Thursday, October 16, 2008

Being a Muslim

I read this piece by Samina Mishra in a blog I frequent. I am reproducing it. I found it very insightful and deserves wider reading in these times of poisoned communal atmosphere.

[This is a piece I wrote for India Today but the version that has appeared in the magazine is an edit that I did not agree to. It's not clear to me how that happened since I edited the longer article down to this final version and sent it in to them. But the magazine is out and I am both angry and saddened at their careless editing of ideas that are particularly under siege at this point of time.

So, here is my edit and I would be glad if it was circulated widely on the net - more widely than the magazine!


Being Muslim means many things to many people

by Samina Mishra

Not far from L18, in the posh part of Jamia Nagar, is a house on a tree-lined avenue that will always be home to me. But my life, with all its easy privileges, could not be more different from Atif and Sajid's, the two young men shot as alleged terrorists at L18. I contain multitudes, Whitman so eloquently said. But we live in a time when even multitudes are forced to lay claim to a singular label. And so by writing this, perhaps, I will forever be labelled the voice of the liberal secular Muslim. A voice that is accused of not speaking up. Ironically, it is this very tyranny of labels that grants me this space in a mainstream national magazine.

As someone with a Muslim first name and a Hindu surname, I suppose I have always swung between labels - a poster girl for communal harmony or a confused, rootless individual, depending on who was doing the labelling. I went to a public school and have never worn a burkha. I might escape being thrown in the big cauldron with "Islamic Terrorists" but I will certainly be added to the one for "misguided intellectuals" . While there is no mistaking
that it is zealous nationalists who seek to light the fire under the first cauldron, the other is a bone of contention between those who seek to define for me how to be Indian and those who seek to define for me how to be Muslim. My condemnation of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Imrana's rape or the media circus around Gudiya will always be seen in the context of my
privileged background, my gender, my religious identity. Perhaps, it can be no other way.

In this rhetoric of binaries of "us and them", it is difficult to find the space to create a new paradigm of discussion. And so, in conversations that throw up Islamic terrorists, rigid religious beliefs, Pakistan and madrasas, the response is inevitably another set of questions - why is the Bajrang Dal not labelled a terrorist outfit, why is the growing public display of Hindu festivals like Navratras and Karva Chauth not considered rigid religious beliefs, why should Muslims in India be answerable for what goes on in Pakistan, what spaces other than madrasas are available for thousands of believing Muslims who choose to get educated and still retain their Muslim-ness. As a Muslim in India today, not only are you fighting to shrug off the label of fundamentalist- if not terrorist - but you are also succumbing to a paradigm of dialogue which has been set for homogenous communities with clear markers of identities.

But how does one fight that when shared cultural spaces, other than those created by the market, shrink? How does one speak of the diversity of being Indian when Diwali is celebrated in schools and Eid just in Muslim homes? How does one avoid a singular label for experiences that are diverse and yet have a common thread running through them - the experience of a tailor in
Ahmedabad whose Hindu patrons have stopped giving work to, the butcher in Batla House who couldn't get a bank loan, the software professional who will now have to watch every single byte that leaves his computer.

Being Muslim in India today means many things to many people. But how easy it is to forget that one fundamental reality. How easy it is to say, as someone said to me after the Delhi blasts - "These are all educated Muslims. Don't they know that their bombs can also kill their own?" As if everyone with a Muslim name is a terrorist's very "own".

In the India Today


Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

Good find, Krishnan. Thanks for sharing it with us. Provided good insight into the Indian Muslim mind. Though not very representative, it highlighted that since it means different to each one, finding a representative Indian Muslim is almost impossible.

mitr_bayarea said...

Thanks for sharing this insightful article, makes one think more before generalizing about all muslims.

Krishnan said...

Thanks for your opinion, Gopinath and Mitr.

Artnavy said...

we need to be so sensitive and responsible not to label

i saw parzania finally- u must see it too

Krishnan said...

Generally I do not get to watch Hindi movies in theaters, maybe try to catch it on DVD. Already my to-watch list is growing - Wednesday and host of world movies like Children of Paradise, City of God.