RAMPANT SPREAD OF ISLAMOPHOBIA IN INDIA

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BYSimran Walia

A Muslim man being lynched by mob.
VISUAL FROM DELHI RIOTS

The spread of Islamophobia and anti-Islamic sentiments have taken a huge toll over the
Muslims in India, particularly in the last few months. Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) of Narendra Modi has come to power, we have been witnessing widespread sectarian
divide and the government has also reflected bias against Muslims.

Anti caa protest site near Jamia MIliia Islamia university.
13th December visuals. tear gas was fired on the protesters


To start with, in December 2019 the Modi administration came up with the discriminatory
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This is the act which for the first time makes religion a
sole base for granting citizenship. The law aims at fast-tracking asylum claims of
non-Muslim irregular immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Furthermore,
the amended citizenship law aimed at identifying ‘illegal migrants’, has led to wide
apprehension among millions of Indian Muslims, including many families who have been
living in India for generations, that they could be stripped of their citizenship rights and
detained.


Hundreds of thousands of Indian students and activists protested against these plans. The
prestigious universtieis of India like Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim
University (AMU) were the worst affected due to their peaceful protests against this
draconian act. It showed that many did not agree with the discrimination and targeting of
minority groups. The Delhi Police attacked students protesting against this act with an intent
to inflict maximum damage. They used Tear-gas shells in Jamia and barged into the library
premises of the University and atrociously hit students which was appalling and
heart-breaking at the same time. Several students were severely injured and the Police did not
seem to pay heed to any of the students injured. Police, however, were quick to arrest critics
of the policy and disperse their peaceful demonstrations by using lethal force. Several BJP
officials mocked and even threatened the protestors, while some even called for the protesters
to be shot and aggravated the violence against muslims. No legal action was taken against
such people, but peaceful protestors and activists. This act clearly destroys the basic structure
of the constitution which calls for equality, secularism and justice. Nationhood shall not be
determined on the basis of people’s religion, no matter what.


Ever since this act came into place, in the state of Assam, this citizenship process has already
excluded nearly two million people. Non-Muslims who might be doubtful citizens because of
inadequate documentation will still have an opportunity to get citizenship under the new act,
but Muslims with similar inadequacy will be at a higher risk of statelessness and many may
even end up in detention centres that Assam and other states have already started building.
This also led to clashes between groups opposing and supporting the legislation in February
2020, eventually escalating into a full-blown communal riots in Delhi resulting in the loss of
over 50 lives.


Just when this was not enough, the entire world is grappling with the worst ever Global Pandemic, that
is, the Covid-19. The country is in lockdown for over two months now to combat this deadly virus.
Even during this crucial period, the government and the right-wing people are taking advantage to
spread hatred and Islamophobia through their baseless accusations. It all started after the Indian
authorities announced that they found a large number of Coronavirus cases among Muslims who
attended a mass religious congregation in Delhi, organised by the International Islamic Missionary
Movement ‘Tablighi Jamaat’. This led to a widespread hatred and anger against mulsims in the country
where the fault lines between Hindus and Muslims are already widening. Leaders from the BJP started
calling the Jamaat meeting a ‘Talibani Crime’ and ‘Coronaterrorism’. These terms even went viral on
social media platforms. Right wing Hindus accused Muslims of this being a conspiracy to increase the
virus cases. There were also physical attacks on Muslims, which included volunteers distributing relief
material amid falsehoods accusing them of spreading the virus deliberately. It is of no surprise, as the
Mobs affiliated with the BJP have since 2015 killed and injured members of religious minorities by
accusing them of trading and killing cows for beef.


The anxiety of islamophobia has even led some members of the Muslim community to
attempt to end their own lives. Dilshad Muhamud, a Muslim man from the north Indian state
of Himachal Pradesh died by suicide. Even though he had tested negative for the coronavirus
he faced a social boycott from his neighbours for his alleged links to the Tablighi Jamaat.


Muslims have been attacked in several attacks across the country as narratives against the community
are being spread by constant misinformation on social media. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
(OIC), the Kuwait government and other Arab activists have called out Islamophobic hate speech by
Indians as accusing the country’s Muslims of spreading the Coronavirus. The World Health
Organisation also cautioned, ‘It is very important we do not profile the cases on the basis of racial,
religious and ethnic lines’. Medical experts believed that such stigmatisation would be of great harm
during this epidemic making people more fearful.


Both these incidents of the citizenship act and stigmatising religion for spreading virus have led to
spread of Islamophobia to a great extent which may destroy our society in near future. In this fight of
treating religions differently, the true essence of humanity is lost.


Moreover, amidst this pandemic, the government is still busy arresting student activists who raised
their voice against the CAA and carried out peaceful protests. Jamia’s student Safoora Zargar who is
pregnant was arrested on 13th April. She was active in organising protests in North-East Delhi. From
23 to 25 February, Hindu mobs were seen attacking Muslim neighbourhoods, armed with sticks, stones
and Molotov cocktails, chanting Hindu religious slogans. Many Muslims were lynched, their homes
and businesses were vandalised and set on fire, and thousands were forced into relief camps.


Instead of taking action against the BJP politicians and the mobs, police have gone on a witch hunt
against Muslim students and protesters, charging them with sedition and throwing them in jail under
Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), at a time when the courts are hardly functioning because
of Covid-19 restrictions. Arresting Safoora during her pregnancy and sending her to an overcrowded
prison shows the brutality of the ongoing crackdown in the country. Some of the right-wing press,
sympathetic to the government, carried reports accusing Ms Zargar of being “responsible for the deaths
of innocent people” during the riots.


Not only her, but many other activists like Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Shifa Ur-Rehman were also
arrested. On 23rd May, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, members of the ‘Pinjra Tod’ group of
Women’s rights activists from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were also arrested on the charges of
assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty. They were granted bail on
24th May, however, the Crime Branch arrested them again for rioting and criminal conspiracy which
are totally false blames. Two student activists from AMU, Farhan Zuberi and Ravish Ali Khan have
also been arrested by the Aligarh Police for protesting against CAA-NRC. Owing to the risk of the
Covid-19, these student activists shall be released from the prisoners at the earliest as everyone is
aware about the risk related to the spread of the Virus. While everyone is saving themselves and
others’ lives by staying at home, the witch hunt against specifically Muslim student activists is still
going on.


The spread of Islamophobia is consequently damaging the essence of our constitution which
strives for equality and equal rights for everyone, no matter what their religion, caste, creed
is. This is simply criminalising dissent and the police is trying to intimidate people who are
supporting such protests. The BJP leader, Kapil Mishra gave a provocative speech (hate
speech) where he demanded protesters to leave at once. No action has been taken against him
but activists and women students who were merely protesting for their and everyone’s rights.
It rather seems that the government feels threatened by a strong student movement from the
prestigious universities, critical of its neo-liberal policies. Attacking women students also
points out to the nexus between patriarchy and the state that Pinjra Tod has also stood
against. Moreover, there is no FIR filed against BJP’s Anurag Thakur for raising ‘Goli maro
Slogan’.
Why? Komal Sharma, who was one of the culprits of the JNU incident on 5th
January is not being investigated. These are the questions that the government and the Delhi
Police need to answer. Rather than helping migrants reach their home safely during this
global pandemic, the government is clearly taking advantage of people being distracted
because of the Virus to take action against student activists. Who will speak if activists are
not able to? If they dont speak now, then the situation might become even worse and India
will lose its Communal Harmony and the very nature of Secularism. Around 25 organisations
from around the World have only one demand: ‘India must immediately release its student
activists and human rights defenders from jails given the Covid-19 risk’. Adama Dieng, The
UN expert,
thinks that CAA has sparked more hate speech and discrmination against
minorities. We all must together strive for making our country a better and a safe place to live
in and that can only be achieved through humanity over discriminating against specific
religion.

BY -Simran Walia

(Simran is a Research Scholar in the centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University)

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