By Anwesha Rana
You can’t assume that one will unlearn communalism if such feelings of discrimination are not harbored at home. Since we all engage in the public sphere – and this is where this division is so stark – that one can’t avoid thinking about it.
I was very young then, studying in one of the lower classes. My classmate stammered: ‘Musalman log bahut gandha hote hai’ (Muslims are very dirty). I have heard so many other utterances like this – ‘They are hot-blooded’, ‘They kill on the slightest pretext’ etc. I came back home and asked, ‘What’s a Muslim?’ I still didn’t know what Muslim meant. I thought it must be the name of a man or the name of an animal.
My family had many Muslim acquaintances and they often came home. When my mother explained that these people were Muslims, I was taken aback. They were also people like us; they spoke like us; they behaved like us; they expressed their affections like us. I never saw any sign of ‘dirtiness’ in them. Even at that young age, the word ‘gandha’ (dirty) was drilled into my classmate’s head. And such discrimination takes on different colors at different stages.
I was then a little grown up. One acquaintance, who I called didi, found a job in a company. One evening, I visited their house. Didi had returned from office. She told her mother gleefully: ‘Ma, I have rejected all the undawallahs (egg-sellers) and beediwallahs (beedi-sellers)’. Her company was recruiting people. Didi was responsible for the initial screening of applications. These undawallahs and beediwallahs were none but Muslim job applicants – just imagine! I thought, you didn’t even consider their applications and abusing them as undawallahs and beediwallahs. If they didn’t find jobs, what else would they do?
It is hard to find Muslims in the educational institutions. Among the fifty students in my class, there are no Muslims. When I lived in Patna, I studied at the St. Paul’s School. Among sixty students in that school, there were only seven Muslims. In the Central School in Calcutta, there was only one Muslim student among the forty. In the present school, there is none. In this appalling situation, the ones who try to educate themselves for social mobility, we already term them beediwallahs.
Are the parents solely responsible for this? I don’t think so. Rather, I would hold the teachers more responsible. Once I went to Kerala to participate in an essay-writing competition. We were accompanied by a male teacher and a female teacher. In the evening, we went to a restaurant for dinner. The lady suddenly leapt up and rushed out of the restaurant. Because the owner and the steward at the restaurant were Muslims. ‘Will I have to eat in a Muslim restaurant?’ she spat. I felt pained and disgusted. If this was what a teacher thought, what would they teach their students? Are they responsible only for teaching the syllabus? Will they be able to teach that properly, even?
Such questions keep on haunting me. I have seen the other side, too. There are many who are keen to remove such discriminatory practices. I am waiting for that day when, irrespective of Hindus and Muslims, everyone will have equal access to opportunities and rights. Everyone will live with dignity.
[This was first published in a Bangla booklet, Muslims in West Bengal: An Overview (2007), edited by, Kumar Rana & Sabbir Ahmed.]
Anwesha Rana was a student at the G.D.Birla Center for Education, Kolkata, at the time of the publication of this booklet. Translated from Bangla by Mosarrap H. Khan.
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