“I Have Grown Up Seeing The World Discriminate Over A Name, And Been A Victim Myself”

Posted on October 28, 2015 in Human Rights, My Story, Taboos

By Bhavna Sultana:

What’s in a name?

They would ask for her name

and ask to repeat it loud and clear

though she was born here

same clothes she did wear.

But in the name they saw religion

and would try to put her to shame

even the color of her blood was the same

and then they say what lies in a name?

I wrote this poem almost two months ago. It speaks a lot about my experience, and I am sure it is the voice of many people out there who have had similar encounters.

Image source: WordPress
Image source: WordPress

We all know the lines from Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Not at all. Everything lies in a name: your identity, your religion. The society has taught me so. I have grown up seeing the world discriminate over a name, and been a victim myself.

My first ever experience was not that shocking to me, mostly because I was a child and didn’t understand what the lady asked us. While my mother and I were strolling around in a park, one of the ladies who only knew us by name came to us and started talking. She was polite. Only that she ended the conversation by asking us, “I thought you guys would be wearing a burqa.” When we told her that we didn’t see a need for wearing it, she simply shrugged off the topic and left. I didn’t realize then what she meant, though my mother obviously knew.

My father is in a transferable job, so he gets posted here and there, making it very difficult for us to adjust in new cities with new people. I have noticed that people never greet us when we settle down in a new city. I think it is mostly because of the name, or it could be some other reason, I don’t know.

Once in my college, a teacher was taking attendance and she called out my name, with my surname, looked up and wanted to see who this girl was. She never called out other people with their surnames. I just let it slide. There was just one worry, a very bothering thought, that if this happens in a free country, what would happen if we were not one.

My name also has been one the reasons why I couldn’t make many friends. People never really initiated any conversation with me, and being an introvert, I couldn’t start one myself.

Even now, many a times when I introduce myself, people ask me, where did my family name ‘Sultana’ originate from? Frankly, I have heard a lot of stories about it and I don’t believe in them at all. Initially, I tried to shut people out with these stories, but later when I finally grew up, I realized that one should never really find any disgrace in their name or provide an explanation for it. I have now simply started laughing off such questions. My latest story is that we belong to the lineage of ‘Sultana Daku’, a very popular name in history. People don’t believe it. But at least they don’t comment further.

In a nation that is known for its ‘unity in diversity’, why do such issues even crop up? Why do I even have to explain my name to anybody? It remains a mystery to me. To shed the social stigmas, to cast off the differences is one big journey. Has it started? I am not so sure. I think we still have a long way to go before we change.