From Ola to Zomato to social media, I now hide my Muslim identity everywhere


PHOTO/Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

Dear liberal Indians, I consciously try not to sound or look like a Muslim around you because of your Islamophobia.

On the day Delhi riots broke out, I took a cab home after work. As I sat in the car and Ola’s IVR system welcomed me with my full name, I flinched, while the driver turned around to take a look at me. I immediately cut my name short on the cab aggregator’s application to make sure my religious identity never comes up like that again because I didn’t want trouble. I have also stopped using my last name ‘Islam’ on social media and other public platforms for the last couple of years to avoid being identified instantly.

In another instance, I almost felt choked when I accidentally uttered ‘Ya Allah’ after sneezing in a restaurant. For the rest of the time, I avoided making eye contact with everyone, including the waiters.

The fear of catching coronavirus may have made many Indians practice social distancing of late, I have been distancing from my own identity — my Muslim identity — for quite some time now.

Muslimness not allowed

Over the years, I have developed ways to veil my religious identity, making extra efforts — both consciously and subconsciously — to not sound, look or act Muslim. But the last six years have been tough because of the rampant and aggressively open Islamophobia.

At a rally against ‘jihadi’ violence organised by Hindu extremists and led by BJP leader Kapil Mishra after the Delhi riots last month, a middle-aged man told me that the problem lies with the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. The protest rally had speakers talking about ‘jihadi hate’ of Indian Muslims and how they must be stopped.

As a Muslim, I have heard words like ‘jihad’, ‘love jihad’ and ‘kaafir’ only in public spaces filled with anti-Muslim hate and bigotry. It shows how Islamophobia has engulfed India — to the point where any form of ‘Muslimness’ is vehemently disallowed, resulting in a forced exclusion and expulsion of the Muslim identity.

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