By Soleha Ilyas Nizami
Being from a small Christian school, I didn’t really had much of confrontation with Islamophobia, until I started high school in my city’s one of the most prestigious institution. From initial days itself, I sensed the existence of various problems, which until then I had only read and heard about.
Excited as I was, unaware wasn’t I, though I didn’t had much exposure with people my age, I grew up listening to stories of anti-Muslim riots, of deaths and displacements, of becoming refugees and of poverty.
My father, mother, grandmothers, uncles and aunts all have their own stories of struggles in surviving the pogroms unleashed against them in different parts of the country, in different times, only because of their beliefs. Throughout my little life, I have been taught to stand against injustice and oppression, and speak and spread truth.
As the learning began, it wasn’t limited to textbooks and lectures; I started learning about different people and their beliefs and experienced various prejudices and hatred. Pursuing Arts & Humanities, my classroom was always full of students, talking on various issues, even during breaks and after college. I felt excited to be a part of these discussions. But the more I began indulging in those conversations the more I was alienated and the more I realised the anti-muslim sentiments of my peers. Almost all of those ‘discussions’ roamed around Muslims and Lower castes criminalisation. These discussions were not confined among students only, the teachers initiated them.
Our classroom became parliament with students taping their desks when they agree with someone and hurling abuses when they disagree. Teachers became speaker and hence right wing was ruling party.
The anti-Muslim boldness of right-wing students were balanced by subtle Islamophobia of left-wingers. Of the 200 students in our class, more than half spoke Hindutva and remaining defends, but with time, they too followed their peers. They ranted about their insecurities against Muslims and Pakistan.
Often abusing us, under the cover of Pakistan. The only Muslims were silent, when the prime discussions were all based them. They all used to tune in together, with teachers and students to vilify ‘reservation’. I was there, observing their hate and pushing my limits to speak and defend and offend. I tried to defend all that could be defended, since alike other few Muslims, the few reservation students remained unspoken and I realised my privilege to recognise the hate towards me and my ability to stand for myself. The teachers and peers alike used to throw their lies and bigotries on me; I forget how much was there to defend. I used constitution as the shield to protect myself but it failed. It is too weak to even recognise my mere fundamental rights, I realised. I planned different strategies and used different methods. Sometimes, I tried to stay quiet too, only suffering their harsh words against my existence but my conscience didn’t let me. If there was a way to escape, I would have, but all these discussions took during regular lessons.
The teachers were the enablers and directors of these discussions where my dignity was the ball they threw around. All of that hatred that I had only knew from internet and thought that it was limited to bots only, were the shape of these young teenage minds. The girl, I sit with and call my friend cheers when a guy refuses to acknowledge me as rightful citizen of this country. I got sympathies, but it gave me no comfort since the cheers and hails for my haters were also from those sympathizers only.
A discussion and debate, they called it, baiting if my life is worth their cows. Tough, it was. But I survived. The time between class and home was the most difficult, travelling for 20 minutes in train seemed eternity and thoughts wandered from loneliness, but home. Home always brought me back. After coming back from college, I would cry and narrate it all to my family. They would comfort me and teach me and listened when I ranted and assured me. Home provided solace to my wounds and strength to my tongue.
I wonder about Fatima Latheef often. She urged home and its solace, if only she got. I wish she hadn’t lost strength. However, I can only wish for her and pray for her salvation. But for those who are surviving, I can assure them with that this too shall pass and we will be emerging stronger. This regular oppression will come to an end through our struggles. Only if we struggle. There are times when we feel pale and weak to stand. But those weak days fuel our stronger days, when we stand and resist. The institutions of education which should ensure platforms for healthy discussions have become crematoriums that burn the pyres of our dignity.
Nevertheless, we will rise from ashes and soar high. Have faith. I write this since for the past one year, I have been living in my own space, a little away from the reality. I fear that if I don’t archive this, then the pleasant and warm comfort of my home would fade the bitter realities of life from my memories. I don’t want to forget. I will never forget. Remembrance is the first step to resistance, they say, I will remember and I will resist.