The (Black/Muslim) Man on the Bus

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Chicago IL. 11th April 2016. Monday morning.

I took the bus to work this morning. It’s a 20-minute ride. It was a pre-rush-hour bus; not more than 10 passengers, so I got my preferred seat on the left-side window, 2nd seat up the steps. It was a regular Monday morning, making my way to the office early to get a head-start to my week. Nice 50-degree tee-shirt weather. Bluetooth headphones connected listening to some Beatles tracks.

My Monday morning happy-place was interrupted by someone speaking very loudly, almost screaming from the back seat row. It was a few seconds of a loud harsh voice screaming, “RED ALERT. WARNING!” I paused my music for a few seconds to confirm what I heard, then, safely concluded the presence of a not-uncommon drunk homeless person on the bus.

Back to my music.

A couple of minutes later, the screaming was back, “ALLAH-HE-AKBAR-ALLAH!”. And I froze. This time, it wasn’t just me. A few more passengers looked around, visibly edgy, but not really reacting.

Silence.

Part of me had actually begun to fear for what could have been coming. The air had gotten thicker than a foggy Chicago morning.

Now, my music was paused again, my ear almost bending back with how keenly I was listening in to what was happening behind me. I was consciously aware of my heartbeat. There were a couple of people sitting behind me on the other side as well. I’m sure they would have got up if there really was something suspicious. But, I looked sideways to the widest stretches of my peripheral vision and associated the voice with the black skinned man sitting a couple of seats behind me.

A couple of minutes pass. The man starts singing, “Mama, just killed a man. Put a gun against his head. Pulled the trigger, he’s dead.” Being a well-established bathroom singer myself, I could appreciate the lack of tune and missed notes in his rendition of one of my favorite songs of all time, but why the lines about someone who killed a man?

Silence. A couple of minutes pass. He started singing again.

“MAMA, DO YOU THINK THEY DROPPED THE BOMB ON ME?!?” I don’t know if it’s better or worse that I didn’t know this song. He sang a couple of lines and came back to the first one, his voice noticeably louder for his chorus.

The next 5 minutes were a combination of alternated silence and loud humming. I was definitely more relaxed but hadn’t gotten myself to play my music, yet. Then, I heard him rummaging around in his pockets and his jackets hitting the seat in front of him with a loud thud a couple of times… And he got up.

Walked ahead to the back door exit of the bus, kept his black bag on a nearby seat and stood there. And I finally saw him. A black man, a little less than 6 feet. An unlit cigarette in his mouth, heavy jacket, dirty jeans, a sweater and a dark blue Muslim cap. I didn’t know what to make of it. He started singing again, some lines about “a bullet comes shooting down on you” while looking straight at the lady in front of that door.

At the next stop, he stepped close to the exit door. He hadn’t taken his backpack. And I thought to myself, “if he steps off without his bag, you run for your friggin’ life!!”

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And he almost did. He leaned his head out, looked around on either side of the street and came back in. He looked straight at the CCTV camera right at the door, pointed at it and then shook his index finger in a disapproving way saying, “no, no. Not this time” or something like that, with a smug smile on his face.

He eventually stepped off at the next stop, with his backpack. And I felt a huge sigh of relief.

At the end of it, I couldn’t help but think what had just happened. That man caused no real harm to me or anyone on the bus. And yet, I had an elevated heart-rate, kept myself alert to my surroundings, ready to judge and run.

In retrospect, would I have felt the same way if I hadn’t heard the “Allah” part of it? I most certainly think not. A homeless guy in the bus loudly singing random songs would not make me fear for my safety.

Would I have felt safer if he was a white guy who didn’t sing an “Allah” chant? Looking back again, of course I would! A random white homeless guy singing songs at the back of the bus? Even if he started with a slogan about some Hindu god or perhaps, a Jesus worship chant… Totally cool with that. I’d just turn up my headphones and get back to my music.

