Over the last few months, to have stood witness to the systematic state-sponsored destruction, dehumanisation and degradation of Muslims in India – in complete violation of basic fundamental rights that our constitution grants – at the hands of the religious majority community I belong to has been extremely disturbing.
Sleep has been elusive, and I feel helpless over my inability to do something – anything. But all I could do was express my anguish on social media. This began to plague me more because my actions were not quite concrete; they were just limited to online activism.
Day by day, I feel more sickened at the thought of being a member of a community where open bigotry and violence is fast becoming the norm. We boast of Hinduism being the oldest religion in the world, and a way of life for people across the globe with many members – particularly upper caste Hindus – being hailed the most scared, pure and peace-loving beings alive.
As I continued to read the news about widespread communal violence in different parts of the country on Ram Navami, I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally gathered the courage to initiate a conversation with my family and close relatives on a usual Sunday dinner about Hindutva and the ‘intensifying Islamophobia in our country’ with the hope of making a dent in their typical Hindu upper-caste mindset.
As expected, I was quickly dismissed by a relative: “These are just a small percentage of radicals, fringe anti-social elements, you know. Don’t be so worried about it that you lose your appetite. Look at you – you’re so thin and fragile. Fill your plate with some food, beta, haha.”
My mum cut in: “Naitu, Stop thinking about all this nonsense, you want to take the job of politicians or what?”
A cousin I always believed to be a rational person then took off: “You always have the right to vote so vote for someone else in the next elections, no? What’s the big deal?”
That’s when my uncle jumped in, “Above all, we are Hindu Brahmins! Are you not aware of our rich culture and peaceful history? We have never endorsed and engaged in violence, we have only protected what is ours and that too when provoked. Muslims were the ones who encroached on our lands, why should we not take back what is ours? Why should we allow them to steal our land, resources and livelihood? The Prime Minister is simply advocating for the rights of our people and you, beta, being a Hindu, should support him.”
That’s when I lost it: “Don’t call me a Hindu! I don’t want to identify myself with a religion which is terrorising people across the country, whose members are murderers, criminals and bullies! What peaceful history are you talking about? For the longest time, we Brahmins – whom you refer to as priestly, godly and knowledgeable – have supported and sustained the most oppressive system of social stratification in the world – the caste system – and ill-treated, subjugated and enslaved entire generations of our own fellow citizens. We still continue to exploit them and you are saying we are peaceful? How hypocritical is that?”
As I carried on with my rant, I could see the shell-shocked faces of my relatives. Rage was oozing from every inch of my body. On the other side, there was my mother, nudging and signalling to me to shut up.
My cousin interrupted me several times. Finally, my father, in a soft yet a firm voice, instructed me to eat my food quietly. He took over, “Teenagers tend to be rebellious, just to be different you know they utter all kinds of rubbish.”
And that was that. Everyone slipped back to regular programming, pushing the glaring truths of our day and age into a corner once again. Silence is an endorsement like no other, something history has stood witness to time and again.
I stood up and rushed to the washroom as I could not hold back my tears.
I wasn’t crying because I had been put down repeatedly, but because I could not process how there are people in my family who are clearly Islamophobic. It was also because of the clear apathy, indifference and lack of desire to know more and speak about the injustices unfolding before our very eyes today.
How do you not feel responsible and guilty for what is happening to your own fellow citizens? How do you not want to call out and oppose the hostility, violence and hatred being spread under the name of our religion, community and gods? It’s time to take a stand lest India continues its march on this road full of violence and despair.
Naitri Derasari is a second-year graduate student pursuing B.A in psychology and uses writing as her means of coping mechanism.
Featured image: Pariplab Chakraborty