By Akhlad Khan for Hindutva Watch

Muslims have increasingly become pilloried, equivalent of all kinds of troubles. Not only are they seen as a economic hardship and blamed for crime, violence, and fundamentalism, but also they personify a challenge to the thatcherite state and the values associated with it. Islamophobia in India works to sanction violence, vanquish, and menace Muslims as a threat to the country, in several different registers — Indian Muslims as suspect citizens; Kashmiri Muslims as terrorist Muslims; Muslim refugees such as Rohingyas as “invasive pests” and the collective neighboring Muslim nation-state of Pakistan as an existential enemy. In 2002, under the chief ministership of Modi, the western Indian state of Gujarat witnessed horrific anti-Muslim genocide. By 2014, the Hindu nationalists of the 1990s gave way to Modi-led BJP and its own galaxy of extremist politicians who had no demur in openly professing to explicit anti-minority opinions, especially when it came to Muslims. In 2019, Modi-led BJP won a majority for the second time in Loksabha elections that was marked by a widespread anti-Muslim sentiment. The rest of the world has overwhelmingly stayed silent when it comes to the radical religious transformation in India, presumably since it is a “rising power,” “democracy” and “market,” writes Dr Nitasha Kaul a Novelist.

A series of political developments over the past year has focused attention in India and abroad on the rising influence of right-wing Hindu nationalists in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and on BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is sympathetic to their cause. These developments include the passage of amendments to the national citizenship law that are seen to discriminate against Muslims; the removal of autonomy provisions granted in the 1950s to Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state (aside
from the tiny Lakshadweep islands); vigilante attacks on Muslims selling or consuming beef, which is banned in most of India; and the enforcement of regulations that make marriages between Hindus and Muslims difficult. Hindus constitute about 80% of India’s population and Muslims 15%, although more Muslims live in India – about 200 million – than in any other country except Indonesia and Pakistan. The rise of Hindu majoritarian politics and the government’s willingness to trample Muslim-minority interests has cast a shadow on India’s reputation as a liberal, secular democracy.

Hinduism is the name given to the most ancient and persistent religion on the Indian subcontinent, and Hindutva is the name by which the ideology of the Hindu right, represented by the political party Bharatiya Janata Party, or Indian People’s Party (BJP), is known. It is also the ideology of the cultural body known as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Core (RSS), which was founded in 1925 and with which the BJP has strong links.

The BJP advocated Hindutva, an ideology that sought to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values, and it was highly critical of the secular policies and practices of the Indian National Congress (Congress Party). The BJP began to have electoral success in 1989, when it capitalized on anti-Muslim feeling by calling for the erection of a Hindu temple in an area in Ayodhya considered sacred by Hindus but at that time Babri Masjid (Mosque of Babur) stood up there. By 1991 the BJP had considerably increased its political appeal, capturing 117 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower chamber of the Indian parliament) and taking power in four states.

(The contrast is telling. The 7 December, 1992, edition of Times of India screamed: ‘KAR SEVAKS DESTROY BABRI MASJID.’ It was accompanied by an editorial titled ‘The Republic Besmirched,’ which clearly indicated that the newspaper had taken a stand against the demolition ― for which some BJP leaders are still facing trial). Other headlines were also similar.)

The demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 by Karsevaks seen to be associated with the BJP caused a major backlash against the party. The mosque’s destruction also led to violence throughout the country that left more than 1,000 dead. The party was regarded with skepticism and suspicion by many committed to secularism in contemporary India.

To alleviate fear among the public, restore confidence in the party, and expand its base, the BJP’s leaders undertook a series of rath yatras (“journeys on the carriage”), or political marches, in which the Hindu god Rama was symbolically invoked as the symbol of cultural renaissance. In 1990, the BJP leader, L. K. Advani, began a mass movement to destroy the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and replace it with a temple for one of the Hindu gods, Ram. The movement started as a mobile rally from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. This Ram Rath Yatra, a chariot journey, captured the imagination of the nation and the tropes used during the rally became embedded in Indian culture and radicalized the population. The tropes essentially projected Muslims as foreign invaders and the resolve to demolish the Babri Mosque became the rallying cry for Hindu nationalism. The mosque was ultimately razed on 6 December 1992. This was allowed to happen while India was still governed by political parties that were supposedly secular and inclusive. The point of highlighting this epic act of religious vandalism is to underscore the fact that even before Hindu nationalists came to power in 2014, India’s political environment and culture, despite its secular constitution, had become Islamophobic and infused with Hindutva ideology.

