Being a Muslim and in School: Mumbai

School life is often considered to be the best part of your life. However,I had no idea that being a Muslim would cast its shadow on this phase of my life to this extent.

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My parents had made me believe that all are equal, that a person should not be judged for what religion he/she practices. That we live in a secular nation.

I was in second grade when a vegetarian girl pounced on me and for many days, she kept on hounding me as to why I ate non vegetarian food that is so disgusting to eat. The year 2014 was when this communal hatred started to growand has reached its peak in these last 5 years.I used to travel to school by the school bus. In the sixth grade, all the kids in the bus were happily going home as the next day was a holiday – it was August 15, Independence Day. Maya, one of my friends, came up to me and wished me Happy Independence Day because it was Pakistan’s Independence Day that day. I looked at her in utter confusion and asked her why? Another girl standing beside her suddenly replied, “because most Muslims live in Pakistan.” I did not react, I sat there,I had nothing to say. What should I have done? I was just 11 years old, so was she. I was an Indian by heart and by soul and no one could take that away from me. This was my country as much as it was ofany Hinduor Christian. Maya’s parents never apologised.They said that it was a joke. Even as a joke it was wrong. It was an example of what is discussed at represented the mind-set of the people those days.

One of the most insulting commentI have come across is– “How are you so nice? You’re a Muslim.” And it is one of the most repeated ones.So, how are Muslims supposed to be? Crude?Cruel? Not nice? Does one’s religion determine his/her behaviour?

At one point in time, I used to convince people that I do not eat beef. Which now, as a 16-year-old, I think was pointless. To become my friend, someone doesn’t need my diet plan! Now, what you eat has become a point of judgment.

In the ninth and the tenth grade, I had a different phase. I stated getting vocal about politics,about issues ofhistory. Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation, we should follow his teachings,his  legacy. Students don’t believe in him. They have been fed false statements about world leaders, fake news. For them, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have become mere tyrants rather than nationalists. Jawaharlal Nehru has become a womanizer, a failure, that he destroyed this country and Mahatma Gandhi was a peace disrupter the person responsible for partition, that he tormented his children and wife. This is what is fed to young minds using technology, fake information surfing on the internet. Once, in the ninth grade, my classmates were having a discussion over history.Someone said that Jawaharlal Nehru was Muslim. I started arguing with them that he was a Kashmiri Pandit. I was alone against five of them. To end the argument, I called in our history teacher who made it clear for them that he was a Kashmiri Pandit. Later, I thought, would it have been that bad had Jawaharlal Nehru been Muslim? Is it that big an issue?

Once, there was a long discussion about the renaming of Allahabad. My friends were telling me that it was Akbar who changed the name from Prayagraj to Allahabad. This is a big lie fed by the government. I explained to them that there was never any Prayagraj and that Akbar founded a new city and named it Allahabad. Nisha, my friend, texted me a post floating on Instagram saying that Akbar renamed the city. I lashed out at her, did a bit of research and gave her proof that she was wrong. After that, she didn’t talk to me for a while as she was embarrassed. This is not the only incident that has been ignited by fake news, there are many these days.

Nisha and I became best friends during the two years of high school. She belongs to a right wing family and her parents’ ideology didn’t match mine .It was the second last day of school and the attendance was short so we had most of the day free. We were talking in the class about the coming general elections and it triggered a riot in the class. I was standing alone, and she was backed by my friend Rhea. They started arguing about why Rahul Gandhi is bad, that there was no development in the ten years of Congress rule. I countered, saying that the biggest scams have happened in these five years, people are getting killed in the name of religion, beef has been banned, etc. I explained to them how it affects the society and how minorities like Dalits are suffering. How people are being slaughtered  for allegedly carrying beef. She wouldn’t budge and I was red with anger. This went on for the whole day.Everyone was looking at us in surprise as we were three girls shouting at one another in the middle of the class. I was angry, not at them, but at the fact that they were my friends and they had the wrong perception about things. Then, they asked the teacher as to whom did she support. She replied that she supported the current government and these people hooted in delight. It was the proof that I stood alone on my side of the debate.However, the teacher was not done. She went on to say that the current government had destroyed the economy and they should be taught a lesson. After that, if they come back to power,that would be alright.For a while, the class was quiet, trying to process what she had wanted to convey. Then, I realised that she wanted to be neutral.

The Babri Masjid issue was came up and I was telling them the facts. They denied them all outright. I didn’t stop to persuade them.At the end of the day, Rhea told me, “we don’t care about you all (Muslims), you all are a minority, lesser in number.” We cannot deny the progress we are getting because of you”. The next day in school, I lost a friend, the dearest, I guess. Nisha came up to me to tell me one of the most insulting words I had ever heard. Nisha’s mother had told her to stay away from me since I was teaching her irrational things. Her mother made a statement that I may never forget “musalmanchhura le karghoomtahai” (Muslims carry knives)She had some more ‘information’ about Muslims – that they are irrational, they beat up their women, torture their children etc. Nisha told me that I was an exception, though. Nishawas confused about whom she should believe- me or her parents. Now,whenever I try to remember our friendship,that last day overshadows everything else. That whole day, I was cursing myself that I should have never taken part in that conversation.Her mother’s words made me wonder – was I wrong? Are my family members like that? Since that day onwards Nishaand I haven’t spoken to each other much. Her mother’s statement was an insult to me but Nisha’s coming up to me to tell me what her mother had said about me was even more painful.

That day my father explained to me that this was not a loss for me, it was a victory. I showed everyone that I could fight for what I believed in. For a while, I decided that I would not speak up anymore, that I was done losing friends .Mayank uncle told me that I shouldnot be sad about it, that when my friends grow older and understand what is wrong or right on their own, they will understand that they were wrong. It wasn’t a loss, it was a victory for me.

Before the recent general elections, at school, there was this rising question which was being asked to every high schooler. “Who do you support? BJP or Congress”. Whenever I have answered that I support the Congress, I have been always been met by this particularly confusing look on the person’s face. Then, one of the two things happens either- they start arguing with me or they say that there is no other option. In a country of 133 crore people,if there is no better option, then it is really a shame.

This is a compilation of what I have been through. There are many other students who face similar problems. My brother, who is 11 years old, was asked about his religion. He answered that he was a Muslim. In an instant, that boy asked whether my brother was a Pakistani? What are the mindsets of these kids? What are they being taught at home? How are we going to react to these rising hostilities? Why are we being called Pakistanis? Islam is the second most followed religion in this country. We are humans first then Indians and then follows any religion.

(Written by a student of a prominent school in the suburbs who preferred anynymity)



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