Every morning, I take out the perfect matching piece of fabric from the cupboard and collect the pins from the drawer. Now and then, I struggle with putting it perfectly over my head. But, this struggle can never be compared to what I face while debating with the people that my religion was not spread by the sword and all the Muslims are not terrorists.
“Oppressed,” as everyone would call me, I was never forced by anyone in my family to cover my head. It was of my own volition. Growing up as a practising Muslim, I started wearing my headscarf in high school. For me, it has been a symbol of faith, representing my relationship with the Creator. It really fascinates me how someone born as a Muslim can still find their religion all over again. I did not passively accept the faith of my parents. Instead, I read, reflected, questioned and doubted and, ultimately, believed.
When I first moved to Delhi in 2018 for my graduation, I never thought that I would be picked on because of the piece of cloth on my head. I never experienced the tyranny directly but there is no denial of the fact that we have not known the pain and the truth of marginalization of our community. The suspicious stares at stations, over-checking during the security check at airports, stereotyping, distrust and prejudice was all far out for an eighteen-year-old girl deserted in a new city.
The discrimination reached such a point that people avoided sitting beside me in the metros merely because I had my head covered.
The pattern continued and grew even more gruesome when the government proposed a draconian law about citizenship. The law directly targeted the Muslims living in the country. Hundreds and thousands of people came out on streets opposing the law. Students from different universities protested against it. Women, along with children, came out in great numbers as the torchbearers of hope and justice. Despite the coercion of suffering in silence and dying in silence, people kept fighting for their basic human rights.
The body (Delhi Police) that was supposed to safeguard us instead barged into our universities, brutally attacked the students, even holding some in their custody. The situation had completely turned into a dystopia of violence and revulsion.
After two months following the protest, there was a pogrom that took place in East Delhi on February 25, 2020. People were pulled out and beaten on the streets. Shops were looted. Houses and institutions were destroyed. Places of worships were bombed. People were brutally murdered all because of their faith. They were murdered simply because they were ‘visibly Muslims’.
It was systematic discrimination that had led to their segregation and further bloodshed. Doctors who treated the victims were overwhelmed and traumatized after seeing them being carried on shoulders and wooden carts. Several journalists covering the scene were beaten and mishandled. People had to flee their homes in order to safe their lives. Some were trapped on their terrace while rioters prowled in the lanes. For them, it was a time of terror for their life, accompanied by a sense of hopelessness. That night the whole city was wrapped up in fear, trauma, and grief.
Soon the gory images of the carnage spread all over social media. Living in a Muslim majority area, that too in a girl’s hostel, left each of us in a state of tremendous terror. Firstly, we were all alone, away from our families, and secondly, we had never witnessed such a scale of hatred and horror in our entire lives. Our hostel gates had been closed. Phones calls were made asking the girls to return immediately to the hostel or to stay safe wherever they might be. We were all terrified not only because we could have been physically harmed, but the incident could have turned even more hideous. Our lives had entirely come to a standstill.
Within an hour of the outbreak of the violence, my local guardian came to fetch me to her place. We were supposed to drive all the way to Noida. My father had been calling me from time-to-time to inquire about the situation.
As I was about to leave the place my father called me again and said “I suggest you not to cover your head while going out until the situation cools down.”
I was taken aback. Someone who had been teaching me the core values of Islam all through my life was now asking me to give up the very basic pillar of the religion. That was the level of fear people were living in.
This brutality and the carnage against a single community was the direct result of an environment which empowered hate. It is slowly and gradually getting more accepted, more intense, and more rampant. In the current political environment, anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia have become persuasive features of the world.
Islamophobia has become a socially acceptable form of bigotry. Some people don’t realise Islamophobia exists and is getting worse. I guess we have become so numb to the hatred that we couldn’t have ever imagined it turning into violence, and witnessing humanity take a back seat.