On 23rd February 2020, the streets of Delhi were on fire. While India’s capital burned, so did a big part of my childhood.
Delhi to me was falling in love with Urdu through my ancestor’s names. It was the poetry in our neighborhood’s Mughal architecture. It was hearing Bhajans and Qawwalis in the same household and gushing over how pure the tabla sounded, rather than questioning religious contexts.
Delhi to me was visits to Jama Masjid to take in the breath-taking beauty amidst bustling crowds, to eat at Karim’s, and understanding that the Masjid (mosque) was just as important a part of our lives as the Hanuman Mandir (Hindu temple) was. During the Delhi riots in February 2020, it puzzled me to see that Hindus and Muslims viewed each other as symbols of war and violence.
Religion to me is the celebration of good over evil. It is what makes me touch the feet of my Gurus and fold my hands in respect towards my elders. It is mythological stories that I learned as a child. Yet somewhere along the line, religion got mixed with politics. They changed it to ‘us vs. them’. They changed it to dictating what you could and could not eat, or where you could and could not go. They shifted the focus from holding small candles, to wielding firearms and burning homes.
While I understand that the issue is deeply rooted in a painful partition history, I do not understand why almost seven decades later, the same socio-religious hostilities remain an integral part of South Asian society, despite the fact that Muslim influence and contribution is so integral to Indian society.
India will take pride in national awards for music created by A.R. Rahman, Zakir Hussain, and Amjad Ali Khan, all Muslims. The country runs to the cinema every time a Bollywood movie starring the Muslim stars Shah Rukh Khan, Amir Khan and Salman Khan is released. It relishes the tourists that India attracts for the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, and Humayun’s Tomb, all examples of Mughal architecture. Yet, there seems to be so much Islamophobia within the nation, against the same community that continues to create beautiful and iconic parts of India.
We have international organizations dedicated to security, peacekeeping, and human rights. They are able to identify the conflict, yet unable to unite the relevant leaders in dialogue. Meanwhile, those who ride on the power of fractured societies get to paint images in our minds that those who are different than us are difficult to co-exist with.
So, I wonder what our role is in all of this. While we may not be inflicting physical harm, are we causing harm by not thinking or talking about these issues in our own homes? Are we actively making sure to unlearn these ideas that were born decades ago? Is there really any point to discrimination on the basis of religion?