Can’t I be both an Indian and a Muslim? | Farha Iman

Can’t I be both an Indian and a Muslim?

Illustration: Anand Naorem

Illustration: Anand Naorem

A girl, who was proud of being an Indian and used to salute her tricolor flag no matter where she sees it, is skeptical about her identity nowadays. Her faith was private matter some years ago, however now it is considered as her sole identity.

Once she was returning from Ghaziabad to Delhi with her mother, they choose to board in a private bus which was full of Rajasthanis. Her mother was a Rajput and excited to see her ‘own’ people. They both were giggling and talking about beautiful Rajasthani jewellery passed to her by her grandmother. Conductor came and gave a weird look to her mother as she was wearing burqa, he handed over them tickets and said “sala do musalmano ne sari bus ko Pakistan banadiya”.

The girl felt something has shattered inside her. She consoled herself with the belief that conductor was an uneducated man. That girl was me. Later I realised that bus conductor’s views are shared by many educated people as well. It seems like Amartya Sen’s theory of ‘human identity’ doesn’t fit on Muslims. I am amused to see that people think that a Muslim is only a Muslim can’t be Guajarati, feminist, vegetarian and most importantly a patriotic Indian.

The height of intentional ignorance was, once in an interfaith programme, I met a lady-principal and a young director of two well-known private schools respectively. After discussing urban slums and Bangladesh, Lady Principal asked me what I want to become. I laughed and replied, in 5th grade our teachers used to ask this. Now, I am what I am in front of you. But she insisted me to answer. As a joke, I said ‘youngest Prime Minister of India’. She unexpectedly asked, ‘why India?’ Smile disappears from my face but I managed to ask, ‘Well, I am an Indian and in which country do you think I am eligible to be a PM?’. She said ‘any country, there are so many countries for you guys’. I politely asked her ‘so many countries such as…?’ She shamelessly answered, ‘there are neighboring countries you know…’ Our conversation was terminated due to the commencement of the meeting. In the end the director said ‘we hope that you didn’t mind anything’. I replied, ‘no, not at all, it was my pleasure to talk to you’. The lady chipped in “She just told me that she is an Indian. Come on, she would not mind.” Till now, I thank them for accepting me as an Indian.

Last year, I got a chance to visit Pakistan. I was more thrilled to cross the Wagah border than visiting Lahore or Karachi. Shortly, I discovered being an Indian Muslim is more exciting (if you know Pakistan’s politics), risky (if you can’t prove that Indian Muslims are proud to be Indian) and dangerous (if you associate Pakistan with Israel and the legitimacy of their state).

Several Pakistani friends questioned me ‘what do you think about partition?’ I replied, ‘For me, it was blessing, because I don’t want my country to be a battleground’. Later I encountered with many queries and questions such as, master mind of Gujarat’s riot is still free, is this not a biasness of the Indian state? You are being treated as secondary citizen, do not you feel frustrated? As a Muslim, don’t you want to live in Pakistan? so on and so forth. I tried to answer them smartly, posed shrewd questions and sometimes left them unanswerable. I was astonished to notice that Pakistanis think that they got freedom from India, instead of British.

You must be thinking, why I am sharing my personal encounters? It is just to inform that absurd minds exist both sides of the border and to bring your attention towards the Indian Muslims — a community which wants to be accepted and belonged to its motherland. Not being accepted generates frustration among young Muslims. Fake encounters proves, state intentionally tag Muslim youths as a potential threat for the country. It creates stereotyping and hatred among fellow Indians. No one can understand how tough it is to defend your country in front of other, especially if you are labeled as traitors and your people accuse that you belong to ‘others’. However, the truth is those ‘others’ look at you as lesser Muslim since you choose to live with non-Muslims.

Both the group ignores the fact that Indian Muslims such as Maulana Azad and his followers stayed in India during toughest days. It proves their indisputable loyalty to their country. As far as issue of being lesser Muslim is concerned, I believe Indian Muslims are more (not sure whether better) Muslim as they live the way Prophet Mohammed lived with people of different religions.

I sympathies with Shahrukh Khan, many Indian Muslims goes through this. If an Indian Muslim criticizes Indian policies/government/system, why Pakistan believes that they don’t want to live in India? And why some radical Hindus treat it as unpatriotic instead of acknowledging the problem. Why doesn’t both understand that Indian Muslims also want their country to be safe and better place to live? They too have a right to state their grievances and even a responsibility to do healthy criticism.

