If you are a Muslim and living in India, you can be beaten on issues as trivial as wearing a prayer cap, selling vegetables in a Hindu majority neighborhood, stepping into a temple or attending a Hindu festival. Even an inadvertent touch on the motorcycle of a Hindu can land a Muslim in the hospital. Eating beef is another taboo that can land a Muslim either in jail or worse, in a grave in most cases. Forcing Muslims to chant Jai Shri Ram has become a regular feature. Ridiculing a bearded man is equally common as harassing a scarf-wearing woman. From Ajmer to Kanpur and Ander to Delhi, Muslims are considered bloodthirsty creatures. Phrases such as Narcotics Jihad or Love Jihad, etc., have been coined to manifest that Islam preaches violence and forced conversions.
In reality though, it is the other way around. Hindus, and not Muslims, push their religious values and rites down the throats of other minorities. For example, during the recently concluded Hindu festival of Navaratri, there was a roaring demand to halt meat sales in Muslim majority areas until the festival lasted. It was so because some Hindus refrain from using meat during the nine days of the festival. Saharanpur District, the birthplace of Darul Uloom Deoband, was under immense pressure in this regard.
The Muslims of India are also ridiculed by not less than the top leaders of the ruling party. Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India, mocked Muslims publicly, saying that the Modi government was no longer Indian Muslims’ abba jaan (father).
In another incident reported on a news website, The Wire, on October 18, a Hindu nationalist leader, after assaulting a Muslim man in a train, shared the video on his Facebook page with the caption ‘thrashing a jihadi snake.’
In New Delhi, the Friday prayer was disrupted by Hindu nationalists chanting, ‘When they slaughter Muslims, we will raise glory to Lord Ram.’
India’s film industry has also been forced to join hands with the government in this hate venture. As a result, tax authorities have threatened filmmakers to produce propagandist material and ensure compliance. Directors and producers are put through tax-related complications or are made to sit in tax offices for hours.
The attacks on Christian minorities have also intensified recently, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh. On October 1, 2021, Swami Paramatmananda, one of India’s leading religious scholars, encouraged his listeners at a rally to kill converted Christians. The worrying part of this hateful speech was that it was delivered in the presence of influential leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Chhattisgarh.
The caste-based discrimination has also refused to taper down in India despite its inclusion in the G20 group.
The Dalit community, commonly known as the ‘untouchables’ in India and other South Asian countries, is subjected to a perpetual life of subordination and discrimination. Violence against the Dalits is a routine occurrence. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, some 50,291 cases of crime against scheduled castes were recorded in 2020. Similarly, around ten Dalit women are raped each day. The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights reports that the perpetrators enjoy complete impunity, because of which it has been challenging to break the chain of violence and oppression. Influential political figures have usually been found in support of this aggression and violence.
Segregation is a way of life for Dalits, which begins before they even start to understand life. As children, the Dalits are not allowed to sit at the front of the class. They cannot play or eat with kids from other castes as anti-Dalit groups are quickly formed to exclude them. This trauma of segregation leaves a daunting impression on the child’s personality, which he/she carries into adult life. Being a Dalit is not less than a curse. An Indian parliamentarian is on record saying that it would take another 150 years before India unshackles itself from a caste-based system that encourages discrimination.
Moreover, Indian fascism tends to transcend all known boundaries, the example of which became evident during the World Cup matches between India and Pakistan. Ironically, the Indian cricket team players took a knee for the cause of racism, however, the situation within India plays a tune similar to what the players were standing up for. After facing defeat in the match, the on ground conditions of India took a turn for the worse for the Muslims celebrating Pakistan’s win. The students were harassed or put under arrest while the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, brought forth sedition charges. Additionally, the Indian player, Muhammad Shami, faced added heat for being a Muslim. Virat Kohli, Indian cricket team captain, also faced backlash after standing up for Shami and giving him support irrespective of his religious background. Sky News anchor, Andrew Bolt, also pointed out India’s bigotry by mentioning that they should fix their own caste system before going on to make grand international gestures, as he said, “Has the Indian team ever taken the knee to protest against that [caste system], or is that a bit too close to home?”
