Trigger warning: Mentions of Islamophobia
The year was 2006, I was in 1st grade. One afternoon, a girl from class walked up to me to ask if she could take my pink Barbie pencil box home to which I said no.
She stared at me for a second and said, “tum musalmano ne humara jeena haram kar rakha hai.” (You Muslims have made life hell for us) It was shocking. I didn’t understand what she meant or why she said whatever she’d just said.
I did not even understand religion at the age of 6 but I felt a sharp pain in my heart. Immediately my eyes began to water. My comeback was, “Our prophet was a good man.” It was a pretty lame comeback now that I think of it.
The words felt like a lightning bolt. I went back home and debated whether I should tell my parents about it. I did not know what she meant but by the tone of it, I had understood it must be a sensitive thing. I did not want my parents to worry, so I decided to not make a big deal out of it.
Next day, she gathered all the girls of our class, 6 in total, and they unanimously decided to never talk to me again because I was Muslim. That was hurtful, especially because I did not understand why that treatment was being meted out to me. I finally told my family that day and they decided to speak to my class teacher.
I don’t know the exact conversation but the teacher concluded it by saying something on the lines of, “Well, they’re kids. It happens; they’ll grow out of it.” That was the end. That’s all she had to say or do.
Obviously, none of them grew out of it. Every other day, I’d hear something new about Muslims in India, right from “You’re Pakistani”, “You’re worse than scum”, “You’re a terrorist” to “All Muslims are terrorists” and “We hate you, go away.”
The imprisonment of Dr.Umar Khalid and now the targeting of Shah Rukh Khan are just a slight reflection of being a Muslim in India. The experience of growing up as a minority in India is marred by feeling of ‘otherness’ that is induced right from the time a Muslim child steps in the world, outside of home.
The bigotry is intensified in states like Uttar Pradesh that have always been religiously sensitive and the governments have time and again systematically attempted to ‘other’ Indian Muslims.
My comeback game was pretty weak back then, so I’d just cherish the few moments they’d acknowledge me and stay quiet. Funnily enough, it was actually a Christian convent school but the staff did not have any cares to give.
— NDTV News feed (@ndtvfeed) October 12, 2021
Islamophobia was not just confined to the girls of my class who excluded me from all activities but the teachers too were part of it. None of them ever cared to call her parents or do something about the bullying.
That incident set the tone for the rest of my life in the primary section for the coming 5-6 years, to be ostracised and bullied. The experience of Indian Muslims is not limited to verbal rhetoric or slurs in classrooms alone. It pervades every aspect of our social lives, right from an innocuous cricket match to Bollywood movies.
Indo-Pak matches are especially a testing time for Indian Muslims. While our heart obviously beats for our Indian cricket team, we’ve to make sure that other people around us know it too.
“I don’t even like cricket but my ‘friends’ scrutinise every word of mine to find hints of me supporting Pakistan during Indo-Pak encounters. I ensure that I am using the harshest and meanest language for Pakistan anytime that discussion comes up just so my allegiance is not questioned. I’ve to constantly prove I am Indian,” Aamir told YKA.
Of the many ways used to make Muslims feel like outsiders, questioning the origins of Muslim names and pronouncing them oddly remains the top.
“My name is not hard to pronounce at all, but some people purposely mispronounce it. I hated my name growing up because of all the teasing but now I’ve accepted it and actually like it. It means prosperity,” Saad said.
Some Muslim names have their origins in Urdu and not Arabic. It makes it difficult for bigots to zero in on us immediately.
“One time, a classmate in college told me that had they known I’m Muslim, they would’ve never spoken to me. These comments are so common that I just laugh now,” Khushi added.
Thanks to Bollywood stereotyping, Muslims cannot be fathomed as whole individuals. It’s uncomfortable for people when they can’t identify someone through specific ‘religious markers’.
Samiya believed that reductive representations have appropriated Muslim experiences and made it difficult, especially for children from the community.
“It’s easier to be a Muslim adult than a Muslim kid because you know better how to handle situations of Islamophobia.
Anything that I do is automatically assumed to be a representation of the entire Muslim community. Despite the fact that my whole personality has been reduced to Biryani, it’s easier to laugh it off.”
The stereotypes and myths often reach dangerous proportions, vitiating the mutual trust among friends and neighbours. Rahil grew up in a Muslim neighbourhood, a fact that he never really paid attention until someone asked him if they kill outsiders in the neighbourhood.
“I grew up in a pre-dominantly Muslim locality and I found it hilarious when my friends would ask me if Hindus are allowed to visit or if we kill whoever enters the locality. They think the Hindu experience in Muslim localities is the same as that of a Muslim in their areas.
They don’t understand that we’re so little in number that we can’t even sustain if we don’t get along. Muslim people are always surrounded by non-muslims and honestly, I am proud of it,” Rahil told YKA.
These are only a few aspects of having a Muslim identity. We’ve the same passport, same blood, under the same sky, supporting the same army, eating the same food, drinking the same water, paying the same money for petrol, getting equally mugged for taxes.
Despite how Bollywood stereotypes us, we’re very regular people. In fact, I really appreciate those who choose to dislike me solely for my personality and not my religion; you might have poor taste but at least you’re not a bigot.
Lastly, it may be a fragile moment in the secular and diverse history of India but this shall pass soon.
— Akhil Katyal (@AkhilKatyal) October 11, 2021
We’re as Indian as anyone else, we’ve the same rights, we’ll continue to fight for our country to protect it and we’re proud of our glorious motherland. We did not abandon our home in 1947, we’re not leaving now.