A couple of months back we were looking to change our rented apartment. As our kid grew, we felt our need for space grow and so we started doing the weekend exercise of searching for a bigger house. We all know it is difficult for a Muslim to get a house and we had a matter-of-fact approach to this problem. We told our broker upfront that we were Muslims and to kindly refrain from hiding our identity. We asked him to ensure the landlord was absolutely okay with renting out to Muslims and only then shall we step into the premises to have a look at the house.
The broker was a young man and was effaced by our bluntness, he smiled apologetically. While this did narrow down our options, but also saved us a lot of time and energy. After about two months of actively seeking a new place, we finally liked, let me rephrase, loved an apartment. It was open, airy, suitably located, in budget and did not compromise on the quality of lifestyle that we wanted for ourselves. The landlord was an affable sweet man and we instantly knew we had finally found a new home.
At first, we scolded the delivery boy to say it’s just a ‘food’ item. But he would forget and on every delivery, we heard on the intercom, ‘mutton aaya hai’. The words just sounded ominous. Looking at our exasperation, the delivery boy finally asked, but why do you ask me not to say ‘mutton’? I replied, “Kya pata tumhara mutton kab beef ban jaaye?”
Any meat cooked in a Muslim house today is after all considered beef. My Muslim maid tells me of the many times she has been asked by other maids if we cook beef at home. We don’t. But we still live in paranoia. Just look at news around you, there is no time for clarifications, mere suspicion is enough to humiliate, or worse, to kill a Muslim.
If ever there is confusion over the kind of meat being delivered at our place, however unwittingly, we will be just another number to be held against the community. For there is no fringe lynch mob, it’s all around us.
I remember, when finalizing this house, we had walked around the neighbourhood checking the clubhouse, swimming pool and other sports facilities available. We were a happy twosome, already making plans for our new home. We decided to ring the bell of one of the houses in our building and ask about the pros and cons of the apartment. The door was opened by a cheerful couple with big warm smiles, the kinds one instantly likes. We told them we were planning to shift and they seemed happy to talk to us. After a few pleasantries, they invited us for tea. As we settled down in their sofa set, tea arrived.
As an afterthought, they asked us, ‘oh, and what is your name?’ We realized that in the excitement of meeting new people, none of us had bothered to introduce ourselves. So we offered our names. Suddenly, as we picked up the tea cups in our hands, we were aware of a hesitant and momentary silence. As the noiseless exchange of glances happened, I remembered hearing a story of people who destroy the tea cups used by Muslims. Suddenly, I felt very sad for the fine china cup in my hand. What a waste of such a beauty! It’s only fault being its fate to be in my hands.
I also realized that these were no longer the times when you can enter any house without double checking if your religion is welcome or not. But knowing and experiencing are not the same things. While we were aware of landlords not giving houses to Muslim tenants, we were not prepared for the hesitancy from educated and equally privileged neighbours. Yes, accepting bigotry in its all-pervasive nature is a slow process. But being a Muslim today means living unfazed by these everyday instances. We slowly learn to smile at visitors, who refused to even drink a glass of water at our homes.
On the other hand, we have the few landlords who do give us nice houses on rent. We slowly learn to get used to losing friends and being at the ends of unfounded hate. At the same time, we don’t lose hope as we make new friends who stand up against injustices regardless of religion or political leanings. We are also used to hearing about lynching and vigilante ‘justice’, which just happens to be directed at one community. And if many ‘right’ commentators are to be believed, it’s not a communal occurrence but only a serendipity. This makes us worried, very worried.
Most of us, the Muslims of India, are aware that we are seen as a homogeneous group — an ummah that is undivided in practices and beliefs. We have grown up hearing comments like ‘oh you don’t look like a Muslim’ or ‘aapke yahaan toh honge chaaku-churri chalaane waley’. We are aggressively stereotyped and fused in class, region or aspirational distinctions. And the knowledge of this is inherent to being a Muslim today. It’s not a mundane newspaper article. It’s a reality we live with.
That is why perhaps the news of a Muslim being lynched is so close to home for us and is a distant fringe for our neighbours. For me, it’s another day survived, another day lived, knowing very well I could be the next victim. The stunning brutality and regularity of it all has probably distanced my neighbour and colleagues from the reality that India has become today.
It’s convenient to ‘fringicize’ it in the heads. This is partly to exonerate oneself from the onus of the majority Hindu middle and upper class from speaking against such violence. How many social media timelines I see talking of every issue in the world, but this? There is a total silence on this in all ‘mann ki baats’. Probably, a picture of a blood soaked man with folded hands pleading for a fair chance in the face of camera phones doesn’t touch hearts anymore. It’s a sign of how developed we are, see even the so-called fringe has a smartphone! Probably, we must not be affected by the gory details but look for positives and buy into the various theories that make us feel good about such ‘stray’ incidences. Let’s continue to unsee, unhear, and unfeel the fear next door in the life of your Muslim neighbour or colleague.
(Nazia Erum is a TEDx speaker and author of forthcoming book, ‘Mothering a Muslim’ by Juggernaut Books. Her views are personal and not that of News18.com. She can be reached on twitter at @nazia_e)