‘Attacking a dream’: Muslims in fear as Indian democracy turns 75 |  Independence News

‘Attacking a dream’: Muslims in fear as Indian democracy turns 75 | Independence News

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

The South Asian nation, ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2014, has swung to the right under Prime Minister Narendra Modi with open and organized state patronage of a Hindu-majority agenda that worries its Muslims.

Critics say Hindu majority politics has become de facto state politics under Modi, with Hindu supremacist groups stepping up their calls for the country to be transformed into 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).

Whether it’s what Muslims wear, what they eat, their places of worship, and their constitutional rights to practice and preach their religion, all have been systematically attacked, banned, destroyed or restricted since Modi came to power in 2014.

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

“If Hindu Rashtra means giving Muslims second-class status, then India has practically become one already. Now it’s time to make it official. Even if they don’t, the change has happened,” 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 divorce practice among Muslims. Many BJP-ruled states also passed so-called “love jihad” laws criminalizing religious conversion through marriage.

The Modi government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019, granting citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from neighboring countries. The passage of the law sparked unprecedented protests and even sectarian violence in the state capital, killing at least 53 people.

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

Last week, right-wing Hindu organizations in Modi’s Varanasi constituency released a 32-page draft “Hindu Rashtra” constitution aimed at denying Muslims and Christians the right to vote.

The “Hindu Rashtra” being talked about can only be based on injustice and atrocities and would target non-Hindus, especially Muslims, activist Khalik Khan told Al Jazeera. Khan is based in Faizabad, a sister city of Ayodhya – the ground zero of the Hindu supremacist movement.

“The goal is to disempower and demoralize our community and reduce it to pariah status in society,” Khan said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra ModiModi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations at the Mughal-era Red Fort in New Delhi [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

The BJP rose to prominence in the 1990s on the back of a religious movement that polarized the country’s Hindus and Muslims, labeling the latter “invaders” and “outsiders.”

In 1992, the then BJP government in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh allowed a Hindu mob to build the Babri Mosque, a 16th-century structure.

In November 2019, India’s Supreme Court ordered the construction of a Ram temple on the site, despite ruling that there was no evidence such a temple existed there in front of the mosque. Muslims were allocated a plot of land 25 km (16 miles) away to build a mosque.

Six months after the verdict, Modi laid the temple’s foundation stone amid elaborate Hindu rituals, with state and private media broadcasting the ceremony live.

Three years later, the construction of the new mosque has not even started because government approvals are enmeshed in bureaucratic hurdles.

When British colonial rule ended in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was divided along religious lines: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Partition is believed to have killed nearly two million people and displaced more than 15 million on either side of the hastily drawn border.

India was born under Mahatma Gandhi and the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a beacon of secularism: a democratic republic that accords all its peoples equal freedom of belief, belief and worship.

Gandhi was assassinated four months after independence in early 1948 by a Hindu racist because of his beliefs. Since then, Hindu nationalists have blamed him and Nehru’s Congress party for the “vivisection of an undivided India.”

The BJP is the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a secretive far-right paramilitary organization founded in 1925 on the model of European Nazism. The RSS aims to transform secular India into an exclusive Hindu state and counts Modi among its millions of lifetime members.

The RSS is the ideological parent company of the BJP and dozens of other Hindu right-wing groups across the country and abroad. She believes in the idea of ​​”one nation, one people, one culture”.

“Understanding our commonalities, being sons of the same soil, respecting differences, moving beyond selfish attitudes, avoiding all forms of discrimination and putting the nation first in every context is the need of the hour,” RSS wrote boss Mohan Bhagwat in his organization’s mouthpiece last week.

But Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the leading RSS ideologue of the early 20th century, was more outspoken about India’s Muslims.

“Because although Hindustan [Persian name for India] to them [Muslims] is fatherland as for every other Hindu, but it is not a holy land for them either. Their holy land is far away in Arabia or Palestine,” he wrote in his book The Essentials of Hindutva.

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

“Their mythology and godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this earth. As a result, their names and their views sound foreign. Their love is divided,” Savarkar wrote.

Al Jazeera reached out to an RSS anchor for his comments, but he declined to speak.


“Attack on a Dream”

In Modi’s India, accusations by Muslims of having extraterritorial allegiances has become a terrifying and daily test of the community and has led to calls for its economic and social boycott.

For the past 75 years, Native Americans had commemorated August 15 by flying kites – a subtle allegory of liberation from British rule.

That year, the BJP launched a “Har Ghar Tiranga” (Every House Tricolor) campaign to ensure that the national flag is raised in every building in the country.

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

“No one needs to be afraid. In fact, those who are afraid are likely to be under the influence of Pakistan and Rome. I don’t think there is fear in India.”

But Muslim poet and educator Sabika Abbas Naqvi said Muslims have reason to be afraid.

“The imagination of Hindu Rashtra is filled with fear. It feels like an attack on a dream we built together,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Today, as a Muslim woman, I feel that our identity is in jeopardy. This new India will be built on our lynched bodies and the debris of our lives and dreams. We fear that we will be excluded from a nation that has guaranteed our affiliation in the constitution.”

Modi recently unveiled an aggressive version of India’s national emblem featuring snarling lions on a parliament building under construction – part of the Hindu leader’s pet project in central New Delhi. The structure is a far cry from the original, whose lions had a confident face and put more emphasis on the Wheel of Dharma (mandatory in Sanskrit), which is also present in the national flag.

“To a large extent, at the moment, caste differences and the vision of Brahmanic hegemony have been obscured by the overlaying facade of Hindu nationalism,” film director Saeed Mirza told Al Jazeera.

Many Indians see the transformation of the national emblem as a reflection of the country’s shift from its pluralistic and tolerant mores to an angry and hateful majority mindset.

“Although Muslims in India are not a homogeneous community, they are united by increasing discrimination and persecution. Everywhere their first concern is security of their life and livelihood, with the poorest among them being the most vulnerable,” Tanweer Fazal, professor of sociology at the University of Hyderabad, told Al Jazeera.

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