The issue, I concluded, was my tendency to be suspicious of him coz he was a black man, or a Muslim man, or both.

I know I’m not a prejudiced person. I don’t judge people. I’ll nod a ‘good morning’ to a black person on the road as much as I would a white or brown person. I’d smile at a person without needing to know their religion. I couldn’t care less for religion myself. And I have amazing Muslim friends here in Chicago, as well as back home in India and from Pakistan. Heck, my roommate is one!

But, when it comes to suspecting people, I’d be quicker to judge a black man being shady in the bus than of a white man… Less trusting of a man shouting “Allah” chants in the bus than of someone else. And no matter how much I try to tell myself otherwise and prove myself a man pure in the principles of equality and nobility, today was proof of that I’m not.

That’s also why this article is titled with “Black/Muslim” in parenthesis. What sort of picture would you have painted if the title was “The Man on the Bus”. It’s an excellent title for a story about the man who offered his seat to a pregnant lady on a crowded bus and paid her fare, isn’t it?

And ultimately that’s the problem in the system. Hate towards Muslims. Racism in law enforcement. Higher incarceration rates in black communities. Sure, there are so many other factors that play in… Education, access to opportunity, bias in media portrayals, general bad influences, families, etc. But, we are part of it as well.

It matters not that he didn’t cause any harm. What matters is the reason I suspected that he could.

White privilege is a thing. Non-Muslim privilege is, too.

Intoleraception -The Right to be Offended

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Ah, my country. My beloved India… I feel so disappointed writing this post coz, once again, we have shown the impatience and (dare I say this too early) intolerance to someone hinting at the possibility that India may be imperfect.

I say, “we” as I represent India and our society in another country every day and sometimes have to explain to baffled non-Indians why some of these things happen. And before you say it, yes, I do have a right to speak and call out my country’s flaws even though I don’t live there.

Some background on the core issue: celebrated actor, Aamir Khan in a recent interview spoke of how he has begun to feel more insecure in India, and so much so that he and his wife, Kiran even discussed moving to another country.

Even if you’re aware of this, I urge you to watch the video. It’s just 15 minutes.

And there we go… Everyone is offended and social media launches its usual vile attack on its latest victim. In addition to the passive-aggressive personal attacks, some people even suggest countries for him and his family to take (Pakistan, anyone?). I’m pretty sure a majority of us haven’t seen the full video before reacting.

Let’s just call a spade a spade and for starters, admit that a good majority of the Indian population didn’t like what he said. The media outrage proved that. But my concern is not the how, but the why and what of the reaction.

We couldn’t tolerate someone saying that there is a growing sense of intolerance in the society when the fact of the matter is that it’s true! I’ve said this in a previous post and I’ll say it again: The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one!

Case in point 1: The attack and murder of Mohammad Akhlaq by a Hindu mob in Dadri on the night of September 28th, 2015 following “rumors” (yes, RUMORS) that his family has killed and consumed beef on the occasion of Eid. Firstly, a Muslim man eating beef on Eid is part of their religion and should not a problem if he’s not shoving it down a Hindu’s throat against his will. Secondly, the man was flogged to death in front of his family coz Hindus didn’t like the RUMORS about him.

Case in point 2: Nagaland man seized from prison and beaten to death by 22 men coz he was “accused” (yes, ACCUSED) of rape.

Case in point 3: A Madhya Pradesh woman beaten with lathis, stripped and forced to drink urine over a land dispute.

You may say these are extreme cases, but, you can’t disagree that it doesn’t take much for people to take offense and launch communal violence in India.

We ban a comedy show (AIB Roast) coz it has foul language and insults the people who VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATED IN IT. We ban the consumption of beef in a secular country coz the Hindus don’t like it. We ban a Pakistani singer’s (Ghulam Ali) concert in Mumbai coz he’s a Pakistani and a Muslim. We blacken the face of an Indian on the day he would attend the book-launch of a Pakistani.

