The unsaid privilege of fasting during Ramzan

It should make you pause and consider how much you have that you do not need.

 |  3-minute read |   23-06-2016
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I fast during Ramzan. It is a ritual I started during my teenage years, and have observed for more than two decades now.

As most of my friends and acquaintances are not Muslim, they often struggle to comprehend the discipline, but among the most tedious responses I receive is the one that goes, “Oh, it must be so hard for you.”

While this concern may arise out of sympathy, it is entirely misplaced. Unless you live in a theocratic state such as Saudi Arabia, or the erstwhile Emirate of Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban, no Muslim is forced to fast during Ramzan.

The basic truth of fasting is that it is a choice, of those that have the privilege to eat and drink as they like. There are hundreds of millions who do not have that choice.

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A quarter of all the undernourished people in the world live in our country, and approximately 76 million Indians lack access to safe drinking water.

These people have no choice when it comes to when to eat or drink, unlike those of us who forswear food and water between dawn and dusk for a mere month. These people are the ones that deserve concern.

In fact, if fasting is to have any meaning at all, it lies in revealing to the person who undertakes the ritual just how privileged they are.

It is not just the access to food and water that somebody like me takes for granted every day, it is also the health that I enjoy that allows me undertake this discipline – something that is still not the right of every Indian.

A poor family, with limited access to nutrition or clean water, is not a healthy family. This describes the conditions of too many of our fellow citizens.

jama-masjid-body_062316115318.jpg To have the privilege to fast means that you are among the better off among your compatriots.

A poor person, with limited access to nutrition and water, is also somebody who will have poor access to education, and thus, to good jobs. More than 90 percent of Indians find work in the unorganised sector. These are farmers, daily wage labourers, rickshawallas, coolies, maids, and the assorted poor that we see – or choose to ignore – every day.

Very few of them have jobs that will allow them to give up food and water for long stretches of time in the crippling heat of an Indian summer. They may not have access to a fan, much less an air conditioned room, when their bodies are stressed out.

To have the privilege to fast means that you are among the better off among your compatriots, have access to most of your needs, and earn your living in a manner that you can put your body through additional stress merely because you wish to.

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It should be a way for you to reflect on the structural inequalities of the world around you, and to see the suffering of those that have so little. It should make you pause, and consider how much you have that you do not need, while there are so many who have too little for their needs.

Fasting is a choice for the privileged to extend their sympathy for those who do not have the same, as such, to receive sympathy for a freely made choice which showcases your own privileges, is almost an insult.

There are hundreds of millions of people in our country alone who are truly deprived, who have no choices, many more in the world. Save your sympathy for them.

Or better yet, help change their circumstances for the better.


Omair Ahmad Omair Ahmad @omairtahmad

The writer is the South Asia editor of, reporting on water issues in the Himalayan region.

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