I am a Muslim, a Hindu, an Indian and I love Harry Potter."

I found this doodle in my daughter’s diary when she was 8. On the back page of her rice-paper diary, she had put all the significant parts of herself together in one sentence. An eight-year-old’s bio.

Aliza is now 10. Last week she was in a beauty salon, getting a haircut, when the hairstylist noticed her name and asked her if she was a Mohammedan.

Aliza did not understand the question. She looked at me to ask what he meant.

“He is asking if you are a Muslim," I said to her. Aliza looked up at him in the mirror and nodded a yes. Aliza’s younger sister, Naseem, felt the need to elaborate. She is 7.

“We are Hindu and Muslim," she said.

“You cannot be both. You can be one of the two," said the hairstylist.

“But we are," said Naseem. “Mamma, we are both Hindu and Muslim, right?" she turned to me for confirmation.

“You cannot be both," he repeated.

“Maybe in your family you cannot, but in our family we can," I said to him. “We can be whatever we choose to be."

“Are you Muslim?" he asked me directly.

I wanted to stay calm. If my children detected anger or strain in my voice, they would pick up the conflict immediately. I tried to stay calm. To his credit, the hairstylist gave Aliza a really good haircut. It is unlikely that we will visit his salon again.

The next morning, Kanta brought the morning newspaper to me. There was a photo of crying, grieving, screaming women on the cover. Kanta wanted me to read out the news to her.

“This is in Dadri, Kanta," I say. “It is your neighbourhood."

“I know," says Kanta. “It happened last night."

“A mob has lynched a man in his own home with bricks. His son is in hospital." We are alone at home. Kanta is a sensitive and loving person, and I am almost relieved that I don’t have to keep this news bottled up inside me.

“But, bhabhi, they killed a calf," says Kanta.

“It was a rumour, Kanta."

“No, it wasn’t." Kanta’s voice rises. “A calf was stolen in the middle of the night."

“But you cannot kill a man so brutally even if he did kill a calf." My frustration is making me sound like I am yelling.

“It was a bachhra, bhabhi," she repeats. “A calf!" This is self-explanatory for her.

I get up and walk out of the house. What is the point of directing my hostility towards Kanta? If I had been among my own family and friends, I would still have heard the same tone-deaf responses disguised as rationale and analysis from people whom I otherwise respect for their intellect and empathy.

I walk out into the park next to my home. Young men from the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shakha come here every morning to exercise. From his voice, it often seems as if the youngest among them is the one who bellows the instructions and slogans into the dark morning air.

“Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Vande Mataram."

It coincides with the time when my husband and I wake up to receive our yoga teacher in our home at dawn. Sometimes we go for a walk in the park after yoga. These boys look just like the cousins and friends I grew up with. I wonder if I look familiar and friendly to them too.

A friend calls me in a state of agitation. “What is the worst that can happen in this country?" she asks rhetorically.

I live less than 10km away from Dadri, where Mohammad Akhlaq and his family were accused of slaughtering a cow and attacked by a murderous mob. A sewing machine from their own home was used as a weapon to bludgeon Akhlaq to death. His son Danish has had multiple brain surgeries in hospital by now. An older son, Sartaj, is a corporal in the Indian Air Force.

I hear my friend’s question differently. What is the worst they can do to my family and me? What will I do when a mob comes towards my home?

I feel ashamed of my paranoia. Yet, my brain is stacking up plans by default. In case of emergency, what will be our strategy to survive? Who will we call? Where can we hide?

Ashok, who works as a driver for my family, is also from Kanta’s village. He brought me versions of what really happened at the scene of the crime much before I began to read the same details in the news. There had been no cow slaughter. Only the slaughter of man.

I had thought that I would not talk about this incident in front of my children. I was thankful that my husband was travelling so we could deal with our shock and pain in separate spaces.

But this isn’t just an incident. Something intangible, yet precious has shattered. We are standing in debris and rubble. As politicians, leaders, administration and people continue to react and respond to what happened, the extent of the dystopia reveals itself.

I allow Aliza and her sisters to overhear my conversations with Ashok as he describes the brutality of the mob. Aliza reads the rest of the details on the front pages of the newspapers that I have left untouched.

Ashok laughs and reassures me that it will not happen to us. “It is all vote politics," he says. “They need to consolidate the Hindu vote, so they are demonizing Muslims."

I remember Aliza’s words on the back page of her diary. I am a Muslim, a Hindu and an Indian. Will Aliza’s India survive? I know that the child’s own version of her identity and where she belongs is already contaminated. This page will fade with time. I take a photo of it to hold on to.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She writes a fortnightly column on family and relationships. She tweets at @natashabadhwar and posts on Instagram as natashabadhwar.

Write to Natasha at natasha.badhwar@gmail.com

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