People supporting the new citizenship law beat a Muslim man during a clash with those opposing the law, in New Delhi, India. File picture: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
People supporting the new citizenship law beat a Muslim man during a clash with those opposing the law, in New Delhi, India. File picture: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

The growing polarisation in Indian society

By Sanjay Kapoor Time of article published Sep 16, 2021

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The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh says Muslims and Hindus come from the same ancestry

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the Indian media and ruling party influencers went hoarse on Indian TV channels about ‘women hating Islamic fundamentalists,’ as if they had attacked India. The emergence of the Taliban was packaged by the nationalist media as not so much a foreign policy challenge, but a domestic political issue that could help in polarizing votes before the crucial elections in the important state of Uttar Pradesh. The BJP must win this state to return to power in the 2024 parliament polls.

Symptomatic of nearly all societies that have seen a rising tide of nationalist politics, India, too, is experiencing a churning where the history of freedom movement and the importance that has been given to the minority community is being vigorously challenged. In many cases, TV anchors have resorted to suggestions of growing violence against the minority Muslims by claiming that during the medieval age the invaders killed many Hindus. Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has also spoken about the imperative to correct historical wrongs. It is a moment in India’s history where the majority Hindus want to reassert their primacy in national politics and they believe, like the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, that the constitutional values of secularism have held back the country from occupying its rightful place in the community of nations.

It is from this standpoint that we need to perceive how the spectre of a Taliban attack on the Indian political horizon is running alongside the aggressive and often violent campaign that has been unleashed in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country against the Muslim minority. Hate has taken different forms as gangs of goons associated with the majority community- many of them allegedly linked to front organizations associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party - have gone about lynching or roughing up members of the Muslim community. In recent months, this violent campaign has attained a kind of method in madness as these groups have targeted small and medium businesses owned by Muslims.

Street vendors that wear religious markers like the long beard and cap get roughed up. In the state of Madhya Pradesh, a Muslim bangle seller was beaten up on the false pretext that he was troubling a 13 year old. Instead of arresting his tormentors, he was jailed. Similarly, an auto driver belonging to the Muslim community in Uttar Pradesh’s textile township, Kanpur, was mercilessly beaten up. Images of his daughter pleading to the goons to spare her father went viral. In this case, at least, those accused were arrested on a minor charge.

Every act of violence is methodically captured on camera and disseminated all over the country to show that the perpetrators were protected by the state. It seemed it was also meant to encourage others in different parts of the country to engage in similar acts as they had nothing to fear. In nearly all the cases, the police are seen to be standing as silent spectators to the crime, and seldom intervene, sending a message to Muslims that there’s no help for them.

There have also been other incidents which target Muslim businesses. In Bangalore, a successful entrepreneur selling raw material for South Indian cuisine- Idly and Dosas- was mercilessly trolled with claims that he was mixing crushed animal bones and other impurities. These messages on the messaging platform whatsapp also suggested that as his workers were all Muslims, vegetarian consumers should stay away from his products. It is possible that this campaign was initiated to help a competitor, but more cases are being reported from all over the country.

False accusations were also made against Muslims for spreading the coronavirus last year. A year later, those charges look ridiculous, but the alleged epicentre of the virus still remains padlocked. Many young Muslims who agitated against the government for bringing a discriminatory citizen law that resulted in violence in the capital Delhi are still in jail under a draconian law even after two years.

The perpetrators of the majoritarian violence seem to have ignored the conciliatory voices emanating from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the ideological mother ship of the pro-Hindu organizations. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has stated categorically, “Hindus and Muslims share ancestry, so they should live together.” He has unequivocally said that Muslims are Indians, and that they are respected.

Bhagwat is right. Unlike many other countries where Muslims are outsiders, in India they are sons of the soil. There are about 215 million Muslims in India, who constitute 15.5 percent of the population. Electorally and otherwise it is a significant number, and they have had a major impact on India’s democracy. But the BJP came to power polarizing Indian society, and made the Muslim vote irrelevant in 125 parliamentary constituencies where they have sway. The grand plan of majoritarian politics seems to be to dilute the impact Muslims have on policy making.

To a large extent, Indian democracy has been sustained by the plurality of Indian society, and political parties have made an effort to craft policies and electoral stratagems that weave in Muslim interests. India’s Congress party remained in power for 60 odd years out of the 70 years since India’s independence. The country’s secular democracy has shone brightly in a region mired in religious atavism and authoritarianism. Disturbingly, many of the tendencies that Indians resented are visiting them, compelling many to wonder whether the growing illiberalism and hate for minorities is a natural outcome of majoritarian politics.

* Sanjay Kapoor is the Editor of Hardnews in Delhi.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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