In India, Muslims are living in genocidal climate

Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Akhlad Khan

On June 7 2021, the Imam of a mosque, Nasir Mohammad, and worshippers were brutally beaten by a group inside the prayer hall of the mosque in Rampur Majra village, Dankaur, Greater Noida. An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims are perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.

Islamophobia existed in India before also, but it increases in frequency and notoriety since the BJP came into regime. Initially, Islamophobia was defined as ‘an unfounded hostility toward Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims’. However, there is no full agreement on what ‘Islamophobia’ refers to. Whereas, The term ‘Islamophobia’ itself is rather misleading: it literally refers to the fear of a religion, while in fact it is a fear of Muslims and a hostility legitimized because they adhere to Islam.

The term indicates religious discrimination, but intolerance toward racial, class and cultural identity is also closely related to it. In this way, Islamophobia does not contain one simple meaning but, rather, encompasses different discourses that define the sociopolitical situation of Muslim minorities.

Muslims have increasingly become pilloried, an equivalent of all kinds of troubles. Not only are they seen as economic hardship and blamed for crime, violence, and fundamentalism, but also they personify a challenge to the Thatcherite state and the values associated with it. Islamophobia in India works to sanction violence, vanquish, and menace Muslims as a threat to the country, in several different registers — Indian Muslims as suspect citizens; Kashmiri Muslims as terrorist Muslims; Muslim refugees such as Rohingyas as “invasive pests”; and the collective neighbouring Muslim nation-state of Pakistan as an existential enemy. In 2002, under the chief ministership of Modi, the western Indian state of Gujarat witnessed horrific anti-Muslim genocide. By 2014, the Hindu nationalists of the 1990s gave way to Modi-led BJP and its own galaxy of extremist politicians who had no demur in openly professing to explicit anti-minority opinions, especially when it came to Muslims. In 2019, Modi-led BJP won a majority for the second time in Loksabha elections that was marked by a widespread anti-Muslim sentiment. The rest of the world has overwhelmingly stayed silent when it comes to the radical religious transformation in India, presumably since it is a “rising power,” “democracy” and “market.”

Indian Muslims have been subject to widespread prejudice and violence. The phenomenon of lynching minorities, and especially Muslims, became truly mainstream in recent years (cases such as Akhlaq or Pehlu Khan have come to be known after the names of their victims). In March a14-year-old boy brutally assaulted for entering the temple to drink water in Ghaziabad. On May 16, Asif Khan, a resident of Khera Khalilpur village in the Nuh district of Haryana, was murdered. He was attacked by a group of men while on his way home. Several Mahapanchayats Held to Support Those Arrested for ‘Lynching’ Asif. At the largest mahapanchayat, in Indri village, about 50,000 people were reportedly present despite the ongoing lockdown in the state.

There is a predictable pattern in these cases – organized right-wing Hindu hoodlums gather and kill Indian Muslims and the court cases against the vilipend come to nothing as the suspects are vindicated on specious grounds.

Muslims have been subject to violence if they refuse to chant Hindu slogans such as “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail to Ram, the Hindu God) in order to prove their nationalism. On the very day that Narendra Modi was elected in 2014, a Hindu mob killed a Muslim man in Pune because of his skull cap (a Muslim symbol). When India is imagined as a Hindu Rashtra (Nation of Hindus), Muslims are represented as foreign to that body and hence deserving to be domesticated at best, and expelled or massacred at worst. The ideology of violent patriotism has captured the state and has conspicuous support amongst the public.

In February 2020, the capital city Delhi saw targeted pogrom against Muslims, particularly those that have voted against the ruling Modi-led BJP in state elections. BJP leaders had used the slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” (translated loosely as: “these traitors to the nation, shoot those bastards”). A carnage in which more than 50 people were killed and over 200 injured comprised mostly of Muslims, at a location which was occupied by the anti-CAA protesters (assuming to be occupied by Muslims) and yet the majority of FIR’s have only been registered against Muslims. We witnessed Shahrukh Pathan and Kapil Gujjar as the two sides of the Judicial system.

Kapil Gujjar: the person who brought a gun to the protest site at Shaheen Bagh and opened fire amidst police personnel’s was granted bail by the court within days for his open and unprovoked aggression. Whereas Shahrukh Pathan, who pulled a pistol from violent goons and fired in the air to disperse the violent mob and saved women protesters at Jafrabad has been incarcerated for the alleged offence for the past year.

The pertinent question that haunts our mind is “is Shahrukh being scapegoated merely because of his religious identity”? If not so, then why is Kapil Gujjar out and Shahrukh still facing the music of pre-trial detention?

There are several reports that the rioters were supported by the police. There are videos that showcase that the pro-CAA supporters along with the Delhi Police pelted stones at the anti-CAA group. There are also videos that show that two boys were hit by pro-CAA supporters until one died amidst police presence. And yet the Muslims were projected as the perpetrators of this anti-Muslim pogrom

It is still unexplained as to how thousands of PRO-CAA protesters were allowed to come anywhere near the vicinity of the area where the anti-CAA protest was held and that too when Kapil Mishra had given a clear statement that he would clear the roads, etc. Recently there was also a leak of letter of command from the senior police officials to those investigating Delhi Pogrom that “the police should have a soft hand towards the Hindus” meaning thereby (that Hindus shouldn’t be arrested) something which is least expected in Democratic country like India unless it has become Hitler styled country where every organ of the country only works in the direction of their Supreme Leader Mr Modi and Shah.

Sharjeel Imam, an activist, has been booked under several cases for allegedly delivering inflammatory speeches against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). A case of sedition has been lodged against him, following his speech at Aligarh Muslim University and other places. He was arrested from his hometown Jehanabad in Bihar on January 28’2020. In September, Umar Khalid, a secular left-wing student leader who is Muslim, was arrested on highly contested charges of orchestrating the 2020 Delhi pogrom. Jamia Coordination Committee members Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider, Jamia students Asif Iqbal Tanha, Gulfisha Khatoon, Jamia Alumni Association President Shifa-Ur-Rehman, JNU student Natasha Narwal and activist Khalid Saifi have previously been arrested by the Delhi Police and charged under the draconian UAPA act. Ishrat Jahan a practising advocate and former Indian National Congress municipal councillor in Delhi has been accused under the Unlawful Activities Act. Incarcerated for more than 450 days.

Islamophobia is apparently a disaster waiting to happen in India and the world. As a matter of fact, all the antecedents of Islamophobia in the USA, Europe and Occupied Palestine are being witnessed in Indian states. A careful observation actually reveals that Islamophobia is already manifesting subtly in particularly the northern part of the country. The question that is worth worrying about is; can India contain such a looming menace? The onus, therefore, lies on religious leaders to properly guide their faithful. Political leaders who have displayed incompetence in managing India’s religious diversity have to work out modalities to curb religious violence and prejudice. They should strive to build bridges among different religions in India and not fences and suspicion. It is however disheartening that some of the political leaders that are looked upon for a solution to this problem of prejudice and stigmatization among religious groups in India are complicit in orchestrating this violence and consequently Islamophobia. Furthermore, proper sensitization about one another’s religious doctrines and practices as the inter-religious dialogue group has been doing could also go a long way to curb negative stereotypes and minimize sceptical disposition towards one another’s religion.

Akhlad Khan is an Uttar Pradesh based journalist. Ex sub-editor of the regional newspaper ‘Times Of Uttar Pradesh’. Activist and the case attendant in Shahrukh Pathan Bail Case.