The Religious Transformative Odyssey of Bharat (Part 3): Islamophobia against the Muslim Minority in India
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 30 Oct 2023
“The rise of Hindu nationalism in India is analogous to Apartheid nationalism in pre-1994 South Africa and Zionist nationalism in Israel for over 75 years.” 
This paper, Part 3, in the series on India and its religio- socio-political transformation, from the largest democracy, globally, to a Hindu nationalistic state. It further unpacks, how the government has metamorphosed, progressively to discriminate and harass the minority, Muslim population of 2 million, compared with the total of 1.3 billion people, in India. The systematic erosion of human rights is executed under the ruling Hindutva party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by the Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi. Especially during his second term in office, presently vying for a win in 2024, general elections.
The Focal Point of Islam in the Indian Peninsula: Mosques–The Jama Masjid in Delhi
As a background it is relevant to begin in the 17th century, when the Jama Masjid was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and highlight the key historical facts about this iconic Islamic congregational worship place, in Delhi, the capital of India. The mosque has two names. The older one, bestowed by Shah Jahan, is Masjid-i-Jehān-Numā, interpreted as “mosque that reflects the whole world”, probably an allusion to the Jām-e-Jehān Numā. The other more common one is Jāmā Masjid (Urdu: جامع مسجد, from the Arabic meaning “congregational mosque”), which emerged among the common populace. The term ‘Jama Masjid’ is not unique to this mosque; since the 7th century, it has been used to denote the community mosque or Friday mosque, and hence many around the world bear this name and variants of it. It was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656, and inaugurated by its first Imam, Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari. The Jama Masjid was regarded as a symbolic gesture of Islamic power across India, well into the colonial era. It was also a site of political significance during several key periods of British Raj. It remains in active use, and is one of Delhi’s most iconic sites, closely identified with the ethos of Old Delhi.
The Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque) was built in the 17th century by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who also constructed the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. The Islamic place of congregational worship, this mosque is considered India’s largest and best-known mosque with a capacity for 25,000 worshippers. The mosque’s architecture is classic Mughal style combining red sandstone and white marble. It has three great gates, four towers, and two minarets standing 130 feet high. Construction began in 1650 AD under the supervision of Shah Jahan’s wazir Saadullah Khan and took six years to complete. The southern gate was named Akabri Darwaza to commemorate Akbar who founded the Mughal Empire. The eastern gate was earlier called the Golden Gate. It is centrally located in Old Delhi next to the famous Red Fort. The mosque is also known as Masjid-i-Jahan Numa meaning ‘mosque commanding view of the world’. The mosque has remained a place of primary worship for Muslims in Delhi since its construction. Its religious leadership played key roles in political life over the centuries. During the colonial period, the mosque was briefly occupied by the British following the 1857 War of Independence on grounds that weapons were stored there. Prominent Islamic preachers and scholars like Shah Waliullah and Syed Ahmed Barelvi have been imams associated with the Jama Masjid through history. The mosque complex houses several relics like hair from Prophet Muhammad’s beard and a copy of the Quran written by his son-in-law Hazrat Ali. In 2009, the mosque opened its southern gate for the first time in over 450 years to ease crowds on Fridays. In 2021, it received UNESCO heritage status. In summary, the Jumma Masjid is a living emblem of Delhi’s Islamic heritage and continues to be an important worship site for Muslims since the 17th century Mughal era. There do not appear to be any major terrorist attacks, from a security perspective, that have directly targeted the Jumma Masjid mosque in Delhi. However, there have been some incidents of tensions related to the mosque over its history: In 2006, a shooting took place outside the mosque over a property dispute, resulting in 1 death. In 2020, the mosque was briefly shut down and some protesters detained over congregation restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mosque has seen protests and demands from some Hindu activist groups to reclaim its premises for an ancient temple. However, mainstream politicians have not pursued these legally or politically. Security is always enhanced in the areas around the mosque during occasions like Eid prayers and Fridays to prevent any mischief by troublemakers. During the 2020 Delhi riots, some shops adjoining the mosque were vandalised and burnt but the mosque itself was not attacked or damaged. Currently, the Jama Masjid continues to function regularly for daily prayers and Friday congregations without any major threat to its premises. Its administration works closely with police and government authorities to ensure proper arrangements for major religious events. In summary, while there have been minor tensions historically, no major terrorist attack or assault specifically targeting the Jama Masjid has been reported to date. The mosque remains protected as an important heritage site. However, security protocols remain in place as needed to maintain peace.
