“Vaish, you can’t trust these people”

How it is to date a Muslim in India even when you are progressive
Blog Society Tuesday, March 08, 2016 - 10:15

By Vaishnavi Suresh

This was originally published here.

Let’s begin with a few facts to break the myth of this being a sob story. To start with, both my boyfriend and I belong to upper middle class families; we live in an environment that is relatively progressive and so far, he hasn’t been a victim of any major Muslim hatred. So far.

Allow me to delve a little into this relationship before you assume this is a story on how we plan to elope to a foreign land to escape the conservative clutches of this society. We are two teenagers who happen to like each other a fair amount. Our families (immediate at least) are extremely avant-garde. His family knows about this relationship and completely approve of it. My parents are honestly the “coolest” parents there can be. They are the bad company other parents warn their kids about; and yet I haven’t told them about the relationship, firstly because it’s too soon, and secondly because I know too well how they are going to react. I tell them he’s Muslim and they react saying “Ohhhhh. Okay” before proceeding to ask me more about him. However, that long “Ohhhhh”, which would’ve been absent if he was a Christian, Hindu, Jain or for that matter even a girl, is what bothers me. This unconscious we-are-cool-with-Muslims-until-they-become-a-part-of-our-family is something I come across more often than I should, particularly in (apparently) well educated, middle class Indian Hindu families. Wait. Am I anti-national now?

My extended paternal family consists of I-have-a-rod-up-my-ass TamBrahms, who I like for much fewer reasons than I dislike. I have sat through conversations where they discuss in depth on how “those” Muslims deserved what they got in 2002; and also conversations where they boast about being such modern people unlike that neighbor who wouldn’t let her daughter wear skinny jeans. My oldest and closest friend is a Muslim and whenever I bring him up, they ask “Who? That Muslim boy?” In a nutshell, they are imbeciles with a degree.

But, they are right. They are better than their neighbors and friends and other people who refuse to have Muslim tenants or refuse to speak to Muslims. However, is that our benchmark? Why are they proud of the fact that they aren’t that bad? In the hopeful conversations I have had with people who think much like them, I have been told “What are you worrying about? The Muslims you know haven’t ever been attacked violently. They are the lucky ones who are living a peaceful life.” It is a shame that they are considered lucky for living a life that every human being has the right to.

Coming back to me dating a Muslim. If my uptight extended family were to ever find out about this, they would be appalled beyond words. In the language of “those” Muslims, this is Haraam. I would be the spoilt one in the family who has lost her way. Of course, all this could have been averted if only my dad knew how to keep his women in the place they belonged. You would assume that this angst is perhaps because they are people from a different generation, but you would be mistaken. When I told one of my closest friends about the relationship, she responded saying “Vaish, you can’t trust these people”. I would ordinarily be furious, but what better can I expect from a girl whose family hasn’t taught her much different?

To sum it up, we aren’t the couple in Mani Ratnam’s Bombay who are so deeply in love but cannot be together because of our religion. We are just that couple that has only-in-good-spirit Love Jihad jokes passed on us. The couple that is reminded time and again that I would need to convert if we ever plan on getting married.

We’re just one of those lucky couples, aren’t we?

Vaishnavi Suresh is a student who wants to be a documentary filmmaker, human rights activist and photographer.

The headline has been changed on reader feedback.

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