|The road next to Nizamuddin Dargah by Chris Henke|
Even in the mosque by Fatehpur Sikri, in Jama Masjid, in Nazimuddin Darga – various Muslim places of worship where I covered my hair like any “good” Muslim - people decided I must be Hindu. So, while I got many renditions of namaste, there was no assalam-ala’ikum. In fact, all the Muslim shrines were lined with people who seemed more interested in making money though donation collection, guided tours, selling trinkets, or begging. Do these “oddities” say anything about the status of Muslims/minorities in India? With the usual caveat about generalizability, I think so.
It seems to me that Hindu hegemony has overpowered Indian culture, and hence unless specific markers are used to identify a Muslim (veil, beard, topi, etc), the assumption is that everyone is Hindu. In order to escape this assumption or hegemony, people feel the need to make religion a public endeavor. If I don’t want to be confused as a Hindu, there has to be something that I wear that shows explicitly that I am not a Hindu. And that is exactly the reason why most Muslims in India dress in the “Islamic way”, unlike in places like Bangladesh, where the assumption is everyone is Muslim. Hence, when we say Bangladeshi Muslims are more moderate than Indian Muslims because they don’t adorn these markers, that may be quite inaccurate; it is just that Bangladeshi Muslims don’t feel the need to show how religious they are because they are not threatened by competing religions.
The second aspect that was visible was the explicit signs of poverty around the Muslim shrines and mosques we visited: beggars, dilapidated buildings, general conglomeration of dirt and grime. The mosques serve as sanctuaries in the midst of all the chaos in areas where “you see Pakistani flags being waved during India-Pakistan cricket matches”, according to an auto-rickshaw driver. Are these not signs of segregation?
Bottom line: yes, Hindus and Muslims appear to co-exist peacefully in India on a day to day basis, but that may be because of the general acceptance of Hindu domination and subconscious acceptance of segregation. Muslims may well have internalized this fact for their own survival.