Rehana: This is the image they have of Muslims. That they are terrorists. That they are combative [jhagadaalu]. They are all like this. But if you saw their daily life you would know that they are struggling, they are stressed, they are not like this. . . . There are Hindu terrorists too. But no one thinks all Hindus are terrorists. But they think all Muslims are terrorists. Some people are going in a wrong direction. All this is not in Islam. Even then they are doing this. They are individuals and will handle things in their individual way. Even when they go up [die]. Because Islam does not allow all this.

K: What does Islam say about this?

Rehana: Islam will never allow you to kill an ordinary person. It is not allowed. If these people are doing this then they are not one of us. They are not Muslims.

Rehana does not like Old Delhi very much. Although she was born in Old Delhi, her natal family now lives in Okhla, a neighbourhood in South Delhi with a substantial Muslim presence that she likes better. But she and her husband, whom she met as a student at Zakir Husain College, live in the flat her husband inherited in Old Delhi. When I asked her what specifically she disliked about Old Delhi, Rehana said that she hates the way everyone knows everything about each other.

If someone visits, everyone knows the details of who visited, what they were fed, and what gifts were exchanged. She feels that men are always hanging around on the streets and staring at her as she walks by. To avoid gossip, when she wears trousers to work, she will often wear a big skirt over her trousers as she is leaving Old Delhi. She said that even if she and her husband have a fight, he always drops her off and picks her up from the metro station on his motor- cycle. “This is our routine. No matter what,” she said.

Given my own experiences as a female researcher in a region that is notoriously inhospitable to women, I asked Rehana whether this was because she felt unsafe as a woman in Old Delhi, specifically raising the issue of sexual assault. She immediately insisted that this was not an issue, saying, “If I scream, everyone will come running.” In fact, she and her husband do not lock their front door. The very aspects of Old Delhi that she dislikes are in fact what make her feel safe there.

Rehana works as a salesperson at a high-end clothing shop in one of New Delhi’s posh marketplaces and encounters prejudiced views on a daily basis. While there are many things that irritate her about Old Delhi, anti-Muslim prejudice is not part of her everyday life there. In New Delhi, customers at her shop often air their prejudices and stereotypes about Muslims in her presence, not realising that she is Muslim.

For instance, a woman at her store once told Rehana she was scared of Muslims. Rehana responded, “I am a Muslim. Are you scared of me?” The woman apparently said unabashedly that she was not scared of Rehana but was scared of other Muslims. Rehana feels that the loyalty of Muslims is always questioned in India. She says that people accuse Muslims of being Pakistani or supporters of Pakistan. “I have never even been to Pakistan,” she said, “so how can I be Pakistani?” While Rehana can wear what she wants in New Delhi and has the anonymity she longs for, she has to grapple with hurtful stereotypes that make her feel out of place there.

Rehana is not alone in feeling out of place in parts of New Delhi. Others like her who spend a lot of time outside Old Delhi express similar views. Nazia, a young woman who works in an NGO focusing on gender and sexuality in New Delhi, said that when people do not realise she is Muslim, they say things that reveal their prejudices. She asked, laughing, “What does it mean to be Muslim? Do I have horns on my head?”

Rehana and Nazia do not hide their Muslim identity. But as Muslims who do not display visible markers of religious identity, they are not always identified as Muslim. Others working in New Delhi, particularly those who are more economically insecure, do actually hide their religious identity.

Several Muslim men who worked as health attendants for the infirm in the wealthy South Delhi neighborhood of Defence Colony adopted Hindu names or used religiously neutral nicknames, concerned that they would not get these positions if they identified as Muslim. This is also true of several male and female domestic workers I met in posh homes in South Delhi. Such acts are engendered by the deepening insecurity of being Muslim in a country that has witnessed the rise to dominance of the Hindu right, extreme violence against Muslims and Christians enabled by exclusionary visions of nation and belonging, and – greatly facilitated by this politics of difference – the increasing suspicion, surveillance, and targeting of Muslims by the Indian state.

In urban India, where the securitisation of the state impacts everyday life in the form of metal detectors, security cameras, checkpoints, identity verification, and armed personnel policing public space, notions of security are inflected by majoritarian understandings of nation and citizenship that position Hindus as the normative subject, while relegating religious minorities to the murky margins of the national imaginary.

As the Hindu right has prevailed in recent years, this normative construction of Indians as Hindu has become increasingly entrenched, while Indian Muslims, as illustrated in my conversation with Rehana, have been simultaneously cast as marginal, suspicious, and, in this era of global Islamophobia, dangerous subjects.

National discourses and practices of securitisation articulate with global discourses about Islam and Muslims, and indeed global priorities and interests, to reiterate these normative constructions, so that formal citizenship does not guarantee security. Building on the work of scholars who have examined how different subjects are extended different kinds of citizenship, I show how varying experiences of security reflect differential citizenship. This is because, as Anna Yeatman has shown, a self/other dichotomy that ensures the protection of some at the expense of others structures much security discourse and practice in the world today. This is certainly true of notions of security in India.

Making Place for Muslims in Contemporary India

Excerpted with permission from Making Place for Muslims in Contemporary India, Kalyani Devaki Menon, Harper Collins.