As I scroll through Twitter, I see what’s trending on it. “Muslim Jihadi”, “Ban Qu’ran”, “Muslims responsible (for whatever happened that day)” and “Go back to Pakistan” take up the first few spots. I see comments from Muslims trying to justify their existence to people they’ve never met. This has become a daily occurrence. As a Muslim, it’s sad to see how my faith is being nitpicked by everyone who does not understand it and yet, I have learnt to ignore it, sometimes. It’s amazing how we’ve gotten used to it; only because of the extent to which Islamophobia is normalized. Encouraged, even.
But as a Muslim living in India, I’m left with the only question that remains unanswered. Why do they hate us? The truth is, they don’t know it themselves. To understand Muslim erasure in India, we need to understand history of Modern India. What are the events in history that led us here?
QUICK HISTORY RECAP
In the Modern Indian History, the first record of the discord between Hindus and Muslims came when Bengal was partitioned into East and West Bengal on religious grounds. This was the classic divide and rule tactic that was orchestrated by Lord Curzon in 1905. The Partition of Bengal was a deliberate attempt to destroy the social fabric of the country. However, that lasted for a few years until they came under one administration in 1911. However, the resentment that was caused among the people stayed throughout.
When the Two-Nation theory was proposed, it wasn’t taken seriously and many people opposed it. At that time, communal violence was bad and the Muslim League decided that it was the best way to stop this violence and not live as a minority anymore. When India was partitioned, the violence was at its peak. Many Muslims fled to Pakistan for their survival and many Hindus came to India. It was the biggest forced mass migration movement in History. Overnight, people found themselves on the wrong side of the border.
But when the Partition took place, Indian Muslims became a minority. Those who couldn’t afford to move or didn’t want to leave their home found themselves living in constant fear. Indian Muslims then found themselves without security and suffered a great cultural loss. When Muslims left this country to join the other side of the Radcliffe Line, they didn’t just take themselves there. They took with them the Muslim culture. All of the Muslim intelligentsia suddenly became Pakistanis. And Pakistan became the ‘other’. Our culture became another. Pakistan then claimed Urdu as their National Language, and as a result, Urdu started to decline in India.
Pakistan would then go on to play an important role in Indian Politics. After Independence, there would always be a tangible tension present at the border, almost waiting for the other to explode. India and Pakistan were at war three times until things cooled down for sometime.
What happened after that?
The affects of the Partition still linger. Even after many decades, there remains a them vs. us narrative. This was solidified in another clash that crushed the social fabric of India. The Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. Hindus believed that it was the birth place of Rama and that sparked a huge clash between Muslims and Hindus. Communal riots took place all over the country. My mother still tells me how the curfew was imposed even in Hyderabad after several were killed in broad daylight. People were scared to step out, in fear of being killed and looted. There were too many riots, too many lives lost due to this clash and the effects still remain. It didn’t end there. Almost a decade later, In 2002, in Gujrat, there was a Muslim genocide. And there’s no mention of it anymore.
In 2014, we see a trend of rise in Islamophobia and Hindutva set in. The idea that there should be one nation exclusively for Hindus; just as how Pakistan is for Muslims. It became an election campaign, and it was greatly supported by the majority. For the last few years, Muslims in India have been lynched, and been mistreated and greatly oppressed.
In 2019, Kashmir, which had been granted the autonomous status during Independence, was seized by the Indian Army, under some of the worst lock-down conditions. Following that, the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed, where Muslims were conveniently left out; essentially saying that Muslims aren’t Indians. This sparked a chain of protests across the nation. The first protest was started by Muslim Women, at Jamia Millia Islamia, on the night of thirteenth of December. After that, every state protested, every city had lakhs of people turning up on the streets.
It was the first time I had seen such unity among Indians. Sikhs from Punjab came to Delhi to serve food at protests. Dadis gathered at Shaheen Bagh, prayed there and never moved an inch. Friends from all over the world tweeted, posted on Instagram and Facebook about it. We raised the same slogans that were raised during the freedom struggle. “Sarfaroshi ki tammana ab hamare dil mein hai,” was heard everywhere. It echoed in every Indian heart. Dissent was in the air, as many called it. I never felt as Indian as I did in those protests.