Indian political leaders slammed Rehman Mallik for his unnecessary comment over Shahrukh Khan’s article. Certainly Mallik need soul searching however if Indian majority thinks that Muslims are playing perpetual victims without any reason, then they also should do self reflection. I empathise with Pakistani minorities as we share same grievances and status. Day by day space is shrinking for religious minorities in both the countries conversely they are busy in the blame game.

(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

Please Note: Tehelka doesn't have regulatory control over messages appearing on social media including Facebook and Twitter. Tehelka also doesn't subscribe to any views or comments by the readers.


  • http://Website syed

    well written!

  • http://Website Indian

    The answer to your very question is….No, you can’t be….A person should put it simple….I may belong from any religion..any caste in that religion..any sect..or any sex….I will always talk as an Indian in public forums…
    Religion is a personal issue…and better discuss it in your drawing rooms…Why the heck do you want to mention it every now and then…that you belong from this particular religion…???….and for muslim it is more tough…because your holy Koran is in conflict with the very thought of putting nation before religion…and we don’t have Sharia Law in India….We can’t accept someone saying that he is a Muslim first and than an Indian….and if you think so..better limit this to your drawing rooms….
    We all are a human being first…and there are many identities forced upon us just because we are born in certain part of the world…with a certain name given to us by our family….If we can’t unite this world by considering each one as a human being…at least try not to divide OUR nation….by mentioning religion in public space..Keep it simple…
    I am a human being..and if you are uncomfortable with simplicity…Iam an Indian too…Period..!!!

    • http://Website DISCO

      IN WORLD WAR 2 LOTS OF HUMAN BEINGS KILLED EACH OTHER

      • http://Website Indian

        what does this insinuate to…???..can u please clarify..??

  • http://Website NAKSHAB KHAN

    Well to be true this problem (discrimination against Muslims) existed before and will exist for the time to come. We (Muslims) have to live with it and learn to live with it.

    And there is no need to show Patriotic Certificate to the majority community. This is exactly like (Agar hum apna seena cheer ke bhi dikha de ke hum Indian hai) the majority people wont believe.

    SO be true to yourself and to your nation…….and don’t forget to condemn the wrong doers in the community.

  • http://Website Ankit Srivastava

    Dont worry, the idiots are to be found everywhere and so in India as well. But we should keep our composer as you have done brilliantly! Remember this is our land we are all Indians….

  • http://Website Shariq Meraj Khan

    The problem is not this simple nor the solution such easy. Here in India we have many incidences of persons insulting each other just as they do not belong to same caste, if castes are same we search for differences in Gotra. Only when we talk about some other country we forget the walls of caste system. Most of us search for differences. We have been taught to differentiate between people superior-inferior. We forget the effort put in our successes by those who surround us. The environment we grew in. Rather than thanking those and being thankful we feel superior, and what is worse, most parents approve such set of mind. “Wo lala hai bhaiyya”, “Bhaiyya Brahman ki budhdhi hai”, “Are julha hai” such phrases and many others create a devide. We need to provide a better environment to our children to grow up in, so that they may take pride in something more concrete than religion or caste.
    All in a nutshell, everyone encounters prejudice in the eyes looking at us. Its how we deal with it defines us. Muslims are an integral part of India, to be and being treated as an equal citizen are our inherent right. We need to acknowledge and enjoy this right. Educate our children, and align the population into the mainstream. No one stops a muslim from being selected in IITs or in Civil Services or in any other institution. We are equal we need to act like one!

    • http://Website Kalabairava

      The best response. In fact I should admit that I have all these days been fooled into thinking that Muslims are not tolerant. Now I am really sorry and ashamed for having thought so and not believing my own brothers and sisters. It is time that we hear about shariq and farha instead of assaduddin and akbaruddin. We need more abdul kalams to make our dear india NO 1 in all respects.

      Meahwhile, can we form a community where non radical people can sort out problems. I feel really sorry for brothers and sisters in kashmir. Why does pakistan claim kashmir just because they are muslims. Is it not wrong. Why wont indian muslims condemn, separatists.

  • http://Website Shakil (/BIBFHRM)

    Excellent article Farha.. Your thought flashed my brain back to our college life.

  • http://Website Rohit

    Now a days, its lethal to express/debate/reply on any sensitive/non-sensitive issue esp on minorities, religion, communal forces etc. This is one of them. I have a huge debatable and logical content for her article, also for Vishroopam (why it should be release)and any other current things going on in the country. But we MANGO people want a peaceful life not a controversial. I wish we (Indian) can fully use 19(1).

