The disappearing duality of my Indian-Muslim identity

BLOG_POST_INDIAN_MUSLIM
6 min read
14 July, 2022
Over-romanticising one's heritage has a number of pitfalls, not least trying to reconcile past feats with present persecution. For one British-Indian, this process of identity has been made harder by an ever-shrinking public space for Indian Muslims.

The first time I visited the motherland I understood nothing of India, except that it was my own.

At four years old I had left England for the first time and thought of home as the place I got to rest my head each night.

Now it was a land that bloomed with Marigolds, each flower threaded into a garland and placed over the heads of newcomers.

Heritage lay in the way it moved through a floral translation to say welcome. It felt like a birthday to get to call it my own. I’d grow up to realise it was in fact, a birthright and one that I’d have to cling onto for many years to come.

"The harsh reality remains that India has never been a nation that is ‘post’ Partition, and the riots, religious feuding, and dismantling of a country which has never ceased is proof enough"

On the eighth day I saw that Marigolds could be used in two ways, the latter a tradition for saying goodbye. Overnight the state of Gujarat had become embroiled in a violent feud after a train boarded by Hindu pilgrims went up in flames.

A ‘report that Muslims had set fire to a train carriage’ began circulating; a claim that would be later proven baseless, but its consequences disastrous.

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It was 2002 in Northern India, and an Islamophobic police force backed by then Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, meant protection was determined by religion.

Bloodshed ensued as Muslim men were hunted and slain in the streets, while women were raped, gutted, and then set alight as they took their last breaths in generational homes.

For two months, mass graves would await the bodies of the thousands who fell. It set a precedent for Islam in India; to find peace would be rare, and the threat of political displacement or death to those indigenous would continue to loom.   

Twenty years on as we mark two decades without justice, I sit down with my mother and hear the story out loud for the first time.

She begins by telling me how she called the British Embassy for help the night the riots started. Only to be told she and my father would have to find a way to travel to the airport undetected, with their three small children, and a bomb siren blaring through the streets.

The only road to the airport was directly through the massacre, patrolled by a corrupt police force who were shooting Muslims point blank. The same officers were also standing in the hotel lobby downstairs.

There would be no running or hiding, just prayer and a fistful of banknotes my father was adamant would make them turn a blind eye.

This was after all a native homeland he knew so well, and that night we were made fortunate to the consistency of a corrupt government and the undeniable privilege given to us by a British passport.

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Modi, now Prime Minister, has continued his regime to further perpetuate Islamic hate, with his rallies evoking the same racial divide reminiscent of the Trump era. His Islamophobic propaganda and supremacist ideologies have been nothing short of horrifying and fit to induce an ethnic cleansing.

Across the country, reports confirm a growing fear of Muslim persecution. As Hindu leaders are recorded issuing ‘direct calls for genocide,’ mobs are seen ‘smashing beer bottles inside the mosque,’ as well as the creation of a fake auction site listing Muslim-female journalists and activists for sale, all of whom are prominent critics of the BJP.

The harsh reality remains that India has never been a nation that is ‘post’ Partition, and the riots, religious feuding, and dismantling of a country which has never ceased is proof enough. The Western world is finally turning its eyes to a genocide that has been ongoing for decades.

Now each Friday, as Muslims gather for the most sacred day of the week, it wouldn’t be unusual to find the corpse of a worshipper outside a Mosque. For many, this is a morbid detail, but for Muslims in India the bodies are piling high and we don’t get to look away.

A recent article from The Times declares how "stomping on a Muslim corpse now has a gloss of patriotic righteousness to it," given the ability for assailants to avoid prosecution by a government who are pedalling this hate for their own political advancement.

Now in my firstborn home of Britain, I watch the bloodbath continue from behind a TV screen and ache for my family back home, who continue to spend their lives defending their right to remain in their native land.

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I called my grandmother to ask about her Eid celebrations, listening as she tells me of cancelled plans. She succumbed to the harsh reality that it’s safer not to travel on a day that has now become a beacon for vulnerability.

Many of us are growing tired of clutching onto a nation that is fighting to leave us behind. When your very indigenous existence is up for debate, suddenly a homeland feels harder to grasp.

But Islam has existed in India prehistorically and will continue to do so; it is Modi’s idea of the nation that begins to place Muslims elsewhere.

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Most of the time I hold the flag of my Motherland somewhat closer to my body, all too aware of the way the BJP has become embedded into the way it waves in the wind.

If I put it down, I worry I’ll undo all the work of my ancestors who fought to remain in the Gujarati land I am native. It is difficult to mourn whilst also tirelessly protesting that you belong here too when so many would rather if you were erased.

But I, along with many others are proof that two identities can coexist.

I do not need an invite to arrive at an identity that was always mine, to begin with, even against the backdrop of pending displacement.

Instead, I have learnt to stand firm when introducing my heritage and faith, watching as others begin to relearn identity as duality.

Anisha Mansuri is a recent MA Creative Writing graduate from the University of Birmingham, a poet, writer, and freelance journalist who writes on issues surrounding the experience of the South Asian diaspora, as well as the silencing of women in the current political climate.

Follow her on Twitter: @AnishaMansuri

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author's employer.