Have you heard of Ishrat Jahan? She was a beautiful nineteen year old second year science student. The second of seven siblings, she had taken the entire responsibility of her family when her father died in 2002. Sounds painful, doesn’t it – to be taking care of a family of nine at the age of seventeen? Well, it gets worse. Ishrat was killed in cold blood on 15th July 2004, and her body, with arms and legs wide open, lay on the outskirts of Ahmedabad for the press to photograph and for strangers to see.
Unbelievable as it may sound to the nineteen year olds reading this, but there are have been many Ishrat Jahans in this country. Many young Muslims accused and killed falsely of terrorism, many Muslim parents with no strength, will and/or resources to fight over their dead brood. In Ishrat’s case, while the Gujarat government has been claiming that she was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Narendra Modi after the Godhra Riots and was a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, judiciaries of many levels have upheld that her death was part of a staged encounter. Most recently, the CBI in a 1500 page report has claimed that the encounter was fake, and has also named seven police officials in the entire fiasco.
Ishrat’s mother Shamima, despite barely making ends meet with her son’s call center salary, has decided that her daughter deserves justice. For the past nine years, she has struggled to keep her family together, going from one court to another and being overly protective of her other daughters. She has heard neighbours question Ishrat’s character, seen her son leave his studies, and witnessed her daughter being rejected to design school for being related to Ishrat Jahan – and yet, she has fought for every day of these nine painful years, and she has decided to fight till justice knocks at her doorstep. All of this, so that another Ishrat Jahan doesn’t die of being a questionable minority in India.
It’s not easy being a minority in this country. Chances are your entire community lives in a particular area of the city – it’s almost like living the life of an outcaste. You have probably seen varying degrees of stigma and discrimination throughout your life. You may have been accused of terrorism, called an outsider, experienced a riot, lost family and friends. It’s a life most of us can’t comprehend. We will never understand the family’s fear when so called journalists came to their house at 2:30 in the morning; or the heart sinking sensation they felt when someone showed them a picture of Ishrat lying dead with three men; or even how they feel when they see Narendra Modi on TV.
Can you imagine any of this? All of this is the price you pay for being a religious minority in our secular, democratic state. A feeling of helplessness haunts me as I end this piece. I realize that all we can do is hope – hope that Ishrat Jahan gets justice, hope that she rests in peace.