Blind Spots

Caste in contemporary Muslim autobiographies

The narrative of the steady disenfranchisement and marginalisation of Indian Muslims is important. But there is another story that gets neglected: the role of caste in the Muslim community remains almost entirely secret. Pedro Ugarte / AFP / Getty Images
30 April, 2020

ON A DELHI PLAYGROUND in the late 2000s, five-year-old Azania was about to kick a football with her white canvas shoes, when a boy from the rival team screamed, “Get away from the ball, you Paki.” When the author Nazia Erum heard about this—one of several instances of Islamophobia in elite schools in the National Capital Region, she writes—she wondered whether she should give her own daughter a Muslim name. When did schools become like this? She remembered that her elder brother was called “Hamas” in the 1990s, but that had felt somewhat light-hearted by comparison.

A few years before the playground incident, another child in a different part of the city found that there was an unexpected problem with her new home. After moving near her workplace in a Muslim-dominated locality near Jamia Millia Islamia, the author Rakhshanda Jalil sent handmade cards to her daughter’s classmates to invite them home for her birthday. Most of her daughter’s friends declined the invitation. Over the phone, their mothers explained to Jalil what had changed. It was different when Jalil lived in Gulmohar Park, an elite outpost where Muslims are not conspicuous, they said, but “we have no idea about the Jamia side.”

In 2008, after night-time discounts for phone calls kicked in, the writer Neyaz Farooquee and his friends used to spend hours gossiping and mocking each other. They spoke about the women they were interested in, college life, and their friend Kafil’s obsession with trivia regarding guns and weapons. Days after the Batla House encounter in September that year, Farooquee deleted the numbers of his closest friends from his phone.

After the 1992 Mumbai riots, when Sumaiya’s family moved to the ghetto of Mumbra in Mumbai, her parents could not arrange for her to go to school. She had to drop out. In this new place, water and electricity were always in short supply, and there was garbage everywhere.