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Islamophobia In India Amid COVID-19 – OpEd

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India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule, is undergoing a major ideological shift. The country, once glorified as a secular democracy, is now exposing its minorities (Muslims) to suppression. Indian secularism, in the past decade, is strained with hostility against Muslims. Muslims account for more than 14 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion population and are in the treacherous state. A series of events, which took place in recent times, reflects the Muslims’ agonies in India. In the first place, last year, New Delhi, to change the demographics of Kashmir, deprived it of its special status. In November 2019, the Indian Supreme Court decided the case of Babri Masjid in the favor of Hindus, while ordering allotment of alternative land to Muslims for setting up of a mosque. In the next development, the enforcement of the infamous Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) has tampered with the Muslims’ sentiments. Implementation of the CAA sparked nationwide protests in India since it stroked fear of marginalization among Indian Muslims. The string of the following events symbolizes the country’s thriving quest to transform it into the Hindu Rashtra.

In recent times, when COVID-19 has overwhelmed the whole world, anti-Muslim sentiments still dominate India. The COVID-19 outbreak has intensified Islamophobic attacks in India, with Muslims being accused of spreading the virus. The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has waged a campaign to defile Muslims by blaming them for the spread of Coronavirus in India. Hate speeches by the Indian Nationals accusing the Tablighi Jamaat of exacerbating the Coronavirus pandemic in India have dispirited the Muslim community in India. The BJP categorically used the virus to target members of the Tablighi Jamaat. Lately, the social media is swamped by calls for social and economic boycotts of Muslims, and they turned the subjects of various physical attacks, amid falsehoods accusing them of spreading the virus deliberately. Hashtags such as #CoronaJihad trended for days on Twitter and panelists in TV debates called them “human bombs”. Following the Jamaat issue, a wave of Islamophobic posts unleashed on social media by right-wing Hindus, some of them employed in Gulf countries. These developments met with strong resentment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – the genuine Indian ally – and Kuwait; they condemned anti-Muslim sentiments in India. Princess Hend al-Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, warned “openly racist and discriminatory” Indians in the Gulf that they “will be fined and made to leave” the country.

The following incidents reflect Indian government hatred against Muslims. The BJP since seizing the power in India in 2014 aims to marginalize Indian Muslims. The BJP leaders have repeatedly floated anti-Muslim remarks in their speeches and interviews since their agenda is rooted in the principles of Hindutva. The Hindutva ideology has gained tremendous strength in India under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Over the last six years, the BJP’s tenure has been marred by assaults on human rights and religious freedom. Masses linked to the BJP have beaten and injured the scores of Muslims for trading or slaughtering cows. The event of the COVID-19 highlighted further atrocities and heinous BJP intentions designed at Indian Muslims. 

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) describes the Hindutva policy as an ideology that “seeks to make India a Hindu state rested on Hindu values. The BJP appears to exercise and disseminate this ideology ardently. This philosophy serves as a trump card for the BJP to cajole Indian masses. Apart from promoting economy, trade, commerce, and business, the other factor, which is tapped to force people to support the BJP as a singular idea, is Hindutva. The Hindutva ideology stems from the work of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Prime Minister Modi exhibits great love and reverence for him (Savarkar). In the eyes of Savarkar Muslims and Christians are foreigners and ‘invaders’. He detested Gandhi’s philosophy of Hindu-Muslim amity and assumed him as being ‘soft’ on Muslims and an impediment to his goal of Hindu Rashtra. According to Savarkar’s Hindutva dogma, the religious minorities are considered to be the part of India but they will need to owe allegiance to Hindus and accept its superiority. The way Savarkar saw, to become part of the Indian nation, minorities must accept Hindu culture. Unfortunately, in India, Savarkar’s doctrine of hatred has superseded Gandhi’s ideology of love. Therefore, for the propagation of Hindutva, the BJP has turned blind eye on minorities and focuses on promoting a single identity (Hindu). Such an approach runs counter to the spirit of Secularism. In the past, driven by such despair, Muhammad Ali Jinnah sought to craft a country (Pakistan) for Muslims to practice their religious duties outwardly any anxiety. The contemporary anti-Muslim climate in India validates Jinnah’s apprehensions that he had foreseen long ago. Besides, almost 200 million population of Muslims share a fair part of Indian politics, culture, tradition, and norms. Modi and its team are apprehensive of growing Muslim influence in these spheres. The BJP, therefore, is hell-bent upon targeting the Muslim community in India.

Such a miserable state, of Indian Muslims, is a harbinger of more damaging developments to happen. The suppression of Indian Muslims is likely to disturb -already disturbed- Indo-Pak relations. Pakistan has always been voicing its concerns against Indian atrocities on Muslims. Any development against Muslims, all over the world, hurts Pakistan since its ideological foundation is based on Islam. Therefore, similar events in India make peace between both nations elusive. Also, marginalizing a particular sect (Muslims in India) might prompt it to bigotry and intolerance, jeopardizing the regional peace. Related events also bear responsibility for the oozing refugee crisis that burdens immediate neighbors. At a time when the primary focus of the BJP should be on the health and safety of the Indian Nation, the ongoing events in India have unveiled the BJP’s obsession against Muslims. The dream of a unified India will materialize only if Modi abandons the approach of making India a Hindu Rashtra state coupled with the Hindutva philosophy. 

*Muhammad Usman Ghani, Electronic Engineer

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