The History and Impact of Islam in the Indian Peninsula
Islam has had a significant cultural, architectural, and political impact in India since Muslim rule first began in the early 8th century CE: The Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526 CE) and Mughal Empire (1526-1857 CE) led to the spread of Islam in North India. Many Hindus converted, adding to the Muslim population. Urdu, an Indo-Aryan language written in Persio-Arabic script, developed as a linguistic blend. Islamic architecture flourished under the sultanates and Mughals. World-renowned examples include the Qutub Minar complex built in Delhi in the 12th century, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, and the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, is considered the greatest architectural achievement of Indo-Islamic architecture. Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, gained followers in medieval India. Sufi shrines and dargahs became sites syncretic worship for both Muslims and Hindus. The teachings of famous Sufi saints like Moinuddin Chishti promoted harmony between different faiths. Muslim rulers were great patrons of the arts, music, cuisine and literature. Hindustani classical music synthesized Persian and Indian elements. Urdu poetry and prose reached heights under writers like Ghalib. Parsi theatre developed in Mumbai. Indo-Islamic cuisine blurred religious and regional divides. Muslim merchants and traders contributed to commerce and the economy through agriculture, manufacturing of silk/cotton textiles, and controlling ports. India was integrated into global trade networks like the Silk Road. Islam influenced caste hierarchy and gender relations in complex ways. Some low-caste Hindus converted to escape caste oppression. Sufis challenged orthodoxy and allowed women to participate. But Muslim dynasties were also marked by conflict between Sunni and Shia factions. After the decline of the Mughals, regional Muslim cultures developed in princely states like Hyderabad. They made their own contributions to art and architecture. The Muslim community birthed political leaders who fought for Indian independence from the British like Maulana Azad. Muslims also led progressive reform movements like Deobandism. Islam and Muslim communities have significantly shaped Indian civilization and heritage in multifaceted ways over centuries, despite periodic conflict and tensions with the Hindu majority population. Islamic influences remain visible in India’s cosmopolitan culture even today.
Reports of Intercommunal violence between Minority Muslims and followers of the Hindu BJP Coalitions in India.
In recent times comprehensive data on specific incidents of murders of Islamic preachers or destruction of mosques in India are not easily available in view of restriction on the free speech and Freedom of Press. However, here are a few notable cases that have been reported in the media:
In 2017: Afrazul Khan, a Muslim labourer from West Bengal, was hacked and burnt to death in Rajasthan by Shambhu Lal Raigar, who circulated videos of the attack. Raigar claimed it was to stop Khan from engaging “love jihad”. In 2018: Two Hindutva activists murdered Farooq Madani, an Islamic preacher, in Tamil Nadu. They accused him of converting Hindus. In 2021: Umesh Kolhe, a pharmacist in Maharashtra, was stabbed to death after supporting former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comments on Prophet Muhammad that were deemed offensive. 2022: Kanhaiya Lal, a Hindu tailor, was beheaded in Udaipur by two Muslim men claiming retaliation for an alleged insult to Prophet Muhammad. In1992: The 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was demolished by Hindu kar sevaks claiming it was built on the birthplace of Lord Ram. This led to nationwide riots. In 2020-2021: Mosques in New Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were set on fire or vandalized amid protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act. However, there is no systematic data available on the frequency or comprehensive details of such cases across India. Factors like inter-religious love affairs, conversion efforts, or offensive social media posts have triggered some isolated violent incidents. But broader socio-political tensions have also played a role in recent years.
On 24th February 2020, Al Jazeera News Network reported that at least three civilians and a police officer have been killed in violence in the Indian capital, New Delhi, on the day US President Donald Trump kicked off his two-day trip. Indian police used tear gas and smoke grenades to disperse the crowd as violence broke out after supporters of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) attacked anti-CAA protest sit-ins. Hundreds of people supporting the new law on Sunday attacked anti-CAA protest sites, resulting in stone-pelting from both sides. An official at Delhi’s GTB Hospital said more than 35 people were injured in the clashes. New Delhi has been a hotbed of non-violent protests against the controversial new citizenship law and protesters have been camping out continuously in several parts of the capital for the last two months. The latest round of violence broke out just as Trump began his maiden visit to India, addressing a mega rally in Gujarat, in February 2020.
The Discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the Indian Legislature
This Act, passed by the Indian Parliament in 2019 has been one of the most controversial and overtly discriminatory legislations enacted by the ruling BJP government, Under the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his aim to create a totally Hindutva India. The primarily aim is to consolidate his position as the leader of the BJP, as a propagator of Hindu nationalistic fervour and garner electoral votes. In fact all his strategies have been formulated to this specific end, which appeals to the radicalised, Hindu nationalistic majority, in India. The Act provides a special path to Indian citizenship for immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but excludes Muslims from its purview.
Background to CAA
The CAA amended India’s decades-old citizenship law, the Citizenship Act of 1955. Previously, the law prohibited illegal immigrants from becoming Indian citizens, regardless of their religion or country of origin. The CAA creates exemptions for specific non-Muslim groups – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who arrived in India illegally prior to 2015.
The CAA allows the listed non-Muslim groups to apply for Indian citizenship by naturalisation after 5 years of residency instead of the existing requirement of 11 years. The Act does not grant automatic citizenship but fast-tracks naturalisation for these immigrants who fled religious persecution from the 3 neighbouring Muslim-majority countries. However, it does not provide the same concession for persecuted Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmadiyas from these countries. The cut-off date for eligibility is December 31, 2014. The CAA also relaxes requirements related to proof of documents and state residency permits if applicants can establish religious persecution and illegal entry before the deadline.
The BJP Government’s Justification
Home Minister Amit Shah argued the CAA upholds India’s humanitarian obligation towards non-Muslim refugees fleeing religious intolerance in neighbouring countries. The BJP stated that Muslims cannot be treated as persecuted minorities in Islamic states. It claimed the CAA does not impact the citizenship status of any Indian Muslim nor undermines constitutional principles of secularism.
Opposition and Critiques
Critics have argued that by making religion a criterion for citizenship, the CAA violates India’s secular foundations. It is seen as discriminating against Muslim immigrants and keeping open the possibility of their future expulsion by branding them as ‘illegal infiltrators’. Many legal experts, opposition parties, civil society groups and students highlighted the following concerns:
The CAA goes against Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution that guarantee equality before the law and prohibit discrimination on religious grounds for citizenship. It arbitrarily excludes persecuted Muslim sects and atheists who also need protection. When combined with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), it could strip millions of Indian Muslims, especially the poor and marginalized, of citizenship rights and disenfranchise them. It contradicts the inclusive, pluralistic tenets of Indian citizenship enshrined in the Constitution.
The government has not adequately addressed concerns over data privacy issues and implementation challenges regarding CAA. Widespread protests broke out across India soon after the CAA’s enactment. Opponents saw it as advancing the BJP’s Hindu majoritarian agenda. However, the government did not repeal the law despite criticism and it was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in December 2022. The CAA remains a deeply polarising and contested legislation in contemporary India. Analysing the CAA in a nuanced manner is important, as it has significant implications for the Indian society and governance.
The Impact of the CAA on Muslim Minority in India, in the Present-Day Context
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is seen by many critics and members of the Muslim community in India as directly targeting and marginalising Muslims in the 21st century. By excluding Muslims from expedited citizenship, the CAA establishes a religious test for immigrants contrary to India’s secular constitution. This is perceived as discriminatory. It has stoked fears that the CAA coupled with a nationwide NRC could be used to harass Indian Muslims and take away their citizenship rights. Critics argue the CAA violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees equality before law for all persons, regardless of religion. The CAA is considered to be reflective of the BJP government’s broader anti-Muslim agenda, as evidenced by the Babri Masjid controversy, 2002 Gujarat riots, beef ban, Triple Talaq law etc. It has led to protests by Muslims across India who argue the CAA erodes their status as equal Indian citizens and makes religion an exclusionary factor. There are concerns that the CAA could be used for large scale detention of Muslims unable to provide documents for the NRC, similar to what happened in Assam. The exclusion of persecuted Muslim sects like Ahmadiyas and Shias from Pakistan under the CAA is viewed by many as hypocritical and discriminatory. Muslim activists and opposition groups argue the CAA violates principles of secularism, pluralism and vasudhaiva kutumbakam (world as one family) that are India’s ethos. This has led to a sense of alienation, insecurity and vulnerability among the Muslim community who see themselves being increasingly marginalized under BJP rule. While the BJP maintains the CAA is not against Indian Muslims, many in the Muslim minority see the legislation as deeply discriminatory and antithetical to their place in the Indian democracy.