  • http://Website Krishna Varadraj

    Madam,If possible plz follow this article up with why can’t i be both a hindu and pakistani

    • http://www.tehelka.com blogadmin

      If you know any Pakistani Hindu, pls ask her/him to write. We will be happy publish. The writer is not a Pakistani so she cant curate such a piece.

      • http://Website A S Bhati

        yes, I am a pakistani hindu, my ancestry is from lahore, my ancestors were ruling over lahore in 12th century. Even today there is a chowk named after me in lahore. (bhati chowk). The lahore fort has a gate called bhati gate. Now why cant I go back and settle there?

  • http://Website Rufus Gonsalves

    Very Good.

  • http://Website Swamy Aseemanand

    What Farha was mentioning about, in this article is exactly reflected in the comments of Sparky, Karthik, Sundaran and the likes….

    Until this nation is infested with these saffron parasites, we can’t dream of progress / development. Where it is considered holy to worship phallus and drink excreta. How can we imagine saneness will have a chance ?
    Thanks for reading Tehelka anyway. This is the graveyard of all the RSS PR tactics.

    While the other countries ride on achievements, we continue to ride on cheap politics and communal madness pushing us back to the era of Chanakya, dividing humans based on caste / creed aka the stone age.

    Good Job Farha…you came across one conductor, there are many on this page already :)

    Cheers….

    • http://Website Sundar

      Mr Aseemanand I have a asked a question to the author…and to everybody in this page… I am repeating the question once again… Are u an Indian first or muslim first? If at any point of time in your life u have to sacrifice any one of these what you would prefer to choose…Simple answer please….

  • http://Website Saba

    Very insightful piece of writing Farha- you bring up the myriad sets of emotions in being ‘Indian’ and ‘Muslim’at the same time.

  • http://Website haseeb

    A thought provoker for the conductors and the lady principals that are rampant in our society.

  • http://Website Vineet

    Muslims have to think why is it so.

    Muslims had asked for a separate country and hence the question marks remain. Further, muslims love to play victimhood.

    Read what @Mohammed Javeed Shaikh wrote and then you blame hindus …….

  • http://Website Amit

    first see what u muslims do when u r in majority , u r crying for 1000 muslims killed in gujrat but never mention that muslims started this by Godhra , and without any provocation from Hindus , u have made all Kashmir Valley Hindu free , forced every Hindu (500000 ) to migrate and killed more than 2000 , just because you want an Islamik state , so how you can be trusted

    • http://Website Mike

      Kaki chaddi sympathiser parroting the words of modi rss /vhp. Where did u got the figures from RSS camp? wake up from your slumber

  • http://Website Noor Saba

    Soundly xpresSd Farha ji…

    and my anSwr to d one here wid name @INDIAN

    i dnt knw wat u found here inSinuatic???
    iS d wordS of heart dat cme up wid certain experienceS in life,for u,Somethng cunning???

    and yeah,i wud furthr add 2 ur informatn dat u blve dat our prior identity iS our being human,thn u mSt alSo accpt dat human being by nature iS an emotional creature,u cnt extract out d emotional and SenSitive aSpct of human being…hence aS her emotionS were hurtd,her pulSeS reacted
    and aS her writngS are publiShd dat doeSnt mean dat c iS intendng 2 create a rift betwn religionS,
    rather c iS on her way 2 curb out d miSconceptionS dat muSlimS are taggd with !!!

    She iS very Simple in her wordS,dnt give it an other direction !!!

    Thank u !!!

  • http://Website Harsh Srivastava

    Killing in fake encounters though v.shameful are not exclusively of muslim innocent/criminals.

    Good read.

  • http://Website Harsh Srivastava

    In 2012, 914 Maoists [mostly Hindus] were arrested; less than a tenth of that number were held in cases related to Islamist terrorism.

  • http://Website nihar

    The attacks are really personal. I think in India a Hindu can also be behaved badly by Muslims in their area and vice versa. For that you can make the whole country responsible. You read the history and will come to know how the Hindus are cleansed in their own land. What is the position of the minority in Pakistan? But Muslims are not a minority in India. Do you know how the Hindus are treated in Pakistan. By writing so i never justify the ill treatment of Muslims in India. They are an integral part of our national fabric. I also request you not to make such things public which undermines the image of India in International fora.

  • st cool

    wow… its u miss due to whom my chest have been become wide 2 inch… proud to be an indian muslim……..

  • http://themmindset.wordpress.com/ TheMindset

    Muslims allegiances toward ummah – the Islamic community.

    Muslims never consider Hindus or other non-Muslims in India as equal. for them non-Muslims r still the people over whom ‘they’ ruled.

    how can Muslims be Indian then