When My ‘Assalam Alaikum’ Made Me Conscious Of Being A Muslim Girl On The Train

As the use of Islamic greetings revealed my identity, it also revealed my position on the index of nationalism to fellow passengers.

Assalam Alaikum!” I greeted Abba as I picked up his call on a train. I had boarded it from Aligarh and was heading to my hometown. As the use of Islamic greeting revealed my identity, it also revealed my position on the index of nationalism to fellow passengers. I had greeted Abba to start the conversation, but I think it was the same greeting that also triggered two passengers sitting beside me to strike up a rabidly anti-Muslim conversation. On one hand, the conversation made me lose my temper and tempted me to speak up, but on the other hand, it made me conscious of my identity as a Muslim and as a girl traveling alone, thus forcing me to keep silent.

One of the two passengers, who was in his early forties, initiated the discussion questioning the government’s role in maintaining the law and order situation in the country. The second passenger, who appeared to be in his mid-fifties, went on to applaud the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government for maintaining peace in the state. He held that the CM’s threats to the public played an important role in this.

“Ye jo Musalman group hai na, aise hi hote hain. Inko samjh nahi aa raha h ki ab kiya kya jaye.”

I wanted to interrupt in between and question him about the peace he had been talking about. Was it about the security forces threatening the public to prevent them from expressing their dissent to a law that they believe is unjust and unconstitutional? Or was it about preventing the Hindutva mob from inciting violence in the State? As the discussion proceeded, I got the answer. It was neither about the security forces nor the Hindutva mob. It was about preventing the ‘Musalman‘ from creating violence. The other passenger blamed the Indian National Congress (INC) for fueling violence. “Oh yes! Nehru”, I said to myself.

Ye jo Musalman group hai na, aise hi hote hain. Inko samjh nahi aa raha h ki ab kiya kya jaye (These Muslim groups are like this only. Now they are unable to decide what to do).” said the second passenger. The first one replied “Haan, kyunki ab Pakistan se bhi… (Yes! Because now even from Pakistan…).” As he continued his sentence, he lowered his voice to the extent that I couldn’t hear him. But I understood the chronology of their blame-game.

As I tried concentrating on reading ‘Curfewed Nights’, the book I had planned on completing during the journey, one of them claimed that the ongoing protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 are for money. “Maine kal video dekha tha, jisme unko paise diye ja rhe the (I saw a video yesterday, in which money was being distributed to protesters), he said. He must be talking about the viral video of the distribution of Delhi riots relief fund that is being used to malign the Shaheen Bagh protesters, I thought.

I wanted to interrupt again and ask him to do some fact-checking. But my desire to interrupt him reminded me of an incident described in the ‘Curfewed Nights’. The incident was described to author Basharat Pir by his friend Hilal. Hilal hailed from Kashmir and was a student at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in the early 1990s. He was traveling from Aligarh to Delhi with fellow students. His friends were attacked and thrown out from the train by the ‘Karseveks‘ merely because of their identity. He survived because he lied about his identity. Those were days after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992. Over a quarter of a century later, I could feel their fear.

In 2020, when a saffron flag is being placed over a mosque, when Muslim localities are being burnt, when the ‘Muslim’ identity is being demonised and eliminated, the entire community is at the target. On the train, I felt the threat and kept silent. But I remembered that Hindu youth who took down the saffron flag from the same mosque. I remembered Premkant Beghel who risked his life while saving a Muslim family from a house set aflame by the Hindutva terrorists. I remembered all those incidents I have read about, when people from the Hindu community came to the rescue of their Muslim brethren. This made me differentiate between the Hindutva forces and the Hindu community.

In my opinion, it is crystal clear that the Muslim community as a whole is being targeted by the Hindutva forces. Under such grim conditions, everyone needs to make a choice. You are either with the perpetrators of crime, or with the victims. There is nothing in between, as neutrality in such polarising times automatically makes you on the wrong side.

After a few hours, the train reached its destination. With the feeling of being at home again, I felt rejoiced. But this train journey left me threatened because of the silence I had to maintain. Under such conditions, the greatest responsibility falls on those of us who have the privilege of being less vulnerable while speaking up.

You are either with the oppressors or with the oppressed, nothing in between.

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