Ever since the rise of the BJP on the Indian political scene from 1990 onward, and its successes in national elections in India in 2014 and 2019, the question of the relationship between Hinduism as a religion and Hindutva as a political ideology has come to the fore, because the word “Hindu” is common to both.

After the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata party, the possibility of India becoming a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state) has become real. There has been a plethora of scholarship since devoted to the rise of Hindu nationalism. Muslims, who are about 200 million of India’s population (15%), constitute the biggest barrier to the Hinduization of India, and hence any and every study of Hindu nationalism inevitably explores the status of Indian Muslims and their future.

Moreover, because India was ruled by Muslim emperors and Sultans for over a millennium, RSS ideology in seeking to revive Hindu heritage and culture projects Islam and Muslims as a “foreign other” both hostile and inimical to the Hindu essence (Hindutva) of India. There is an ongoing battle for the soul of India to determine whether
it remains a secular, democratic, and pluralistic state or becomes a Hindu majoritarian autocracy. These political trends and tensions have spawned a vast genre of literature that deals with the Hindu history of India, the Muslim history of India, and with the ideas and ideology of Hindu nationalism. In 2006, the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India published the Sachar Committee Report (2006) that put to rest the claims that Muslims were a pampered minority and exposed the extent of economic and educational backwardness of Indian Muslims. The Sachar Committee report also reignited the debate about the structural discrimination against Muslims and the erasure of their culture and values.

The literature suggests that the BJP adopted monetarist economic ideas to promote their Hindutva project. The majoritarian ideology
of the party and thatcherite policies both functioned simultaneously, enabling the party to gain power. The literature on the electoral success of BJP records how, after gaining power, it normalized bigotry and violence against the Muslim minority by encouraging and even protecting Hindu extremists and vigilantes who indulge in violence against Muslims. The BJP makes India more Islamophobic with its Hindu nationalist agenda. It considered Muslims as “the other” of Indian society and uses a narrative that paints Muslims as a security threat to the country.

Some of the controversial actions taken by the BJP government include supporting cow vigilantism, stripping the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a lockdown on Jammu and Kashmir, imposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), introducing the National Register of Citizen (NRC), adopting anti-conversion laws, and promoting a Hindu temple on the land where the Babri Mosque stood until it was destroyed by Hindu extremists. These policies have caused Muslims to experience alienation in society and discrimination in the private and government job sectors.

Article 25 of the Indian constitution gives its citizens the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate their religion. This is a constitutional right of Muslims. They should be able to say they are Muslims, fast, pray, celebrate their festivals, and promote and propagate their faith (in other words, exercise Da’wah). However, the political reality is far from this. In many states that are governed by Hindu nationalists, laws have been passed which prohibit religious conversion, unless it is to Hinduism, and also prohibit marriages that involve religious conversions. These laws are notorious as “Love Jihad” laws, because they are premised on a bigoted and false assumption that Muslims are waging Jihad against Hindus by converting Hindu women to Islam by marrying them. These laws that are now being hoisted by Hindu nationalists are the tip of the iceberg and reflect the widening chasm between secularism and religious freedom that is enshrined in the Indian constitution.

