Between the demands of doing and documenting, I often prioritize the former. I recognize the importance of the latter as well, so I make time to document whenever I can.
In July 2018, #TalkToAMuslim was trending on Twitter. Journalist Benita Fernando who used to write for Sunday Mid-Day back then invited me to comment on it. You can read the full text of her story here.
This is what I had to say in response to her questions over email:
“I am reluctant to welcome or dismiss #TalkToAMuslim because I see that people are using it to articulate diverse positions and personal experiences. Some Muslims are finding it empowering because it gives them an opportunity to talk about how it feels to be a minority in India. Others are absolutely aghast at the patronizing tone of this campaign.
My initial discomfort with this hashtag came from the feeling that it could be used in a reductive way. A Muslim is not a museum artefact, and there should be no pressure on Muslims to fit or fight the stereotypes attributed to them. People who identify as Muslim inhabit various other identities in terms of their beliefs, occupations, political affiliations, eating habits, and sexual preferences.
Talking to a Muslim should not be seen as a substitute for investigating one’s own bigotry that can come from family conditioning, formal education or media propaganda. Talking to people with life experiences different from one’s own is helpful because it expands one’s understanding of life itself. However, it does not make sense to go around looking for a Muslim to talk to the way one would probably experiment with an unfamiliar cuisine.
I don’t know anyone in India who has not interacted with a Muslim. We are not living in some remote part of North America or Europe where there are hardly any or no Muslims. India, in fact, has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.
What we need to do is educate ourselves, and be prepared to confront our own biases. Not every Muslim prays five times a day, reads Faiz Ahmed Faiz, dreams of going for the Haj every waking moment. We need to speak up against the practice of Muslims being killed for consuming beef, treated unjustly before the law, or asked to go to Pakistan which is their supposed natural home.”