I met up with a friend yesterday, who, like me, is an atheist but has a Christian last name. As often happens these days, the conversation drifted to the possibility of having Modi as prime minister. She told me about a friend of hers, who has a mixed background – Muslim father, and Christan mother. Her friend said that she was apprehensive about having a Muslim name in an India where Modi is in charge. There would be a sense of fear lurking in one’s mind. What if.
My friend and I realised that we too feel a sense of unease and othering which comes from not having a good Hindu name – “good” meaning a reasonably “good” caste. Your name immediately “locates” you as a person whom the Hindutva-wadis detest, and whom even some moderate Hindus do not like. You experience micro-aggressions, like a person (particularly government officials who have power over you) deliberately mangling your name, even sneering at it, or being denied a house on rent and never being sure if the reason had anything to do with your name.
Which brings me to the reason for writing this post – there seem to be some Indian atheists and moderates who are pro-Modi. I’ve seen comments from my facebook friends for instance, whom I never would have thought supported Modi, indicating that they support him. They all have good Hindu names. I wonder how many of these people in general have good Hindu names, so they can “pass”, they can utilise the social capital that accrues from having such a name, and they can rest easy free of micro-aggressions and othering and safe in the knowledge that if they keep their head down, Hindutva’s stormtroopers will never target them. They can simply ignore the threat that Modi’s Hindutva poses, while my friend and I cannot – our name permanently marks us as outsiders and potential targets. I recall the unease I felt a month ago when I scanned the voter list – freely available online – and found my name in it, along with my home address.
Someone with my upper-middle-class privilege is much less likely to be attacked by Hindutva thugs than the average non-Hindu. So if I feel this apprehensive… I wonder how they feel.