The azan was an alarm clock for parents, a curfew to get back home for us kids, a segue into night after a cluttered day filled with school, friends and random visits from relatives — it was a lot of things to a lot of people — but never a war cry or an announcement of faith.
Nazia Erum’s Mothering a Muslim was published a few weeks ago and within a few days sold out its first edition. It is based upon the fear that gripped her when she became a mother in 2014. It suddenly dawned upon her that mothers are the bridges between a child’s inner and outer world. Over the years there has been a tectonic shift in India with the country being divided along religious fault lines. How was she going to decode the world for her infant daughter particularly a world that was increasingly prejudiced towards certain communities. Nazia Erum’s distress began from when as a new parent she had to give her daughter a name, she fretted whether it was too “Muslim-sounding name”. Mothering a Muslim is about the journey she decided to embark upon to understand if a Muslim mother’s worry was in any way similar to that of her Hindu, Christian or Sikh counterparts.
Mothering a Muslim is based upon the innumerable interviews she conducted with adults and children to understand what constitutes a Muslim identity. How does it affect social relationships? What has been the transformation over the years? What has been extraordinary is the chilling discovery the bigotry towards Muslims is very deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. Unfortunately the indoctrination begins in childhood as she illustrates with children being bullied within schools — most of which are prominent middle class private schools.
The morphing of the secular fabric of the Indian democracy rapidly into a communal society is very unsettling. Ravish Kumar in his The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation refers to the “socialization of fear” which to his mind it “to be afraid is to be civilized in this democracy”. Nazia Erum’s Mothering a Muslim illustrates this well. What is truly mindboggling is that this unfortunate transformation of Indian society has happened in living memory. If truth be told this in itself is unsurprising given that more than 40% of the Indian population is less than 25 years old. So this young Indian population has absolutely no recollection of the violent events of 1984/riots, the rath yatra, the Mandal commission riots, fall of Babri Masjid, the maha artis in Mumbai and the subsequent events, leading to 2002 / Godhra/ Gujarat pogrom and more…bringing us to present day where a panel is constituted by the Centre’s Cultural Ministry to rewrite 12,000 years of the Indian subcontinent history proving that Hindus descended from the earliest inhabitants of India.
It is a book meant to be read, to understand and to hope that the complete breakdown and deterioration of this country that we are hurtling towards does not happen.
We live in hope!
Nazia Erum Mothering a Muslim: The Dark Secrets in Our Schools and Playgrounds Juggernaut Books, Delhi, 2017. Hb. pp. 220 Rs 399
11 March 2018