My story is the story of most Indians, many of whom come from small towns & kasbas and are first-generation learners. Access to financial resources is always difficult for us. That impedes our access to education. Without State support, our personal responsibilities increase, especially if you are from a minority community. We have to earn to support our families and even pay our fees. There is inevitably a trade-off. If education is not publicly funded, then marginalised groups can never progress or prosper. To depend on private education is a chimera- not only is it expensive but also exclusionary. This is worsened when state support for SC/ST students is withdrawn, like it has been these past few years. This is akin to the colonial idea of education- they also excluded specific Indians from access to education (like Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis, OBCs etc.) to sustain their rule.
Although access to financial resources has been difficult, my loved ones always supported me. Even though my father was not very educated, he pushed me to study as much as I could. He himself is an avid reader. In fact, my understanding of politics & society came from discussions (often running late into the night) with him. He taught me that my education conferred a special responsibility on me to give back to society. In fact, when I planned to quit studying after my post-graduation, my father said “If you focus only on earning money, people will be happy but you will not be able to contribute to society.”
And so I worked hard. Whilst I was in Aligarh Muslim University, my identity was never a barrier. I was only an Indian. But when I went to Himachal, I was discriminated against simply because I was a Muslim. Both to assert my right to be Indian and to fight for a free and equal India, I was actively involved in the anti-CAA movement, which changed my life- politically and personally. Through this movement, minorities reasserted their rights. The myth that Muslims do not relate to national symbols was shattered. Muslim women asserted that they can wear burqas & can be secular at the same time. In its spread-from Bombay to the smallest village of Bihar, it also strengthened our democracy.
The movement was not merely about citizenship and identity; it was also an intrinsic part of nation-building. Yet, the manner in which the ruling dispensation acted to curb this movement was horrific. They even engineered the Delhi riots to teach minorities a lesson. What was our crime? We were simply protesting against a bill which we considered anti-Constitution. It was our democratic & constitutional right. Even (Rammanohar) Lohia famously said that – “Jab sadke suni ho jati hai toh Sansad awara ho jata hai”.
India’s foundations are based on principles of diversity- regional, religious and linguistic. In the last 5-6 years, that diversity has been intentionally trampled upon. Today every person who is raising questions is being muzzled, especially if you are a Muslim, Dalit or woman. If things go on like this, it may weaken the fabric of our nation. But where are the organisations and institutions for channelising the energy generated from the anti-CAA protests? Will all that fervour and idealism go to waste? Sometimes I get scared, especially when Ammi says that a Muslim is in jail simply because of asking questions. But no one can give up; we must keep on fighting for the India we love.