A threat to its religious minorities
Habib Siddiqui | Published: Dec 15,2021
INDIAN democracy has always been majoritarian since its first day as a republic. As a matter of fact the trend has its roots in the pre-partition days of Congress leadership that did not allow for an inclusive democracy in which Muslim and other non-Hindu minorities could participate on an equal footing. That majoritarian pull of the Hindu leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Patel pushed Jinnah and tens of millions of Muslims to feel alienated. And the rest is history! Pakistan emerged, albeit moth-eaten, as a separate state.
While all the founding fathers of the Indian republic are dead now but their ghosts are still with us in the likes of Narendra Modi and other Indo-centric politicians to whom majority has the absolute right to decide how India should be run, and who is an Indian and who is not. Thanks to the toxic fascist ideology of Hindutva, promoted under the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) rule, the non-Hindu minority religious groups are worse off today than any time in the past in India’s volatile history.
A presumption and anticipation of a so-called criminal act cannot be an offence, but not so in BJP-ruled India. Under Narendra Modi, even apolitical humorous jokes can result in one’s incarceration in India, especially, when the comedian is a non-Hindu.
Munawar Faruqui, a Muslim comedian in India, was arrested for jokes he didn’t crack. On the evening of January 1, 2021, he was kicking off a 14-city tour with a ticketed show in a café in the central Indian city of Indore. Eklavya Gaud, the son of a ruling BJP politician, had arrived and stopped the show, complaining that the comic was ‘insulting’ Hindu religious sentiments.
Indore is a prominent city in Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP. Hindus make up the vast majority of India’s population. Faruqui ended up spending a month in jail.
In October, activists of a Hindutvavadi fascist group turned up at the cafe seeking a ban on Faruqui’s shows. He has now hinted at quitting comedy after a dozen shows were cancelled in Mumbai and Bangalore following protests from fascist Hindu groups.
If this is the attitude of the ruling BJP-government towards humorous jokes, it is not difficult to fathom the horrible state of intolerance faced by hundreds of millions of religious minorities in India from the places like Kashmir in the west to Nagaland, Assam and Tripura in the east on a daily basis. They face genocidal pogroms, unjust detention, rape, or torture because of who they are and what they believe that is at variance with those of the majority Hindus.
Every Friday, Najis Mohammad would offer his afternoon prayers at a public ground near his barber shop in Gurugram, still popular by its old name Gurgaon — a satellite city on the outskirts of the Indian capital, New Delhi. He cannot pray Jum’aa there anymore. A number of politicians and Hindu priests, including Kapil Mishra, who belong to the BJP, have stopped Jum’aa prayer for the local Muslims there. It is worth recalling that Mishra has been accused of instigating religious violence in New Delhi that killed more than 50 Muslims last year, and yet, he runs free in Modi’s India.
‘Permission to offer prayers at eight previously-identified sites has been cancelled,’ Gurugram police said in a statement. It added that if objections were raised by the residents at other places, ‘permission to offer prayers will be cancelled there as well’.
The police move followed a weeks-long campaign by Hindu groups and local residents who had been disrupting the Friday prayers at those sites by playing religious songs on loudspeakers and raising hate slogans. An umbrella group of Hindu groups, called the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti (Joint Hindu Struggle Committee), even issued an ‘ultimatum’ to the authorities, saying they would stop Muslim prayers themselves if the Gurugram administration fails to do so.
Muslim Parliamentarian Asaduddin Owaisi said the Gurugram administration’s decision to ban Friday prayers at some sites was a violation of Article 25 of the Indian constitution that guarantees Indian citizens the freedom to profess, practise and propagate religion.
“How is it that practising my religion or offering my Jum’ah namaz [Friday prayers] once in a week for 15 to 20 minutes is hurting anyone?’ he told Al Jazeera.
Religious intolerance against the Muslims shows no signs of ebbing in Modi’s India. It has, in essence, become a sure recipe to grab and hold onto power in this land of 1.4 billion people.
