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Hindu Nationalists fake news on disloyalty of Muslim soldiers

30th Oct 2020
Hindu Nationalists fake news on disloyalty of Muslim soldiers

President Ram Nath Kovind has been urged to act against false propaganda against veteran Muslim soldiers
(Photo credit: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency)

Sajeda Haider

More than a hundred senior-ranking military veterans in India have complained to the President about the spread of false propaganda declaring that a “Muslim Regiment” of the Indian Army had “refused to fight against fellow Muslims during the 1965 war with Pakistan”.

Distressed by the lies, the veterans, both Hindus and Muslims, have urged President Ram Nath Kovind to take “firm and immediate action” against those spreading the falsehoods.

Social media has been brimming with the fake posts and the lies have gone viral. Recently, India has been battling with the scourge of fake news, doctored videos and false propaganda against Muslims emanating from right-wing groups including the current ruling party.

The letter, signed by 120 military veterans, has pointed out that no “Muslim Regiment” has ever existed. “These ‘Muslim Regiment’ posts are blatantly false because the Indian Army did not have a Muslim Regiment in 1965 or since.

The posts question the loyalty of all serving and retired Muslim soldiers” said the letter. The letter has been written to the President as he is the supreme commander of the Indian armed forces.

The genesis of the falsehoods lie in a tweet from the right-wing handle @120croreHindus-World Hindus United put out in May 2013 that claimed that “in 1965 there was a regiment in Indian Army called Muslim Regiment which refused to fight against Pakistan after which it was dismantled.”

“The tweet was meant to show that Muslim soldiers had their loyalties to Pakistan rather than India. The ‘Muslim Regiment’ post has been re-tweeted many times thereafter, and its insidious surfacing during the ongoing Chinese aggression is certainly suspect,” the veterans argued in their letter.

Muslims in India, the country’s largest minority at 200 million-strong, have been the favourite whipping boy of the right-wing Hindu Nationalists blaming them for all the ills the country faces. The groups, led by the ruling BJP, look at Muslims with scorn, suspicion and question their patriotism at every step.

When colonial rule ended in 1947, the British partitioned the sub-continent on religious lines creating Pakistan as a Muslim homeland and India for the Hindus leaving a permanent enmity between the two countries which exist till today.

The founding fathers of India created a plural, secular country where people of all religions lived peacefully as equal citizens – a promise enshrined in the Constitution. Many hundreds of thousands of Muslims chose to remain in India at the time Partition because of this promise rather than go to Pakistan hence that is why even today India has a larger Muslims population than Pakistan.

However, the Hindu Nationalists have never accepted India as a secular country and their ultimate goal has been to turn India into a Hindu nation with all religious minorities becoming second class citizens. Pakistan, with whom India has fought two wars, is enemy number one for the BJP. The worst abuse that they can give anyone is to call them a Pakistani.

Ever since Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, first assumed power in 2014, the derision and demonizing of Muslims has reached a crescendo. Indian Muslims and even Hindus who speak up for Muslims or just generally disagree with the BJP’s brand of politics, are regularly told to “go to Pakistan” by ministers, legislators, party leaders and their troll army.

The Indian Armed Forces has more than 1.4 million active personnel and is the second largest military force in the world. To its credit the Indian military so far has remained apolitical and secular, however, of late, the far right has been trying to spread it sectarian poison among the armed forces. The veterans see the fake posts of a ‘Muslim Regiment’ as an attack on the armed forces.

A Muslim regiment has never existed in the Indian Army. Regiments with caste-based names came into existence during British rule and their names were not changed after India became independent of colonial rule. However, that does not mean that, for example, only Jats (a Hindu caste) were recruited in the Jat Regiment.

People of all castes and religions are included in all regiments. The religion or caste of the soldiers has nothing to do with their regiment.Though the lies were discredited in 2013 when they first came out, why have they resurfaced again now? A fact checking website called Alt News noticed that the claim has been doing the rounds of social media since October 2017 when it was again tweeted by the BJP’s national media panelist, Yasshveer Raghav.

However, more recently, the claim has again gone viral on both Twitter and Facebook and is also being circulated in the form of a video by the far right to question the ‘loyalty’ of Muslim candidates to be appointed as senior officers in the civil service and police force. While Muslims make up around 14% of the population of India their representation in the civil service is a meagre 2.5%.

It was timed to coincide with a television series by a right-wing media outlet called Sudarshan News which claimed that Muslims had launched a ‘conspiracy’ to ‘infiltrate the Indian Government service’ in large numbers and carry out ‘UPSC Jihad’ and take it over.

After the first episode was aired, Alt News published a fact-check report on the misleading narratives used by the channel bolstered by misinformation, false claims and sectarianism. The Supreme Court of India halted the broadcast of the series after the fourth episode was aired and matter is still being heard in the top court.

The veterans have demanded that an inquiry establish the antecedents of the social media posts and take action against them for ‘anti-national’ activities. They also want a warning to be issued to Facebook and Twitter for not acting against the insidious and hate-filled posts.

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