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Indian-ness before religion

Political attempts to alienate Muslims from the main-stream cannot remove the actuality of Hindus and Muslims having lived together for decades.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2006 12:23 IST

With thecontroversy over the blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet and Muslims in general being bracketed in distrust and suspicion as if they were a different species believing in a different God, it becomes important for us to voice our true identity. Political attempts to alienate Muslims from the mainstream cannot remove the actuality of Hindus and Muslims having lived together in a democracy for five decades in love, unity and accommodation.

Despite the fact that we Indians are rooted in faith and tradition, no single religion shapes our cultural and social life. And wherever we are in the world we convey our distinctive Indianness by our longing for dal and rice, our warmth and hospitality.

Twenty years ago I found this multicultural unity in my school, Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya in Gwalior, where we ate and drank from the same plates and cups. My friends came from all over India. We celebrated Holi, Diwali, Christmas and Eid with equal gusto. The most touching part was that my friends would remind me of Eid and demand sweets. I happened to be the only Muslim in the school and often accompanied my friends on class visits to famous temples, with the same respect that they accorded my beliefs. When they gave me prasad, I gladly accepted because by giving it to me they expressed their love for me. Sometimes if they saw my copy of the Koran on a lower shelf they would immediately put it on the topmost shelf of my cupboard.

When it was decided that I should study in Aligarh, I was appalled because I assumed it would be too traditional a set up. But I found the same sense of love and unity between students regard less of their background.

Today in Aligarh Muslim University, I find we value the freshness and colour brought by friends from different regions and religions. It is not unusual for us to host a vegetarian dinner for our professor friends from Mumbai or Kerala or argue Marxism with an atheist. We belong together as Indians.

First Published: Feb 21, 2006 12:23 IST