In the wake of the electoral victories indicating that Hindutva is on
the rise with BJP receiving 31% of the national vote, the harassment of religious minorities and lower-caste Hindus increased. Hindu gangs associated with and protected by both police and politicians in BJP-ruled states began targeting Muslims. Riots that unleash organized violence, public beatings by thugs while cops watch, and destruction of Muslim property, both residential and business, are now routine. The most egregious form of harassment has been mob lynching of Muslims accused of slaughtering cows, eating beef, and even in trafficking beef by vigilantes called Gau Rakshak Dals or Cow Protector Gangs. Allahabad is an important city in Central India, named by Mughal Emperor Akbar nearly 425 years ago. This prominent 16th century city has now been renamed Prayagraj and the Faizabad district was renamed Ayodhya. This process of renaming iconic cities and places which have had Muslim names for centuries to Hindu names has now become a key strategy for erasing Muslim heritage and India’s Islamic past.

In November 2019, the Supreme Court of India finally delivered its verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Temple dispute. While acknowledging that the mosque was illegally vandalized by Hindu extremists, it privileged religious beliefs over facts and granted the land to the government to institute a commission that would construct a temple to Ram at the spot. The court also directed the government to provide Muslims with land at an alternate location in the city of Ayodhya to build a mosque. The Indian Supreme Court basically succumbed to the pressures from the Hindutva forces. However, in the process, it also dealt a huge blow to the legitimacy and political independence of the Indian judiciary. Muslim minorities now fear that the Indian courts would rather rule according to Hindu mythology than historical and legal facts.

Indian Muslims have been subject to widespread prejudice and violence. The phenomenon of lynching minorities, and especially Muslims, became truly mainstream in recent years (cases such as Akhlaq or Pehlu Khan have come to be known after the names of their victims). In March a14-year-old boy brutally assaulted for entering temple to drink water in Ghaziabad. On May 16, Asif Khan, a resident of Khera Khalilpur village in Nuh district of Haryana, was murdered. He was attacked by a group of men while on his way home. Several Mahapanchayats Held to Support Those Arrested for ‘Lynching’ Asif. At the largest mahapanchayat, in Indri village, about 50,000 people were reportedly present despite the ongoing lockdown in the state. On June 7 2021, Masjid Imam Nasir Mohammad was brutally beaten by a group of Mob inside the masjid in Rampur Majra village, Dankaur, Greater Noida. There is a predictable pattern in these cases – organized right-wing Hindu hoodlums gather and kill Indian Muslims and the court cases against the vilipenders come to nothing as the suspects are vindicated on specious grounds.

Muslims have been subject to violence if they refuse to chant Hindu slogans such as “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail to Ram, the Hindu God) in order to prove their nationalism. On the very day that Narendra Modi was elected in 2014, a Hindu mob killed a Muslim man in Pune because of his skull cap (a Muslim symbol). When India is imagined as a Hindu Rashtra (Nation if Hindus), Muslims are represented as foreign to that body and hence deserving to be domesticated at best, and expelled or massacred at worst. The ideology of violent patriotism has captured the state and has conspicuous support amongst the public.

In February 2020, the capital city Delhi saw targeted pogrom against Muslims, particularly those that have voted against the ruling Modi-led BJP in state elections. BJP leaders had used the slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” (translated loosely as: “these traitors to the nation, shoot those bastards”). A riot in which more than 50 people were killed and over 200 injured comprised mostly of Muslims, at a location which was occupied by the anti-CAA protesters (assuming to be occupied by Muslims) and yet majority of FIR’s have only been registered against Muslims.

On September 23, two Muslim men in Mathura, a temple town in Uttar Pradesh, were badly beaten up for carrying meat. Earlier this month, the government decided to make a large part of the city alcohol- and meat-free.

There are several reports that the rioters were supported by the
police. There are videos which showcases that the pro-CAA supporters alongwith the Delhi Police pelted stones at the anti-CAA group.
There are also videos which shows that two boys were hit by pro-CAA supporters until one died amidst police presence. And yet the Muslims were projected as the perpetrators of this dastardly riot (which is rather pogrom) which majorly claimed Muslim lives.

