I believe a Muslim has two sets of identities—one of a criminal and the other again of a criminal, but of a crime not committed. I was born a Muslim and recognise myself as an Indian with a stronger vigour to prove that I have nothing to do with Pakistan.
But still, in the eighth standard, when I was away in the boarding of a Darjeeling school where not even a Pakistani diplomat exists, I was interrupted by a senior saying, “Last night in the match we won against you.”
Here “we” is an Indian and “you” is a Pakistani, but ironically this “you” has nothing to do with Pakistan. It is more trivial an enemy to “you” than “we” because this “you” has to wear the dirty robe of Pakistan irrespective of ever attaching any sentiments to it. This custody of proving the unaffectionate bond has to fall on you no matter what.
Luckily Pakistan is not the only attribution that an average Muslim wears in the country and the spectrum of cat-calling is even more gruesome to address. I was hardly called by my name in my high school but always had a sobriquet as Katuwa, which was further abbreviated to even more scorching taunts.
I have learned to live by this, considering a bothered child is closer to the parents, which is my motherland. However, I still don’t have a rationale to justify why I was made to hang my head in shame with the hanging of Sarabjit Singh, even though I didn’t have his blood on my hand and maybe my maturity would have mourned him equally as other nationals.
But I believe I was pretty accustomed to this discrimination because I was used to hearing stuff like, “My parents have told me not to befriend a Muslim,” since the third standard itself.
Interestingly, this existential crisis is brought down to me not only by the other sides but also by my community. My denial of not taking a Muslim teachers tuition in my fourth standard deliberately made her fail me in her subject and I got labelled as a Hindu (meant to be a slur) because of me not fasting a day in Ramadan.
Heights of things reach a point when an Uncle mocks me for playing with colours on Holi, who has a Hindu wife. But I am even used to it very much in a similar fashion as I am used to the other community, and got so accustomed to it that now I know whether playing Holi or not observing a fast or a middle way of the day is all getting me newer names and taunts.
In all of this, the ridiculous but yet relevant question that surfaces on my principles is, which side do I go and associate myself with because my association is where my existential crisis sets in.
Unfortunately, towards my college, my hope of not having to face this also got fragmented into pieces. Now some of my folks even discover a communal angle in my accomplishments and try painting me darkly as a few rotten sections of my society. My acceptance is unacceptable to them. I am tagged in social media posts completely meant to tease or hurt the sentiments of a Muslim.
If that doesn’t work, the same faces group up to bully me over Social Media just because I defer from some of their prescribed ideas or because I keep fairing well in my accomplishments and a communal coated hatred is any day better than personal incapacitated bigotry.
At times I hear, “Don’t mess with him because he has a background in cutting meat.” The other times I hear, “Is it true that your community men engage with their sisters.” Or to a more teasing tone, “Do you have Ak47, CoronaVirus, Bombs, stones, etc., in stock at your place.”
Now I don’t know how loud I need to be to tell them that none of it existed or exists in my lineage of Muslims, and I come from a family of academicians, doctors, teachers, designers and lawyers, and yes, we do exist. However, I am more appropriate as a stone pelter, butcher, etc.
Interestingly at times, even teachers and professors reflect the same weird line. Once in my class of Partition Literature, I discussed a novel in Urdu which I had read sometimes back and was first struck with a question from my professor, “Beta, where did you learn Urdu, Madrasa?” I denied and said that I did that at home, to which he made a follow-up, “Did you read the Quran?” to which I agreed.
Then he says, “You must have done it in a Madarsa because that can’t be done at home.” Now how do I convey that never in my life have I attended a Madarsa and have gained a complete convent education till my tenth standard? But the prescribed stereotypes are what land me in an existential crisis.
I don’t know whom to hold responsible, but I know that I am not responsible for whatever trajectory my community brings in.
The author is a student of the University of Delhi and a Research Fellow with the National Commission for Minorities. He can be reached out on: