We are living in a time where Islamophobia is not even looked down upon any more. It is now an established school of thought, writes Amit Kumar

October 7, 2016.
Haan Bhai, Salam…bataiye
Three minutes later, my mother looks at me worryingly. “Now you have started speaking their language too? You already look like them, what with your Mullah Beard and no moustache. Why don’t you accept their religion? Become like them.”
“Maa, I am an atheist. I have been saying that for the past 15 years. I am not becoming a Muslim.”
Maa looks away.

A year ago I joined Twocircles.net, a website that caters to news about the marginalised communities in India, with Muslims being the main focus of the website. And before you jump to conclusions, no it is not a website that goes Buzzfeed on Islam and talks about “10 reasons why Islam is the best religion in the world. Number 6 is so true.” It is a site that primarily talks about the social issues of Muslims. Of course, religion is an important part of some of the conversations, but never the focal point. And no, as an atheist, it does not clash with my ideology. I can be an atheist and yet write, or edit, an article that analyses how hundreds of schemes meant for minorities in this country have never reached their targets.

I worked with business magazines and newspapers for six and a half years before I took up this job. If my ideology never stopped me from advocating for a particular mutual fund scheme and stressing the importance of a term insurance over a unit linked insurance plan, this job should be no different.

Except that every day, I am reminded that I work for a “bunch of Muslims”.

“Dude, your boss looks like a proper Muslim. I suggest you should do a little more research before joining this place. Where does the money come from, after all?”

It was meant to be friendly advice from a former colleague. I will leave it to you to see the massive amounts of Islamophobia that is visible from the above statement, because if you can’t see that, I suggest you read something else on this website.  Or maybe, go back to Buzzfeed, which recently published an article on why you should laugh at these people. Because, you know, Buzzfeed thinks they should be laughed at. Anyway, I digress.

“Now that you are working for Muslims, make sure you never mention eating pork, or consuming alcohol. They do not like it!”

“How did they hire you? You are not a Muslim. Why do they want a Hindu to work for Muslims?”

Bhai, a word of advice— do not fall in their trap.”

I can list many more such words of wisdom that I have received from my concerned friends.

My first story for the website was a hate crime against, yes, a Muslim. I am not talking about Dadri and Akhlaq. This was a hate crime in Mumbai. There is a good chance that you may not have heard or read about it. A year later, it was another hate crime, against, again, a Muslim. This was in Jharkhand. There is a good chance you may not have read much about this also.

In between, there have been hundreds of stories on Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis that I have written.

But I worked on Diwali, and took an off on Eid. And that worries the people around me.

And sometimes, me working for a “Muslim” website surprises Muslims too. During a conversation with an official from Jamiat-Ulema-E-Hind, when I told him my name, he was baffled. “You are a Hindu?” he asked. I thought of saying no, I am an atheist, but I had little balance on my phone and instead just said, “Yes, I am.” His next question was, of course, “You are a Hindu who writes for a Muslim website? Never heard that before.” I smiled, said Khuda Hafiz to which he replied “Allah Hafiz” (You can read about this difference somewhere else; it is not my area of expertise), and hung up.

He was right after all.

Name a website, or a newspaper where you find a majority of workers from marginalised communities like Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis. Hell, even show me a news team where the majority are women. And I am not talking about women-centric magazines. Don’t be daft, you know what I mean. But haven’t the views, opinions, gestures and ideas of upper-castes always been the backbone of the mainstream media?

Of course, I do not agree with some of the stuff that is printed on our site, but sorry, I do not wish to be another upper-caste Savarna who should decide ‘how’ the voice of a community should be tuned to suit everyone. Indian Muslim is not a monolith, and neither is Islam. If someone writes an article defending or attacking Zakir Naik, who am I to stop him/her from doing so? In the past, we have been criticised by a number of Muslims for critiquing the All India Personal Muslim Board. But the critique, or an argument in favour of the organisation, is also a voice from the community. We have people, dozens of them, who write for us for free. I may not agree with all of them, but I do agree that as a Savarna, I should also learn to shut up. Period.

It is a job that often entails long hours of work, every day of the week, and I am yet to take an official leave for a long duration (say, a week), even though I have been offered leaves many times. But I cannot convince myself to go on a holiday either. I love my job, and I am proud to be a part of a website where I am a ‘minority’ (there are two other non-Muslims in the organisation). It has helped me learn more than I have in all the years.

We are living in a time where Islamophobia is not even looked down upon any more. It is now an established school of thought, which believes that a Muslim labourer in Bihar should not ask a question about freedom of religion because ISIS is wreaking havoc in Iraq. Okay, I concede that may not be the best example, forgive me.

Last week, I lied to my father that I had got an increment, and will be able to send him some more cash from next month. In truth, I would just cut my expenses further to show the “increment”. I thought this would make him happy.  Instead, he asked, “Vo to theek hai. Lekin Musalmano ke liye kab tak kaam karoge?” (All that is good, but for how long will you work for Muslims). I tried, but could not come with a reply.

A year into this job, and my family still believes that this is an anomaly in my career. That one day, I will go back among ‘my own’ people. Until then, may Twocircles.net bloom, and may I remain a part of it for years to come.  And no, As Salam al Aikum is not a ‘Muslim’ or an Islamic greeting. It is an Arabic greeting, which means Peace be unto you, and I like the message. So I use it.

Salam al Aikum to you too.

Amit Kumar is the news editor at www.twocircles.net

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