets of the Youth’ by a Youth group of which I am a member — ‘The Difference’. Out of the 832 18-25 year old respondents interviewed in Ahmedabad and Delhi under this Study, more than 11% were Muslims. Questions on issues like Religion, Gender, Politics & Governance, Stereotypes and Youth’s contribution to Society were put forth to the young respondents and a range of interesting responses were received.
When arguably the most debated topic of today’s times — Terrorism — was touched upon, a surprising outcome was seen. In ranking terrorism in order of priority with other issues like corruption, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, gender bias and communalism as threats to the nation, Hindu respondents ranked terrorism 5th whereas Muslim respondents ranked it first followed by communalism. This could indicate that Muslims are equally or probably more concerned about terrorism thanks to the kind of stereotyping that has risen in recent times. Also 17% of all respondents except Muslims said that terrorists are always Muslims. When asked if they feel safe, a much higher number of Muslim respondents answered negatively as compared to respondents from other religions. During discussions on the topic of marriages, quite a few respondents said that they wouldn’t mind marrying people belonging to other religions except Islam. Although not very major, but still a reasonably substantial prevalence of injustice against the Muslim community was evident from the outcomes of this Study.
On the flip side, when another highly discussed issue — Marriages — was put under the limelight, the Muslim community was the only one where a majority of both males and females desired to have an arranged marriage. Muslim females occupied the most major chunk of respondents out of those who refused to get married to someone of another caste, religion or someone younger to them. Also, while most other respondents were comparatively more open to the idea, 92.31% Muslim female respondents refused to marry against their parents’ wishes. These results implied a degree of intolerance and fundamentalism within the Muslim community.
But the fact that quite a few Muslim Youth now want to change and grow for the better was clearly visible too with quite a few of them conceding that the practices they have seen so far have been far too orthodox and they feel a need for change. Most of the Muslim respondents expressed a desire to get educated and supported reservation for women, SCs/STs, minorities and for the economically backward. The number of Muslim respondents was also the highest when asked if they would want to take up social work as an occupation.
At the cost of sounding authoritative and asking forgiveness for any misrepresentations, I would say that by and large the Indian Muslim Youth of today too hope to see their country India evolve into a nation free of injustice and their community full of tolerance, growth and free of fundamentalism. Whether the experienced, mature and the old make this happen or allow us — the inexperienced, immature and young to help remains to be seen…
The writer is a correspondent with Youth Ki Awaaz.