Muslim villagers living in Naraura in the Tripura State heard some villagers scream in panic around 10:00pm on October 23, 2021. As they rushed out, a wooden bier and some prayer mats in the courtyard of the local mosque were on fire. Allegedly, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), which has been agitating against the Muslims is behind the mosque fire.
Lest one forgets, the VHP is affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological fountainhead of India’s Hindu supremacist groups which seeks to convert India into an ethnic Hindu-only state. (Most top leaders of India’s governing BJP, including prime minister Narendra Modi, started their political careers as RSS workers.)
Tripura, an eastern state dominated by Bengali-speaking Hindus, bordering Bangladesh, is currently governed by Modi’s BJP. Muslims living there, like those in Assam, are traumatised and now live under fear.
‘There are 16 mosques which have been targeted in Tripura,’ said Mufti Abdul Momin, a Muslim cleric.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom — an independent, bipartisan federal government commission that makes religious freedom and foreign policy recommendations to the US president, the US senate and the state department — said in October that it was alarmed by reports of violence against Muslims in Tripura and urged the Indian government to prevent the attacks.
‘USCIRF is particularly alarmed about reports from Tripura of mobs desecrating mosques and torching properties of Muslims. The Indian government must bring those responsible for instigating and engaging in religious violence to justice and must prevent further attacks,’ USCIRF said in a tweet.
Earlier this year, India’s home ministry said in the Indian parliament that 348 people died in police custody and 5,221 died in judicial custody in the last three years. These numbers point to the anaemic health of the Indian Modi-fied democracy, which is increasingly becoming a joke.
In early November 2021 the death of a young Muslim man, 22-year-old Mohammad Altaf, in police custody in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and the subsequent clarification by the police triggered outrage in India. Altaf was falsely alleged to have kidnapped a Hindu girl.
A photograph showing Altaf hanging from a water pipe in the washroom went viral on social media. Altaf was about 5ft 6 inches (167cm) tall and the water pipe was less than three feet (91.4cm) from the ground. How could a 5.6 ft tall young man hang himself from a pipe that is much shorter? Altaf’s family has demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into his death.
Such custodial deaths (23 people have died in police custody and 1,295 in judicial custody in the same 3-year period) have become quite common in Uttar Pradesh, which is governed by the BJP. Its chief minister is Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest, who has had criminal cases against him for leading violence against the Muslims. His notoriety as an anti-Muslim bigot endeared him to Modi, who, as the chief minister of Gujarat, had allowed anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002 in which some 2,000 Muslims were butchered to death. Yogi, as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has put to practice the worst episodes of large-scale state violence against a community anywhere in India. One of the first decisions Yogi took as chief minister was to order raids on slaughterhouses and butcher shops. This was an attack on the livelihoods and food habits of Muslims. Over the next year, he openly encouraged the police to gun down Muslims and Dalits in ‘encounters’ that investigations later suggested were nothing short of extrajudicial killings.
As journalist Supriya Sharma has said elsewhere, it should come as no surprise that the maximum casualties in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, a law that is a blatant expression of the BJP’s anti-Muslim politics, have taken place in Uttar Pradesh. Nineteen people have been killed in the state — all of them Muslim, as of year-end 2019. ‘India’s most populous state, home to 200 million people, is hostage to the recklessness of a Muslim-hating chief minister. His regime is treating Muslims as the enemy, not as citizens,’ Sharma says.
Uttar Pradesh’s main opposition party, the Samajwadi Party, attacked the BJP government over yet another ‘misdeed’ by the state’s ‘trigger-happy police’. ‘This is clearly a custodial death. And custodial deaths should be prima facie treated as custodial murder. The onus has to be on the police to prove that it was not a murder but a suicide,’ Kavita Krishnan, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), told Al Jazeera.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, ‘Is there anything called human rights left in Uttar Pradesh?’
The truth of the matter is: there is no human rights for the minority communities in today’s India.
