Earlier this year, when a group of Muslim school girls in the southern Indian State of Karnataka were barred from entering the classroom wearing the hijab, or headscarf, no one expected the issue to snowball into a series of hate campaigns against the Muslim community in the State, Anadolu News Agency reports.
In recent weeks, right-wing groups in the State have launched anti-Muslim campaigns, including the exclusion of Muslim traders from fairs near Hindu temples and a push to ban halal meat.
On the eve of the Hindu festival, Ram Navami, last week, members of an extreme right-wing group vandalised fruit carts belonging to Muslims in the State’s Dharwad area.
Rights activist, Brinda Adige, told Anadolu Agency that the increasing intolerance towards Muslims and, to a large extent Christians, has grown in the State over the last few years.
“There is a feeling that bigotry has become a way of life under the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka. While there is lip-service given to minorities’ protection, State agencies seem to find excuses not to follow through with the rule of law,” she said.
Noting that the State was grappling with a number of pressing concerns, like unemployment and rising fuel prices, Adige argued that the current focus on hijab or halal meat ban amounted to “diversion tactics.”
With the State gearing up for provincial elections early next year, many people believe that the ruling party is polarising the community in order to win the upcoming elections.
“They (the government) are trying to do it on the pattern of the State of Uttar Pradesh. The government thinks the only way to win the elections is polarisation,” Niyaz Farooqui, Secretary of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, India’s largest socio-religious Muslim organisation, told Anadolu Agency.
“We still believe that the majority of people, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, are not communal,” he added.
The Karnataka chapter of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind declared in a public statement on 26 March that “being Muslims, we should respect people of all religions and ensure no harm is meted out to anyone.”
Maulana Mohammed Maqsood Imran, a top Muslim cleric in the state, told Anadolu Agency that there was a “general feeling among the public that the incidents are related to the elections.”
“Actually, there are very few people who are responsible for it … but the silence of the government and even the anti-minority statements from legislators further encouraged these people,” he added.
If the government took tough measures against those responsible for tearing the social fabric, it would not happen, he asserted.
Effect on science capital
With the growing religious divide, some argue that the situation could hurt the State’s capital, globally known for numerous institutions relating to information technology, electronics and space.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, who heads Biocon, a leading biotechnology firm based in Karnataka’s capital, Bengaluru, recently urged the government to resolve the “growing religious divide.”
“Karnataka has always forged inclusive economic development, and we must not allow such communal exclusion,” she said on Twitter, adding that the communalisation of the information technology and biotechnology sectors would “destroy our global leadership.”
Sunil Kukreja, President of the Bengaluru-based Association for Information Technology – a group that represents 300 IT Hardware companies — told Anadolu Agency that these issues were related to “politics” and would not result in companies leaving the State.
“I don’t think there will be any impact on the IT hub or the industry. I don’t see any threat to Karnataka or Bengaluru, where new companies are investing.”
According to rights activist, Adige, the need of the hour is for people to live in harmony.
“It requires elected representatives, beginning with the Chief Ministers and other ministers, to speak the language of democracy and assure citizens that elected representatives will uphold people’s right to practice their faith, respect our choice to eat the food and wear the clothes we choose,” she said, adding that peace could be ensured only if “fringe elements are duly booked under the law.”
The ruling party, however, says they have nothing to do with what was happening on the ground.
“Neither the BJP government in Karnataka nor the BJP as a party can do anything about it,” spokesman Ganesh Karnik told Anadolu Agency.
Underlining that the government is capable of handling any law and order issue, Karnik also denied allegations that the incidents were linked to elections. Neither the BJP, nor the government has taken responsibility for any of these incidents, he said, adding: “We’ve had nothing to do with it.”
“There is absolute peace in Karnataka … there may be some political issues, but otherwise, there is peace in the State.”
This article first appeared on middleeastmonitor.com