If you’re still not convinced, read the first few links on this Google Search for “communal violence in India”.

You may even say that it’s part of the uneducated society, but here’s what some of our prominent film industry personnel had to say to Aamir Khan after his comments:

Yes and No, Anupam Uncle… Aamir Khan made himself with the support of our country and appreciation for his creative talents. But how is that related to him feeling that we’re intolerant? Can a man not call out his concerns over the flaws of his own country? Grow up, Sir.

Firstly, RGV, my dear man, India is NOT A HINDU COUNTRY. We are a secular country who shouldn’t feel proud JUST BECAUSE a few Muslim guys became movie stars. (Also, you only need to look at the number of people who watch your movies all the way through to judge tolerance levels.)

Mr. Paresh Rawal, FYI, almost every Hindu group in the country protested this movie and it was even banned in some states and cities. And you call us tolerant coz Aamir Khan “didn’t face the WRATH of the Hindus”?

The comment below was later denied by Tasleema Nasreen as being her’s, which means that we needed to put another artists face on a false statement to prove a no-point.

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Whoever made and shared this post, do you really want to go by Pakistan’s and Bangladesh’s standard of law and justice to prove your point?

In a Facebook post discussion on this issue this morning, a friend threw this point at me (some typos from the original comment have been corrected):

do you feel secure in the US? Do you think Racism exists there? Do you think it is tolerant? I’m not comparing.. Just asking because you’ve been living there for quite some time now!
I know of an American school kid who was thought to be a terrorist because of his religion.I get a feeling that US is turning into an intolerant society. Do you think people of that community feel secure about raising their children in that country?
Do you think UK is tolerant? I heard Racism is far more rampant there.. do You think one can feel safe to raise kids there?
Well.. maybe after this discussion, we could suggest Amir Khan some countries, he can consider moving out to!

My response:

Correction: the kid in the US was not thought to be a terrorist coz of his religion. He was taken in for questioning coz he brought a device in class that looked like a bomb and claimed it was a clock. He was released after questioning but could never prove that it was a clock. The point is: precautions were taken, it was resolved. Nobody got offended. Nobody got publicly lynched and murdered.

There is some racism in both the UK and US. When it’s reported, a proper trial takes places and justice is served. Is the system perfect? No. But does anyone tolerate racism and/or publicly announce an accused person’s guilt and kill him in a gruesome delivery of mob justice? No.

More to the point, Aamir Khan never spoke of any other country’s imperfections or lack thereof. How does that make Aamir Khan a “hypocrite” (as the friend called him)?

It’s a matter of convenience that we choose comparisons to the US when it comes to looking at the flaws in our countries but outright reject WESTERNIZATION in the name of our so-called culture and traditions when it comes to civil liberties, creative freedom and government. (Double standards, much?)

Let’s conclude by summarizing 2 key aspects of this issue:

1: What Aamir Khan Said 

  • Protests are a form of expression, as long as laws aren’t broken in the process
  • There can be acts of violence anywhere in the world
  • There needs to be a sense of justice and security
  • It doesn’t matter which party runs the government
  • He and his wife are concerned for their children and the “growing atmosphere of intolerance” in the society. She even mentioned once that she may want to leave the country
  • A terrorist has no religion

2: What Aamir Khan Didn’t Say

  • NO, it wasn’t a publicity stunt on Aamir Khan’s part.
  • NO, he didn’t say he wants to leave the country.
  • NO, he didn’t say that every Indian is intolerant.
  • NO, he didn’t say India is the only intolerant country.
  • NO, he didn’t say India has no justice system.
  • And, NO, he DID NOT SAY THAT EVERY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD IS PERFECT.

Let’s just calm down, ponder upon what he meant by the persistent levels of intolerance and violence in our country, acknowledge that it is an issue and educate the people on how we can work our way to a better and safer tomorrow.

Jai Hind!

