MMuslims make up about 20% of India’s population. Living conditions in post-partition India have rarely been satisfactory for them. However, life has become excruciatingly painful for them under Narendra Modi. Every passing day brings more slingshots and arrows fired at them by Hindutva ideology.
In December 2021, some of the far-right Hindu leaders called for genocide against Muslims during a three-day Hindu Mahasabha religious summit in Haridwar, an Indian state in northern Uttarakhand. Pooja Shakun Pandey, senior member of the Mahasabha, a.k.a Annapurna Maa, said: “Even if a hundred of us become soldiers and kill two million, we will be victorious…only if you maintain this attitude will you be able to protect sanatana dharma (true faith). Pandey told a cheering crowd, “To protect Bharat Mata and Sanatana Dharma, you will have to become soldiers. Leave the books aside and pick up the weapons”. She warned that “we will fight a battle far more fearful than the battle of 1857”.
On January 1, 100 prominent Indian Muslim women were put on an auction app, Bulli Bai, “for sale as maids”. This was seen as a brazen move to sexualize, humiliate and silence socially prominent Muslim women.
In the recent past, the BJP government launched an eviction campaign against Muslims in Assam, after declaring them illegal settlers on public lands. Police shot at a protesting villager, Moinul Haque, then attacked him with batons. A photographer, identified as Bijoy Bania, stomped on what appeared to be the lifeless body.
There is no doubt that the unprecedented increase in the demonization of the Muslim minority in India under the Modi regime has the tacit approval of the BJP government. In 2018, Amit Shah, now home minister, called Bangladeshi immigrants and asylum seekers “termites” and promised that the BJP government would “pick up the ‘infiltrators’ one by one and would throw into the Bay of Bengal”. In 2019, India’s parliament passed a law allowing immigrants from three neighboring countries to qualify for citizenship as long as the applicants are not Muslim.
The Indian Prime Minister has also suggested in his public speeches that Indian Muslims must be held accountable and punished for the crimes allegedly committed by their ancestors. Several WhatsApp groups organized by the BJP point to the sins of former Muslim leaders as reason enough to punish the entire Muslim community.
Muslims are regularly prevented from praying in mosques. Far-right Hindu nationalists openly tell Muslims that they are no longer considered equal citizens in the country. Their eating habits and religious rituals are attacked, even criminalized. ‘Cow vigilantes’ killed dozens of Muslims for eating or slaughtering cows after Modi’s government banned the sale and slaughter of cows nationwide in 2017. Many of these killings have gone unpunished in because of the delay in the police investigation and the ruling party’s rhetoric. The politicians.
According to writer Ghazala Wahab, life for post-Partition Muslims in India has been reduced to “an irrelevant vote bank”. She says their insecurity in their ghettos is “perpetuated by illiteracy, poverty and unemployment”. The general backwardness of the community has resulted in “a loss of identity” among Muslims.
Since Hindutva is a rallying cry of far-right Hindus, it is worth exploring its broad outlines. Hindutva is an extreme form of Hindu nationalism in India. As a political ideology, it was first formulated in 1923 by Savarkar. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishva Hindu Parishad, BJP and some other political formations which champion the cause of Hindutva are collectively referred to as the Sangh Parivar.
Not all Hindus subscribe to Hindutva; many complain that Hindu supremacists try to equate it with Hinduism. Some Hindus see it as akin to European fascism in Nazi Germany, promoting a cult of personality and authoritarianism. Hinduism, they point out, is primarily about religious practices and beliefs.
The sheer toxicity of Annapurna Maa’s narrative in calling for genocide raises many questions about the Hindu Mahasabha she is affiliated with. Mahasabha is one of the oldest political parties in India. It was founded in 1907 at a time when differences between Muslims and Hindus were intensifying. The Hindu Mahasabha did not support British rule, but neither did he support the Indian freedom movement led by Gandhi.
Even today, some members of the Mahasabha revere Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse. The official Hindu Mahasabha website declares India the “National Home of Hindus”. If he came to power, he promises, he would force Indian Muslims to leave for Pakistan and reform the country’s education system to bring it into line with his version of Hinduism.
Previously, some Indian governments sought to promote harmony and religious pluralism. The BJP government, however, has unabashedly embraced an intolerant majority ideology. He dismisses the policies of previous governments as an unnecessary appeasement of Muslims and a threat to India’s Hindu identity.
Given that India has always prided itself on its pluralism, diversity, and democratic and secular credentials, a sudden shift in the state’s attitude towards the Muslim minority raises many troubling questions. Why did the Indian state point its guns at a minority? According to one view, the demonization of Muslims in India is an electoral strategy aimed at creating religious tensions and activating religious polarization to shore up the Hindu vote. There is a widespread perception that failure of governance has given rise to right-wing extremism.
Under the BJP government, the dispossession, demonization and demoralization of Muslims has been increasingly normalized. Most Indians thus began to take the anti-Muslim vitriol for granted. The press has also been complicit in eradicating democratic and syncretic norms once touted as the greatest strength of a diverse India.
One of the reasons the BJP gets away with human rights violations is that world opinion has not reacted to them. The developed world has chosen to refrain from condemning India for its crimes against religious minorities, as it is seen as an important strategic ally against China and an important trading partner.
A sobering lesson from the past is that when the international community remains silent in the face of violence against persecuted communities, it sets the stage for genocide. This is what happened in Rwanda and Cambodia. Gregory Stanton, professor of human rights and founder of Genocide Watch, believes it would be a mistake to dismiss hate speech in Haridwar as the opinion of a fringe element. He says that while India is unlikely to experience mass killings like Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan, the danger of mobs carrying out “genocidal massacres” in India is very real.
The Center for Genocide Prevention’s Early Warning Project at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, undertook a mass murder risk assessment in 162 countries. India ranked second in 2021-2022 in its report. The Early Warning Project analyzed reports of systematic discrimination against Muslims, internet banning and anti-dissident measures in Kashmir, as well as the “promotion of nationalist and exclusionary ideologies” and came to the conclusion that there was a 14% probability of massacres of Muslims starting in 2021 or 2022 in India.
Although the world, in general, and the OIC, in particular, have paid little heed to the plight of Muslims in India, Indian Muslims no longer take attacks on them by lying down. When 100 Muslim women were listed for sale on an auction app, they filed a series of FIRs and police were forced to arrest four suspects.
Many Muslim journalists and activists have recently documented the atrocities inflicted on Muslims in the form of video recordings. The authorities therefore find it difficult to ignore the hate crimes committed against Muslims. They are also trying to ensure that the call for genocide does not go unpunished. The OIC and world leaders also have a responsibility to take action to prevent a human catastrophe of epic proportions.
The author is Assistant Professor in Department of Economics, COMSATS University Islamabad, Lahore Campus