It was the night of 14 August, 1947, when the fate of Muslims of India was decided. Husain Bibi, like many other women of her community, remained oblivious to the fact that she would be compelled to leave her home, freshly cooked dinner - aloo-palak - and all her belongings within few minutes to save the lives of her kids and husband. Husain Bibi and her husband, Chaudhry Ismail Gill, left the village of Nagan in Amritsar, along with their 5 kids, as the news of Muslim killings at the hands of Hindus and Sikhs was spread. It was such a spontaneous decision that they couldn’t even get time to arrange any transportation to Pakistan and had to walk all the way for hundreds of kilometers looking for a sanctuary. Chaudhry Ismail Gill found a place to keep his loved ones safe but he sometimes wondered about the people he had left behind; the house and the village he grew up in and whether he made the right decision to move to Pakistan as starting a new life from scratch was not an easy feat.

Fast forward 70 years and there I was, their grandson, living a comfortable life in Chicago, thousands of miles away from the turmoil and conflicts between India and Pakistan or so I thought…

Again Fast forward 2 years, and here I am living in Lahore and thinking I am at a safe distance from the turmoil faced by the residents of IOK, but once again, wrong that I am...

My quest for Chaudhry Ismail Gill’s question finally ended on August 5, 2019 when Indian Home Minister, Amit Shah, announced that India would scrap Article 370 of the constitution. With this announcement, a territory that for decades has enjoyed mostly ruling itself, was suddenly stripped off of its status --- just like that!!!

The recent developments in IOK further reaffirm my faith in the answer to my grandfather’s question. The pellet gun victims, the blood flowing in the streets of Jammu & Kashmir, the wailing mothers over the dead bodies, the lock-down, the black-out and curfew, the brutalities of the Indian Government against unarmed Kashmiris and the constant sword hanging over the heads of Kashmiri women after BJP MLA’s desire to “marry fair Kashmiri girls” ---everything screamed the answer to the question loud and clear.

India’s atrocities towards Muslims is not something new. The Muslim community of India has always been a victim to it. On April 5, 2017, The Guardian reported that a Muslim man was lynched by a group of alleged cow protection vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar. On April 7, 2017, villagers belonging to Jharkhand’s Gumla district killed a 20-year-old Muslim man by tying him to a tree and thrashing him for hours for being in love with a Hindu woman (The Nation). On September 2015, BBC reported that a Muslim man was lynched over rumors that his family had been storing beef in their freezer. Most recently, public lynching of Tabrez and Rakbar and forcing the Muslim kids to chant Hindu slogans are just a few examples of Hindutva-Effect. Apart from these individual incidents, let’s not forget the Muslim massacre in Gujarat under Narendra Modi’s leadership.

While these incidents indicate unfortunate circumstances for a few Muslims in India, let’s review some statistics explaining the living conditions of the general Indian-Muslims population. Muslims account for about 14.4% of India’s population, (Pew Research), spend on average of only 32.7 Rupees ($0.52) per day, whereas India’s tiny minority of Sikhs spend 55.3 Rupees per day and Christians spend 51.4 Rupees. According to Times of India report, though Muslims hold largest portion in minorities, Muslims share in Public service jobs is less than 3% even though they hold that they are the largest minority. The report of the Sachar Committee found that Hindus and Christians have a worker-population ratio of 41 and 41.9 respectively, for Buddhists the figure is 43.1, for Sikhs it is 36.3 while for Jains it is 35.5. For Muslims the figure was 32.6, which is the lowest among all communities.

According to the Census of India 2001, only 55% of India’s 71 million Muslim males were literate, compared to 64.5% for the country’s 461 million non-Muslim men. Less than 41% of the country’s 67 million Muslim females were literate, versus 46% of India’s 430 million non-Muslim women. Muslim male literacy rate was 15% lower than that of non-Muslim males; this percentage difference increased to 17% in urban India. Omar Khalidi, an MIT scholar, explores the unjust representation of Indian-Muslims in military in his book ‘Khaki and Ethnic Violence’. He states that although, the share of Muslim population was 13.4% in 2001, they were the lowest in number in military and civil services. Muslim representation in Indian army went from roughly 02% in 1953 to roughly 01% cent in the late 1990s. The few Muslims who have been serving in the military never made it past the rank of major-general and only eight ever made it that far. This is quite shocking especially because during the British Raj, Muslims and Sikhs were over-represented in the army compared to their shares in the population because of the loyalty and physical strength. While Sikhs, who account for only 02% of the Indian population, have increased representation in the Indian army from 08% in 1947 to 13% in 2001. Many of whom received a 3 star rank and two became the army chief.

The sudden increase in hostility against Muslims did not happen overnight. This is the consequence of a constant movement against Muslims that has aggravated the hatred in Hindu extremists and sensitized the ‘moderate’ segment of Hindu population into accepting extremist leaders like Modi. It is no surprise that in 2017, an extremist CM Yogi Adityanath propagated the idea of raping corpses of Muslim women by pulling them out of their graves, killing Muslims and finally announcing that Muslims would be given bus fare to travel to Pakistan implying that Muslims should leave India.

Above piece of the announcement hit hard…It reminded me of the night my grandparents started their journey and reached Pakistan. And the others, who opted to accept India as their only home and made a conscious decision to stay there. After giving 72 years of blood, sweat and loyalty to India, these Indian Muslims are offered bus tickets (approximate cost $15 per person) to Pakistan. That precisely answered Chaudhry Ismail Gill’s question after 72 years, ‘What if I had stayed in India?’ Though he is no more with us to see this day, I feel utter sadness and shame thinking about how the answer to his question would sound like:

‘… you would have been offered a bus ride from India to Pakistan.’