Whenever the word nationalism is brought up in conversation, the first person whose reaction is scrutinised is a Muslim. People find it difficult to use the words Muslim and nationalist in the same sentence since there has been a ‘visible’ change in the country’s political atmosphere. This uncertainty has compelled young Muslims like me to demonstrate our patriotism in such circumstances, and we feel that we must go above and beyond to prove our love for our country.
Conversations around politics have started leading to questions around nationalism, which is now apparently determined by one’s support for the government. The diversity of Indian culture never let one’s Muslim identity be a judgemental factor for one’s loyalty to the country earlier, but now there seems to be a clear bifurcation in the process of defining the majority and minority and their respective spaces whilst eradicating the idea of a secular nation.
I have never had a problem with being recognised as a Muslim and have been comfortable with my identity. But this scrutiny of my community has led me to feel marginalised and the desire to be part of the larger community has forced young Muslims like me to think of shedding our religious identity. It is as if either you are a Muslim or you are a nationalist. This has led to the appeasement of Muslims and its origins can be traced back to the forceful assimilation by the right-wing which goes against the very idea of India as a nation. ‘Unity in diversity’, a phrase used to celebrate India’s essence that many generations of this country grew to cherish, is now seen as a threat and loathed for the same.
This assimilationist tendency doesn’t stop there. Recently, one of my Muslim friends was having a conversation with an elderly man outside an examination centre where her sister was writing a paper. As soon as the man learned her religious identity, he commented, “But you look too educated to be a Muslim.” Later, he also started enquiring about how she was planning on proving her citizenship. This is a man who spoke the mind of many others like him. Such stereotypic views about a whole community are a major factor in the erroneous questioning of our nationalism. It is a form of cultural violence as this generalisation denies that every Muslim has its own opinion that can vary. The desire to be seen as just Indians rather than Indian-Muslims has led many to stay silent in the face of injustice in order to maintain their nationalist status.
In student culture, a distinction has been drawn between a good Muslim and a bad Muslim. The former are those who choose to remain silent on the subject of the country’s rampant Islamophobia, while the latter are those who choose to speak out against it. The good-Muslims, it appears, respond to their pro-government classmates’ comments with ‘yes, I agree’ or ‘Oh, but I am apolitical.’ The bad ones (of which I am one) are those who see things with their eyes wide open and speak out about what they believe is wrong. The only thing these two have in common is ‘fear,’ which drives them in opposite directions.
Imagine someone asking you if you consider a place you’ve lived all your life to be your home or not. It would make you feel uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? That’s how it feels to be looked at with dubiety as a Muslim in India. I love this country as much as any other citizen, but I apply layers of band-aids to my nationalism in order to perfect it, to get the right shape of nationalism and mask my insecurities about being a minority in a country that is moving towards majoritarianism.
However, it is not only me who adds layers to mine, but others as well. They limit my nationalism by applying a band-aid on it to make it better as per their convenience. I can be a true Indian as long as my manifestation of nationalism serves theirs. According to them, my nationalism must be confined and appear as a decorative piece rather than something that allows me to speak for the people of my country.
Fuzaila Khan is second-year undergraduate student pursuing Literature from Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty