I grew up in a middle-class Muslim household where I was never really taught that I was different than the majority of people in our country, other than the fact that I was not to openly express my religious identity and viewpoints in public places.
The first time I remember experiencing Islamophobia was in 6th grade. It was our Sanskrit teacher who casually compared Muslims with savages because according to her those who ate meat were violent. I was rendered shocked at that moment and I still remember how I was so scared that she would scold me for being a Muslim. Although one of the students did speak up and counter-question her for the part where she blamed meat-eating, because even Hindus ate meat, but otherwise everyone quietly listened.
There were only 2 Muslims in the entire batch in my school and, by the time I reached 11th grade, I was the only one left. I was an introvert and lacked self-confidence due to which I never had a lot of friends. During our lunch break, I would tag along with anyone who let me be with them.
During random conversations, I was often with random slurs like "katuey", "mulle", "tum logo me to..." and disgusted looks. I was always teased when India won against Pakistan in a cricket match. Once a friend innocently asked me if I was from Pakistan. I wasn’t, but ironically, his own grandparents had migrated to India from Pakistan during partition.
There was also a lot of casual "otherliness" that I always felt around me, nevertheless I ignored it and tried to blend in. For a long time, I stopped using Urdu terms that came naturally to me, avoided wearing kurta pajama, unnecessarily bashed Pakistan, and even nodded whenever Islam was labeled a regressive religion.
Things changed when I got into college and met a lot of genuinely nice people, with whom I did not feel the need to pretend anymore. They asked questions about my religion and heard me with respect. They respected my choices and lifestyle as a Muslim. This was probably the first time when I was not differentiated for being from a certain community or looked at differently.
This was also the time when I began having a lot of realisations - how it was Islamophobia, not my introversion, that kept other students away from me in school; how I had stopped referring to my parents as Ammi-Abbu, called them Mummy-Papa instead; how I was always discouraged from wearing Kurta-Pajama and taqiyah(Muslim cap) whenever I went out. As a result of this, I began making conscious decisions to undo some of it, like I began speaking Urdu more freely and started calling my mother Ammi again.
Right now, with everything that is happening around me, the future seems scary, and the present even scarier. As an Indian Muslim, I more and more hope to keep the flame of humanity burning, but I can’t do it alone.