Recently, one of my oldest friends said that I was victimising myself to “another level” when I asked her to speak up about discrimination against Muslims in India. This was not the first time I had confronted her about her silence. There were strong emotions on both sides: anger on hers, anguish on mine.
She typed this statement and exited the conversation. For the first time, I saw her not as my closest friend of more than 20 years, but as someone else: an upper-caste Hindu who has never quite known the pain of discrimination.
I felt an unimaginable distance between us.
Growing up as a Muslim, hate is encountered so frequently that it almost a “normal” part of our daily lives – especially online.
For example, when my husband and I first started our YouTube channel as a side hobby, we received a lot of positive comments. The only negative ones were always about my religion, and usually went like ‘go back to Pakistan’ or ‘you’re a terrorist bitch’ or ‘jihadi slut’.
This was early last year. Way before the Citizenship Amendment Act has left a polarised India in its wake.
I laughed and blocked them. They didn’t affect me because this wasn’t something new. Every child born into a Muslim family in the last 30-35 years has, at some point, looked up at their parents and asked them why everyone hates Islam. Asked them about why they follow a religion that is so “closely associated with horrible atrocities throughout the world”.
This conversation is like a right of passage now.
We grow up reading, watching and hearing about hate crimes towards innocent Muslims all over the world. You hear it in jokes, you see it in comments on social media. Every time there’s an attack, you pray it’s not a Muslim, because that will somehow connect you, personally, to this atrocity – something you have absolutely no control over.
Eventually, we become somewhat numb to it. But when this kind of discrimination and hate speech comes at us from our own country, our home, our media, our police; it’s a different kind of betrayal. Yes, there have always been undertones. But never before did it rear its ugly head quite like this.
A lot of us have been left stunned, looking at events in India with disbelief.
We saw the police using communal slurs against students from Muslim universities as they brutally attacked them with lathis and tear gas. We saw them tell students born and raised in India to go back to Pakistan – only because they are Muslim. We saw them stand by as mute spectators and even aid rioters and destroy evidence during the Delhi riots when our social media was flooded with images and videos of the nation’s capital engulfed in flames.
We see the central government create a campaign that is hinged entirely on how much they can get people to hate us even more. They paint peaceful protests out to be acts of terrorism, they call us rapists, murderers, they tell you to lock your houses, they doctor videos and images to push a fake narrative, to demonise us in the eyes of our own neighbours.
We see indifference in friends we’ve known for 20-30 years; friends who have better things to do right now than to speak up – or at the very least, empathise.
We see trolls telling us we deserve this because of violence committed by Muslims we do not know. We see fake statistics that support the theory that our ‘kind’ is reproducing at an alarming rate in a supposed bid to become the majority.
Media channels constantly and consistently post content that dial up anti-Muslim sentiments even more.
I can’t speak for all Muslims. But I know this. I was born into this religion. That is something I have no control over. I choose not to disown it.
The Muslims I grew up with – my family, my friends and colleagues – have been kind, loving, charitable and overall beautiful human beings. They are the reason I was able to recognise the global face of Islam as it stands today, for what it really is: an imposter.
And so I proudly embrace my religion as a part of my identity.
Either way, there is no escaping it. In the eyes of the present regime and its supporters, I am nothing more than a Muslim. They have reduced 30 years of my life, my personality, my fears, my ambitions, everything I am, to a single word. There is no room to be anything more. It does not matter if as individuals we are educated, illiterate, rich, poor, homeless, peaceful, violent, kind or cruel.
Two hundred million Indian lives have been stuffed into this one word.
And it’s getting pretty difficult to breathe.
If you see this as Muslims “victimising” themselves, so be it. But don’t dismiss the magnitude of our pain just because your bones have never felt its tremors.
Saaniya Abbas is an art director and YouTuber based in Dubai. She is originally from New Delhi.
Featured image credit: Aliko Sunawang/Unsplash