Violence against Muslims in India must raise global alarm

Violence against Muslims in India must raise global alarm

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“Insha’Allah Yahaan Aman Hoga (God willing, peace will be restored)” asserted India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, standing in Delhi's riot-hit areas last month Feb.26, trying to pacify desperate citizens who were a sitting target of an organized pogrom.

The terrified faces immediately made me travel back in time, when in my teens I witnessed the unfolding of the horrendous violence post-Babri Mosque destruction in the chilling winter of 1992 – that too in a city reputed for its communal bonhomie derived from cultural richness. 

Those were volatile times when unknown anti-social elements emerged to create insecurity, even as Hindu, Muslim and Christian neighbors in the apartment building we resided in pledged to protect one another till the very end. 

The Indian subcontinent is not new to organized rioting, but it is this cross-cultural bonding, consolidating beyond an umbilical relationship, that has taken maximum impact in recent days. Doval alluded to the superficial restoration of law and order through prohibitory restrictions, but how does he address the principal precipitating factor behind this choreographed carnage? 

If Indian Home Minister Amit Shah is to be believed, Delhi’s violence was spontaneous, implying that a sense of alienation and deep-seated societal fissures along communal lines have already dented India’s cherished heritage of unity in diversity. Apart from a sustained dose of majoritarian jingoism and enforcement of discriminatory law and policy measures that seek to isolate Muslim minorities subtly, alarmingly, eventual estrangement of Muslims from the mainstream is being systematically catalyzed by social insult too – in the form of humiliating questions on Islamic cultural symbols like distinctive headwear, clothing and beards, which, as my home city Calcutta’s police commissioner agrees with me, can act as an invisible trigger.

Despite Hindu and Muslim casualties in the Delhi riots, the stark reality of police personnel slipping into violence as participants themselves, destroying strategically placed surveillance cameras to hide the marauding Hindu mob’s identity, and forcing injured Muslim youths to recite nationalist odes instead of arranging for first-aid, perfectly explains why the rot has permeated the nascent mind too.

Seema Sengupta

Interestingly, Delhi was never a communally hypersensitive metropolis in the strictest sense, with working class people from Hindu and Muslim communities living side by side amicably in mixed neighborhoods. Except for a brief period in the early 1990’s, when the Hindu right wing’s virulent anti-Muslim campaign and ex-Deputy Premier L.K. Advani’s infamous Rath Yatra (chariot-on-wheel) was splitting and bleeding India, the capital’s Hindu and Muslim population stood united against a divisive agenda. 

But, what changed in between that caused Delhi to turn into a religiously segregated city, with even affluent Muslim families showing willingness to give up the comforts of cosmopolitan middle class urban living to stay instead in ghettoized environments? 

The answer lies in disturbing video footage that went viral on social media, where a girl child from Rajasthan is seen celebrating India’s Republic Day last year through a recital which abusively targets Muslim minorities. While the rabid manifestation in this kid’s behavior is attributable to the country’s current sociopolitical environment, the bigger worry lies elsewhere. 

The child’s impressionable mind identifies law enforcers with summary execution, disparaging Gandhian principle of non-violence and treating Kashmiris as the enemy, lock stock and barrel, and Muslims as traitors. In a nutshell, the entire system comes across to her as prejudiced against Muslims. 

Despite Hindu and Muslim casualties in the Delhi riots, the stark reality of police personnel slipping into violence as participants themselves, destroying strategically placed surveillance cameras to hide the marauding Hindu mob’s identity, and forcing injured Muslim youths to recite nationalist odes instead of arranging for first-aid, perfectly explains why the rot has permeated the nascent mind too.

Just a few days ago, in a private communication with me, a highly decorated former Gujarat Police chief, with an illustrious career in diplomacy, expressed his anger and frustration on the state of affairs in India today. 

As Islamophobia is mainstreamed systematically under tactical state patronage, Muslims are being targeted for thwarting introduction of citizenship by permit, granted at the discretion of the ruler, and not obtained naturally through birthright-- even as India virtually puts the onus on the citizenry to prove their nationality. 

Meanwhile, majoritarian fanatics are determined to reduce the political discourse to its lowest ebb, resorting to taunts, abuse and veiled threats simultaneously, as is evident from the incendiary sloganeering during Shah’s March 1 political rally in Calcutta directed against the vulnerable Muslim community. 

The methodical Delhi violence should therefore be analyzed in the context of ordinary Muslim women’s desperate attempt to peacefully reclaim the space for pluralistic living in an increasingly intolerant India, amid charges of sedition. Undoubtedly, there will be no let-up in the Hindu right wing’s sustained efforts to make independent India’s largest apolitical spontaneous civil protests, against a discriminatory citizenship law, look like a Hindu versus Muslim battle of existence.

The UN Human Rights Chief’s unprecedented intervention in India’s Supreme Court, as amicus curiae, to explain how the amended citizenship act lacks objectivity and violates international covenants, clearly demonstrates that the well-being of the country’s 200 million Muslims has never been in greater peril.

- Seema Sengupta is a Kolkata-based journalist and columnist.

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