As a girl born in a highly progressive family, I really did not know that a Muslim in India was supposed to have two horns and fangs. I sailed through convent education without even knowing actually that there was a difference between boys and girls in their positioning in a home — and this despite two elder brothers in the house — and that we as the ‘weaker sex’ were supposed to walk through life with a crutch and an apology on our lips. This ignorance was shattered with time, more so when I entered the world of journalism.
The first ‘myth’ to go was that women are born equal, as one saw young girls killed for dowry in the Delhi of the 1980-1990s on an almost daily basis, saw the domestic violence, the acid attacks, the rape, the discrimination, the honour killings, the eve teasing, making a mockery of the Indian constitution, of societal norms and the laws. Women were property, and tolerated only so long as they accepted the patriarchal institutions without murmur.
The second ‘myth’ to go was that India was tolerant and accepting of her minorities; and that there was no difference between one community or the other in the outside world. Strangely enough, one covered the communal violence in Meerut, Malliana, Bhagalpur, Kanpur, Aligarh and Mumbai; the butchering of Sikhs in Delhi; the demolition of the Babri mosque and the violence after as a journalist treating all this, despite the increasing incidents, as an aberration. Not as the norm. In those days — till the 1990’s — journalists were journalists, with no religion or caste, progressive, on the side of the victims without even thinking about it, and thereby a little oasis protecting and nurturing what India stood for. This is exactly how it was, and so for me being born a Muslim was of little to no consequence. No one bothered with these labels; no one cared.
It was only after the demolition of the Babri mosque that one detected a change. And journalists started getting abusive phone calls for reporting the news as it was. But one did not make much of this as the abuse covered all secular journalists, and not just Muslims. But with time, those with a Muslim or Christian name started feeling the pressure as anything we wrote elicited a “She is a Muslim; what do you expect” reaction. That is difficult to get used to, and makes me angrier than any other charge. As a progressive woman I have never faced any problems as I come from a family where we were encouraged to strike out as if the world was ours. I have made it clear to fundamentalists from the community, that my faith is not for any one else to comment on, or intervene in. Having set the parameters, these are being respected. The interference really is in my professional life as I see it, definitely not — and has never been — in my personal life.