Here’s introducing the Guest Post Series on “My Favourite Things”, which will have contributions by those sharing my interests, and writing about issues that I am passionate about. These guest posts will not necessarily be by fellow bloggers; they could be by anyone who has interesting experiences to share.
The first guest post on here is by Ashabanu, who writes about the prejudice and bias she has faced because of her name. Prejudice and bias in the supposedly liberal city of Bombay (or Mumbai, if you please).
“B…a…n…u”. This is the second part of my name, Ashabanu.
I never thought that part of my name will seek so much of attention in the city of Bombay (or Mumbai if you please), when I stepped into the city about 8 years back. This name of mine has never intrigued anyone in the small town I hail from, near Chennai, or in any of the places I have worked or studied in Tamil Nadu. However, it has puzzled almost everyone in Bombay. From the day I landed in Bombay, I have had to keep explaining the “Banu” part to people.
On my very first day at work in Bombay, a colleague asked me, “Oh…You are the Banu? Sorry I did not realise that, as we were expecting someone with a burkha.”
I did not realise that this was only a trailer of the bigger picture that was to unfold over the years. When I agree to conduct training sessions in external agencies, they are very hesitant and sympathetic about fixing a session on Fridays. “Oh… Friday will not be convenient for you, will it? Aapko to namaaz padhna hoga, na [You’ll have to go for prayers, na.].”
I have been denied housing, as the landlords had doubts on my “identity”. “Aap to mohamadian hain na?” (You are a Muslim, na?).
In the bank, I was asked to bring another photo ID, when I was withdrawing cash from my account, because the cashier could not reconcile the “Banu” in my name to the cross on my chest.
In church, even the big, bold cross on my chest is not enough to declare my Christian identity, because it is subsumed under the overpowering and deadly “Banu” in my name. I am often asked, “How come you are in church?”.
These days, I am waiting for my renewed passport to reach me, but I know it is going to take a long time. Many rounds of police verification, and enquiries and formalities later, I was told, “Banu dekh ke man mein kuch badal jata hai.” (After seeing the name Banu, something changes in our minds)
I have been ridiculed for my name, have seen people look at me quizzically, been given suggestions on including an ‘h’ next to B, so that it becomes “Bhanu” and sounds nice. Others have suggested how, Deborah, my Christian name should be my official name. At 37 years, I am preparing for one more christening ceremony.
These are just a few of the many instances that I, Ashabanu, born to Lakshminarayanan, a Hindu, and Chandra, a Christian, have faced in Bombay. Rather than celebrating my secular background, I am fighting at multiple levels for my identity. Reflecting on this, I genuinely feel sad on how we discriminate and form stereotypical views on certain communities and how we make many innocent souls struggle to achieve what they deserve because we box them up in “identities” as we see fit.
The city, which accommodates and accepts everyone despite the class, caste and gender, with open heart has not accepted this community. Is it justified?
I have known Ashabanu for the last 7 years or so and have watched with amusement the confusion her name created in the minds of people. But over the years, this amusement has turned to consternation and dismay, as I saw her battle stereotypes and prejudices. I have seen people’s face change when she would introduce herself, as I have seen relief on other people’s faces when they realise that she is not from a particular community.
Names are our identity, an identity that begins with our parents naming us with love and hope. Over the years, we build an identity for ourselves, an identity that is sometimes threatened, questioned and stereotyped.
Is it fair that Ashabanu be stereotyped for a name that in “wrong” in people’s minds?
Is it justified that Ashabanu’s passport be delayed because the verifying authorities are confused about her identity?
Is it correct on people’s part to suggest Ashabanu to change her name or spelling?