Sharjeel Imam, an activist, has been booked under several cases
for allegedly delivering inflammatory speeches against Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). A
case of sedition has been lodged against him, following his speech at Aligarh Muslim University and other places. He was arrested from his hometown Jehanabad in Bihar on January 28’2020. Shahrukh Pathan, a boy with No Criminal Record arrested on March 3’2020 for defending women protesters at Jafrabad area of Northeast Delhi for he snatched a Pistol from a rioter and fired in Air and dispersed the violent goons attacking the women amidst the violence in the National Capital. In September 2020, Umar Khalid, a secular left-wing student leader who is Muslim, was arrested on highly contested charges of orchestrating Hindu-Muslims riots last February in Delhi, where most victims were Muslims. Jamia Coordination Committee members Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider, Jamia students Asif Iqbal Tanha, Gulfisha Khatoon, Jamia Alumni Association President Shifa-Ur-Rehman, JNU student Natasha Narwal and activist Khalid Saifi have previously been arrested by the Delhi Police and charged under the draconian UAPA act. Ishrat Jahan a practicing advocate and former Indian National Congress municipal councillor in Delhi has been accused under the Unlawful Activities Act. Incarcerated for more than 650 days.

In Indore city of Madhya Pradesh state, also governed by the BJP, a Muslim bangle-seller, Tasleem Ali, was beaten up because he was selling his wares in a “Hindu locality” allegedly under an assumed Hindu name. Within a week or so, in Ujjain city in the same state, a Muslim scrap dealer was forced to shout “Jai Shri Ram” (Victory be to Lord Ram), a war cry used by Hindu supremacist groups.

Similar incidents were reported in Uttar Pradesh as well in the same month. The owner of a horse carriage in Lucknow was forced to chant “Death to Pakistan” on the basis of a fake claim that he had hoisted a Pakistani flag on his carriage.

Then again, in Mathura, a Muslim eatery owner was forced to change its name from “Shrinath Dosa” to “American Dosa Corner” because right-wing groups objected to him using the name of a Hindu god.

All these incidents were recorded in a series of disturbing videos that went viral. The common thread in the videos is that they showcase Muslim vendors and small traders being assaulted because of their religious identity.

Also, the assaulters in all such cases are alleged members of Hindu right-wing groups, who feel emboldened under Modi’s government and exercise significant impunity.

Such incidents are being seen as part of a larger attack on the livelihoods of Muslims, many of whom are self-employed or are engaged in low-paying jobs.

Indian Muslim player Mohammed Shami was the target of a bigoted attack on social media and several students from Kashmir were assaulted after India lost to Pakistan in a cricket match, raising concerns about growing Islamophobia in the country. They also tagged the player in tweets asking him and his family to “go to Pakistan” — a common refrain used by Hindu extremists against Indian Muslims, accusing them of disloyalty towards their homeland. Amid a rise in Hindu nationalism, Muslims — a minority group in India — are routinely accused of supporting Pakistan and targeted for their religion.

While alleged right-wing trolls unleashed their hatred on social media, several students from Kashmir were assaulted by other Indian students at an engineering college in Punjab. Police officials arrived at the campus of Bhai Gurdas Institute of Engineering and Technology after videos of the incident started making rounds on social media.

Several Durga Puja pandals and temples in Bangladesh were vandalised on October 15 after social media posts showing a copy of the Quran placed at the feet of an idol went viral. In the weeks that followed, more communal violence and attacks on the members of the Hindu minority were reported in different parts of the country. To protest against these incidents, rallies were taken out by religious organisations allegedly Vishva Hindu Parishad, Hindu Jagran Manch and Bajrangdal in Tripura, some of which ended in clashes with the police and vandalism of houses, shops and shrines belonging to the minority Muslim community.

On October 26, activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had allegedly vandalised a mosque and shops and houses belonging to Muslims in North Tripura district’s Panisagar sub-division, during a protest against the communal violence in Bangladesh.

But the police claimed that no mosque had been damaged in the district. They said that photos on social media showing the mosque burning were fake.

