By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Uttar PradeshPublished10 hours agoShare
IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGESImage caption,
There are 40 million Muslims in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh
In mid-August last year, a Hindu vigilante group attacked a popular food stall run by three Muslim brothers in the temple town of Mathura in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The men accused them of profiting from the name of a Hindu god and tore up their posters and signboards, said Abid, one of the brothers who ran Shrinath Dosa Corner.
“They said Hindus eat here because they think you’re Hindus,” he said.
Abid’s stall, located in a market that sells electronic goods, is just a few kilometres from a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Krishna. Shrinath is another name for him and the devout believe Mathura to be his birthplace.
Every food stall near the temple is named after the deity, except Abid’s which is now called American Dosa Corner.
After a video of the attack went viral, Abid lodged a police complaint and one of the vandals was arrested. But six months later, he tries to downplay the incident “because he doesn’t want any trouble”, explains a local journalist.
Uttar Pradesh (UP) has made headlines for violent crimes against Muslims since 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in India – three years later, it won a landslide in the state. The BJP appointed Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed Hindu monk-turned politician known for his anti-Muslim stance, as the chief minister.Image caption,
Abid has now renamed his stall American Dosa Corner
Within days of the win, one UP village put up posters asking Muslims to leave. It was among the first states to pass a law against forced conversions that is routinely used to harass and jail Muslim men in interfaith relationships with Hindu women. Muslims who protested against the controversial citizenship law were beaten up and their properties seized, until the Supreme Court declared it illegal. And during the pandemic, BJP leaders accused Muslim men of “corona jihad” or alleged behaviour that spread the virus.
Such day-to-day discrimination, which is far more insidious, is marginalising Muslims, who number 40 million and constitute nearly 20% of UP’s population. As the state votes to elect a new government, members of the community tell the BBC that under the BJP’s Hindu nationalist rule, they have become “second-class citizens”.
Mufti Zahid Ali Khan, retired professor of theology at Aligarh Muslim University, says Mr Adityanath “behaves like a BJP politician, not a government functionary”.
“Since he came to power, Muslims have been living in fear. Whenever our children go out, our women pray for their safe return.”
Legislator and BJP vice-president in the state Vijay Pathak said it was “not true that Muslims in UP are feeling marginalised”.
“The government doesn’t discriminate on the basis of caste or religion. Muslims will vote for us in larger numbers in these elections,” he said.
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Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is known for inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric
But critics point to the recent anti-minority remarks made by Mr Yogi and several of his party leaders.
A BJP lawmaker said that if re-elected, he would “ensure that Muslims stop wearing skullcaps and start putting on the vermillion paste used by Hindus. And last month Hindu religious leaders called for attacks on mosques and Islamic priests.
Zamirullah Khan, a former legislator from the opposition Samajwadi party in Aligarh, says “we work with Hindus, we trade with them, we attend weddings in each other’s families”, but “the politics of hatred has been on the rise” – and it gets into sharper focus whenever elections are close.
“We are the sacrificial goat – we are fed and fattened and then slaughtered for the party. Politicians whip up anti-Muslim sentiments to polarise people and win votes. Once the elections are over, everyone goes home,” he says.
According to official data, Muslims are the poorest religious group in India and nearly 46% of them work in the informal sector as electricians, plumbers, vendors and daily wage workers. It’s no different in UP.
The pandemic, coupled with government policies, has only worsened their situation, they say.
Mr Adityanath’s government has shut down slaughterhouses – an estimated 150 in the past four-and-half years – traditionally run by Muslims, saying they were operating illegally. Those that are open are forced to close for days during Hindu festivals in many districts.
This has hit butchers hard and forced many consumers to change their diet, says Zakir Hussain, a restaurateur in Mathura.
For the past eight years, Mr Hussain and his brothers have been running Majeed Restaurant, famous for its chicken biriyani and serving 500 meals a day.
But in September Mr Adityanath ordered a ban on serving meat within a radius of 10 sq km (about 4 sq miles) around the Krishna temple. The temple abuts a mosque and the area his home to many Muslim families.
Overnight, signature dishes vanished from Majeed’s menu, as did most customers.
“Dozens of restaurants and about a hundred shops that sold meat and eggs shut down and thousands lost their livelihoods,” Mr Hussain said.
IMAGE SOURCE,SURESH SAINIImage caption,
Zakir Hussain (left) says his restaurant stopped serving meat after a government ban
His brother, Shakir, says “this was done to get us Muslims out of business since in the past few months, several non-vegetarian restaurants run by Hindus have come up outside the prohibited zone”.
The brothers also rented a place in the safe zone to open a new restaurant, but on the third day, they were attacked, allegedly by a mob of Hindu nationalists.
“They asked us to give them free food and pay them protection money every month. When we refused, they ransacked the restaurant and assaulted us,” Mr Zakir Hussain said, adding that they had lodged a police complaint.
“I lost three teeth, my jaw was broken, I was in hospital for a month. My brother and other relatives were also injured,” he said.
Their attackers lodged a counter-complaint, alleging the fight started because the Hussains tried to force them to eat beef – many Hindus consider the cow to be sacred and beef is banned in many states, including in UP.
The Hussains – and several other restaurant owners – have petitioned the Allahabad high court for the ban to be overturned.
The BJP, says Shakir Hussain, is playing a dangerous game. “Hate has spread so much that people are afraid – Hindus fear Muslims, Muslims fear Hindus.”
Journalist Alishan Jafri, who documents cases of violence against Muslims, says inflammatory speeches by BJP leaders and Hindu priests are “no longer just hollow rhetoric. This hate speech is impacting the lives and livelihoods of Muslims”.
Mr Jafri says “Muslim-ness, the Muslim identity” is under attack in the state and across India.
“It’s become acceptable that Hindus have a right to feel offended by what Muslims wear or eat or who they marry. This is a slow cultural cleansing of Muslims.”