What does the turn of events post May 23 mean for me? My vulnerability is at its peak as I wait for an election result that holds no surprise. Everyone around me celebrating the “coming back” of “their government” is making me anxious and a difficult silence has set in. This silence is of no ordinary heartbreak – it is a quagmire of emotions and deep-rooted fear. It is an unsettling sense as though a huge wave is washing away the sand beneath your feet.
Each of these people that I know and have spent hours with is in a celebratory mood in anticipation of the election results. I feel alienated in this gathering. Have they no sense of empathy for those who have been lynched in the past few years? Has no video clip, where innocent people begged for their lives, caught their attention?
Haven’t they heard names like Mohammad Akhlaq or Rakbar Khan? No one in their presence was ever dragged out of his house and asked to go to Pakistan? Or perhaps it was too distant and did not happen to one of their own? But I fear because I could have been the one at the centre, being hounded by a murderous crowd. As the sand underneath my feet erodes, I am finding it difficult to put my faith in people around.
Losing faith is worse than losing identity. Faith gets you going when your identity is at stake. You have relied on it every single time you are posed with questions like, ‘are you an Indian Muslim? Are you Muslim first or Indian? You are different from Muslims? You don’t look Muslim? Do you support the Indian cricket team? Do you have relatives in Pakistan? Are you close to them? Do you repent not being in Pakistan?’.
My faith has given me unwavering support at all moments when my identity has been under attack. My religious distinctiveness came to be too big and always overshadowed any other aspect of myself. But you live with it. You are conditioned to deal with the subtle Islamophobia that comes with everyday life – and its blatant version – when one is standing at par with those who are naturally destined to drive societies. It is your faith that makes you believe that India is a homeland, and no individual will decide whether I should live here or not. No one can question my love for this land and the relationships that have been fostered over generations.
Today this faith seems shaken; this everyday struggle seems futile. My mind is gripped with fear. I worry about my three-year-old who is ready for school. Will there be a school that will offer him a safe premise – the safety of his physical self and of his mind? A place that will safeguard him from the wrath that his religious identity can be subjected to. Will they protect him from other children who will carry communal vitriol from adults? My child has won many battles at his tender age, importantly the battle of life, but I may be unsuited today to prepare him for the encounters that life will now unleash.
I feel too weak today to offer an explanation in history about my grandfather’s actions and his choice of India over Pakistan. I am unable to tell you how he spent six months in Karachi and yet decided to come back. I can’t possibly put to words how proud he was of his choice! I feel tired today to emphasise my Indianness; have no energy for making exaggerated attempts to distance myself from the existence of Pakistan and of certifying my affinity towards India. Why am I not as Indian as anyone else is?
Well-wishers are telling us about the option of relocating to another country. Why should that be a solution? Who am I being asked to run away from? Do we not know the perils of uprooting societies and individuals? Generations haven’t healed since Partition; its wounds fester with countless riots that my family must have witnessed. Are we at a stage of witnessing another mass exodus? And to where?
From my grandfather to my father, the only constant in life has been their teaching about ‘hamara mulk, Hindustan’. ‘Hamara mulk’ is not any singular community or does not have a monolithic religious identity. ‘Hamara mulk’ is you and me; it is the idea of India that I hope stands the test of time.
Qudsiya Ahmed is a Delhi based publishing professional.