It is also pertinent to discuss another piece of discriminative legislation, which is the National Register of Citizens in India. A detailed overview of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India and perspectives on whether it discriminates against the Muslim minority:
What is the NRC?
The NRC is a proposed register of all Indian citizens that will identify illegal immigrants residing in India. It will involve a massive verification process requiring every individual to provide documented proof of citizenship.
Implementation in Assam
A pilot NRC was implemented in the state of Assam from 2015-2019. Out of 3.3 crore applicants, around 19 lakh people, both Hindus and Muslims, were excluded from the final NRC list published in 2019 due to lack of sufficient documents, putting their citizenship status in limbo.
Nationwide NRC Proposal
In 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah declared plans to implement the NRC across India. The stated goal is to identify and root out infiltrators. However, the proposal has raised apprehensions among many Indians, especially Muslims.
Concerns over Discrimination
Critics argue that the NRC, when linked to the CAA, targets poor Muslims unable to produce legacy documents:
Those excluded from NRC may get declared illegal immigrants without citizenship rights. But only non-Muslims can then use CAA to claim citizenship. NRC coupled with CAA thus discriminates against Muslims who face statelessness. Even for legal Indian Muslims, the bureaucratic processes of NRC will cause harassment. Minorities feel mistreated by the exercise. The human cost of detention camps to house suspected non-citizens also raise humanitarian concerns.
Arguments in Favour:
The BJP states NRC is not focused on any religious group but will weed out all illegal immigrants regardless of faith. The process is transparent, legal and non-discriminatory with recourse available for those unjustly excluded. The NRC protects national security by identifying unauthorised immigrants who may include terrorists. It aims to resolve long-standing issues around Bangladeshi migrants in border states.
In summary, while the nationwide NRC has not been officially notified yet, fears persist among India’s Muslim community about potential abuse and discrimination. However, the government maintains it is a fair administrative exercise devoid of religious bias. The issue remains highly controversial.
Hindutva Attacks on Religious Structures and Leaders in India
The third major area of inter-religious conflict and concern are the ingoing desecration of places of worship and targeted killings of religious leaders, as well as activists, in BJP India. This acrimony is also extended to NGOs’, Journalists and supporters. While the author has extensively discussed these events in India in his previous publications, it is relevant to highlight the salient facts of this area of inter-religious discontent, resulting in peace disruption, violence and great loss of life.
Babri Masjid controversy and its legal outcome
The Babri Masjid was a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Many Hindus claimed it was built after demolishing a temple for Lord Ram on the same spot. In 1949, idols of Ram were placed inside the mosque, leading to restrictions on Muslim worship there. The legal dispute dragged on for decades. On 06th December 1992, the mosque was demolished by a mob of over 1 lakh Hindu kar sevaks, led by BJP and VHP leaders. This led to communal riots across India. In 2002, a train returning from Ayodhya carrying Hindu pilgrims was burnt in Godhra, killing 59 people. This sparked the Gujarat riots of 2002 that left over 1,000 dead, mostly Muslims. In 2010, the Allahabad High Court ruled the disputed land be divided into 3 parts – one-third for the Ram Lalla deity, one-third for the Islamic Sunni Waqf Board and one-third to a Hindu religious denomination Nirmohi Akhara. In 2019, the Supreme Court allotted the entire disputed land to the Hindu parties, Ram Lalla Virajman, Nirmohi Akhara and the Centre for construction of a Ram temple. It ordered allocation of a 5-acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board for building a new mosque. The Supreme Court verdict held that the demolition of Babri Masjid was illegal but handed over the site to the Hindu plaintiffs based on balance of probabilities on evidentiary aspects like exclusive possession and use. In summary, while the razing of the Babri Masjid was unlawful, the protracted legal case ultimately resulted in victory for Hindu litigants over Muslim stakeholders with the disputed land being allocated for a Ram temple. In the unanimous verdict, the court said that a report by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) provided evidence that the remains of a building “that was not Islamic” was beneath the structure of the demolished Babri mosque.  On 12th December 2019, all petitions seeking review of the verdict dismissed by the Supreme Court. On the 05th February 2020, the Government of India made an announcement for a trust to build a Ram temple there. It also allocated an alternative site in Dhannipur, Ayodhya to build a mosque to replace the demolished Babri Masjid. However, with regards to the new Ram Temple, at the site of the original Babri Mosque, is being built. Larsen & Toubro (L&T) is the main contractor and civil construction started on August 5, 2020 after a Bhoomi Poojan ceremony. A section of Ram Mandir will be inaugurated and opened to devotees in December 2023. The entire project is planned to be completed in December 2024, the official deadline. Referring to a new mosque in Ayodhya, the design of this mosque to be built on five-acre land in Ayodhya’s Dhannipur village awarded by the Supreme Court in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid verdict, has been changed, Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation, said on Thursday. The IICF, a trust formed to build the mosque and other community facilities on the plot, has now decided to shift to a “grand” design similar to the one adopted in the Middle East countries, trust chairman Zufar Farooqui said.
