Muslims make the largest minority of India and also the most persecuted one. They constitute 14.2% of the total population according to the country’s 2011 census, but their right to live peacefully with the freedom to perform religious obligations is continuously threatened in the so-called largest democracy of the world. They have been deliberately denied presence in the cultural and political spaces. Those who are able to make it to the mainstream are somehow still filtered through a Hindu-like set criteria of caste, class, gender, and ethnicity; a hierarchically discriminating participation. This is creating an alarming sense of marginalisation and lack of confidence in the Indian Muslim community.
Let’s see what marginalisation is defined as. Collins Dictionary says that “to marginalize a group of people means to make them feel isolated and unimportant”. Simply put, marginalisation is the systematic exclusion of a specific community in the politics, society and economy. It’s an organized process of hate which picks on any element of the victim’s identity; caste, ethnicity, colour, language and socio-economic standing. This is exactly what has been happening with Muslims in India since the independence movement of Pakistan, and it picked up pace after the partition. Anti-Muslim sentiments reached its peak when during the 1980s the Hindutva school of thought and right-wing parties achieved popularity. The Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi incident is of profound symbolic importance in establishing the Hindu vs. Muslim sentiments not only in India but the waves of hatred that travelled across the whole subcontinent.
Modi government’s initiative regarding National Registry of Citizens (NRC) is being perceived as an institutionalised version of Ghar Wapsi that mainly targets Muslims. Addressing a rally in West Bengal, Amit Shah – Modi’s right-hand man and President of the BJP – told supporters, “We will ensure implementation of NRC in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs”. The BJP tweeted this statement on April 11, 2019. Such statements clearly depict BJP’s true character, that is, ruling Hindu India.
Muslim participation in the political process of the state is only nominal at 4% given the proportion of Muslim population since its formation in 1947. The devastating condition of Muslims in India echoed in all corners of the country where they are berated as second-class citizens, not much different from the colonial subjugation, with decreasing literacy rate and unequal employment opportunities. With Narendra Modi conquering the power stage in 2014, feelings of alienation and isolation only got stronger among Muslims and Christians due to the rise in violent events of religious hatred. There is a permanent pattern of verbal and physical abuse associated with Indian minorities in their public spaces. Indian Muslims have to bear the burdens of the post-partition contempt that is still alive in the hearts and minds of the extremist Hindus. They are detested venomously as being the home breakers of Mahabharata. Muslims are seen as the outsider looters of sacred Mother India.
Stereotyping of Muslims still continues – even after the almost seven long decades of independence – by the political and civilian elite. The most worrying thing is how it depicted itself as a part of the Indian progression to a modern democracy aimed at development while closing its eyes to the very foundations of a democratic republic i.e., to protect and provide to its citizens, and ensuring the freedom of minorities. Muslim marginalisation is deep-rooted in the Hindu dominated state and has a long history from the times of the East India Company’s arrival, where British officers found Hindus to be effective allies in their colonial and exploitative interests, and very acutely sensed and nurtured the extreme elements of the subcontinent to turn the tide to their profit. This tried and tested model of marginality was reinforced by the Raj through the targeted construction of a hierarchical bias towards Muslims and other minorities, bringing the Hindus to the top of the pyramid as a dominating force.
To understand the dimensions of Muslim marginalisation, indicators like education, employment, income, political participation, social homogeneity or segregation can be used to evaluate the real situation. Let’s take education as the first indicator. Marginalisation in education lies in various forms of constant disadvantage which is deeply rooted in social inequalities. Sachar Report, prepared by Manmohan Singh’s government in 2006 finds that “Muslims are at a double disadvantage with low levels of education combined with low quality education; their deprivation increases manifold as the level of education rises. In some instances the relative share for Muslims is lower than even the SCs [Scheduled Castes] who are victims of a long standing caste system.” According to the data released from the 2011 Census of India, 42.7% of Muslims in India are illiterate thus constituting the highest illiteracy rate for any single religious community in the country.
At the social level, “ghettoization” has appeared to be the most striking feature of Muslim marginalisation. This ghettoization has led to the rise of sense of otherness and social segregation creating a distant identity among Muslims as this sense of otherness has not only been created by the society but also very systematically by the Indian state itself. Such sentiments by the majoritarian anti-minority ideology of the country’s ruling elite has fostered hatred and approved physical assault against Muslims. Muslims are being demonised as terrorists, sexual predators and sympathizers of terrorism. Such vilifying justifications to violence against Muslims are even propagated by mainstream Hindi cinema which is, in true sense, the propaganda machine for the state by way of creating stereotypes about the Muslim faith, culture and history. Silence of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Modi over hate crime and prejudice has informally legitimized the violence conducted by saffron followers of BJP.
According to Maidul Islam, an Indian scholar and author of the books Indian Muslim(s) After Liberalization and Limits of Islamism, although the process of marginalisation and rise of insecurity is the result of a series of mob lynching incidents and victimization in the name of ‘Love Jihad’ in different parts of the country, the history of marginalisation has its roots in the initial stages of formation of the Indian Republic. He further elaborates that in education Muslims lag behind even Dalits and other scheduled castes. The situation isn’t different in landholding where Muslims are only second to Dalits in landlessness. Muslim presence among the wealthiest Indians and top corporate boards is negligible. Labour force, small peasantry, artisan industries, petty production and small trade are the informal sectors where Muslim presence can be located. Report of the Expert Group on Diversity Index (2008), Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee Report (2014), India Exclusion Report (2013-14), 2011 Census and latest NSSO reports have provided data that surfaced empirical evidences on systematic and institutionalised socio-economic marginalisation of the Muslim community. Rising trends of Islamophobia and deliberate neglect by the government towards socio-economic problems of Muslims are adding to their miseries.
