Indian Muslims between the devil and the deep sea

Even as RSS sets about creating an obedient monolithic society, persecuted Indian Muslims are finding it increasingly difficult to exercise restraint and not react to provocations, assaults & insults

Indian Muslims between the devil and the deep sea
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Mohd Asim Khan

‘No animal shall kill any other animal’ was the original commandment that was changed to ‘No animal shall kill any other animal without cause’ once the pigs took over control in the Animal Farm, the allegory written by George Orwell. The Pigs also altered other commandments to suit their needs.

If Indian Muslims are increasingly being reminded of the allegory, they can scarcely be blamed. The relentless discrimination by the state and the society at large and subjected to vitriolic hatred, Muslims in India are being driven to weigh their options.

The glee with which mobs are enabled to abuse and assault Muslims on the street, insult and humiliate them without any provocation is staggering. A large section of civil society and the mainstream media see nothing wrong and even justify what is happening. The state meanwhile has gone about enacting laws targeting Muslims in violation of the commandments in the Constitution.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has explained it as ‘deepening of democracy’ and claimed that Indian democracy is today stronger than ever because the people who matter, people who may not be educated or speak in English and people who do not live in cities, have taken over the reins. While history will judge him, Indian Muslims are arguably going through the most turbulent time since Independence, possibly the toughest.

Omar Abdullah, External Affairs Minister in the NDA Government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, lamented this week that if Kashmiri Muslims had been told in 1947 that India would favour one religion over others, Kashmiri Muslims might have decided against joining the Indian Union.

While Kashmiri Muslims have complained of injustice and persecution by the state for several decades, several commentators have wryly commented that under Narendra Modi, the rest of the country has been turned into Kashmir.

Participants at a Hindu Mahapanchayat in Delhi give provocative speeches against Muslims, April 2022
Participants at a Hindu Mahapanchayat in Delhi give provocative speeches against Muslims, April 2022

Following mob violence for the second time in two years in Delhi, with mostly Muslims at the receiving end, the minority community was blamed for allegedly pelting stones at a Hindu religious procession. Pleas by Muslims that they retaliated only after the mob targeted a mosque and pelted stones, that two other religious processions had passed uneventfully the same day, were brushed aside.

Even when Delhi Police admitted that the third procession was illegal and had no permission, a disproportionate number of Muslims were booked for ‘pelting stones’ while processionists who wielded swords and firearms ‘illegally’ were treated with kid gloves.

The pattern was similar in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh. At both places shops and homes of Muslims were razed by way of retribution.

“Earlier there used to be some pretence of secularism and respect for Constitution, but even that is gone now. It’s oppression by the State. It’s natural for the Muslims to feel suffocated and helpless ,” says senior journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani.

Navaid Hamid, chairman of Majlis-e-Mushawarat agrees. “Clearly, what all is happening today has the backing of the ruling dispensation. But it is neither sudden nor unexpected. They want to provoke Muslims and polarise the society,” he says.

Girls shield a Jamia Millia student from police batons during police action against anti-CAA protest, Delhi, Dec 2019
Girls shield a Jamia Millia student from police batons during police action against anti-CAA protest, Delhi, Dec 2019

“It’s long-drawn game. I call it low-intensity conflict strategy wherein there would not be large-scale riots but small incidents of communal clashes here and there at regular intervals. So, one day you have love-jihad, the next day controversy over hijab, another day it’s halal and so on,” suggests Professor Abhay Dubey who has watched the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) very closely.

Dubey had predicted that if Yogi Adityanath succeeded in winning the election in Uttar Pradesh, BJP and RSS in other states would be emboldened to emulate the winning formula. The appearance of bulldozers at Khargone and Jahangirpuri vindicated him. “The idea is to keep the pot of communal tension simmering. The RSS wants political unity of Hindus, create a level of ‘Hindu ekta’ that makes Muslim votes irrelevant in elections.

Police manhandles a student at Aligarh Muslim University during anti-CAA protests in Dec 2019
Police manhandles a student at Aligarh Muslim University during anti-CAA protests in Dec 2019

Ironically, more the Muslims are persecuted, the less political support they seem to receive. Political parties Indian Muslims traditionally voted for, seem sanguine that Muslims have no option but to vote for them. Even condemnation of Muslim persecution is no longer deemed to be necessary.

To the shock of Muslims, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who had kept an enigmatic silence on anti-CAA protests and Delhi riots of 2020, last month demanded stringent action against ‘stone pelters’ at Jahangirpuri and condemned the alleged attack on the Hindu procession.

When 13 Opposition leaders led by Congress President Sonia Gandhi questioned the Prime Minister’s silence over communal violence and hate speech by those who seemed to enjoy official patronage, missing conspicuously was Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, who was supported overwhelmingly by Muslims in the UP election.

“The Muslim question is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge,” says Arfa Khanum before adding, “It was never easy to be a Muslim in India. But it was not as difficult either.”

People like the former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan have warned that others would also feel the heat of the communal violence. Rajan expressed his apprehension that it would adversely affect investment and enterprise.

Kamal Farooqui, former chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission and a Chartered Accountant by profession, also believes there would be an economic cost to the country.

A Muslim man is brutally thrashed by a Hindu mob during Delhi riots in Feb 2020
A Muslim man is brutally thrashed by a Hindu mob during Delhi riots in Feb 2020

“Having failed on all fronts and having failed to create employment, it is using religious divide as a diversion. More than Muslims this is going to hurt Hindus who own major businesses much more, Musalman toh Bechara kal bhi rickshaw chalata tha, aaj bhi chala raha hai,” says Dr. Mehmood Alam, a lecturer of political science at Delhi University.

The desperation is such that commentators have started worrying about a ‘civil war’. “It is not genocide I am worried about but the prospect of a civil war,” wrote a commentator recently, inviting sharp and anguished rejoinders from Muslims.

Commentators and intellectuals have been warning of the consequences.

"Muslims have been fighting against violence with Constitutional means even when the whole State apparatus is against them and the judiciary seems to be indifferent to the injustice done to them," says political commentator prof Apoorvanand.

“I must say that their faith in the democracy, Constitution and humanity must not be violated,” Apoorvanand emphasises.

“There is still space for redemption. But if it goes on like this for another one or two years, we might reach a point of no return,” he underlines.

Prof Dubey offers an alternative view and suggests that the real objective of the RSS is to create an “obedient Hindu society”. The sooner Hindus realise this, the better,” he adds.

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