Muslims across the country are protesting against these very atrocities and are being jailed under the UAPA law. Muslims Activists like Safoora Zargar, Sharjeel Imam, Amir Mintoee and Farhan Zuberi, Asif Tanha, Miran Haider, and Shifa ul-Rahman are still jailed for raising their voices against the Citizenship Amendment Act. And Muslims have been lynched on the pretext that they were selling or consuming beef. Muslims have been denied housing, and food at shops. These are all bizarre to listen to, but this is the reality for all of us.
Muslim Universities like Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University have become war-zones. It has been six months since these universities were tear-gassed and the students were fired bullets at. Police lathi charged students and broke into libraries and cause crores worth of damage, and yet, there’s no justice. I got calls from my friends from these universities, crying and saying, “it’s a war zone.”
Following that, the Delhi riots in February were the worst riots in two decades. Universities were barricaded. Delhi was on fire. Simultaneously, there was an internet shutdown in Aligarh. That day, for Muslims in the nation, was very terrifying. When my friend called me, I was relieved to know that he was safe but I was terrified of what was about to happen. He was, too but he told me he was used to it. I knew then, just as I know now, the situation was about to get worse.
It was during these times where we felt helpless and angry. Like we were disposable and unimportant to the society. Hurtful words were spoken against us, and that was an unforgettable experience. During this, Amir Aziz penned a poem called Sab Kuch Yaad Rakha Jayega. Everything will be remembered.
The hatred has been seeped in; so much so that it didn’t take news channels very long to communalize a pandemic. Remember the Tablighi Jamaat incident? It didn’t take long for my Savarna friends to post on their Instagram stories about how a community will be blamed if they continue doing all this. I remember being hurt that everyone was giving into these stories and feeling unsafe, like I was under constant watch.
But Muslim Erasure goes deeper than Politics.
Muslims and their contributions have been erased throughout history. The Mughals are still called invaders, while the Taj Mahal still is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The list is long, the method remains the same. Erasing Muslim identities has become a norm, all around the world.
A classic example of this would be the whitewashing of Rumi. You see, Rumi was a Sufi Saint. His full name was Jalal Uddin Mohammed Balkhi who spent his life spreading the word of God. His poetry is read by everyone and even quoted quite frequently. But Rumi was a Sufi Saint and when he was writing those poems, it was for God. The removal of God from Rumi’s poetry is a great disservice to his legacy. Equating his poetry and love for God to the love between two individuals not only incorrect but also a way to erase the Muslim faith altogether. Naming children after Rumi is fine, as long as you know the history behind that name. Getting tattoos of his poetry is fine, if you know the true meaning of it. It’s not about a romantic love that’s lost and will be found again. Rumi’s poetry reeks of pure faith in God and how this faith and patience gets everyone through the toughest times.
Muslims in the media have, for too long, been villainized. Too much kohl under the eyes, skull caps and being terrorists is the only way we see Muslims in Bollywood movies. The sad reality is that I didn’t even have to mention any character in particular yet while reading this, I’m sure a character must have popped in your head. We’ve been reduced to jokes, to villains who want to destroy the world and we have been reduced to a constant ‘other’ entity. We’re not represented as people that you share food with, that you have as friends. We’re only objects that you use for your benefit.
Even in Diaspora, the ‘Indian’ culture is always the Brahmin Culture. The festivals, the traditions are always Hindu rituals followed by Brahims. In another continent, Hindus become India. And so where do Indian Muslims find representation? The recent show by Mindy Kaling, Never Have I Ever, shows the story of a Hindu Brahmin girl who is an American Indian. Among the many problematic elements of the show, one of it was the fact that India was seen through the Hindu lens.
Hasan Minhaj is an American Indian who is destroying these barriers and narratives through his political comedy show, Patriot Act. It’s funny to know that Hasan Minhaj was not allowed to enter the Howdy Modi event but his picture was used as an example of what immigrants can achieve in the US in the same event.
