Adopt Hindu Names
By Shaikh Azizur Rahman
of India's large Muslim minority are often adopting
Hindu names and dress styles in an attempt to avoid
widespread prejudice that keeps them from housing
Shaikh Salim, a Muslim who runs a food stall in
the central office district of Calcutta, uses the
common Hindu name Shankar Maity and calls his stall
"Shankar's Fast Food."
Shaokat Ali, a Muslim student who came to the city
to do his master's degree in English, tutors Hindu
students using the name Saikat Das and keeps a large
picture of the popular Hindu goddess Kali hanging
on a wall in his room.
Jahanara Begum takes off a silver talisman embossed
with 'Allah' in Arabic each morning, replacing it
with a spot of vermilion powder on her forehead
and red-and-white conch bangles of a married Hindu
woman before heading to work in a fish market, where
she is known as Parvati — the name of a Hindu
Analysts say there could be thousands of Muslims
in Calcutta who, like these three, are quietly hiding
their religious identities in order to fit in.
"In everyday life, 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 veteran social analyst and executive
editor of Pratidin, a Bengali daily in Calcutta.
Six decades after Pakistan was carved off from British-ruled.
He added that communal discrimination has been "institutionalized,"
with Muslims being denied employment in government
and even many private sector offices, where 90 percent
to 95 percent of the jobs are held by Hindus.
Many Muslims who adopted Hindu identities say they
do not feel embarrassed because of their actions.
"Fifteen years ago, when I came to Calcutta
in search of a job, almost all street restaurants
in the city refused to employ me because I was a
Muslim," said Mr. Salim. "Some said their
Hindu customers could refuse to eat at their shops
if a Muslim worked there.
"But soon I met a Muslim man who worked as
a cook in a Hindu-owned restaurant under a Hindu
identity. 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 Mr. Salim's customers are Hindus,
and he fears his business would suffer disastrously
if his customers found out he is a Muslim.
"I know that [many Hindus] hate Muslims simply
because of their religion. So, I have done nothing
wrong by lying about my religious identity,"
Mr. Ali, the 24-year-old university student, is
troubled by his decision to hide his faith but says
he had little choice after 29 guesthouse owners
refused to rent him a room because of his religion.
He intends to drop the pretense as soon as his finances
"It pains me that I cannot tell people that
I am a Muslim," he said. "I am restlessly
waiting for the day when I shall be able to get
out of this religious guise."
Some analysts worry that the deep-seated discrimination
against Muslims could ultimately drive them to violence.
"As Indian Muslims strongly feel they are being
unjustifiably denied their share in developing India,
their grievances could snowball into severe anger
against the state and society, forcing many to resort
to terrorism one day," Mr. Basu said.
But for the time being, the realities of the workplace
mean that many Muslims will continue to hide their
In the state of West Bengal, where the Islamic community
makes up 27 percent of the population, Muslim employment
in the government sector was less than 3 percent,
according to a recent federally mandated study by
former Judge Rajendra Sachar.
A federal minister acknowledged last week that Muslims
have been victims of "religious apartheid,"
both in the government and in society at large.
Discrimination against Muslims "is in the polity
and the populace of the country. Worse, many of
them have been implicated in fake charges of terrorism,"
said Kapil Sibal, the minister of science and technology,
who is a Hindu.
(Courtesy The Washington Times)