This is a guest post by REENA PATEL
I looked around the room and my gaze was met with the kohl lined eyes and stares of bewilderment and distrust. My heart pounded as I listened to three Muslim women describe their latest attempt to find their father and brother after they disappeared in the riots. They were speaking to Rahidbhai* from a local NGO who was accompanying me into the Ahmedabad relief colonies for the first time. Why was I so scared? Why was my heart pounding? The eldest woman of the home disrupted my thoughts, she asked me for my name. I looked around and looked at Rahidbhai, who looked back uneasily. “Mera naam Reena hai.” I said, almost choking on the words, knowing what the next question would be. “Aap ka surname kya hai?” The room grew thick with silence. “Patel.”
As far back as I could remember, I was taught to regard Muslims differently from the rest of the general population. My parents, both from Surat, Gujarat moved and met in the United States in their twenties. They both lived in England and spent time in Gujarat, and had families that were deeply involved in the Gujarati community. My brother and I were born in Long Beach California. I went to Gujarati school on Sundays, went to every function, picnic, and cultural show put on by the Leuva Patidar Samaj in Southern California. Many of my family members were apart of the organization. In fact, my great grandfather Vallabhai Patel was one of the first Patels to land upon the shores of the United States, now estimated at a population of over 140,000. We went to religious camps that were meant to teach us about Hindu ideology, handed out saffron prayer books and modeled how to become ideal Hindu men and women for our communities.