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Shihan Hussaini

Shihan Hussaini You might wonder why I am so agitated, emotional and angry. I am uncomfortable. But why am I uncomfortable in my own country? Why do I feel isolated in my own country? I ask myself all these questions again and again. Do I deserve to to be treated like this, in my own country, by my own countrymen?

Till the BJP came onto the scene, I was quite happy. My karate students came to learn karate from me not because I was a Hindu or a Muslim, but because I was good at it. They like me not because I was a Hindu or a Muslim but because I was their teacher.

Everything changed after the rise of the BJP, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and after I married a Hindu. I often wonder, when will I be comfortable? I will be comfortable only when religion and caste are banned from our society.

I will be away from the country on August 15. I had thought that on that day I would crucify myself on the Indian Cross, that is, on a cutout of the map of India. But I will do it after I return. By doing this I want to tell the people of my anguish. I want religion and caste to be banned from this country. Let there be no more Babri Masjid demolitions, no more Bombay blasts, no more violence against nuns, no fighting in the name of Allah, Jesus Christ and Vinayaka.

Shihan Hussaini I am sure I will be able to change the minds of a handful of people at least. Throughout my life I have attempted to be a secular person. Never have I bracketed people according to their religion. Never have I singled them as Hindus or Muslims, only as human beings. Neither have I identified myself as a Muslim. To me only one thing mattered, that I am an Indian and India is my country. I was born and have lived here. I do not have any other home land.

Do you know my people in Madurai wanted to ostracise me because I married a Hindu? My community also boycotted my wedding reception. Do you know what they said among themselves, 'How could he marry a Hindu? He should be chucked from the community. He should have at least converted her to Islam. How can he allow her to go around with a pottu (bindi)? He is disgracing the whole community.'

I refused to bow down. Why should I convert my wife? She was born a Hindu and I want her that way. On the other hand, my wife's people also refused to accept us. Their version was, 'How dare she marry a Muslim? She has done injustice to the entire community.'

We have been married for ten years and her family has still not come to terms with our marriage. She too has been ostracised by her community. Funny are the ways of people! Now we can neither attend Hindu nor Muslim functions.

Though our country is called secular and democratic, even after fifty years of Independence, we are identified as Hindus and Muslims, not as Indians. I feel so isolated in my own country. This feeling began with my sister's marriage. Everyone was against her marrying a Hindu. But I supported her in spite of stiff opposition from our community.

Shihan Hussaini Believe me, she was not allowed to step into the street and remained inside the house for a very long time. They said, they would chop her, kill her, etc if she dared enter the area. I was subjected to similar hostility. As I was a karate instructor, they did not harass me physically. But they stopped talking to our family, did not smile at us and ignored us. It was painful to know that people whom I considered as friends behaved in such a manner.

But when I started accomplishing things in life, people began accepting me. Not because they liked me but because they loved being identified as Hussaini's friends and relatives.

Throughout my life, I have been trying to do good to people and this is what I have got in return.When I gave karate training to Christian nuns, it made big news all over the world. But do you know what happened here? I received angry telephone calls: 'Being a Muslim, how can you train Christian nuns? You are going to create a society where Christians will come and convert you. You will be killed, your car will be bombed. After that what will you do?' I was angry. I wanted to help the nuns so that they could defend themselves in the event of any unlikely advance.

When the M F Husain controversy started, I responded as a creative artist. I, however, knew that he did not mean to hurt the religious sentiments of the people by painting Saraswati in the nude. But I was so pained by the whole episode that I painted Husain in the nude and clothed his Saraswati. My Muslim friends were annoyed, 'How could you insult a genius like this?' I could not understand their logic.

When the Babri Masjid controversy happened, I argued with my Muslim friends that it should be given to the Hindus. 'What's wrong in giving the area to the Hindus? It is a dilapidated building and nobody is using it for prayers. If we give it to them on a platter, the victory is yours,' I reasoned.

They retorted that I was saying all these things because I was married to a Hindu. But I knew that was not the reason. Some, of course, agreed, 'Hussaini, you are right.' While many others said, 'Why should we give? If we do this they will start asking for Mathura, Somnath etc.' Sadly, I couldn't convince my Muslim friends.

After the Masjid demolition and the Bombay blasts, I suddenly realised that I was hated by the Muslims. My Muslim friends, laughed and said, 'You were giving it to them on a platter. Now what has happened? They have demolished it.' While my Hindu friends said, 'We have demolished the Masjid. Now we should chuck out all Muslims from this country to Pakistan.'

The biggest shock of my life was when somebody told me that a leading newspaper was going to publish a big expose that I was a spy from Pakistan. I loved my country. I have never seen Pakistan, I have no relatives in Pakistan, I have nothing to do with Pakistan and I have no knowledge of the politics of Pakistan. How could anyone say this?

Now I feel isolated among Hindu crowds. I don't mingle with the Muslim crowd either. I have faith in God. But I do not have faith in religion because religion separates people. I don't mind going to a mosque, church or temple. I am just waiting for the day when caste and religion are taken off application forms.

Shihan Hussaini When I have children, I am going to tell them that they do not have any religion. Let them study all religions like they study history, geography and science. Let them read all the religious books, the Bible, the Quran and the Bhagavad Gita. By doing so, they will get the best out of all these religions.

I do not have a ration card. I do not have my name in the voter's list. Do you know why? They insisted on my religion, and I refused. So, I have no photo identity card. Unfortunately, we do not have a Mahatma Gandhi to change this rotten system. We only have politicians who only want to capture power, more power and nothing but power. Only when we have a political party which can courageously say that we stand for banishing all religions and castes from this country, can we call ourselves a real secular republic.

I feel the government should promote inter-religious marriages, only then will we be able to wipe away caste and religion from our society. It is the politicians who are creating divisions among people, it is the politicians who are trying to divide the country. Unless we begin a legislation banning politicians and political parties who talk about religion and caste, our country cannot remain united.

I was selected by the state government to represent the state in a procession on August 15. Even if I was not going to the US I would not have participated in the procession. I would have told them that I don't not want to participate because I do not feel like a true Indian. I don't feel it is necessary to celebrate these fifty years. What I want is to be treated at par with every Indian. But I am not.

It is not religion or temples that the BJP wants, they want power. I understood this when the 13-day-old BJP government did not do anything drastic against the Muslims. It is better to be in a country where the BJP is the ruling party rather than in the Opposition. In the Opposition, they are always trying to divide the Hindus and Muslims.

I will be happy when they come to power. I am very, very sure that once they get power they will not talk about religion or temples.

Shihan Hussaini There was a time when I searched my car for bombs because I was getting threatening calls constantly. The thought that I am isolated and threatened in my own country just because I am a Muslim and married to a Hindu is extremely painful. This is happening to a person whose father participated in the freedom struggle and was a historian and a writer. This is happening to a person who smashed hundred granite stones on his chest to make people aware of the social evils in the society. Now I cannot live peacefully just because I was born a Muslim. I feel like a homeless person, an orphan.

Where do I belong? Do I have a home? Do I have a country like all the others have? I had several opportunities to settle down in other countries, but I didn't. Why? Because I loved my country and I wanted to live here. And this is the price I am paying for not leaving my own country. It has left me shaken and I have not yet recovered from the shock. I am still angry, pained, frustrated and disappointed.

As told to Shobha Warrier. Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh



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