Today, most nation-states run on the liberal principles in which all person and group identities have the constitutional or legal support to live life with dignity. The concept of secularism emerged not merely to separate religion from the state, but also to tolerate and respect every religion by the state and its people. The irony is that the world is proud of being liberal, but when comes to the question of minority identity, they are not only not ready to integrate, but also to discriminate against them.
Racism, Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia or Islamophobia is the outcome of this accommodative attitude of the majority.
In ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us’ a report by the Runnymede Trust in 1997, Islamophobia is defined as “…unfounded hostility towards Islam”.
It also points to the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and to the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs.
The term ‘Islamophobia’ was coined in the late 1980s and its first known use in print was in February 1991, in a periodical in the United States. The hatred and prejudice against Muslims have been there in the world for a long time. In recent times in India, the case of Islamophobia has increased since India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, won the general (Lok Sabha) election in 2014.
It does not mean that India did not witness hatred towards Muslims earlier. The Muslims had been the targets of the colonial British Empire as far back as the 1850s and it increased after the first war of independence in 1857.
This hatred towards the Muslims was also carried forward by the Hindu nationalists along with the Britishers. The foundation of the right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations such as the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) in 1925, (the latter is a paramilitary volunteer organisation) is the result of such hatred. Both these, along with the other small Hindutva organisations, produced a huge gap between the two religious communities so much so that the Muslims were declared the internal threat to India by the second chief of the RSS, M.S. Golwalkar.
He said about the Muslims, “…within the country there are so many Muslim pockets, i.e, so many ‘ miniature Pakistans’…”. He looked upon Muslims as a suspicious community who were constantly in touch with Pakistan; in other words, he was saying that the Indian Muslims were traitors. Not only this, Hindutva nationalists openly called the Muslims invaders and foreigners to this land, India. Golwalkar gave a solution to this problem in his book, ‘We our Nationhood Defined’, that “Foreign races must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights”.
He was prescribing two options to the foreign races (here, Muslim and Christian), either to come to the fold of Hinduism or be second-class citizens in the Hindu nation, that is, India.
BJP’s quest for power through hatred
For a long, the Hindutva forces tried to implement these thoughts on Indian Muslims. One such incident was the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, the 16th-century mosque, by the Hindutva forces, especially the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
This incident took the shape of communal violence and riots across India. Ramachandra Guha describes this in his book, ‘India after Gandhi’, “ the riots covered large parts of northern and western India: 246 people died in Gujarat, 120 in Madhya Pradesh, 100 in Assam, 201 in Uttar Pradesh and 60 in Karnataka.
The weapons used by the mobs ranged from acid and slingshots to swords and guns. Children were burnt alive and women were shot dead by the police. In this epidemic of violence, ‘every possible refinement in human unkindness [was] on display”.
Moreover, the Hindutva leaders spoke and wrote to cleanse Muslims from India. In an editorial in the party newspaper, Saamna, published on 10 December, Balasaheb Thackeray, the leader of the political party, Shiv Sena wrote, “The dream of the Akhand Hindu Rashtra [United Hindu State] is going to come true. Even the shadow of fanatical sinners [i.e. Muslims] will disappear from our soil. We will now live happily and die happily”. This was the high time for the Hindutva political parties to rise to the national level by polarization and verbal attacks on Muslims.
In the general election of 1994, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), with 161 seats, emerged as the single largest party in the parliament. Before the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP was not that popular among the masses, the highest number of seats won by the BJP was 85 in the general election of 1989. From there on, they realised that the more they targeted the Muslims, the more they had the chance of winning more seats in the elections. Finally, they were successful in forming governments in the union in 1998, 2014 and 2019.
The BJP came into power with a full majority in the union in the 2014 and 2019 general elections. It simply means the BJP would do what they, for long, longed for— to marginalize the Muslim identity in India. The BJP gave rise to the Islamophobic legislation and campaigns at the union and the state level, unprecedented in independent India, by the controlling and surveillance of the elected legislators, party workers, spokespersons, and the silence of the Prime Minister.
The legislations like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA – 2019) at the union level and the Anti-Conversion Acts (Love Jihad) at the state level in different BJP-ruled states show it all clearly. Hindutva campaigns like Ghar Wapsi ( returning home ), Corona Jihad, demolition of mosques, lynching of Muslims, Hijab row and the Delhi riot of 2020 are a few instances that could not be possible without the support of the top echelons of the BJP’s hierarchy.
