Trying Times: The Othering Of Muslims In India

That religious chauvinism is very much a part of Indian psyche could hardly be debated. With the ascendance of Modi led ‘Hindu Nationalist’ government at the centre & its repeated condoning of heinous acts of Right- wing zealots accentuates a tactical understanding between the regime & their handymen. Clamp down on dissent across University campuses, appointment of unfit cronies at educational institutions & places that churn out national policies alongside promotion of an exclusive narrative on everything from what impressionable children study at schools to virtual diktat on eating habits. The atmosphere could never have been more virulent & suffocating.

India’s ‘surgical strike’ across the border & the singular narrative disseminated post the operation does drive home the point that the government doesn’t allow for dissent. It’s amusing when we see the Indian media specially the news channels falling in line obsequiously. They’ve shamelessly become more of an extended propaganda tool for the government. This cringe- worthy blandishment by the media houses finds no parallel across independent India’s history. Even during the dreaded days of Indira’s emergency, the media or at least its pockets would continue to fight valiantly against an authoritarian regime.

As things stand today, the present regime is no match for Indira’s draconian fiats; there’s no emergency that gags the free press. However, media houses today love to sell the regime’s narrative without questioning. They love to hound communists & liberals but, would always fail to ‘discipline’ the rabid nationalists for their ‘One Nation, One People & One Culture’ credo.

Let’s try understanding what’s seeping into our society:

  1. Multiple deaths in name of cow vigilantism across the nation; Prime Minister Modi who’s otherwise quite a chatterbox across social media platforms has never explicitly condemned these grotesque acts in name of religion. Lately, when he chose to criticize gau- rakshaks (cow- vigilantes); it was more of an apologetic act than a categorical condemnation. Whatever his intention, PM Modi’s act did win him accolades across the political spectrum. However, much was undone when his boss & RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat openly supported cow vigilantes by claiming that they fulfill an important role in the society. The whole issue of cow- vigilantism & related deaths of Muslims underlines an impending social breakdown.  At the eve of Muslim festival of Bakrid, policemen went scouring for ‘beef biryani’ across the only Muslim majority district of Haryana; Mewat. One wonders how this would be possible without the complicity of BJP led state government.
  1. That the PM finally chose to speak in the wake of rising anti- Dalit violence, possibly realizing the loss of political capital in poll bound states of Uttar Pradesh & his home state of Gujarat ; the centre of brutal flogging of a group of Dalit men by upper caste Hindus, surely makes for a shrewd political maneuver. From another perspective, PM’s apparent outburst against anti- Dalit violence & his tacit silence as Muslims were butchered in name of ‘cow protection’ does highlight the grim fact that Muslim lives are expendable. It would be a travesty to expect justice being dispensed by the present regime in cases of religious violence where Muslims are at the receiving end. From Babri Masjid , Bombay Riots, Post Godhra genocide & Muzzafarnagar riots; the ruling party & its cabal of Far-Right militant groups have fashioned themselves as  openly anti- Muslim with their sole agenda of consolidating a Hindu vote bank built on the fear of ‘the other’ i.e. Muslims; the yoke of savage Muslim rulers of past.
  1. The wider Muslim society in India is a hapless lot of poverty- stricken people who have little chances of cashing on the glut of opportunities generated as a result of over two decades of economic liberalization. Almost a fourth of India’s beggars are Muslims , disproportionate number of Muslims are languishing in jails not because Muslims commit any more crimes than ordinary Hindus but, vast majority of Muslims in jails can barely afford any legal aid. The age old adage that ‘justice is only for the rich’ couldn’t have been more true, coupled with the mistrust between the Muslim community & the police forces who’ve been regularly found hand in gloves with the Right- wing militants during numerous Anti- Muslim riots exacerbates the precarious position of Muslims in the Indian society.
  1. As the Maharashtra state was poll bound, the then Congress government enacted reservation for the Maratha & the Muslim community.The timing of this legislation was a shrewd political gambit aimed at fending the Maratha & Muslim votes from swinging towards rival parties. As was proven people didn’t fall for Congress’s bait & BJP won.

What’s worth noting is, post the elections the BJP led government annulled provision for Muslim reservation but, chose not to do away with the Maratha  reservation despite Bombay High Court ruling that Muslims do require the benefits of  affirmative action at least in education. It was open to all that BJP isn’t anti- reservation but, surely is anti- Muslim in its proclivities.  The ilk of MJ Akbars & Shah Nawaz Hussains in BJP make for some good photo ops but, beyond that they do little to forward the grievances & trepidations of the Muslim community with regards to the ruling dispensation.

  1. Beyond these big incidents, there is this discreet agenda of saffronizing the education. Slowly, history books across BJP ruled states of Rajasthan & Madhya Pradesh appear to be doing little more than promoting RSS’s ‘Hindu hero versus the Muslim villain’ version of history. If things continue at this pace then, India of today would become starkly similar to Zia’s Pakistan.

Certainly what’s seeping through our society is pernicious & insidious. Hatred, mutual distrust & the practice of ‘othering’ those deemed as not fitting into the ‘perceived culture’ of the nation is a perfect recipe for a social disaster. That our nation has survived tougher times & has come out stronger each time is the only silver lining today.

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