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The Closed Closet – Gay Pride

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Here’s my problem with the whole Gay Pride and LGBT Rights issue… Well, it’s the fact that there shouldn’t be one.

If you’re a homophobic purist who opposes LGBT rights, you may want to open your minds up a bit when you read this… Let’s make this simple exercise. I’ll enumerate a list of most heard arguments against gay rights and then I’ll just place my comments on them.

  • It’s against my respective Religion and a threat to it
    No, I don’t claim to have read every holy book from cover to cover, but, I’ve read and heard enough from those who have.
    Hinduism encourages all humans to attain ‘moksh‘ (Inner Peace and Freedom for the Soul), and this can be done by realizing and embracing one’s true nature. More to the fact that homosexual behaviour was not only discussed, but, also discussed in ancient Hindu scriptures and sculptures.
    Exhibit A: Khajuraho.
    Christianity, according the Bible actually mentions a few sentences like ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination‘ which have always been interpreted as a clear ban on any homosexual activities, but, some interpreters believe that there is no line in The Bible that explicitly acknowledges homosexuality, let alone oppose it.
    I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again: Blind faith in Religion is the biggest hindrance in any society’s progress.
  • It’s not natural for a man to sleep with a man, or woman with a woman
    Correction: it is natural. Gays are born that way. Genetic research has shown that at least 45% of heterosexual females have been physically attracted to other women at one point in time in their lives. Oh.. and just FYI. Only 10% of the whole World’s population is left-handed. (Yep. 10%. How unnatural must that be!) Sorry about the clichéd ‘Science vs. Religion’ angle, but, Science wins (again).
  • Denying the child a father or a mother makes the growth environment unnatural and harmful
    There is no evidence to suggest that having two moms or two dads affects the psychology of the child in any way. American Psychological researchers have endorsed legalization of gay marriage.
  • Lack of procreation is a threat to the survival of mankind
    I’m sorry, but, gay couples aren’t stopping the straight ones from reproducing, are they? Mind your own bedrooms.
  • Marriage is the union of a Man and Woman
    Correct. Which is why the move to ‘legalize‘ gay marriage.

Here’s some other reasons that deserve more of a sarcastic snap than a logical answer:

  • homosexual_rainbow_flag-500x375-300x225It will encourage straight people to become gay
    Erm… how?? Genetic mutation? Psychology?
  • There will be a lot of discrimination
    Yeah, it’ll be the end of fair and civilized society as we know it.
  • Immoral
    Correction: Anything that hurts a fellow human being is immoral.
    Exhibit B: Racism: Immoral.
  • We should teach those drifted souls and minds to cure them into being straight and train them against the immoral wrongness and sins of homosexuality (Damn, I couldn’t wait to write this one)
    <rant>
    OK, firstly, the LGBT community doesn’t have a disease that you speak of curing them. They are perfectly normal human beings, probably with a bigger heart than the rest of us.

    Second, OK no, we’ve already covered the immorality and religion points. Next.

    Third, and again, these people didn’t choose to be gay. They were born this way.

    They didn’t just smoke-up one day and suddenly say: Hey… Here’s an idea!!! Let’s stop being attracted to the opposite sex. Let’s love each other instead. That way we’ll get discriminated, hated and looked down upon so much that we may have to fight for our basic rights. We might not even get support from our parents and get kicked out of the house! Sounds like fun, eh? Haha… Ha. Hahaha… Ha.. ZZzzzz!

    They didn’t choose this life. It was given to them and they have embraced it. It would be most human of us to accept them for who they are and treat them equally. Even special treatment and being extra nice is a form of discrimination. Let them come out of their proverbial closets free from the fear of being treated any differently than anyone of us.

The LGBT community is not robbing us of our rights. They don’t wanna hurt us. They just want to be accepted for who they are: Normal Human Beings. It’s important to know where to draw the line… To not interfere with how people live their lives, as long as they don’t interfere with our’s.

Love and Let Love. Live and Let Live.

Peace.

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