Home Lead Story In the climate of polarization, mental health of Muslims is worsening

In the climate of polarization, mental health of Muslims is worsening

Muslim women during anti-CAA sit-in at Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi. | Photo Courtesy: Indian Express

Research published in the International Growth Center in 2020 found that Muslims were substantially more likely to report sadness and anxiety, as compared to upper-caste Hindus.   

Imaad ul Hasan | TwoCircles.net 

NEW DELHI — In the last week of December 2021, six female students were stopped from entering Government Women’s PU college in Udupi, Karnataka, for wearing a hijab. Soon afterwards, other colleges in the state followed suit, amidst protests, including Graduation Colleges. 

Even though an interim order of the Karnataka High Court on not wearing the hijab was restricted only to pre-university students.

In the third week of February, Muslim students were stopped from entering one such graduation college over hijab. In a video posted on social media, the students are seen telling the cops, “We are getting mentally pressured. Do you want us to die under this mental pressure?” 

In its response, a cop is seen threatening to beat them up with a lathi and file a case.

After a long and polarizing row over Hijab, the Karnataka High court on March 15, upheld a state government order that had banned headscarves in classrooms. This has caused mental health to worsen among these students.

Since the BJP first came into power in 2014, a significant rise in anti-Muslim sentiments has been reported. This has led to several lynchings, many of them in the name of Gau-Raksha, or cow-protection. The narrative of Love Jihad has received legal support in the form of anti-conversion laws after targetted violence continue to take place in its name. From the spread of Covid to the failing economy, a campaign is run to blame it all on Muslims, where sometimes Tablighi Jamaat and street vendors are accused and sometimes a false narrative of population explosion among Muslims is popularized. 

Aysha Nourin, a 16- year-old-student from Kundapura of Udupi district, has her exams in the last week of March. She said that she wanted to attend it but was not sure if the college administration would allow her to enter the college wearing a hijab.  

“We thought after a few days they’ll allow us and initially even our non-muslim friends supported us. But now it seems everyone has left us”, Aysha told TwoCircles.net, “Sitting at home for so many days while our classmates are going ahead is affecting me mentally. I don’t have much hope that anything will change after seeing how everything in going according to them.” 

Research published in the International Growth Center in 2020 found that Muslims were substantially more likely to report sadness and anxiety, as compared to upper-caste Hindus. “Increase in prejudice against Muslims, the rise in incidents of lynching, the National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam, protests related to the Citizenship Amendment Act, subsequent riots in Delhi, and related events have likely increased levels of depression and anxiety among Muslims” the research suggests.  

Another research noted that Muslims were 3.5 times more likely to have anxiety or depression than higher-caste Hindus. Yet, reluctance is seen among Muslims in India to seek professional help. 

Aafreen Khan, a 24-year-old Communication Professional from New Delhi, said that from questions being asked about her relationship with Pakistan to the behaviour of people changing after they find out her name, she was always made aware of the fact that she was different since childhood. But now she can’t come to terms with what is happening in the country sometimes. 

Last year on December 15, Aafreen made sure not to use the mobile phone at all. Two years ago Delhi Police carried out a brutal crackdown on Jamia Millia Islamia. She was present in the library where the police entered to attack students. “I wanted to stay away from all the posts about that day. But when a friend texted to ask if I was okay, I broke down.” 

Aafreen said that once when she decided to see a psychologist, she considered searching for a Muslim one. “I don’t know how to talk about politics with a therapist. How do I tell them that the state is oppressing us?” 

Ipsa James, a psychotherapist based in Delhi who works on mental health among minorities, believes that this reluctance is genuine and justified. “Most psychologists are not taught to look into how social structures are affecting us. A minority going to a Savarna Hindu person is like going to my oppressor for something their kind is causing.”  

On the other hand, she thinks that there are not a lot of people from the minority who can do this work. “Because the mental health sector is still an elitist institution. Hence, talking about their issue remains difficult.”

26-year-old Salim Javed, a resident of Mathura district, shared how he didn’t go to see the famous Holi of his town this year because of the anxiety he is suffering after the result of the UP elections. “When the entire election campaign of BJP was so anti-Muslim, then what are we supposed to expect now? You can see discrimination in the eyes of common citizens and the police who are all poisoned with hate,” he said. 

Javed said that he is unable to focus on his career because of his worsening mental health. 

Talking about the similar political climate around her, Aafreen believes there is little hope. “Islamophobia is present much more than we think, and we are waiting only for a miracle to happen,” she added.