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The indignity of being Muslim in India

The indignity of being Muslim in India by Sahil Wajid

It made me aware for the first time just how big a disadvantage a Muslim name carried with it in India— particularly in the Hindi belt. As I went about looking for apartments and met prospective landlords, a pattern emerged. I would make my usual first-name introduction (the import of which the owner would not grasp immediately), the terms would be verbally settled, but then, sometime later, I would get a call from them enquiring about my last name. Soon, there would be another call, inevitably making a polite excuse for why they could not rent out their place to me. Only a few were honest enough to tell me to my face that the name was the real problem, that the prospect of a Muslim resident was anathema to others living in the building and the neighbours (perhaps even the entire locality). One of them went so far as to let me know that, as a Brahmin, he was loath to having a tenant who consumed onion, let alone a meat-guzzling Muslim. It was by far the most humiliating experience of my life. After a month spent living at a colleague’s house, I eventually had to settle for a small hostel room.

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Not alone

I have, over the years, endured considerable discomfort and faced discrimination on account of my Muslim name—despite being wholly irreligious, despite having had a sheltered upbringing in a big city and access to education and employment, and despite having had many Hindu friends over the years who stood up for me.

Extrapolating from these personal experiences beyond my narrow prism of privilege, I can only imagine the horrors that the less fortunate Muslim men and women in the Hindi heartland would have had to endure. Especially, those who try to exercise their so-called freedom of religion and, unlike me, choose to assert their religious identity.

Sure, they are free to practice their religion and there are no legalobstacles (at least not yet), but for minorities in general and the beleaguered Muslims in particular, what this freedom essentially translates into is little more than the freedom to suffer marginalisation and humiliation.

And most of them do not even have “secular” first names to hide behind.

* Wajid was born in Delhi and worked as an engineer in the Indian public sector. He is now a graduate research assistant at Texas A&M University.

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The indignity of being Muslim in India

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