Also written by Rishika Jain
India is known to be a secular state, but the injustice and discrimination towards minorities and lower castes tells a different story. In various instances over time, the Muslim community has suffered at the hands of the state. Laws have been passed that indirectly try to ensure that the community doesn’t feel at home in their own country. Many people fail to take into consideration how the state traps the minority’s voices by making their dissent silent. The Shaheen Bagh protest was historic – Muslim women from all over India came out together to protect their rights and protest against the discriminatory CAA. But the Supreme Court, while disposing petitions on the Shaheen Bagh protests, held that protests can only be held in designated places.
As a woman activist, this verdict is not surprising, yet still disappointing. Muslim women were always brought out as tokens to protect Islam. In a patriarchal world, they face both religious and gender oppression. They are targeted by both the state and their own family members. Our oppression doesn’t end here. When community members come forward to speak up, they face the blunt force of draconian laws like the UAPA. During the anti-NRC protests and Delhi riots, Muslim activists, academics and the youth have been discriminated and targeted by the police. Student activists, like Umar Khalid and Safoora Zargar, had to face criminal oppression due to their Muslim identity. This not only affected their physical and mental well-being, but also negatively impacted their financial status.
The state always uses its powers to push Muslim identities at the bottom of our societal hierarchy. Additionally, and as expected, Muslim women were also forced into voiceless suppression. “I witnessed my friends and family get brutally harassed by the state, and they were still expected to continue the protest without any concern about their own selves. It was traumatising,” stated a colleague of ours. Activists from our community are always on the watch list of the authorities.
The continuous lack of justice and incarceration of community leaders have left us in a constant state of frustration and fear. Many of us are scared of stating our Muslim identities. “It doesn’t matter if we have a stable job or not, if we’re economically independent or not, the fear of getting arrested purely due to our religion never stops. Something as little as forwarding a message which is critical of the government is looked upon as anti-nationalist,” says a friend. All these incidents have immensely impacted the community’s mental health. But no studies have been conducted to analyze the correlation between state’s actions and its effect on the mental health of the Muslim community.
The ability to access mental health services is a privilege, when a significant proportion of Muslims are not financially secure. Those among us able to afford therapy struggle to find mental health professionals who can recognise the mental stress that comes from institutionalised structures of oppression. Often, they follow the traditional bio-medical approach, tend to only focus on the classification of our mental illnesses, and don’t explore the psychosocial causes behind the same. Most of the discussions about structural oppression usually end with the old-school advice of accepting the harsh reality, rather than building conviction to fight the oppression. An activist friend of ours described her experience with her past mental health practitioner as “unproductive and mentally tiring” since they couldn’t provide a safe space for her to communicate her worries freely. This isn’t an isolated incident; people from all over the community have shared similar experiences about how they are unable to share their concerns stemming from their marginalities with the mental health practitioners.
Due to all this, our group – Bebaak Collective – recently conducted a three-week online workshop named “Self and Community Care in Dark Times” in order to raise awareness about the mental health crisis that the Muslim community is facing. We were advised repeatedly to not make ourselves “more vulnerable” or “available for scrutiny” by conducting such sessions. However, it is essential that we start having these important political discussions in an attempt to provide the community care that those living on the margins need.
Until mental health practitioners understand the vast struggles that the Muslim community faces, many will refuse to seek help. If we want to break the stigma against mental health, then we need to start observing and accepting the injustice that the minorities have been facing, in order to help restore their mental health.
Hasina Khan is the founder of Bebaak Collective and a civil rights and women’s activist; Rishika Jain is a psychology student at Mumbai University
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