The question that so frequently jolts India did not rattle the six-year-old boy unwrapping his chocolate, sitting at the teak table.
“Muslims carried out the bombings,” Atyab Siddiqui said matter-of-fact, reporting what he had seen on television and conversations around him. Atyab grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and moved this year to New Delhi — a city of deep identity-related prejudices.
“I know all this, I saw it on the news,” he said, resting his chin on the table as he twirled around the crumpled wrapper. “When someone does bad things to Muslims, they carry out blasts to scare people.”
Dr Shelja Sen, a child psychologist with the Sitaram Bhartiya Hospital, says such prejudice is likely to especially affect children from minority communities, making them grow up with the feeling of being marginalised or persecuted.
“During my work with a few children from Kashmir I found them to be filled with a feeling of being different. Also religion was found to be central in their thought process,” Sen said.
Atyab has no idea what terms like religion or Muslim or Hindu stand for. When asked whether he is Muslim or Hindu, he retorted: “I am Atyab, chhota bachcha (little boy).”
But he is gradually learning how people’s identities make them different — beginning with the Pakistani friends he left behind in Jeddah.
“Hamza can not come here as he is a Pakistani. I can because I am an Indian,” Atyab said.
When the bombings happened in New Delhi on Sept. 13, Atyab was at home, busy playing with his toy car while his family sat stunned watching the news unfold on television.
But he remembers it all.
“One small boy saw the bad uncle who kept the bombs in the dustbin. He then told police uncles who asked around and caught the bad uncles,” he said referring to an actual sequence of events at Barakhamba Road.
When he recently drove through the city and crossed a few temples, Atyab asked his mother: “Are we going to Mecca city, there are so many Allah-Allah houses here”.
In another part of the city, Sen, the child psychologist, has herself made those mother-son conversations, and how role of the family is crucial. Her 10-year-old son still does not know his religion.
“Since we never discuss this at home, it is not a concern for my child. He has an identity beyond religion,” Sen said.
Atyab might now know about formal religion, but he nurtures an unwavering faith in God, resorting to praying with folded hands every time there is a crisis - like a power outage when his favourite cartoon show is on TV.
“I pray every time there is a problem,” he said, giving a demonstration. He raised his little hands, joins his open palms in typical Muslim style and said: “Allah paak problem chala jaye (God, please solve the problem) …Aameen (Amen).”
And when he is told by his aunt that those who refer to God as Allah are Muslims, he looks up with surprise. “I am a Muslim?”