Sexualization of Muslim Identities
Minorities are at the forefront of being sexualized. Womxn, black folks and Muslims are some of the few categories of minorities who have been sexualized and fetishized for these very identities. When muslim women are wearing burqas and hiding their bodies, everyone comes and says, “Hey, what’s underneath that burqa? Chupa kya rahi ho, hamein bhi toh batao.” Men have sexualized Muslim women because they want to know what’s under that burqa. They want to strip them away of this prudishness and virginal appearance.
Another common occurrence on Twitter and Instagram is the fetishization of Muslim Men. I have seen countless women on Twitter saying, “Ah, a Muslim man who knows Urdu poetry and wears a kurta is what I need in life.” And then go on to support the same regime that wants Muslims dead. Our entire identity is reduced to the Lucknowi idea of adaab and how we slip in poetry every two seconds.
Kashmiris are by far the most sexualized. After the Indian siege of Kashmir, Twitter was filled with comments like, “Now I can marry a fair, Kashmiri girl,” among many other lewd ones.
It’s tiring to be at the receiving end of this and feels as though we exist to only be punished by the majority or for the pleasure of the majority.
MENTAL HEALTH OF MUSLIMS
Although there is no consensus on the mental health status of Indian Muslims, it doesn’t take much to figure out that over the last year Muslims have been more anxious. Knowing that they are at the risk of having their citizenship stripped away from them, Muslims across the country are frantically looking for their documents, which has increased stress levels.
Reports from Kashmir are heartbreaking. Nearly one in five people in Kashmir show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 2015 study by Médecins Sans Frontières and the Srinagar-based Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, or IMHANS. In this article, Dr. Arshad Hussain, a psychiatrist who co-authored the ActionAid study, calls Kashmir one of the “saddest places in the world”.
This coupled with the lack of resources seems to make matters worse in Kashmir. We need more Muslim therapists in India who know and understand the reason for our traumas. Because this is not an individual problem, it’s a result of systemic injustice and erasure. The traumas Muslims deal with is political. And unless the regime does something to protect the rights of the Muslim minority, mental illnesses will continue to rise.
Muslims have contributed so much to this country, and continue to do so everyday. They not only want to erase our history, but also want to imbibe in citizens that Muslims have no place in India.
Indian Muslims have to prove their patriotism every single way.
Picture this: it is India vs. Pakistan. The atmosphere is tense. We’re about to win. This is the last over, we’re neck to neck, and we won! Firecrackers can be heard in every lane, and sweets are being distributed, children are running around screaming. We’ve beat Pakistan! But somewhere, a lot of Muslims are being questioned, “are you happy?” “Weren’t you supporting Pakistan?” Even in sports, we have had to justify and prove our patriotism.
It gets tiring to always prove that you’re Indian.
It’s not new for Muslims to be told by their parents to be careful. “Don’t go out too late in the night, don’t be too muslim. It’s okay, don’t get into political discussions.” These are all the things we’ve been taught right from our childhood. The gravity of which I’ve begun to realize especially after CAA was passed.
My mother practically begged me, “Don’t go to those protests, please.” I wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t. I told her, “It’s my right to go. They’re going to take our rights away, we have to go.”
She said, “It’s not worth being arrested, it’s not worth being killed.”
In fact it is in these statements that I realize her fear, and mine. Her generation has seen too much, things that I have not yet. When she pictures those protests, she is reminded of the time where people were brutally killed in the open and how Muslim women were used as catalysts to the propaganda. Her fear is not unfounded, and I cannot say that she’s being paranoid about it. There’s always the unsaid statement from her, “it gets worse.”
Minorities are resilient. Muslims are, too. And despite my mother’s fears, I did go to the protests. Because beyond that fear, was my future. And beyond that fear, I knew I wasn’t alone in this fight. And the realization that I wasn’t doing this for myself alone was enough. I went to those protests for my heritage, for the elders who lost their documents and were scared for their lives and for the younger generation to grow up without this fear. And I knew that everyone who was there with me thought the same.
So, they can demolish our mosques and erase our history, they can threaten to take away our citizenship, and they can question us when India wins, but nothing takes away from the fact that we’re Indians and Muslims. These two identities of ours are not mutually exclusive. We’re both, and we’re not compromising on that. We didn’t during the Partition, and we won’t now.
Pause for Perspective