The CAA -2019 was passed on 12 December 2019. This act gives Indian citizenship to the illegal immigrants who came from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to India on or before 31st December 2014, exclusively to the members of six religious minority communities- the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. This citizenship act excluded the Muslim community, which shows nothing but Islamophobia, and it is against the secular principle to delegitimise Muslim citizenship in India.
They purposely enacted this act to show the larger Hindutva supporters of India and abroad that they are on a mission to make India a Hindu nation. As this legislation was crafted to alienate the Muslim population in India, the reaction was obvious—the largest protest was held mainly by Muslims throughout India. Shaheen Bagh was the symbol of this protest. The state machinery attacked the university campuses wherever protests were held, especially Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. This protest would have gone longer and the government would have to scrap the act, but suddenly it met with the Corona Virus outbreak.
Another law called ‘Love Jihad’ (anti-conversion) was passed by many BJP-ruled state governments, and many are in the process to make such laws to prevent Hindu women from marrying Muslim men. The assumption was that the Muslim men purposely and forcefully conspired against the Hindu women to fall in love to marry in order to convert the Hindu women into a Muslims. This assumption is not only baseless but has severe consequences for Muslims psychologically and socially.
The first consequence, the Muslim men will be looked at as conspirators against the Hindu women; and at the extreme, will be tortured. Moreover, Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk, and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh called ‘love jihad’ an ‘international conspiracy’ against India. There were many incidents of mob lynching by the Hindutva that took place across India.
For instance, in a report by the Guardian, “ Arbaaz Aftab Mullah, a 24-year-old Muslim man from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, was killed in September – allegedly for falling in love with a Hindu girl.”
Professor Apoorvanand writes, “With the introduction of anti-conversion laws in several states, the BJP merely cloaked a continuing political project to criminalise and victimise the Muslims in legal garbs.”
Islamophobia through hate speech
Hate speech is another set of mechanisms, which gives the Islamophobic parties or persons to set the agenda against Muslims. The NDTV Hate Speech Tracker finds—“ during the UPA-2 regime (2009-14), there were 19 instances of ‘VIP’ hate speech, an average of 0.3 instances a month. Since 2014 to date, under the Modi government, there have been 348 such instances, an average of 3.7 instances a month, a surge of 1,130 per cent.”
This data presents the real face of the BJP. 348 instances of hate speech is a huge number, more than enough to grab the attention of the Indians to understand the divisive nature. Muslims have become a suspicious community in India due to the speeches given by the Islamophobes. The Muslims with beards, hijabs and skull caps are seen as ‘others’ who do not belong to India and are easy targets of Hindutva goons.
Once Narendra Modi openly said in an election rally that who do violence can be identified by their clothes. The same thing is reported in the Economic Times, “People who are setting fire (to property) can be seen on TV… They can be identified by the clothes they are wearing,”.
Every religion, place and culture has its own traditional values that they continue. The differences in traditional or cultural values cannot be the reason to discriminate. In reality, these differences make a place beautiful, which we should be proud of.
But the Islamophobes do not want the Muslims to be part of India and often tell them to go to Pakistan as if the Muslims are not loyal to India. And at the extreme, the preachers of Hindutva ideology call for genocide of the Muslims in India. One such genocidal call was given in the Dharm Sansad (Religious Parliament), held at Haridwar, between 17 – 19 December 2021, in which many Hindu religious leaders and Hindutva organisations participated.
Sadhvi Annapurna aka Pooja Shakun Pandey, general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha said, “Nothing is possible without weapons. If you want to eliminate their population, then kill them. Be ready to kill and be ready to go to jail. Even if 100 of us are ready to kill 20 lakhs of them (Muslims), then we will be victorious, and go to jail… Like [Nathuram] Godse, I am ready to be maligned, but I will pick up arms to defend my Hindutva from every demon who is a threat to my religion,”.
The Muslims of India have to live in this Islamophobic environment as long as the people of India do not find beauty in differences. The real work of the states, non-governmental organisations, and people is to work upon and follow these principles in order to make it possible for everyone to live life with freedom and dignity.
Abdur Rauf Reza is a postgraduate student at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi