Muslims in Modi’s India: The marginalised minority

In the middle of an election that he is widely expected to cruise through, with the spectre of the 2002 Gujarat riots lingering in BBC documentaries, and an increased global focus on anti-Islamic sentiments as a result of other conflicts, I (and many others) have been left to wonder – what does Indian PM Narendra Modi stand to gain from his continued assault on Muslims in India?

It would appear there are two possible reasons: either he personally wants to carry out and witness a religious prosecution, or he believes that his divisive rhetoric and anti-Muslim agenda will be welcomed by the 80 percent Hindu majority population leading to electoral success – and it is hard to decide which case is worse. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that it would currently appear that both are true, with a plethora of terrifying tales emerging which cast him and his right-hand man Amit Shah, as villains scarcely believable for a Bollywood movie.

If you are unfamiliar with the reality of the situation on the ground in India this might all feel hyperbolic. After all, in the West we often hear about the rapid economic development and progress that India is making, and while this might be true, there are unfortunate remnants of a less socially progressive era. Anti-Muslim sentiments have quickly become institutionalised and entrenched deep in society, which can very much be traced back to the emergence of Modi and Shah. Their roles have been widely documented, not least by the BBC, particularly concerning Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots. It is widely accepted that he promoted and encouraged the violence and potential ethnic cleansing as Chief Minister of Gujarat by preventing police from taking action and delivering the standard aid that their job entails. Deaths, rape and violence were left unchecked, propagating a climate of fear amongst the minority Muslim population. 

Just as concerning has been the recent response from the Modi-led BJP government, where they sought to discredit and disavow the findings of a BBC documentary revealing the truth behind the incidents. The government proclaimed the documentary an illegitimate piece of colonial propaganda despite the BBC’s journalist credibility and assurances about the quality of the research.  Baselessly discrediting media outlets is a tactic employed by authoritarian leaders, unbefitting democratic ones, and it follows a worrying pattern of Modi’s increasingly authoritarian style. 

Despite appearing fit and mentally alert compared to his American contemporaries, there is hope that at the age of 73, Modi will not be around forever. Unfortunately, however, he seems to have institutionalised his mantra, and his current deputy, Home Minister Amit Shah, displays similar prejudices. After a 2010 investigation, Shah was arrested on kidnapping, extortion and murder charges – but perhaps his scariest attribute remains his iron-clad grip on journalism and media in India. Stringent restrictions on free speech and frequent arrests of dissident journalists have allowed him near total control of the press within India.  Consequently, he is able to carefully cultivate his own image perpetuating his far-right beliefs via both traditional and social media.                 

Muslims in India are forced to surrender to the rule of a leader that aims to systematically dehumanise them, without even the hope of a fairer future. 

The duo has continuously polarised the country after taking office in 2014, with one of the most controversial pieces of legislation being the Citizenship Amendment Act. It aimed to provide a fast track to citizenship for Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who have fled to Hindu-majority India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before Dec. 31, 2014. The law excludes Muslims, who are a majority in all three nations. Such a flagrant violation of a specific religion’s rights is scarcely believable in the modern-day and is simply one of many measures being taken to marginalise the Muslim community in India.

More recently, PM Modi inaugurated a grand temple in Ayodhya in lavish style, bringing out film stars and cricket players. The temple, however, was built on the site of a 16th-century mosque that was torn down by Hindu mobs in 1992 after the Supreme Court, under heavy influence of the BJP, awarded the land to Hindus. The decision and occasion have evoked fear and traumatic memories amongst the Muslim population, and such conspicuous displays of religious bias feel irreconcilable with the country’s supposedly secular constitution.

Finally, there has been an undeniable rise in violence targeting Muslims over the course of the current government, with many feeling unsafe and unsure of what to do. Hindu mob attacks have become so common in recent years that India’s Supreme Court warned that they could become the “new normal” – with the government not taking any action to prevent or even condemn such violence. Modi and Shah have rather often encouraged it to promote their nationalist Hindu vision of India.

Most of us will never have to face living in a nation where you are oppressed merely for following a religion, yet this should not diminish our empathy for such people. Often living in poverty and lacking the resources to flee, Muslims in India are forced to surrender to the rule of a leader that aims to systematically dehumanise them, without even the hope of a fairer future. 

As India continues to grow in global influence and the West views it as a democratic counterweight to China’s influence in the region,  we should not forget the tragic ethnic persecution taking place before our eyes amidst the headlines of economic development.  The world unfortunately remains silent and largely ignorant of the oppression and suffering that Muslims are facing, with hope increasingly absent in the very nation that will soon hold more Muslims than any other

Image Description: Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister

Image Credit: Shealah Craighead via Flickr