They sang songs of unity, chanted words of brotherhood, took pride in diversity, stood tall in harmony……. but once the curtain drew closed, the lights dimmed, and they turned to one another, the walls that separated them were not weakened through acceptance but rather those walls were empowered through ignorance and rejection.
They say that the ultimate power is in the hands of people. A nation can achieve true peace and flourishing when its people take charge. But what happens to a nation where people in power make certain others powerless? A question that has manifested itself over time and again throughout history and the present. The agony and mistrust that follows is first ignored and then researched upon after years go by.
If you were to ask an Indian about the state that the country finds itself in, their response will either opt to ignore the gravity of the situation and spit some empty words of patriotism or let out a sigh and stay silent. The poor and the underprivileged have been exploited for years in free India but the focus of dehumanizing and violence has openly been extended to the Muslim population of a nation that takes pride in its religious diversity. From one ban to another to lynching, changing names of the roads, removing and/or altering academic textbooks, and reducing any cultural associations of Muslims, the existence of an Indian Muslim is a fight on daily basis. They have been reduced from being humans with lives and families to mere targets of violence with bigotry in the eyes of the Hindu population that takes up a sweeping 78.9% in its demography. A country, which set its foundation on principles like secularism and equality, now makes open mockery of these terms with no shame.
Earlier this year, hundreds of young Muslim girls went through what could be the darkest phase of their lives. What initially began with few headmasters of schools disallowing them into classes in the state of Karnataka quickly spread into a full-fledged campaign across the country that poisoned the education system with Islamophobia in the open. These girls, who made their way out of a patriarchal society to take charge of their lives through education, were forced into another fight. These girls, who fought through the harshness of the pandemic-stricken reality, were prevented from sitting for exams because they chose to cover their heads with a cloth namely hijab. These girls clad with chilling courage called out the hypocrisy of the objection and went on to defend their right to practice their religion guaranteed to them by the constitution in the court. But like most authorities in India, rights of a Muslim in this country are non – existent, if they are claimed while being a Muslim. The high court shoved another obstacle in their path as it upheld the ban and empowered the extremists who continue to feel no fear against any institution in India. But this did not stop here, what followed was more pain and agony for Muslim women. Not only were they becoming an easier target, but their livelihoods were deeply ruined. Many teachers lost their jobs, many were left vulnerable to undue spiteful attention from their colleagues.
The following month of April came with many more painful battles. When the Muslims across the world were observing Ramadan, Hindu communities were celebrating Ram Navami. For years, Hindu and Muslim Indians have celebrated countless festivals at the same time without any disharmony or fear. But today we are living in a different India where Hindu extremists could be shouting out extremely polarizing and provoking chants in the Muslim neighborhoods of India. They flash swords/axes and raising them high, blaze hateful songs near the mosques as they marched through. It has been an overall uncertainty engulfing Muslims to live through while also continuing to observe the holiest month of the year, Ramadan. These processions and their pattern have quickly spread to other places in the country. In the consequent violence that broke out, the police with a state authorized letter demolished the houses and shops of the very Muslims declaring them as main perpetrators of violence. Those that were meant to be protected were now being punished or more so warned. Mosques have been vandalized, shops have been burnt down, hundreds of Muslims have been left penniless at the end of a celebration that was motivated by hatred and animosity.
For ages Muslims have mumbled, they have been hushed, they have tried to look ahead with optimism, they have cried in silence, they have stayed both hopeful and fearful. There are a few amongst them that took the courage and fought. Some continue this fight today on the ground, some behind the bars. This piece is also a part of the same fight. There have been too many incidents, too many deaths, too many attacks, for the world to not take notice. I write this not in any hope of pity but an attempt to let the stories of my people and their loss not go unnoticed by the world.
Rabia Omar is a graduate student at IU Bloomington. She completed her BSc (Hons.) and MSc (Physics) from Aligarh Muslim University in India.