A few days before Eid, Junaid, was on his way back from Eid shopping when a group of men lynched him on the train. These men were enraged by his brother and friends’ refusal to vacate their seats for them. How dare they do so, despite being Muslim? This incident took place on the outskirts of Delhi, not far from Gurgaon, the city I call home.
On the last night of this Ramzan, I had pakoda for iftar for the first time in Geneva — a regular item on the menu back home. I smiled, thinking how my father would react to pakoda coming out of an oven and not the boiling oil of the frying pan.
I spent this Ramzan, like the last one, in Switzerland. On many evenings, I would break my fast alone in my room with dates and a glass of water, too lazy to prepare the elaborate iftar I was accustomed to back home. I would miss home, my parents, relatives and family friends. My first Ramzan in Geneva was a series of nostalgic episodes of love, laughter, and Roohafza with a dash of lemon. This Ramzan, the nostalgia was not as gripping, its call not as deep. As I tried to make sense of why this was happening, I realised that a part of me had begun preparing itself for a life away from home, away from India.
Quite paradoxically, I have been pursuing a Masters in development studies in Geneva with plans of going back to India, understanding where the country is going wrong with the development agenda and what it could do differently. Minutes away from my institute is the United Nations’ office, towards which citizens from all over the world turn for protection and assistance.
The condition of Muslims in India has perhaps not yet attained, in the eyes of the present government, the gravity and severity required to move the state into action. In situations like these, there is always the option of drawing international attention. Given the more urgent crises of war, genocide, extreme poverty and hunger across the world, I am sceptical if the cries of Muslims in India will be heard in time.
It is not surprising that the desire to be back home has been misplaced. Over the past few months, I have woken up to WhatsApp messages and Facebook alerts of communal rioting and mob lynching of Muslims. I have shared them with friends, shed a tear, shouted and cried in anger, and sat paralysed, imagining myself and my family members as the victims. Ramzan, the month of spiritual cleansing, has been soiled with multiple incidents of hate and anger.
As a Muslim growing up in a predominantly non-Muslim neighbourhood and city, I always stuck out like a sore thumb, my beliefs and practices looked upon with curiosity, fascination or disdain, by those who fitted in better in the social milieu of my generation. However, I never felt that I did not belong where I lived. After years of awkward navigations through discussions on religion, politics, terrorism, the headscarf and women’s equality, I had learnt to carve a space for myself in most situations. It is only recently that I have begun to feel that what I say or what I think does not matter. All that matters is that I cover my head, or that I have a name that sounds “Muslim”, or that I celebrate Eid, much like 16-year-old Junaid.
I remember now the morning of Eid last week. I woke up scurrying to call my parents to wish them “Eid Mubarak”, before the quiet of my room and the city outside would snatch away the sense of comfort that I had built — the comfort of believing that I am better off away from home, telling myself that I would rather live outside my country and miss it terribly, than live there and fear for my life and dignity. Today, this comfort of familiarity is already beginning to melt away. Standing on my balcony, I would watch street vendors with their thelas, preparing to head home, and hear my father say “Aaj pakode aur chai ka mausam ho raha hai”.