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Why India’s Muslims need to assert their Muslimness more than ever

27th May 2022
Why India’s Muslims need to assert their Muslimness more than ever

Shauqueen Mizaj

‘Mother of all democracies’- That was the sobriquet given to India by Prime Minister, Modi during his speech at the UN General Assembly last September, where he boasted about the country’s ancient democratic traditions and its vibrant diversity, characterised by dozens of languages and hundreds of dialects.

However, for the last few years, particularly since 2014, we have seen the gradual disintegration of the world’s largest democracy, due largely to its government-approved persecution of Muslims by far-right Hindu groups.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has intensified and is now even more overt. Muslims are no longer seen as equal citizens, with physical and verbal attacks on their livelihood, religious rituals, places of worship and dietary habits. There have been open calls for the genocide of Muslims and the mass rape of Muslim women. In Karnataka, the Government banned hijabs in educational institutions across the state, forcing Muslim women to choose between their faith and education.

The right-wing groups in the state had also started an anti-halal meat drive, which received the support of the top ministers of the Modi Government including Home Minister, Araga Jnanendra.

No actions have been taken against the top ministers and Hindutva leaders for their frequent poisonous remarks, which have only aggravated anti-Muslim hatred and further polarised society on sectarian lines. On May 7, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) figurehead and Bihar Legislative Assembly member, Haribhushan Thakur, said that Muslims should be set ablaze just like Hindus burn Ravana effigies during the festival of Dussehra.

Demon-like Ravanas is a reference to religious minorities in the country, especially Muslims. He made the comment during a discussion held on ‘The Untold Story of Kashmiri Hindus’ in Patna, Bihar. Earlier in February, the BJP leader had said that Muslims should be stripped of voting rights and treated as second-class citizens. He also remarked that “those who are feeling scared in India should go to Afghanistan… petrol and diesel are cheaper; once there, they will understand the value of India.”

Last year, a three-day conclave organised by Hindutva priest, Yati Narsinghanand, at Haridwar, a pilgrimage city in the state of Uttarakhand, saw anti-Muslim sentiments and hate speeches on a massive scale, with multiple calls for the genocide of Muslims and attack on their religious places. However, no amount of calls for genocide or hate speeches aimed at stifling, destabilising and marginalising Muslims appears enough for the incumbent government to punish or even condemn the perpetrators.

Violence and arson were reported in several states during the Hindu festival of Ram Navami on April 10. In Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, Hindutva mobs brandished swords and played provocative music in front of a mosque and Muslim-owned houses, underscoring that Hindu festivals have been used by the far-right for the past few years to deliberately provoke Muslims as they pass through their localities. In the religious clashes that followed, houses, shops and vehicles owned by Muslims were selectively targeted and destroyed.

Over 95 people, mostly Muslims, were arrested allegedly for pelting stones at the procession and trying to disrupt the celebrations. In less than 24 hours after the clashes, the district administration started a demolition drive on the pretext of demolishing ‘illegal, encroached establishments’, razing down houses and shops owned by the Muslim community, citing their alleged involvement in the clashes, that too with no judicial process.

While the news channels exploded with the visuals of bulldozers demolishing buildings and ‘Bulldozer politics’ debates, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson posed on a bulldozer during a visit to a JCB factory in Varanasi.

The bulldozers, including those manufactured by the British construction giant, have been used to demolish the homes and businesses of Muslims. Johnson’s photo-op invited widespread criticism, with Amnesty India branding the move ‘ignorant’ for inadvertently endorsing the BJP government.

Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh state, a hotbed of Hindutva politics, has made the recitation of the national anthem mandatory at madrasas.

On April 15, a video of Yati Krishnanand, a Hindutva leader and disciple of Haridwar Dharam Sansad priests, surfaced online in which he claims that mass killings of Muslims will begin in Purvanchal (East Uttar Pradesh) as part of their Dharam Yudh (Holy War). Bajrang Dal, a right-wing organisation, organised a week-long arms training camp at the Sai Shankar Educational Institute in Ponnampet, Kodagu district, in Karnataka.

Hindutva ideologues portray Muslims as unpatriotic, “jihadis” and oppressors. Mosques are vandalised and loudspeakers in mosques are no longer allowed to call out adhan [call to prayers].

Not only has the government remained silent on the grave human rights violations against Muslims, including the lynching of Muslims, harassment of Muslim women online and in person, threats to Friday prayers, boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses, it has attempted to legalise their persecution in the form of the Uniform Civil Code (family law irrespective of religion), the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the National Register of Citizens.

Dr Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch, who predicted a genocide in Rwanda years before it took place in 1994, has warned of an impending genocide of Muslims in India. He compared the atmosphere in the country under the Modi Government to events in Myanmar and Rwanda.

The US President, Joe Biden, during his meeting with Modi on September 24 last year, said that Mahatma Gandhi’s “message of non-violence, respect, and tolerance matters today, maybe more than it ever has.”

Hindutva hardliners have tried to downplay ‘Father of the Nation’ Gandhi for his Hindu-Muslim unity philosophy. Anil Vij, a senior minister in the Haryana BJP Government, described Modi as a ‘bigger brand name’ than Gandhi, saying Gandhi’s image would ultimately be removed from currency notes. His prediction came soon after a Government department replaced Gandhi’s pictures on its calendars and diaries with Modi’s.

According to John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, the “greatest threat to the Indian constitution was the promotion of majority religion by the Indian Government at the expense of minorities”.

He added that the Government is adopting “laws and policies that systematically discriminate against religious minorities and other groups and also stigmatise its critics”. What happened in Karnataka, a stronghold of Modi’s BJP, will gradually repeat in other states as well, engulfing the entire nation in the hatred unleashed by the right-wing Hindu supremacists.

It is just a matter of time. In February renowned scholar, author and activist Noam Chomsky, said that Islamophobia has taken a “most lethal form” in India, making some 250 million Indian Muslims a “persecuted minority”.

Muslims in India have remained resilient and patient, in the face of every imaginable attack by perpetrators assured of government protection.

Despite continuously voicing the fear in which they live and the threats and humiliation they face daily, they are just not being heard. Now is the time to assert Muslimness more than ever. With a weak opposition posing little threat to the Narendra Modi regime, the decline of democratic values heightened polarisation and the dangerous rise in Islamophobia and calls for ethnic cleansing of Muslims, the atmosphere of hate, intolerance and injustice is likely to prevail.

Photo: Delhi police detain activists and students’ unions during a protest against recent incidents of anti-Muslim violence in India’s north-eastern state of Tripura in New Delhi, October, 29, 2021. (Credit: Imtiyaz Khan/Anadolu Agency)

 

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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