“The Human Rights and International Affairs Department of the Justice Ministry of Iran condemns these brutal crimes and urges the Indian government to take action in reforming discriminatory law and stopping violence against the Muslims in India by the extremist Hindus,” the statement said. The Justice Ministry also urged the international community to take a transparent stance and condemn such crimes which are being taken in line with “Islamophobia and annihilation of the Muslims”. Anti-Muslim violence started in India amid widespread protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government introduced in December, offering a path to Indian citizenship for six religious groups from neighbouring countries, specifically excluding Muslims. In an interview with ISNA published on Sunday, Falahatpisheh said the extremist Hindus’ actions are a violation of the United Nations Charter. Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has warned the Indian government against continued massacre of Muslims, saying that the current pogrom against Muslim people in the South Asian country will lead to isolation of New Delhi in the Islamic world. The Leader made the remarks in a statement tweeted in Urdu, English, and Persian on Thursday in condemnation of the brutal killing of more than 40 Muslims during a four-day span of violence that began in New Delhi on February 23. “The hearts of Muslims all over the world are grieving over the massacre of Muslims in India,” Ayatollah Khamenei remarked. “The government of India should confront extremist Hindus & their parties & stop the massacre of Muslims in order to prevent India’s isolation from the world of Islam,” the Leader pointed out. The violence saw the Hindu mobsters setting mosques on fire and burning Muslims alive in their homes or dragging them out into the streets and lynching them. In a letter to UN Human Rights Council chief Michelle Bachelet, a large of number of citizens, students, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have denounced the anti-Muslim cruelty in India, urging the international body to take urgent action to stop the brutalities. The letter was signed by 1,140 Iranian citizens, 146 NGOs, and student organisations.
A report by CNN, Rhea Mogul and Swati Gupta, CNN of Friday 14th January 2022 highlighted the recurrent theme of India’s Hindu extremists calling for genocide against Muslims. The question raised is why is little being done to stop them, by the ruling BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi? At a conference in India last month, a Hindu extremist dressed head-to-toe in the religion’s holy colour, saffron, called on her supporters to kill Muslims and “protect” the country.
“If 100 of us become soldiers and are prepared to kill 2 million (Muslims), then we will win … protect India, and make it a Hindu nation,” said Pooja Shakun Pandey, a senior member of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha political party, according to a video of the event. Her words and calls for violence from other religious leaders were met with a roar of applause from the large audience, a video from the three-day conference in the northern Indian city of Haridwar shows. But across India, people were outraged. Nearly a month on, many are still furious at the lack of government response or arrests over the comments, which they say highlights a worsening climate for the country’s Muslims. After mounting pressure, India’s top court intervened on Wednesday, asking for a response from state and federal authorities within 10 days. Pandey and several others are being investigated by local police for insulting religious beliefs, a charge that carries a possible sentence of up to four years in prison, Haridwar police officials told CNN. Neither Pandey, nor the others, have publicly commented about the outcry or investigations. Late Thursday, police in Uttarakhand state, where Haridwar is located, arrested a man who spoke at the event, senior Haridwar Police official Shekhar Suyal told CNN. It is unclear what the man said at the event. Police have not formally charged anyone with any crime. CNN has contacted India’s Ministry of Minority Affairs, the Hindu Mahasabha and Pandey, but has not received a response. Muslim protesters take part in a demonstration against the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in New Delhi on December 13, 2019. – Internet access has been cut in India’s northeastern city of Guwahati after violent protests over a new citizenship law saw two demonstrators shot dead by police, authorities said on December 13. In Hindu-nationalist India, Muslims risk being branded infiltrators in their own country. Analysts say the Hindu Mahasabha is at the tip of a broader trend in India which has seen an alarming rise in support for extremist Hindu nationalist groups since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power nearly eight years ago. Although these groups are not directly associated with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his own Hindu nationalist agenda, and the lack of repercussions for these groups’ previous vitriolic comments, has given them tacit support, making them even more brazen, analysts say. Analysts fear this rise poses a serious danger to minorities, especially Muslims and worry it may only get worse as several Indian states head to the polls in the coming months. “What makes the Hindu Mahasabha dangerous,” said Gilles Verniers, an assistant professor of political science at Ashoka University near India’s capital, New Delhi, “is that they have been waiting for a moment like this in decades.”
