“Go back to Pakistan.” The nine-year-old me was stunned to hear this coming out of a classmate’s mouth as we ran around in the playground during lunch break. Now, almost two decades since, I see variations of that comment – but as responses to the articles I write.
Mostly my writings revolve around feminism, women’s empowerment, and the Muslim experience that Indian women like myself face. Initially, I wrote them as vent pieces, but as I became more refined with my writing, I expected some kind of engagement with the people who read my work. What I did not expect was the strong negative reactions, which is what I experienced with my first published article about what it is like to be a Muslim woman in India.
I had merely voiced my frustration and helplessness at the fact that I am made to feel, time and again, as if I’m being “allowed” in my own country as a kind of favour. When the same article was posted on social media, the comments just proved to me how right I was. I faced all kinds of negative reactions, which made me realise that intolerance and bigotry are mind-altering and stop you from looking at things from another’s point of view.
Since then, I have written several stories and articles, which have drawn similar negative comments, and I have now come to understand that people can get so fanatical about their political and ideological views that any differing opinion is perceived as an assault on their person. And this trend is definitely growing. I have even received veiled threats of violence online in the past.
Initially, these comments were hurtful (not to mention scary), especially since they targeted me on the basis of my faith. However, they cannot shut the rebel in me, up. As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” We go so high that we go over their heads (as most things do)!
I continue to write about the things I believe in. I even started my own social media page to share my thoughts on different issues.
I find poetry to be the rawest and most powerful medium to reach out to people. Through poetry, I get to channel my fears, my frustrations, my helplessness, because it’s a punch packed into lesser words.
Using satire I try to tease out some of the daily paradoxes and double standards that hide in plain sight because everyone is so used to them. This is especially important because being a visible and proud Muslim woman online these days, attracts ridiculous comments, often from people who can’t comprehend the difference between the compulsion to veil and personal choice. The most annoying, are those who claim to be feminist but deny Muslim women their agency.
What propels me to keep going is this – I believe that for every negative comment out there, I have a reader who says my words meant something to them. For every bully, there is a person who found my words compelling enough to rethink a toxic stance. For every enemy, I have an interested and supportive friend. I have received several messages of support and solidarity from readers, particularly on my social media page. This is what keeps me going.
At the end of the day, if my words can contribute to even one person being more empathetic, more compassionate, more willing to lend an ear, it means I’m doing something right. If more of us continue to speak and write and sing over the intolerance, over the ignorance, over the bigotry, eventually we will drown out the hate.