On December 4, 2021, at least 14 tribal civilians were killed when Indian forces opened indiscriminate fire in the remote north-eastern state of Nagaland, the only predominantly Baptist state in the world. Local Christians who make up nearly 88 per cent of the population in Nagaland have frequently accused forces of wrongly targeting innocent locals in their counterinsurgency operations against rebel groups who are fighting for secession. The incident took place in and around Oting village in Mon district, bordering Myanmar. Within hours, one more civilian was killed by the security forces when the locals protested against the killings in Tiru area of Mon district.
The NSCN-IM (the National Socialist Council of Nagaland), the largest Naga rebel group which aims for the secession of Naga territories from India, said the ‘absurdity and insanity’ of the Indian security forces had been ‘exposed’ and that it was a ‘black day’ for the Nagas. ‘Ironically, the fact that the ubiquitous Indian security forces has brought about toxic storm of bloody dust in Nagalim is not a new thing but a repeat of the past to suppress the legitimate Naga political movement’, NSCN-IM said in a statement. ‘The Nagas had in the past faced the trigger-happy Indian security forces, acting with impunity under the Government of India’s Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act/AFSPA which is mainly used against the Naga political movement. Notwithstanding the ongoing Indo-Naga political dialogue that has seen much fruition during the period running more than two decades, the violence against the Nagas continues unabated. This is one of the most unfortunate incidents of the Indo-Naga ceasefire signed in 1997.’
The AFSPA act, which gives blanket impunity to the Indian security forces to kill anyone, is at odds with human rights in a civilised world and must be revoked.
Following the incident, mobile internet was suspended in Mon district on December 4 until further orders.
In today’s India one’s patriotism is defined by his/her Hindu-ness.
Salman Khurshid, who’s a Muslim and a former Indian foreign minister from the main opposition Congress party, is known for his untainted patriotism to India. Yet, his patriotism is questioned by the Hindutvavadi fascists who behave as if they have the monopoly to define the term in the Indian context.
Khurshid published a book Sunrise over Ayodhya: Nationhood in Our Times, in October 2021 in which he wrote about India’s decline in secularism surrounding the Ayodhya dispute. He compared Hindutva — the kind of Hindu nationalism — that has flourished under Modi to ‘extremist groups’ such as ISIL (ISIS).
Obviously, such a comparison — a mild one, in my opinion — is not acceptable to the Hindutvavadi fascists. A suit was promptly filed by Hindu Sena president Vishu Gupta, wanting to stop the publication, circulation, and sale of the book. Within days of publication, in November 2021, Hindu hardliners attacked and set fire to his home near the northern city of Nainital. ‘They shouted slogans, threw stones, broke several windows, ransacked and set fire,’ local police chief Jagdish Chandra told the AFP. The Times of India reported that the group had set fire to an effigy of Khurshid, fired shots and threatened the daughter-in-law of the caretaker with a gun.
This type of incidents of religious violence, inflamed under prime minister Narendra Modi, has become the new norms in India.
Uttarakhand state, where the latest incident took place, appears to be a particular hotspot of religious intolerance. Last month, a mob of about 200 people attacked a church in the state. The local head of the BJP said the building was used for ‘suspicious gatherings’.
The fact is: anyone who is a not a Hindu is a ‘suspect’ today who faces persecution, if not elimination, by the Hindutvavadis, who control the government of India.
Activists say that religious minorities, especially the Muslims, in Hindu-majority India have faced increased levels of discrimination and violence since Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP came to power in 2014.
In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, USCIRF chair Nadine Maenza said religious freedom conditions in India — a ‘country of particular concern’ for two years in a row — were ‘greatly concerning’. (In 2020, the USCIRF listed India as a ‘country of particular concern’ for the first time since 2004.)
Being the driver for the wheel of power in a nuclear-power, modern India, the Hindutvavadi fascists are a greater threat to human rights and the free world than the ISIS non-state actors have ever been.
Succinctly put, India, the so-called largest democracy in our world, has become a joke. It goes without saying that US president Biden’s recent invitation to India for its Summit for Democracy belies the ground reality that the country has become top-down under Narendra Modi’s watch.
Democracy cannot be defended, strengthened and renewed by mass murderers who make a mockery of human rights. Leaders need to walk the talk before they can be taken seriously.
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.