Shakespeare posed the question “What’s in a name?” and if we had to answer from an Indian perspective today, we’d say - more than you can imagine. The weight a name can hold is so strongly linked to the identities imposed upon us by other people. They become an essential part of who we are, but it’s more about who we are perceived to be.
Indian surnames are mostly influenced by a person’s caste, community, or religion, and can come to reveal more than what we’d like another person to know. We fall on hard criticism based on it, it becomes either an advantage or disadvantage. Some opportunities open and other doors are slammed shut. And in a society so deeply entrenched in casteism and anti-religious rhetoric, it’s turning toxic.
Yet, on many occasions we’ve come to criticise and mock, even if in jest, people who’ve chosen to change their names, for whatever reason it may be. It’s been about 10 years now since Saba Azad changed her name. It’s not something she over thought, in terms of the thousand tags and baggage that come with a surname. Azad was her great grandfather’s pen name, one his daughter, Saba’s grandmother, took on as her own. “I really liked the sound of it,” she explains. “I always wondered how a name becomes an intrinsic part of your identity. I am my name - it becomes who you are, my identity. So, why should I not be the one to decide what that is?”
Being a public figure opens up an individual’s every move to high scrutiny, hate, just plain trolling, and it’s even easier with the advent of social media. A musician by profession, ‘terrorist,’ ‘stay in your limits Muslim bitch’ and ‘wear your burqa you #littleburqabitch’ are just some of the demeaning and nasty comments Saba would get on Instagram on a regular basis - based on her identity.
“There’s so much racial stereotyping, people easily associate a name with religion. For close to two years now I’ve gotten such comments on posts, regardless of what it may be. I chose to ignore it or delete it because I didn’t need such negativity in my life. But I realised that you can’t just be sitting on the fence,” she says. “Silence is also a very political stand. It says that I’m okay with it, with people saying such things to me, and I’m not. I’m not okay with being racially stereotyped, and what’s happening around us. There is violence everywhere - based on caste, religion, class.”
“Hate is organised, and silence is very dangerous in the times we live in. To keep quiet is to say we are okay with what’s going on.”
In a patriarchal society such as ours, people find it easier to berate women. As Saba explained, there are so many ways to attack her, and make her feel unsafe. “Any free speaking women invites outrage, and people felt, as they commented, that they needed to remind me of my place in society.”
But it hasn’t stopped her. Yesterday, she took to Instagram to speak her mind and shut it down. In our current political climate, Saba’s post is more relevant than ever and we’ve posted it below in its entirety for you to read.
“Hello my name is Saba Singh Grewal and I’m a proud child of a Sardar and a Kashmiri. In a time where diversity is looked at as a threat, where secularism and inclusiveness have become cuss words, where ones name is one’s only identity, I took a name of my own choosing “AZAD” (free) - free of religious tags, free of a conditioned understanding of what or who I may be, free of the fear of what taking this name may bring me. I have spent a large part of the last year observing the hatred being spewed at me through cowardly comments on seemingly harmless posts because of my surname, comments like go to Pakistan terrorist, look what she’s wearing how is she allowed, stay in your limits muslim bitch!! Wear your burqa you “#littleburqabitch”, amongst many more, this is what I have to say to this pitiful hate..when this is all over, when I’m turned to dust, my gender,my religion or the lack there of, what I ate or wore, what my name was, my job, my sexual preference, the colour of my skin, my race none of it will matter, what will matter is how I made others feel, the only thing that will matter is the love I left behind.
Religious hatred is the oldest trick in the book used historically by the powers that be (fascist or not) in big and small measures to distract people from the real issues that plague a nation. It’s propagated and filtered down systematically as a well thought out political ploy. Let’s take a moment and really see this toxicity for what it is.
The origins of communal hatred in its current form can be dated back to as recent as the British raj , they called it “divide and rule” remember? Angrez chale gaye sampradaikta chorr gaye!! And shame on us for letting our historical amnesia get the better of us, someone recently said your government is like your service provider you pay it money (taxes) to make sure it makes your public life convenient, no less no more. Why are we letting ignorance and instigated hatred keep us from asking the poignant questions of our public servants? Don’t we face more pressing matters as a nation than fighting over religion?
Plainly put, all religions no matter what they may be are sets of rules and guidance devised to live ones lives better by. Extremism in any religion; Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism is a grave deviation from the teachings of the said religion by a handful of people who want to control the masses with fear and hatred for personal and political gain. Generalisation of an entire religion as violent based on the abominable acts of a handful of brainwashed assholes is also exactly the same kind of fanatical behaviour that one abhors in the people who perform these acts of violence. Hatred begets only hatred. Imagine a world In which we stopped fighting and blaming each other for our problems based on religion won’t we then start asking the questions that really matter? (this is precisely what scares those who wish to control us).
Questions like..and I shall stick to our context, where is that famous economic growth we were promised? Why was an already suffering health care budget slashed to half? Why is an already dismal education budget been cut down in a country that has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world? Where is this swachh bharat we were promised and pay extra tax for? What happened to all the black money we were to recover from Swiss banks? What about the massive hit our economy took because of demonetisation? Why were the loans of the richest business men in the country forgiven whilst the unorganised sector languished under the misgivings of demonetisation? Won’t the new law of unlimited corporate funding to political parties basically make the government a pawn at the hands of large corporations looking to serve their own purpose by influencing economic policy to their benefit? This is all happening under our noses while we choose to fight each other over religion, When will we quit making excuses for our ‘employee’ and start asking it to deliver? Don’t let the powers that be use religion as a tool to keep us in the dark while they sell our country one brick at a time, don’t let them take us for fools!! Think, really think, not with someone else’s mind but your own.
We are after all as stated in the preamble of our constitution the SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF INDIA! It is true it’s harder to love than to fall prey to hatred and which of the two we choose will define who we are and what legacy we leave behind. So I make a start today..I choose love, love to all, even those who will start spewing their venom in 3..2..1... And you?”
Introduction by Sara Hussain
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