For years after partition, Indian Muslims were made to feel guilty about it and had to carry the burden of secularism. From time to time, they had to prove their loyalty to the country they were born in and would die in. One wrong word or move, and they would be told to go to Pakistan.
To assimilate in the social structure of the country, they had to be less assertive of their Muslim identity, such that, many urban, educated Muslims never displayed their Muslimness; clean shaved, no ‘dadhi’ or ‘topi’ (beard or cap) and women mostly non-hijabis.
The Muslims who had a beard or wore burka were seen as conservative – not the perfect example of Indian Musalman. They were not welcome in the urban living communities, often denied houses and pushed into mohallas and later accused of ghettoisation.
Stereotyping of Muslims was easy; illiterate, living in mohallas with 5/6 kids and submissive burka-clad women, who needed to be rescued. Bollywood further added to the stereotype by making melodramatic Muslim socials or underworld movies with a Muslim gangster protagonist.
“You don’t look like a Muslim” was supposed to be a compliment and many of us would happily acknowledge it until later, we started realising the hidden bias in it.
The changing sociopolitical scenario left the millennial Muslim confused; with the rise of Hindutva politics, where the Muslim was seen as the villain and the sole reason for the economic backwardness of the country.
In the very country Muslims grew up, they were made to feel like outsiders. Everything and anything about the Muslims was discussed and debated. While the right-wing did not hesitate to show their disdain towards the Muslims; the need to change them and make them more “progressive” seemed to have become the favourite pastime of centrists and ‘wokes’.
The saviour complex was huge and had started to cast its shadow on the Indian Muslims and their bonding with the centrist ‘wokes’. Repeated attempts to either blame them or change them, so as to assimilate into the society, only pushed them further away.
The result was that the Muslims in new India became more assertive and unapologetic about their Muslim identity. Even the ones who stayed away from displaying their religious identity, are now openly flaunting their Muslimness. Beards became common, burkas got replaced by hijabs and soon became a common sight everywhere, from colleges to offices, hospitals, IT companies, malls, theatres and even in protests.
The new Muslim is no longer ashamed of not being “progressive”, nor is he/she ready to carry the burden of partition. Cornered and confused, it is the Muslim identity that has come to the rescue; the feeling of belonging and bonding among Muslims across the country is something new.
The idea that one could be a Muslim and an Indian without having to hide or let go of one’s identity is being acknowledged by the new generation Muslims. Muslims across the spectrum and class are now reasserting their identity, both in personal and professional lives.
Hijabi students and working women don’t give up on their religious identity nor do they let it come in the way of their professional skills. A piece of cloth shouldn’t let anyone decide how good a person is professionally nor should it hinder their professional growth.
Muslims do acknowledge the flaws in the community, also the need for changes, but are not ready to accept unwanted criticism of their faith and culture. They are no longer ashamed about their faith; many have started reading and researching more, to gain proper knowledge about Islam. This not only helps them counter the fake narratives, propagated against their religion but also helps them understand their faith better.
This clarity has made them more assertive about their Muslimness. They can now discuss their faith without being apologetic about it. Many of them may not be the perfect practising Muslims but that doesn’t stop them from accepting and asserting their Muslimness.
They are also clear that their Muslimness doesn’t come in the way of being inclusive in the larger spectrum of Indian society. And their friends and co-workers should accept them with their Muslimness without trying to change them or shame them. A good Muslim is a good citizen, friend and neighbour.
It is interesting to note that urban, elite Muslims are also not shying away from asserting their faith. Those who have never ventured into the mohallas are now reaching out to other Muslims from there, speaking for them, and standing with each other.
Muslims no longer want to ponder to others’ version of the “ideal Muslim”, they want to define their own identity and are not hesitant to assert it.
*Feature image is for representational purposes*