Recently, some comments on Twitter on the festival of Eid caught my attention. “This is India. Eid cannot be celebrated here,” went the general refrain, with many users employing more crass terms than I wish to reproduce here.
With my phone blowing up with Eid greetings, it was hard to really ignore these comments.
Personally, growing up, every festival was important – my parents are in an inter-religious marriage and my mother had been educated at the St. John’s Diocesan. This led to me coming-of-age singing carols and regarding Durga Puja as equally important aspects of my life as fasting during the month of Ramzan. The cosmopolitan culture of metropolitan Kolkata allowed me to have a proper ‘secular’ upbringing – which in today’s India appears to be regarded as a bad thing.
This upbringing might be the reason why I feel more and more alienated because of recent developments. A systematic ignorance about one community’s culture is being promoted. The number of ‘Eid Mubarak’ messages from friends of different communities have declined significantly over the years and none of this feels purely coincidental.
While I am fortunate to have friends who partake in my celebrations as though they’re their own, there are others who behave as though Eid al-Fitr doesn’t exist and appear to not recognise that they may be surrounded by people who follow different faiths. The rest are openly hostile.
Growing up, if we got to enjoy a holiday for a festival, we made sure to look them up instead of feigning ignorance. I don’t mind people calling Tipu Sultan a Mughal ruler even after I politely correct them only receive a ‘who cares’ in return. While being wished ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ instead of ‘Eid Mubarak’ on the day of Eid al-Fitr only mildly upsets me, receiving a ‘Happy Muharram’ is where I draw the line on ignorance about other cultures.
What am I complaining about? Do I actually want you to educate yourself about all of our religious practices and ‘by heart’ the 12 months of the Islamic calendar? Not by a mile. I am not upset that you cannot tell apart the difference between Ramzan and Shawwal. I would be more than pleased to explain my religious practices to you, which I’ll do with patience. But you have to respect me, and my community enough, to even begin that conversation.
In return, all I want is acknowledgement, and maybe a head nod instead of a “who cares”.
Eid al-Fitr is our most important festival indisputably. It is as important as Diwali in North India and I draw this comparison for the sake of conveying its great significance. Nevertheless, I have friends in the corporate sector who don’t enjoy mandatory holidays for Eid al-Fitr and have to take unpaid leave – even though these same businesses offer paid leaves on Diwali.
Coronavirus left an impact on Ramzan and Eid celebrations this year, but what jarred me the most was the fact that, while it was necessary for universities to conduct online classes, a lot of these online classes took place at around 6 or 7 pm – which is the time for iftar, the breaking of the fast. Honestly, this felt apathetic and reminded me of my teenage days, when my coaching classes would be open for Christmas and Eid, but closed for other festivals.
We have successfully inculcated a convenient lack of empathy by repeatedly telling ourselves to keep out of other people’s joys or sorrows. But the India of today is not the one many grew up in, where bigotry is worn proudly on sleeves. There are many who grew up in an India that fully believed in mantras like ‘solidarity in plurality’ and ‘unity in diversity’ – these were not just empty words.
It is essential that we continue to be a part of all kinds of festivities. As long as neighbours from all religions keep coming over for iftars and Eid daawats – instead of communities living in isolation and separation – we keep the glory of a secular India alive.
After all, the only reason Eid biryani tastes better is because we get to share it with everyone.
Maria Uzma Ansari is a student at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Featured image credit: Bhumika Singh/Unsplash