Supreme Court Advocate Ehtesham Hashmi & Lawyers of Democracy visits Tripura to probe the violence that took place targetting Muslims, the team met the aggrieved parties & gathered facts. Team alleges that the incident happens to furtherance the political interest of BJP. Their Probe reveals that the protests were held at 51 places in Tripura over incidents of attacks on Hindu minorities in Bangladesh. Violence started over the demonstrations, properties were burnt and a huge panic situation was created targetting particularly Muslims.

Earlier this month, the Tripura police booked 102 Twitter handles for posts about communal violence in the state. Many of these charges were under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, an anti-terror law. It was clearly an act of intimidation, designed to send a message: you dare not say what we do not want the world to know.

The police claimed that it booked the social media handles because it wanted to stop the spread of rumours that could be a threat to peace. No one can dispute that dangerous rumours need to be stopped. But the Tripura police’s action suggests it did not just want to stop rumours – it wanted to cover up the violence.

Strangely enough, people outside Tripura remained blissfully unaware of the extent of the violence. A section of the national media expressed disquiet over the incidents. The Assamese media also appeared uninterested in what was happening in the neighbouring state. It was only after the violence reached its peak that the Tripura High Court took cognisance of it and asked the state government to submit a report on the matter.

The Tripura police now treats any attempt to document the violence as an attempt to defame the government and a design to create enmity between religious groups. Supreme Court lawyers who were part of a fact finding team in Tripura were sent notices under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The lawyers had described large-scale violence and administrative failures – how does that generate hatred between religious groups  ?Advocates Mukesh and Ansarul Haq Ansar and journalists had petitioned the court to quash the FIR lodged against them and for protection from arrest.

They said the State of Tripura was “monopolising the flow of information and facts emanating from the affected areas by invoking the UAPA against members of civil society, including advocates and journalists, who have made the effort to bring facts in relation to the targeted violence in the public domain”.

In yet another case of alleged custodial death in Uttar Pradesh, a Muslim youth arrested by the state police on suspicion of eloping with a Hindu woman allegedly died in the Sadar police station in Kasganj district on November 8.

22-year-old Altaf was brought in for questioning by the UP police in connection with the disappearance of a minor Hindu girl. Photo: Twitter/KhaledBeydoun.

The family of the deceased — identified as Altaf (22), from Nagla Syed Ahroli of Kasganj — has alleged that he was tortured by police in
the lockup, which led to his death. Police, however, claimed that the accused killed himself using the drawstring of his jacket’s hood when he went to the lockup washroom.

Four days after the death of 22-year-old Altaf in police custody, Police registered an FIR against unidentified policemen under murder charges. The FIR lodged on the complaint of the victim’s father Chand Miyan said the police picked up his son for questioning on Monday at around 8 p.m. when he was eating dinner.

“I followed him to the police chowki but I was sent back. The next day, we were told that Altaf has ended his life by hanging himself in the washroom of Sadar police station. It is not possible for a 5 feet tall boy to hang from a two feet high water tap. My son had been murdered according to a conspiracy in the police station,” said Mr Chand in the FIR.

A letter had gone viral on social media as the news broke out, stating that Altaf was depressed and that the family did not have
any complaints with the police. At the bottom of the letter was the signature of Altaf’s father Chahat Chand Miya. Mohd Shakir, a relative of Altaf ‘s, wrote this letter on Miya’s behalf since he cannot write. As the letter removed any accountability of the police, The Wire journalist spoke to Shakir who wrote it.

“We were under pressure, I was not sure of what I was doing or of what was asked of me. Within an hour of Altaf’s death, we were summoned to the police station by a mediator, Dr Farookh, and a police officer whose name and designation I did not see had asked me to write this letter. As I wrote those words, my heart and my conscience were not in sync, but I felt like I had no choice.”

He further said he was pressurised by officials to apply a thumb impression on a letter which he was later told absolved the police of the responsibility of the death of his son in the police station.

Discrepancies have emerged in the police version from the first day. Now it has appeared that the FIR against Altaf was lodged at 4 p.m., at least an hour after he passed away. The post mortem report says that the autopsy started at 11 p.m. and that “rigor mortis was present all over the body.”