The Rise of the Right-wing Hindu Mahasabha Group in India
Founded in 1907 during British rule at a time of growing conflict between Muslims and Hindus in the country, the Hindu Mahasabha is one of India’s oldest political organizations. The group did not support British rule, but it did not back India’s freedom movement either, led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi , who was particularly tolerant of Muslims. Even now, some members of the group worship his assassin, Nathuram Godse. The Hindu Mahasabha’s vision, according to the group’s official website, is to declare India the “National Home of the Hindus.” The website says if it takes power, it will not hesitate to “force” the migration of India’s Muslims to neighbouring Pakistan and vows to reform the country’s education system to align it with their version of Hinduism. With its controversial campaigns and ideology, Hindu Mahasabha has always been a marginal political force. The last time the group had a presence in Parliament was in 1991. But according to Verniers, their “strength is not to be measured in electoral terms.” And in the past eight years since Modi came to power, they appear to have expanded in numbers and influence based on the size and frequency of their meetings, he said. While the group does not publicly disclose how many members it has, Verniers said they are “comfortably in the tens of thousands.” Hindu Mahasabha targets rural communities in northern states, where there is a large BJP presence, encouraging them to vote for parties that align with their Hindu-nationalist ideology, including Modi’s BJP, Verniers said. Modi, in turn, has publicly honored the Hindu Mahasabha’s late leader, Veer Savarkar, for “his bravery” and “emphasis on social reform.” And as Hindu Mahasabha has grown in recent years, it has become more outspoken. In 2015, Sadhvi Deva Thakur, then a senior member of the group, caused widespread controversy when she told reporters Muslims and Christians should undergo forced sterilization to control their population growth. CNN has reached out to her for comment. Pandey, who spoke at the December conference in Haridwar, was arrested in February 2019 after a video showed her shooting an effigy of Gandhi, according to CNN affiliate CNN News-18. Photos uploaded to her official Facebook page last May show her worshiping a statue of Gandhi’s assassin. CNN has not been able to confirm whether she was formally charged over the February 2019 incident. Hindu Mahasabha is not the only right-wing Hindu nationalist group to espouse violent sentiment toward liberals and minorities, including India’s 200 million Muslims, who make up 15% of the country’s 1.3 billion population. At last month’s conference, several speakers called on India’s Hindus to “defend” the religion with weapons. Another called for the “cleansing” of India’s minorities, according to video from the event. But according to Verniers, Hindu Mahasbha one of the largest right-wing political groups aiming to make India the land of the Hindus. And while the group’s campaigns and ideas are decades old, they’re more bold about them now. “The escalation of their hate speech is reflective of the state of affairs in India,” said Verniers. “But they are able to get away with it more.” The reason extremist groups appear to be on the rise is clear, according to experts: they have impunity and support. India prohibits hate speech under several sections of its penal code, including a section which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts” intended to insult religious beliefs. According to lawyer Vrinda Grover, any group inciting violence is barred under Indian law. “Police, states and the government are responsible to ensure (inciting violence) doesn’t happen,” she said. “But the state, through its inaction, is actually permitting these groups to function, while endangering Muslims who are the targets.”Pandey’s rant and some of the other calls for violence were the “worst form of hate speech,” according to Verniers. “This is the first time I find myself using the term ‘genocide’ in Indian politics,” he said, referring to the comments made at last month’s conference. “They have tacit support in the form of government silence.” That’s because Modi also has a Hindu nationalist agenda, experts say. Modi swept to power in India in 2014, promising economic reform and development for the country. But starting from his first term as Prime Minister, minority groups and analysts say they began to see a significant shift in India’s ideology from a secular to a Hindu nationalist state. The BJP has its roots in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right wing-Hindu group that counts Modi among its members. Many RSS members are adherents of the Hindutva ideology that the Hindu Mahasabha preach, to make India the land of the Hindus. In 2018, India’s current Home Minister Amit Shah said Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers from Bangladesh were “termites” and promised to rid the nation of them. The BJP’s Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of the north Indian state Uttar Pradesh, known for his anti-Muslim views, once compared Muslim Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Hafiz Saeed, the alleged planner