Students gather around a painting of 60 Indian freedom fighters as part of Independence Day celebrations at a school in the city of Chennai, Tuesday, August 14, 2007.
Fearful Muslims adopt Hindu IDs
In India, many members of religious minority hide the signs of their faith to escape discrimination
Aug 15, 2007 04:30 AM
Shaikh Azizur Rahman
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
CALCUTTA–On a busy street in Calcutta’s business district, he runs a food stall called “Rajib’s Paratha” and is known as Rajib Mallick.
Using the popular Hindu name, no one suspects he is Rajab Ali Mollah, a Muslim who has adopted a fictitious identity to blend in with the neighbourhood’s mostly Hindu office workers.
Sohrab Hossain, a Muslim student who came to the city to complete his Masters degree in English and lives in a Hindu-dominated housing complex, is known as Sourav Das among the students he tutors. To keep up his Hindu appearance he has a small idol of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, on his desk.
Every morning as she prepares to go to work as a fishmonger, Hasina Khatoon takes off her silver armband embossed with “Allah” in Arabic, puts vermillion powder on her forehead and red-white conch bangles on her wrist – symbols of a married Hindu woman – to maintain a Hindu appearance in a fish market where almost all of her customers are Hindus.
Rajab Mollah, Sohrab Hossain and Hasina Khatoon say they have adopted new identities in a Hindu-majority society where as Muslims they would face discrimination.
Analysts say many Muslims from all socio-economic backgrounds are quietly hiding their religious affiliation.
“Muslims in almost all spheres of life face a communal discrimination by powerful Hindus and they are denied many of their basic rights and freedom in an unjustified way,” said Anjan Basu, a social analyst and executive editor of Pratidin, a Bengali daily in Calcutta.
Six decades after Partition, “many (Hindus) believe that Pakistan was created for Muslims and now they do not have right to live in India, which is meant for Hindus.”
The Partition of India 60 years ago was a highly controversial arrangement, and remains a cause of much tension on the subcontinent today.
Basu, who is a Hindu, also said discrimination has been “institutionalized,” with many Muslims being denied employment in government and private-sector offices where 90 to 95 per cent jobs are held by Hindus.
Gautam Ray, a senior journalist with Calcutta’s largest Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika, said that since the bulk of the dalits (low-caste Hindus or so-called Untouchables) converted to Islam when the religion spread in India, many upper-caste Hindus look down on Muslims as they had for generations looked down on dalits.
“The root of this communal discrimination is deeply entrenched in the society and most of these communal Hindus are not expected to change their feeling for Muslims any time soon,” said Ray, who is also an upper-caste Hindu. “Muslims are often denied housing in Hindu-dominated modern residential complexes,” he added.
“This communal discrimination against Muslims will not end unless Hindus themselves change their attitude. But we do not see hope of any such positive social change anytime soon.”
Muslims who adopted fake Hindu identities believe they did nothing wrong by hiding their original identities.
“Ten years ago, when my house and land in the village was eaten up by a river and I came to Calcutta in search of a job, almost all street shops and restaurants in the city refused to employ me because I was a Muslim,” Mollah said.
“Some said their Hindu customers could refuse to eat at their restaurants if a Muslim worked there,” he said.
“But I met a Muslim man who worked under a Hindu identity to supply water to restaurants. I followed his advice, picked up a Hindu identity and soon an upper-class Hindu employed me to run a food stall.”
Nearly all of Mollah’s customers are Hindus and he fears his business would suffer disastrously if his customers found out he is a Muslim.
“I don’t think I have done anything wrong because I know how they hate Muslims simply because of their religion,” he added.
A federal commission recently found that Muslims “live in socio-economic conditions worse than many so-called backward tribal people,” according to commission chief Rajendra Sachar, a former judge.
In the state of West Bengal, where the Muslim community makes up 27 per cent of the population, employment of Muslims in the government sector was below 3 per cent, the Sachar Commission reported.
Some Muslim leaders see education as the key to a better future.
“If the younger generation can educate themselves, it will be difficult for even the most communal Hindus to discriminate against a new Muslim force,” said Nazrul Islam, a senior public servant and noted Calcutta writer.
“Maybe discrimination will not be wiped out completely, but an educated and powerful community of Muslims will be able to fight off the injustice, at least to a good extent.”
Shaikh Azizur Rahman is a journalist based in India. Taken from