Co-Written by Hasina Khan and Rishika Jain
The atrocities faced by the Muslim community adversely affects their mental well-being
“It doesn’t matter if we have a stable job or not, if we’re economically independent; the fear of getting arrested purely due to our religion never stops.”
- Khadijha from Mushidabad
“My past experiences with a mental health practitioner were unproductive and mentally tiring. If the people who are supposed to help us do not understand the oppression we face, how will we ever be able to share our uncertainties in a non-judgmental setting?”
- Javed from Bhopal
Khadijha and Javed, and many more like them, craved a safe space to voice the daily and multiple injustices and discrimination they faced. They needed to communicate their anxieties freely.
The last few decades have witnessed a relentless assault on the rights of members of minority communities or oppressed castes in India. But there has been little or no attention given to the state of mental health in these communities. No studies have been conducted to analyze the correlation between State’s actions and its effect on the mental health of the Muslim community.
In an effort to reach out and create a safe space for members of the Muslim people to speak out, Bebaak Collective organized a discussion with people from eight states in India between 8th – 22nd September 2020. The discussion was an eye-opener. People from all over the country communicated their struggles in the current climate, and how much of an emotional impact it had on them. Several participants expressed how connected they felt in a space that didn’t seek to isolate them, and instead related to their problems they had to suffer through.
Despite living in a secular country, the discrimination and deprivation faced by members of the Muslim community, is well documented. The recent Shaheen Bagh protest verdict is a prime example of the manner in which the Muslim community suffered at the hands of the State through a wide number of policies and laws. The protest, which drew Muslim women from all over India, was historically monumental. Muslim women, who face both religious and gender oppression, came together to protect their rights and protest discriminatory laws like the Citizenship Amendment Act. Even after being relentlessly threatened, these women came out as protestors for the first time ever.
However, the State prohibited any public disturbance and blockage of the streets during a protest, completely overlooking the concerns of the minority and instead addressed the “inconvenience” faced by the unaffected public. Every time a marginalized body comes forward to speak for its community, they are repressed by the authorities and booked under draconian laws like UAPA. There have been many instances during NRC protests and Delhi riots where Muslim activists, academics and the youth have been discriminated and targeted by the police.
This systemic oppression simply due to their Muslim identity, has negatively impacted the mental well-being of the community.
Where are the voices of Muslim women? How long will we allow Islamophobic men to make our decisions for us? When will the State finally recognize our cognitive autonomy?
The continuous lack of justice and incarceration of community leaders have left us in a constant state of frustration and fear. We have no outlet to vent out our worries – the State has created a situation where our community feels completely isolated from the rest of the country. Something as little as forwarding a message which is critical of the government, is looked upon as anti-nationalist. All these incidents have immensely impacted the community’s mental health.
Given the harsh economic situation in India, accessing mental health services has become a privilege rather than a medical necessity for a majority. The situation is exacerbated for a significant proportion of Muslims who are not financially secure. Besides, other structural barriers hamper our ability to afford quality mental healthcare. In a report by National Statistical Office, it was revealed that literacy rate for Muslim women in India was lower than women of any other religion. Muslims also have the highest proportion of youth (age 3-35 years) who have never enrolled in formal education programs. These barriers limit the community’s opportunities to gain proper employment, and thus many end up getting stuck in the poverty cycle.
Even if Muslims are able to afford therapy, they end up facing more obstacles. The mental health industry often operates from a space of neutrality while trying to make a diagnosis and provide an intervention. However, it fails to recognize the mental stress that comes from institutionalized structures of oppression against minorities. By calling itself neutral, the industry ends up hiding it’s Islamophobic and anti-caste views. Often, mental health practitioners tend to only focus on the classification of our mental illnesses, and don’t explore the psychosocial causes behind the same.
As Javed mentioned before, many psychologists fail to recognize the struggles that derive form belonging to an oppressed community. They often undermine their issues and make it seem as if meds are the only solution to their problems. Javed had to repeatedly explain his frustration with the discriminatory policies, but instead he faced a wall when the psychologist refused to make the sessions political, and ended up removing his safe-space to communicate his worries.
It is essential that we start having these important political discussions in an attempt to provide marginalities with the much needed community care. Until mental health practitioners understand the vast struggles that the Muslim community faces, many from the community will refuse to seek help. If we want to break the stigma against mental health, and stop the myth of selfishness that comes with the concept of self-care, then we need to start observing, accepting and working towards the injustice that the minorities have been facing, in order to provide them with better mental healthcare.
Hasina Khan and Rishika Jain are members of Bebaak Collective (Voices of the Fearless)