of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, according to the Press Trust of India. Another aspect of violence against Muslims is “Cow Vigilantism”. Between 2015 and 2018, vigilante groups killed dozens of people, many of whom were Muslims, for allegedly consuming or killing cows, an animal considered sacred by Hindus, according to a report from Human Rights Watch. Modi publicly condemned some of the killings, but the violence continued, and in 2017, his government attempted to ban the sale and slaughter of cows, currently illegal in several Indian states, nationwide. Human Rights Watch said many of the alleged murders went unpunished in part due to delayed police investigations and “rhetoric” from ruling party politicians, which may have incited mob violence. In 2019, India’s Parliament passed a bill that would give immigrants from three neighboring countries a pathway to citizenship, except for Muslims. It led to extended protests and international condemnation. In December 2020, Uttar Pradesh enacted a controversial anti-conversion law, making it more difficult for interfaith couples to marry or for people to convert to Islam or Christianity. Other states, including Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Assam, introduced similar laws, leading to widespread harassment and, in some cases, arrests for interfaith couples, Christian priests and pastors.
The Bottom Line is that the future of the Hindu-right groups, in India, collectively, looks bright in terms of generating anti Muslim sentiments and promoting Hindu nationalism. This is done with greater impunity under the Modi regime. Despite police investigations and public outrage, legal action against national hate speech propagators, at different BJP rallies and other events, have been slow. In a letter submitted to Modi on Friday and seen by CNN, students and faculty of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore and Ahmedabad said his silence “emboldens” hate, adding there is “sense of fear” among minority groups in India. Some experts agree the government’s silence has only emboldened these groups further. “Hate speech precedes hate crimes,” Grover, the lawyer, said. “And we are witnessing a crescendo of hate crimes. These groups are rapidly spreading poison through society.” A 2019 US intelligence report warned that parliamentary elections in India increase the possibility of communal violence if Modi’s BJP “stresses Hindu nationalist themes.” It added that state leaders “might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters.” The BJP, which rarely gives statements on the issue, says it does not discriminate against minorities, adding in a statement last March that it “treats all its citizens with equality” and “laws are applied without discrimination.” But analysts fear the BJP’s divisive politics will could lead to increased violence against minority groups in the lead up to pivotal state elections this year. Reported episodes of violence against Muslims have already increased ahead of next year’s state elections. In December, crowds of India’s Hindu-right confronted Muslims praying on the streets in the city of Gurugram, just outside of Delhi. They prevented Muslims from praying, while shouting slogans and carrying banners in protest. “It is an electoral strategy,” said Verniers, the political scientist. “Create religious tension, activate religious polarization and consolidate on the Hindu vote.” Grover, the lawyer, said criminal laws are “weaponised” in India, adding anyone who challenges those in power “face the wrath of the law.” “Muslim lives in India are demonized,” she said. “The Indian state is in serious crisis.” On January 1, Pandey held a live broadcast for her more than 1,500 Facebook followers. The subject was “Religious Parliament,” her post said. As for the 21-year-old student, it is difficult to “expect any sense of justice” for Indian Muslims. He says even having a Muslim name is enough to make him feel unsafe. “It is really scary to carry the Muslim identity in India today.” Presently, minorities, especially Muslims, in India face serious threats, discrimination, racism and even murder. They are frequently excluded from participating fully in the economic, political and social life in India. Today, the minority Muslims in India face new and dangerous challenges, officialized in legislation, policies and practices that may unjustly impede or even violate minority rights. It is also important to note that Modi’s India is mirroring, the policies of the pre-1994 apartheid South Africa, as well as that of the Israel apartheid state, whereby BJP effectively wants the Muslims out of India, as Netanyahu wants to remove Palestinians out of Gaza. In fact, Modi has sent 10.000 skilled, Hindu, Indian artisans to Israel, to build houses for Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, from which the Palestinians were forcibly removed or massacred by the Israeli Defence Force. Furthermore, the vitriolic between the politicians in Israel and India rings an analogous tone regarding official statements against minority groups. The future of minority Muslims in India after the 2024 general elections involves some uncertainty and will likely depend on various factors: If BJP retains power: Policies like