In the last two months in India, we have seen Muslims being harassed, publicly beaten, and in certain cases even lynched at the hands of right-leaning Hindu protectors. Why is this becoming the new norm, and is there any safeguard against it? While many citizens allege that it started getting worse soon after the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected at the center in 2014, the problem has always existed; I think it just came to light when the government started to look the other way.
Consider how such vile instances are treated by the authorities. For instance, late last month a Muslim man selling bangles in the state of Madhya Pradesh was mercilessly thrashed in broad daylight by a group of men because he was apparently operating in a “Hindu Area” and had reportedly given a false name to the police. His assailants also allegedly robbed him during the incident, which occurred on a regular Sunday afternoon. In response, the state’s Home Minister Narottam Mishra stated that bitterness is bound to arise if a man hides his name, religion and caste. These shocking and rather inciting comments were made by an elected representative of the government.
A similar instance took place last month in the Indian capital of New Delhi. A video came to light which was shared widely on Twitter and other social media. It showed goons chanting communal slogans which roughly translate to “Muslims will be cut, and they will cry out Lord Ram’s name”. Mind you, this happened in plain sight, in the capital, merely 2 kilometers from the Indian Parliament. But the police took no action at the time. Even after the incident, the police filed an FIR (First Information Report) against “Unknown People”, despite the faces being clearly visible in the video and people on the internet identifying the miscreants.
There are several other cases that surfaced in the last month reflecting a hatred for the Muslim community and an exhibition of rage by Hindus. But the police force stays mute, and the government authorities trivialize the matter and snub it as non-communal, which only encourages people to continue to show their aggression. There is absolutely nothing being done on a ground-level to disincentivize such acts.
As to legal safeguards or counterweights against these actions, they certainly exist. At the very outset, the Preamble of the Indian Constitution declares India to be a Secular Democratic Republic. The Constitution of India under Article 14 also provides for equality before the law, which by extension provides for equality of all religions. Article 25 of the Constitution further provides for the right and freedom to practice, profess and propagate any religion, while Article 26 envisages additional rights to religious denominations, such as establishment of its own institutions, managing its own affairs, etc. But the question that crosses one’s mind is, why these rights guaranteed under the Constitution are not being protected and why do discriminatory and violent acts continue to come to light?
Many people blame the law enforcement agencies for not taking proper action. These include government departments, the police officials, and the politicians who are sometimes said to encourage such attacks. Some also blame one-sided media outlets that further religious propaganda to gain viewers and appease to a certain community. The Chief Justice of India, (CJI) Hon’ble Justice N.V. Ramana, recently expressed his discontent over the tone adopted by news and media agencies while reporting certain events. He commented that looking at everything through the lens of one religious community will eventually give India a bad reputation. I absolutely agree with him so far as biased media coverage is concerned, but I fail to understand why we should worry about the bad image that the country might gain instead of addressing the underlying communal issues.
The issues exist, and are reported clearly by many. Rana Ayyub, an Indian journalist and a writer at The Washington Post tweeted Tuesday about how politicians and elected Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA) treat Muslims as the “other community”, thereby showing their hatred for Muslims. Similarly, Mohammed Zubair, an Indian journalist and co-founder of Alt News tweeted about how right wing goons had beaten up a 16 year old because they thought he was a Muslim man eloping with a Hindu girl, thus committing so-called “love jihad”. Such acts are not only ignored but in fact celebrated by political leaders and members of the predominant community who share a similar Islamophobic ideology.
I am worried about how these instances are swiftly increasing in number. I am even more worried about Islamophobia beginning to normalize in the Indian minds. Today, hearing that a Muslim man was lynched or beaten up has become routine. So much so, that instead of quickly punishing the perpetrators, the authorities either blame the victim, or make irresponsible remarks justifying the acts. Such instances shock me to my core. I feel threatened, even as a part of the majority community, in a country that is supposed to protect minorities. I feel that no one is safe here. For now, it’s an attack on religious minorities – the Muslims in this country. However, if and when the perpetrators find themselves victorious in this senseless feud, they will come for others within their communities and fight on the basis of caste and race. Evil doesn’t need a reason to be evil.