‘Attack on a dream’: Muslims in fear as Indian democracy turns 75

New Delhi, India – As India celebrates 75 years of independence, the country’s Muslims and other minorities say they are under siege.

Ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2014, the South Asian nation has leaned to the right under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and has open and organized state patronage of a Hindu majority agenda that concerns Muslims.

Critics say that Hindu majoritarianism has become a de facto state policy under Modi, with Hindu supremacist groups pushing their demands to make the country a “Hindu Rashtra” or exclusive Hindu state.

Across the country, Muslims face overt and subtle discrimination from state and private institutions, as well as Hindu right-wing groups backed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Be it what Muslims wear, eat, their places of worship and their constitutional rights to practice and propagate their religion – all have been systematically attacked, banned, demolished or curtailed since Modi came to power in 2014.

For the first time in the history of India, the ruling party does not have a single Muslim MP.

If Hindu Rashtra means second class status to Muslims, then India is practically already one. Now it’s a question of making it official. Even if they don’t, there has been a change”, author and journalist Dhirendra K Jha told Al Jazeera.

Majority laws

Legislative decisions are equally indicative of the changing nature of the Indian state.

In 2018, the federal government passed a law banning “triple talaq,” a controversial but rare practice of divorce among Muslims. Several BJP-ruled states also passed so-called “love jihad” laws, which criminalized conversion through marriages.

The Modi government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019, which grants citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from neighboring countries. The passage of the law led to unprecedented protests and even religious violence in the national capital, including killings At least 53 people.

In the southern state of Karnataka, the BJP government banned the hijab in educational institutions. In 2021, in the northeastern state of Assam, the BJP government enacted legislation to abolish “madrasas,” or Muslim seminaries.

Last week, in Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, right-wing Hindu organizations released a 32-page draft of a “Hindu Rashtra” constitution that aims to deny voting rights to Muslims and Christians.

Activist Khaliq Khan told Al Jazeera that the “Hindu nation” being talked about could only be based on injustice and oppression, and that non-Hindus, especially Muslims, would be opposed. Khan is based in Faizabad, Ayodhya’s twin city – ground zero of the Hindu supremacist movement.

“The aim is to disempower and demoralize our community and reduce them to an awkward position in society,” Khan said.

Modi addressed the nation at the Independence Day celebrations at the Mughal-era Red Fort in New Delhi [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

The BJP gained prominence in the 1990s due to religious movements that polarized the country’s Hindus and Muslims, labeling the latter as “aggressors” and “outsiders”.

In 1992, the then BJP government of Uttar Pradesh in northern India allowed Hindu mobs to demolish the 16th-century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, because they believed it was the exact place where the Hindu god Rama was born. .

In November 2019, the Supreme Court of India ordered the construction of a Ram temple on the site, despite ruling that there was no evidence to prove that any such temple existed before the mosque. Muslims were given a plot of land 25 km (16 mi) away to build a mosque.

After six months in power, Modi laid the foundation stone of the temple in elaborate Hindu rituals, with state and private media broadcasting the ceremony live.

Three years later, construction of the new mosque has yet to begin as government approvals are bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.

With the end of British colonial rule in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was divided along religious lines: Hindu-majority India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan. The partition is believed to have killed nearly two million people on both sides of the hastily drawn border and displaced more than 15 million.

Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, India was born as a beacon of secularism: a democratic republic that would grant all its people equal freedom of belief, faith and worship.

A Hindu supremacist assassinated Gandhi in early 1948, four months after independence. Since then, Hindu nationalists blame him and Nehru’s Congress party for “the life of undivided India”.

The BJP is the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a secret far-right paramilitary organization founded in 1925 on the lines of European Nazism. The RSS aims to transform secular India into a uniquely Hindu state, and Modi counts among millions. its life members.

The RSS is the ideological parent of the BJP and dozens of other Hindu right-wing groups across the country and abroad. It believes in the idea of ​​”One Nation, One People, One Culture”.

“It is the need of the hour to realize our equality of being sons of the same soil, respect differences, put aside selfishness, avoid any discrimination and have a nation first approach in every context,” RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had written in his organisation’s mouthpiece last week. .

But Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the RSS ideologue from the early 20th century, was more forward-looking in his views on Muslims in India.

“For Hindustan anyway [Persian name for India] for them [Muslims] For other Hindus there is a fatherland, yet it is not a holy land for them. Their holy land is far away in Arabia or Palestine,” he wrote in his book ‘Essentials of Hinduism’.

Hindutva refers to the Hindu supremacist movement led by the RSS.

“Their mythology and godmen, ideas and heroes are not children of the soil. As a result, their names and their approach are of foreign origin. Their love is divided,” wrote Savarkar.

Al Jazeera contacted an RSS spokesperson for his comments but he declined to speak.

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‘Attack on the Dream’

In Modi’s India, accusations of extraterritorial allegiance to Muslims have been revived as a dire and daily ordeal for the community, leading to calls for their economic and social boycott.

For the past 75 years, Indians have celebrated August 15 by flying kites – a subtle metaphor for gaining independence from British rule.

The BJP this year launched the “Har Ghar Tiranga” (Every House Tricolor) campaign to hoist the national flag on every building in the country.

“We believe that anyone who does not participate in the Har Ghar Tricolor program is essentially against the country and a puppet of those who want to break India. They should be held accountable,” Sharad Sharma, a spokesman for the far-right Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), told Al Jazeera.

“No one should panic. In fact those who are scared are probably under the influence of Pakistan and Rome. I don’t think there is fear in India.”

But Muslim poet and educationist Sabika Abbas Naqvi said Muslims have reason to fear.

There is fear in the idea of ​​a Hindu nation. It feels like an attack on the dream we built together,” she told Al Jazeera.

“As a Muslim woman today, I feel our identity is under threat. This new India is being built on our dying bodies and on the rubble of our lives and our dreams. We fear that we will be excluded from a nation that has constitutionally guaranteed our belonging.”

Recently, Modi unveiled an aggressive version of India’s national emblem, with lions atop the Parliament building – part of the Hindu leader’s pet project in central New Delhi. This design is a departure from the original whose lion faces were confident and placed more emphasis on the wheel of dharma (duty in Sanskrit), which is also present in the national flag.

Film director Saeed Mirza told Al Jazeera, “For the most part, at the moment, visions of caste-based distinctions and Brahmin supremacy have been masked by the superficial influence of a facade of Hindu nationalism.”

In the transformation of the national symbol, many Indians see a reflection of the country’s shift from pluralism and tolerance to a pluralism fueled by anger and hatred.

“Muslims in India, though not a united community, are united by discrimination and persecution. Everywhere, their first concern is security of life and livelihood, of which the poorest are the most vulnerable,” Tanveer Fazal, professor of sociology at the University of Hyderabad, told Al Jazeera.

“Unless Indians themselves overcome religious polarization and communal politics, the community will remain under siege for the foreseeable future.”



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