CAA, UCC, and Kashmir’s status could advance, further marginalizing Muslims. Hindutva groups may feel emboldened to push their agenda, leading to more vigilante violence. Muslims may withdraw from public sphere and politics due to sense of alienation. But Modi may soften rhetoric and court Muslim voters on development agenda. If Congress-led coalition comes to power: Some controversial laws like CAA could get repealed and minority protections strengthened. Hate crimes may reduce with improved law enforcement. Muslim representation could increase in governance. But coalition compromises may prevent full reversal of BJP policies. Regardless of outcome: Key issues like police bias, education gaps and economic inequity for Muslims are likely to persist. Regional parties will play a crucial role in government formation and in representing Muslim interests. India’s pluralism and constitutional secularism will face challenges from divisive politics. Much depends on election rhetoric and whether minorities are politically mobilized. Overall, Muslims likely to remain vulnerable with uncertain scope for major improvement in their status and security. But specific election results and building bridges between communities can shape outcomes. The policies and approaches of the government in power after the 2024 general elections will have a significant impact on the Muslim minority. This includes policies related to religious freedom, social inclusion, economic opportunities, and minority rights. Predicting the future of minority Muslims in India post the 2024 general elections involves a complex and multifaceted analysis. Several factors will influence their status and well-being, and it’s important to approach this topic with sensitivity and consideration of the diverse experiences of India’s Muslim population. The socio-economic conditions of Muslims in India vary widely. Government initiatives and economic policies can play a crucial role in addressing issues such as unemployment, poverty, and access to education and healthcare within the Muslim community. Efforts to promote social harmony, interfaith dialogue, and unity among diverse communities are important for maintaining peace and stability. Government and civil society initiatives can contribute to this. Minority Rights: Protecting and upholding the rights of religious and ethnic minorities is essential. This includes ensuring equal access to education, healthcare, and legal justice, as well as protecting places of worship and cultural heritage. International Relations: India’s relationships with other countries can influence the environment for minority communities. Diplomatic ties and international pressure can affect the situation for Muslims in India. Civil society organisations, human rights groups, and advocacy efforts can have a positive impact on minority rights. These organisations can work to raise awareness and advocate for the rights of minority groups. Demographic and Regional Variations: It is important to recognise that India is a diverse and vast country, and the experiences of Muslims can vary significantly by region, urban or rural settings, and socio-economic factors. Public Opinion: Public attitudes and perceptions toward religious and ethnic minorities play a role in their well-being. Efforts to promote understanding and tolerance are important for social cohesion. The future of minority Muslims in India will depend on the collective efforts of the government, civil society, and the broader population to ensure their rights, dignity, and social inclusion. While the political landscape can have a significant impact, it is not the only determining factor. It is important to promote a vision of India that upholds the principles of secularism, pluralism, and the protection of minority rights as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The destiny of minority communities is intertwined with the broader social fabric and the commitment to the principles of democracy, justice, and inclusivity. The future for Muslins in India indeed looks extremely bleak and will certainly be very grim when Prime Minister Modi is reelected in 2024. Whoever wins, the Muslims lose.
 Personal quote by author, October 2023
Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.
Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All
Tags: Ethnocentrism, Hinduism, Hindus, India, Islam, Israeli Apartheid, Muslims, Nationalism, Racism, Religion, South Africa
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Oct 2023.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: The Religious Transformative Odyssey of Bharat (Part 3): Islamophobia against the Muslim Minority in India, is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
One Response to “The Religious Transformative Odyssey of Bharat (Part 3): Islamophobia against the Muslim Minority in India”
Join the discussion!
We welcome debate and dissent, but personal — ad hominem — attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), abuse and defamatory language will not be tolerated. Nor will we tolerate attempts to deliberately disrupt discussions. We aim to maintain an inviting space to focus on intelligent interactions and debates.
Click here to go to the current weekly digest or pick another article: