Hushed whispers, raised eyebrows and smirks. Didn’t know wearing a burqa and being a Muslim would get me this kind of attention in an upscale residential society in the national capital region. During the initial months of my stay in my new home, I didn’t realise why I was so unwelcome in the new neighbourhood. Apart from two-three friendly souls, most of them were dismissive of me as an individual. My year-and-a-half-old daughter wouldn’t be invited to birthday parties!
It was only after a year, when I befriended another Muslim neighbour, who supposedly was not conventional and broad-minded, told me the reason behind my predicament.
It came as a shock to me. I have always had friends outside my community and religion. In fact, the ones closest to me are non-Muslims. So all of a sudden, this kind of treatment took me unawares. I was advised by other friends that I should go and attend pujas and maata ki chowki just for attendance. To show I was liberal and not as orthodox as they believed me to be. But then I have never had problems in attending any rituals or prayers of any community or religion. This piece of advice blew my top. Why couldn’t I be accepted for what I was as a human being? Did anyone try to figure out there was more to my personality than my external appearance? How does what I wear reflect my nationalism or my views? In between people who call themselves fundamentalists and the ones claiming to be liberals or non-conventionals, we are caught – the ones who like to abide by our religious practices and also live a life like any other individual in any country of residence.
Initially, I was very upset. Wasn’t able to come to terms with this reality. This discrimination was happening to me. But then I realised, this way I will get more secluded and won’t be able to show them what I am. I wanted them to know I was just like any one of them, a normal woman, with similar emotions, likes, dislikes, hopes, wishes and aspirations. I began with taking more part in social affairs of the society. My creative writing classes brought some people closer to me. I started gaining recognition as a person with a lot of talent. But still, there were children who wouldn’t eat if I offered them anything. I gave them the benefit of doubt; maybe they didn’t like sweets! Then there were the older kids who wouldn’t believe I was a Muslim. They were adamant that I was a converted one since I spoke good English!
It has been four years in this neighbourhood. I have been accepted as I am. But there are still some, who think I belong to that conservative sect of Muslims, who do jihad and all. But then it is not possible for me to change everyone’s way of thinking. Now it’s my daughter I have to focus upon. It’s her turn to be guided and counselled. In class one now, she comes back home with questions like, I am a child of the mosque, and they are of the temple, so whose prayers will God listen to? Since my husband and I have never taught her to discriminate, we don’t even know from where she learnt the words Hindu and Muslim, us and them!
So with this another turn of the wheel in my life – done with fighting the demons of religion based discrimination externally, I need to focus inward, inside my house, so that the next generation doesn’t grow up struggling with the questions, I have with much difficulty answered for myself.
Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala
Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in the article are the personal opinions of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of THN and THN does not assume any responsibility for the same.