It’s the little things

‘What Muslim Women Face Every Day at Work’, The Wire, April 4, 2024:

[Nisha] Shah, who prays five times a day, says such Islamophobia at the workplace – amongst highly educated Indian youth – has become more audacious. She says her two-three prayer breaks are shorter than the frequent smoke and tea breaks her colleagues take. But she was asked to leave her religion out of the office. There was no holiday for Eid and no concessions to her schedule during the month of Ramzan. But when the Hindu festival of Diwali came around, the company organised pujas at work.

It’s the little stuff like this – unearthed expertly, laboriously by Mahima Jain – that really drives the pseudo-secularist point home on the ground. In my limited experience, I’ve noticed this kind of discrimination, motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment and sustained by kettle logic, in some research institutes, journalism establishments, and apartment complexes. Social anthropologist Renny Thomas’s book Science and Religion in India: Beyond Disenchantment is in this regard an eye-opener.

Some people exchange polite wishes for Islamic festivals even if they’re not Muslim themselves but by and large what on-premise celebrations the powers that be consider appropriate are very different for Eid and Mawlid versus Dussehra and Janmashtami. And when these powers don’t see value in or actively ignore the value of affirmative action in the cultural sphere of the space they administer, the differences hang like a reminder that, even if physical violence isn’t in the offing, “the seeds of hatred” are there, as Shah says.