Trigger warning: Islamophobia
As I would cross 21 to be a boy of 22 this May, I look back at events that have badly affected me in many ways. Being asked to prove my love for my own country questioning my identity on the basis of a false binary of identity has resulted in me being made into someone belonging to “other”.
It was 2017. I was in 12th standard.
One afternoon, we were sitting in our tutor’s room waiting for him. He was scheduled to teach us about the Indo-Chinese war and its subsequent impact on the diplomatic relationship between two Asian Countries who could have become good friends if they had set aside their respective ego and vanity).
Suddenly he asked me whether I would support India or Pakistan in an ODI cricket match between India and Pakistan. He argued, “As you are a Muslim and Pakistan too is a Muslim country, you are bound to support Pakistan.”
I gave him a befitting reply as per my own capacity. But today, I feel that I missed many crucial points in my response to him.
A few days later, in a plain statement, he said, “Muslims consume beef and that’s why they are hot-blooded and prone to killing and fighting.”
This time I kept mum. I was not blaming him for anything. I was blaming myself for calling him a teacher. A teacher who can spew such communally charged remarks can never impart good value to any of his students. I regret being his student.
I passed my Higher Secondary examination and got admitted to one of the prestigious colleges of Kalyani University. I was refused accommodation in Berhampore for having a Muslim name. Later on, I came to know that one of my cousins who got me there had to stay there pretending to be a Hindu.
The man who refused me accommodation was an ex-army officer. Honour badges received post wars (most probably for his bravery on the battlefields) were hanging against his wall. He at first asked my name. Upon knowing that I am a “Muslim”, he told me, “This place is not for you. Go and find places where people like you stay.”
In another incident, it so happened that I was arguing with one of my Muslim friends over my being a practising atheist. He suddenly asked me to change my name since it “still carried a Muslim identity”.
I smiled and replied, “My dear friend, as I was born to Muslim parents, it is natural that my name would carry a Muslim identity. I cannot do anything about it. It does not matter whether I have a Muslim name or something else. What matters most to me is that I don’t believe in any imaginary entity and believe in the concept of humanity, instead.”
People who have gone through this sort of situation would be well able to relate themselves to this piece of writing. It is extremely depressing and traumatising to be excluded, judged for just having “a name tag”.