In the political sphere and with regards to their political representation, the Muslims of India have to struggle more than any other religious and social group. It’s not only the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalist parties which have practically threatened Muslim political identity but that they are betrayed by the Congress also that claimed to be a secular political party and representative of all religious groups of India. To appease its Hindu voters and vote bank, the Congress betrayed its decades-old Muslim members in the recent elections. The growing dissent among long-serving Muslim members of Congress has compelled many to contest election as independent candidates. In 2014 elections Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) couldn’t claim to have a single Muslim MP in the lower house (Lok Sabha) where the right-wing Hindu nationalist party won 282 seats. In recent elections, the BJP again doesn’t have any Muslim MP so the 17th Lok Sabha hosts 27 Muslim members out of total 543 elected members. Gilles Verniers, a political scientist (in an interview to Al Jazeera TV), targeted BJP’s policy of electoral marginalisation of Muslims by calling it a Hindu majoritarian party whose voter base is purely Hindu population. Movements like Ghar Wapsi (homecoming) are nothing but an attempt to coerce mass conversions of Indians other than Hindus, with Muslims as the main target. Such malicious systemic efforts of right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations are a reflection of their ideology based on Hindutva. Hindutva being a Hindu fanatic ideology believes such conversions are nothing but a mass return to the traditions as the ancestors of all Indians were Hindus originally. To understand the Ghar Wapsi movement, one needs to understand the meaning and gist of Hindutva. The term was first coined by V. D. Savarkar, who defines it as a process to Hinduise all politics and militarize all Hindudom, making violence a justified means to protect “Rashtra” – the Hindu-Indian nation. Hindutva makes a strong connection between “being Indian and being Hindu”.
Indian politics was never free of right-wing Hindu nationalist parties but the rise of BJP in Delhi made it hard for the secular world to deny the existence, influence and power of Hindutva in the so-called world’s largest secular polity. Bhaskarteerth, the deputy to Shankaracharya of the Sharada Peeth, while speaking of the indigenous Muslims in India said that barring a “few hundred thousand” Muslims whose ancestors had come to the country from “Afghanistan and Balochistan”, the Muslims of India were descendants of Hindu converts and that, therefore, they should all be made Hindu once again”. Such remarks pose a threat not only to the existence of Muslims in India but also to their identity as Muslims.
Modi government’s initiative regarding National Registry of Citizens (NRC) is being perceived as an institutionalised version of Ghar Wapsi that mainly targets Muslims. Addressing a rally in West Bengal, Amit Shah – Modi’s right-hand man and President of the BJP – told supporters, “We will ensure implementation of NRC in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs”. The BJP tweeted this statement on April 11, 2019. Such statements clearly depict BJP’s true character, that is, ruling Hindu India. BJP, through NRC, is opting for the policy of documentation and expulsion of people on the basis of religion. In the very same speech the BJP president said, “The government won’t send Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists coming in from Bangladesh or Pakistan because they are our brothers and they’ve come here because they’ve faced persecution in those countries”. The policy excludes Sikhs and Buddhists who are close kin of the Hindus on the basis of their beliefs. Thus despite the fact that the BJP president technically spoke about all unauthorised immigrants, NRC doesn’t target Christians as they hardly constitute visible numbers in immigrants.
BJP’s obsession with Hindutva doesn’t end here. It deliberately ignores violence against Muslims mostly conducted by BJP’s followers. According to a report published by Human Rights Watch in February 2019, “Between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people – 36 of them Muslims – were killed across 12 Indian states. Over the same period, around 280 people were injured in over 100 different incidents across 20 states.” According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) UN Human Rights Report 2018, the OHCHR Chief, Michelle Bachelet, reported concerns over deteriorating situation of minorities in India in general and for Muslims in particular, stating, “increasing harassment and targeting of minorities, particularly Muslims and people from historically disadvantaged and marginalised groups, such as Dalits.” The report also mentions the massive rise of hate crimes, particularly lynching of Muslims and Dalits. IndiaSpend found more shocking and ugly realities about the secular Indian polity as it finds that 97 percent cow-related violence occurred after PM Modi came to power in 2014 and of the 28 Indians who died between the period of 2010-2017, 86% (i.e., 24) were Muslims. The mass reconversion drives like Love Jihad or Ghar Wapsi target Muslims. India has experienced a dangerous rise in hypernationalism that allows self-appointed vigilantes to lynch Muslim men on mere suspicion of bovine slaughter or consumption.
Despite the massive propaganda of the hawkish Indian media, it has failed to deceive the world. There are growing voices that are questioning the Indian state’s policies towards the minorities. But ironically, we live in a world that is run by realpolitik. We can’t forget the red carpet welcome given by U.S. to the Indian Prime Minister Modi, the one who was once banned from entering U.S. for his alleged involvement in the Gujarat massacre (2002). Negligence at state and international level will not only make Indian Muslims suffer more but will also definitely redefine the lines of peace and war in the region as this suffering is mostly a product of the state, and most recently, the Hindu fanatic ideology – Hindutva – that is ruling Delhi.
The writer is a PhD Research Scholar and visiting faculty member at SPIR, QAU.
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