National and International Issues

Saffron Nationalism: A Fuel for Islamophobia

BJP’s prejudiced, xenophobic and fascist policies towards the Muslims are not hidden from the world despite its efforts to curb all voices. Its gruesome propaganda to rewrite history by erasing the Muslim identity from the Indian canvas is nothing but a tool to retain the power which is putting the lives of millions at risk. Delhi’s constant efforts to ingrain Hindutva and Saffron Nationalism in the minds of the Hindu nation is making it an authoritarian state where minorities, predominantly Muslims, are being suppressed and the space for coexistence is shrinking rapidly. 

History vindicates that the wave of Saffron Nationalism is not an overnight phenomenon, rather it is rooted in pre-partition when in 1925 the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was established. This chauvinistic nationalist organization mainly pretexted “Hindu” dominance in India and, till date, is working to preserve its interests through exclusionary and xenophobic politics, where Muslims and other minorities are excluded through assertive and deceitful policy measures. The ruling BJP, an offspring of RSS, has strengthened anti-Muslim sentiments through various ill-conceived practices, illicit legislations and, most importantly, through extremism which Muslims have been subjected to in order to gain domestic political mileage. In order to understand ontology of India’s Islamophobic propaganda, it is important to comprehend the epistemological dimensions of Islamophobia. According to Erik Bleich it is “indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslim.” Tahir Abbas defines it as “the fear or dread of Islam or Muslims.” Building upon these concepts, one can say that this ideology operates by stigmatizing Muslims as the dreadful ‘others’ and by portraying Islam as a hate-mongering religion. This discriminatory practice is not employed by one individual, rather it is disseminated by organizations and states as well. Likewise, Salman Sayyid has described six clusters of Islamophobia out of which the first five are practiced solely by individuals or organizations and state may be the facilitator. The sixth one, on the other hand, is directly practiced by the state. These six clusters are:
•    Targeting Muslims verbally or through gestures at public spaces. Evidently, Hindu individuals are actively involved in promoting religious hate crimes and communal riots. In an article “In India, Release of Hate Crime Data Depends on Who the Haters Are” by The New York Times, it is stated that most of the victims of hate crimes are Muslims who are accused of “storing beef or transporting cattle for slaughter”. Correspondingly, the attacks on Muslims by the Hindus during the Friday prayers is also very common in India.
•  Attacking the public and private property of Muslims and disrespecting their graves. The case of Meerut is quite relevant in this regard where approximately 200 houses of the Muslims were set on fire. Similarly, Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal, an organization for the protection of cow confiscated the livestock of the Muslims in the name of protection, and redistributed them among the Hindus, acts which further lead to the economic marginalization of Muslim community. Similarly, the case of Babri Masjid’s demolition in the year 1992 by the Hindu fanatics overtly exposed the brutal face of radical Hindus.
•  Organized bullying and intimidation of Muslims that is projected via marches through spaces occupied by the Muslims. The heinous practices of burning the Holy Quran or disrespecting the Holy Prophet is one of the integral parts of these marches. Nazia Erum in her book Mothering a Muslim says that the young Muslim children studying at elite Indian schools are repeatedly bullied by their peers and words like terrorist or Taliban are associated with them merely on account of their religious affiliation.
•    Institutionalized Islamophobia is another such way where Muslims are subjected to derogatory or less favorable treatment than their peers within the same institute. Zeeshan Khan, a management graduate, is a victim of institutionalized extremism when Hare Krishna Exports Pvt Ltd refused to appoint him merely on account of him being a Muslim. This discriminatory behavior is predominant in private firms in India, especially the ones that are owned by extremist Hindus.
•  Songs, newspapers, magazines and websites that promote hate-speech are used for this sort of Islamophobia. The lyrics of Indian songs, which have a wide listenership, are entrenched in chauvinist propaganda of Hindu nationalism which opine that Muslims will only be integrated in India if they make themselves complicit with the Hindu ideology. An example of this is Laxmi Dubey’s song Har Ghar Bhagva Chhayega which communicates to the Muslims that if they wish to stay in “Hindustan” then they better learn how to say “vande mataram” and stay in their limits.  
•  State-sponsored Islamophobia where the state is involved in active mass surveillance of the Muslim populations using technology and paid informers. This state-sponsored Islamophobia also includes the law and justice system that does not favor the Muslims in any sense. “Ghar Wapsi” and “Love Jihad” campaigns are prominent examples of such state-led Islamophobia in India.
Sayyid’s six clusters of Islamophobia raises the question about how it gained huge popularity in India. The sixth cluster is the answer to it where the state is involved in indoctrinating Islamophobia and Hindutva into the minds of the general public directly, as well as through its institutions and other state actors. For instance, Indian statesmen proposed the idea of changing the names of the cities that have Islamic connotations, mainly citing India as the land for Hindus and portraying Muslims as the invaders who have captured Hindu lands. For example, the name of Allahabad that dates to the 16th century is changed to Prayagraj. Regarding this amendment, a BJP official said, “Today, the BJP government has rectified the mistake made by Akbar [the Mughal Emperor].” Besides this, the hate speech by statesmen is of great significance as it inculcates a rhetoric of Hindu nationalism in the consciousness of the Hindu nation. Surendra Singh, for example, states that “There are a very few Muslims who are patriotic. Once India becomes a Hindu rashtra, Muslims who assimilate into our culture will stay in India. Those who will not, are free to take asylum in any other country.” Also, Giriraj Singh, BJP’s Union Minister states that “The growing population of the country, especially Muslims, is a threat to the social fabric, social harmony, and development of the country.” Statements like these where Muslims are portrayed as the aliens or foreigners whose presence will only be accepted if they make themselves complicit with the Indian system, which is primarily dominated by the Hindu ideology, show the level of notorious fascism that is strengthening its roots in India. 
Finally, the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A that gave a special status to Kashmir also points to the atrocities of Indian state over the Muslims. Putting the violence on Kashmiri Muslims aside, the crucial thing to note is the inhumane censorship of the Indian state with which it has suppressed the voices of the Kashmiri Muslims. They have done this by cutting the access of internet and media to them and by carrying out a strict surveillance strategy which ensures that these Kashmiri Muslims do not say a word against the government at any national or international forum. These pugnacious practices suggest that India’s ruling party BJP propagates Islamophobia to put Muslim minorities on the periphery, and projects Saffron Nationalism to empower and maintain its monopoly. 
For decades, Hitler’s Nazi regime remained a symbol of genocidal violence and brutal massacres, however, its traces have resurfaced in India with the rise of noxious fascist regime and profligate governance. This modern day Hitler and his fascist propaganda is rapidly spreading like a pathogen resulting in the marginalization of millions which consequences a large number of separatist movements demanding independence from India based on ethnic and structural violence driven by Hindu extremism. The powerful Indian elite, using the Hindutva narrative, is belligerently cultivating the notion that India is a land of Hindus and Muslims are a threat to the Hindu nation and that Muslim voices in the Hindu dominated Indian ethos jeopardize its very essence and spirit, therefore, they must be taken care of. Hence, Delhi’s claim of profound secularism and being the largest democracy of the world is defectively preloaded with skepticism amidst agendas of Hindu supremacy and overriding fascist regime tendencies, which have ensured the perpetuation of Islamophobia and religious intolerance. 

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