According to John Dayal, an Indian human rights activist, BJP is using the religion card to divide people and deflect their attention from unemployment, inflation, and failure of the government to implement developmental projects in the education and health sector.
All these events have happened in India over and over again, even before partition. However, during BJP’s current rule, the hatred towards minorities and in particular Muslims has taken a new trajectory. Moreover, there is a growing realization that Muslims are deliberately pushed to the margin to deprive them of public space.
This hatred and policy of exclusion of Muslims has two origins. One is the 1,000 years rule of Muslims in the subcontinent during which many Hindu dynasties have been neutralized or reduced to a peripheral state. The second is the partition. The so-called Bharat mata’s (mother India) division was a dagger drawn in the heart of staunch Hindus. The first revenge of this betrayal was taken with the murder of Gandhi in 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a member of the right-wing nationalist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Since then, Muslims have had to lead a compromised life in a country that has claimed to be one of the largest democracies of the world, next to the U.S.
The grander ambition of the RSS is to undo Pakistan.
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India since 2014, is the star of RSS, who rose to prominence for igniting polarized politics with Muslims in the crosshairs. The agenda of RSS has been to make India a Hindu state, with every religion practiced in India subservient to Hindus.
In 2002, thousands of Muslims were slaughtered under Modi’s watch when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Alluding to this genocide, the Indian court said that it had lost faith in Modi’s government over the Indian state of Gujarat. In April 2004, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India described Modi’s government as, “Modern day ‘Neros’” that were “looking elsewhere when innocent women and children were burning”. These judgments, along with the pressure from human rights organizations across India and abroad, forced the U.S. State Department to bar Modi from entering the U.S.
Despite all that, Modi still became the Prime Minister of India with the promise to eliminate two economy wrecking conditions: unemployment and corruption. Trapped in his aura and fed up with Congress’ incumbency, the liberals and centrists argued in favor of Modi and asked the voters to give him a chance to build an inclusive society.
Voices have been raised from the world against India’s exclusionary policies towards minorities, especially Muslims.
In April 2021, the State Department received a request from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to designate India as a “country of particular concern because of the attacks on religious minorities.” The report further added that the BJP-led government had “increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies.”
A human rights organization, Amnesty International, also raised concerns about incidences that have taken place in India in 2020. It said, “Freedom of expression was guaranteed selectively, and dissent was repressed through unlawful restrictions on peaceful protests and silencing critics. In addition, human rights defenders, including students, academics, journalists, and artists, were arbitrarily arrested, often without charge or trial.”
The Christian advocacy group, Open Doors, published a report in June 2021 on a similar issue. Key findings in the report said: “Daily life for many Christian and Muslim communities in urban and rural India has become an excruciating struggle to earn a living and practice their faith, while also remaining alive and under the radar of the far-right Hindutva organizations that now dominate the Indian public and political sphere.”
Amnesty International, Civicus, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), wrote a letter to the informal meeting of the European Union (EU) Foreign Ministers in Slovenia in September expressing their concern over the organization’s failure to ‘effectively engage’ India on human rights issues. The letter read: “The increasing use of draconian laws and ill-intentioned use of government agencies to target dissenting individuals and organizations have resulted in the silencing of civil society in India.” The letter further argued: “As the EU finalizes its Indo-Pacific strategy, it cannot afford to hold different standards for engaging on human rights in Asia. Coherence will be central to a credible values-based EU foreign policy that creates impact on the global human rights agenda and sends truly unequivocal signals of support to those defending human rights in India and worldwide.”
India’s descent into fascism has come full circle. People have been given the license to hate, exclude and kill Muslims and other minority groups with impunity. It has been possible only because of Narendra Modi's power derived from the RSS’ dream of gaining supremacy over Muslims and reverse the process of democracy and secularism started by Gandhi and Nehru.
The writer is a columnist who writes for national print media.
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