Flinging barbs at the very vulnerable!

One notices the communally charged provocative comments directed at Muslim women accelerating in recent years. But one can’t do much. Not even react rather too openly for fear of the aftermath. Also, there is no helpline number where one can reach out, writes Humra Quraishi

Last summer came up the Sulli Deals app and now comes up the Bulli Bai app. Out to target Muslim women. Putting up photographs of Muslim women. Their virtual auctioning!

It is just too disgusting to see the Hindutva politics of hate has reached this level of unthinkable lows. Earlier, communally charged anger towards women from the minority community was limited to provocative statements or taunts, biases at work or at educational institutions, but for that hate for the ‘other’ reach this level was unthinkable.

As an Indian Muslim woman I have heard many communally charged provocative comments accelerating in recent years. Nah, one can’t do much. Not even react rather too openly for fear of the aftermath. Also, there is no helpline number where one can reach out. Also not too sure if the distress calls will bring about relief. Manned that they would be by the sarkari lot, who in turn be under due pressure from the babus and mantris. Mind you, many manning the political and administrative and policing machinery are with Right-Wing backgrounders to them. In fact, if the system was fair then there’d be adequate scare of the sarkari bandobast, but that’s not so!

The ground realities can be termed alarming. What with Hindutva lynch killers and hate speech givers given some level of that very obvious protection by the Hindutva’s top brass. That’s why they manage to go about scot free. In several instances, it is the battered-shattered victims who are named as the culprits!

Traumatic train journey

For some strange or not-so-strange reason, I have heard the worst possible communal comments during the long and short train journeys. Comments ranging from —  “woh log Musalmaan  jaisa dikh  rahai hain, unsai door raho”  to  “Yeh  Musalmaan log  kuch  bhi  kar saktai  hain …Maarna, katnaa, bomb bananaa!” (Those people looking like Muslims, keep away from them. These Muslims can do anything — killing, cutting, bomb making!)

Whilst commuting from Gurgaon to New Delhi, by the Metro, my mobile rang. One of my friends, with a loud and clear ‘As- Salaam-Alaikum’. And ever since I’m well aware of the meaning tucked in these words is ‘May peace be on you’, I make it a point to greet with the  return greeting ‘Walai-Kum-Salaam’ (May peace be on you too). After all, don’t we all crave for peace. But that evening as soon as I said ‘Walai-Kum-Salaam’, the compartment-wallahs looked in my direction. Continued staring rather too blatantly, till, perhaps, it dawned on them that I was draped in a sari together with a sleeveless blouse, so could be dumped in the safe category! Nah, I didn’t come across as a terrorist! Don’t know the extent of those glares if I was in a burqa.

That same evening, I overheard a boy asking his father, together with pointing towards a bearded shervani clad man standing on the metro station platform, “Papa, kya atankwadi log aise dikhtai hain?”(Papa, do terrorists look like him?) The father did not say “no” to his son, on the contrary looked at that man in a disgusted and angry way. As though relaying — how dare a Musalmaan stands on that same platform where he and his son stand!

I can’t erase details to one of those traumatic train journeys I’d undertaken — as soon as I got the news of the sudden demise of my maternal grandfather in Shahjahanpur, I decided to board one of the day trains, taking me from New Delhi to Shahjahanpur via Bareilly. Suddenly distracted by the loud chatter around, I looked at my compartment-wallahs  —several sari clad women with red bindis on their foreheads, busy chatting amongst themselves, till about the time a  group of five burqa clad women entered the compartment. Three sat on the compartment floor and two sat on the wooden berth. The sari clad women suddenly looked about agitated, and started pulling me closer to themselves, and with that away from the two burqa-clad women. Together with that, saying, “Bahenji,en Musalmaan  aurtoon se alag raho, alag baitho…Musalmaano sai baans aati hai. Yeh log Musalmaan hain.”  (Sister, sit away from these Muslim women…Muslims smell. They are Muslims.)

Though the burqa-clad women heard every single word within the tight confines of that train compartment but didn’t react. I stared about hopelessly. I know, I should have told the sari-clad group that I too was a Muslim. I should have argued on behalf of the burqa-clad Muslim women. I should have said that Muslims don’t smell! Or else, I could have given the sari-clad lot a strong lecture on their communal attitude and with that taken a somewhat aggressive posture.

But I didn’t utter a single word. I kept shut. Sat there like a silly coward! Why I kept shut and didn’t speak out or hit back? Was I scared? Yes, I was. After all, one had read news reports of Hindutva goons attacking and thrashing Muslim passengers on running trains. Those news reports had remained embedded. So I sat all too subdued and quiet. Staring towards nowhere in particular but introspecting on my own helplessness. I continued sitting tense the remaining one hour journey to Shahjahanpur.

I was angry and upset with myself, for not reacting to the taunts flung at the burqa-clad women. That entire experience troubled me. In fact, continues doing so, even now, at this moment as sit keying in. Bringing to the fore memories of the other instances and experiences. Imprints of hurt and pain lingering on, to this day.

When hurt couldn’t be sidetracked  

Years back, around the mid-60s, I was admitted in Lucknow’s Loreto Convent. It was my first day in school and to this day details to it remain un-moving because on that very first day, one particular classmate, ten year old Ms Tripathi, refused to sit next to me in the class room, on the chair placed next to mine, quipping, “I know you one Musalmaan… my grandmother says all Musalmaans smell!”

Though, to the best of my recollection, she was forced by the class teacher to sit right there, on the chair placed next to mine. Ironically, at a much later stage, our set of parents were neighbors, residing in the same government colony. And though the two families befriended each other to a certain extent, but I made sure to keep away from her and also from her entire family—her siblings and her doctor parents. The hurt couldn’t be sidetracked. And the first communal comment along the religious strain, so impossible to erase.

In school, I heard another shocker: my Hindu friends telling me that their parents call Muslim men ‘katuas’!  Unable to decode this strange sounding word, I was curious to know what it meant. …I was told by my school friends, “Katua stands for someone with a cut! Isn’t the Muslim man’s penis somewhat skinned during circumcision! ”

Downright rotten and communal

I have experienced one communal onslaught after another, even from persons who were well aware of my Muslim identity. Several onslaughts but let me detail this particular one  — At the start of  2000,  to be precise January 2000, soon after an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to  Kandahar and there were talks of providing extra security during flights, I had to interview for a national daily the then Secretary Civil Aviation (GOI ). He was my neighbor, on New Delhi’s Shahjahan Road. But for that interview, he asked me to come to his office. As the interview progressed I asked him details of the security measures that his Ministry planned to introduce to prevent hijacks. He came up with the routine, “Security tightened at airports, issuing of temporary passes to be stopped…” He answered few other related queries, but when I asked him to detail the exact implementation of the security measures, he’d initially kept quiet, before semi-shrieking, “Why should I tell you those exact details! You Quraishi, so you … you might!”

Might what?
“You Quraishi! You might tell those people there, in that enemy country…our enemies across! Er, you …you a Muslim.”


I somehow managed to tolerate that insult, without reacting to his communal comments, but then whilst driving back, burst out. What the hell! How dare he talk in that obnoxiously crude communal way! How dare he get so insulting and downright rotten and communal! How dare he humiliate me in that third-class way!

No, there was nowhere I could lodge a complaint against him! When killers of people go about untouched, so little punishment expected for those babus who kill and bruise and injure with communal comments.