Victims of Fear and Stereotyping: Muslims in Contemporary India

Victims of Fear and Stereotyping: Muslims in Contemporary India
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By Khan Arif

Muslims in India form the largest religious minority community in the country. According to the 2011 Census, they comprise 14.4 per cent of India’s total population. A common Muslim in India is at a crossroads; he/she is torn among finding the suitable balance between committing to his faith and trying to make sense of the negative rhetoric and stereotypes , contemporary society conjures about him and his religion.
This isn’t so much a battle of what it means to be a Muslim in India. It’s more the battle between broader Idea of India, Firstly how tolerant and open-minded it will be about minorities? Second, how its values of democracy and secularism function?
Hinduism is, and remains to be, one of the oldest religions of the world. Its polytheistic nature means that Hindus worship a wide range of Gods – often within the same family – thereby allowing greater tolerance for differing views. This tolerance has been the hallmark of Hinduism for generations.
Lack of knowledge of Islam exists both among Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims, misunderstand Islam and fear it. They believe it threatens their most basic values and culture. Their lack of understanding, abstract assumption and stereotypes replace fact and reality. In this situation of misunderstanding, the voices of peace and tolerance are drowned. The secular fabric is increasingly becoming fragile as hate leaders from both sides keep spewing fire, thereby highlighting the majority-minority cracks.
Religion is said to be primary mover of peace, love and simply work as raw material for social or political as well as cultural construct. Although for billions of people, it is a daily practice, and the very real framework of an understanding that links human beings to a spiritual reality. Their belief is the prism through which they view the world, and a religious community provides the central environments.
It is hard to overemphasize the importance of religion in the lives of many people. It is apparent that most people across the world would prefer to live in peace rather in conflict or any other kind of social tension. Yet, often the only religious voices on the front page are those speaking messages of hatred or violence, especially in stories about conflict or social tensions. In India recently, several movements carried by the people of one religious group to harm other communities on the name of religion e.g. ‘cow’ as religious symbol. Most of these groups use the ‘cow’ as a fig leaf for violence against minorities, mostly Muslims, transforming even formerly genteel cities into cauldrons of tension.
There is much in common among people of different faiths, both in terms of ideas and in terms of the society they occupy. It is this which needs to be explored. We need to be able to see the other and say ‘we understand you are different, but we also understand the difference’.
Muslims today are deeply apprehensive about the way vested interests are playing politics to target the community. Need of the hour is to understand the politics and reason behind these events. Such events depress them psychologically and belittle their aspirations for a secure future. Though many Muslims in India occupy various important positions in the state and the society, which mostly depends on where they come from and what are their class, caste, and gender. More so, how they are being used.
There is a growing sense of marginalisation among Muslims across India which is hard to deny. This sense of marginalisation has been steadily increasing since the rise to prominence of Hindu right-wing ideologies and organisations during the 1980s, when the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi issue was used to sharpen religious divides across India. The marginalisation of Muslims in India is, indeed, well documented. In the mid-2000s, the Indian government commissioned two studies — the Sachar Committee Report of 2006 and the Misra Commission Report of 2007. These highlighted a higher prevalence of discrimination towards Muslims and socio-economic deprivation among them as compared to other religious groups. Little concrete action, however, has been taken to address these issues at the policy level. If anything, the situation has only worsened.
At present the exclusion of Muslims from political scene is escorted by the increasing political visibility of Dalits. This novel base for Hindu unification is the exclusion of Muslims, combined with the formal subsumption of Dalits. The register of exclusion shifts in the process, from untouchability to invisibility.
Media extension enables more synchronized and extensive forms of exclusion than were previously thinkable; political undercurrents have both anticipated this development and furthered it. The isolation felt by religious minorities – including Muslims and Christians – has continued to increase, particularly after the victory of BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. After BJPs massive win in Lok Sabha, the right wing affiliated groups become visible in very short span of time of one year. We come across many incidents of communal tensions across India.
In the meantime, Hindu nationalists have been rewriting school textbooks in some states and holding training camps for teenage boys and girls in an apparent attempt to inculcate children into their cause. This works to great extent since couple of years.In fact, the BJP’s transformation of its ‘Hindu nationalist’ ideology into Hindu populism has endorsed the party to further some of its old ambitions in a new and somewhat uncontended way.
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and its partner organisations in the Hindu right have started an intensive campaign against religious minorities, especially Muslims. The main features of this campaign include the so-called ‘love-jihad’ – Muslim men allegedly converting Hindu women to Islam by trapping them in love affairs – and ‘ghar- wapsi’ (homecoming) initiatives which convert Muslims and Christians ‘back’ to Hinduism. Moves towards Hinduisation have also been taking place across India. Most recently, the terror spread by cow vigilantism by the so called ‘Gau-Rakshaks’ leads the mob lynching of many Muslims all over India. Violent mobs are taking over civic spaces in India. Public lynching, a barbaric form of political expression, seems to have become the new norm in India since the couple of years. All of these are campaigns of increasing intolerance and a stable yet steady process of de-secularisation, which do not bode fit for religious minorities in India.
While attacks against religious minorities, and indeed writers and intellectuals have happened in India before, some groups within this new trend of resurgent ‘Hindu nationalism’ may be more brazen and potentially dangerous than anything we have seen before. In what seems to be yet another brazen hate crime, a Muslim family of ten people on board a train was attacked by a mob near Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh. As the argument turned communal, they had reportedly called the Muslim family “anti-nationals” and “beef eaters”, “Pakistani traitors” before throwing their skull caps on the floor, grabbing their beards, and taunting them with abuses.
The lynching and the anti-Muslim rhetoric for now have led to not just a feeling of siege but also exposed hidden prejudice among friends and families. This is certainly true of my friends and family. Some uncles and cousins now find it acceptable to forward hate-filled posts against other religious communities on WhatsApp, Facebook, and other social networking sites. Role of technology become important. In this age of ‘Digitalization’ belief turn into fact with in no time. Bigotry is now socially acceptable. It also impacts the socio-cultural, political as well as economic environment in the country.
All these trends, comingled together, can only be ominous.

—The author is a research scholar in the Department of History and Culture , Jamia Millia Islamia. His area of interest is conflict studies. He can be reached at karif2172@gmail.com.

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