Secularism Under Threat : The Current State of Muslims In India
India, a nation renowned for its rich cultural diversity, has recently seen a number of changes. Specifically, in terms of the socio-political environment and the experiences of its Muslim community. Under the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a significant figure in Indian politics, the situation and future of Muslims in India has attracted considerable attention and controversy. Numerous socio-political changes have been made under Modi's government, which started in 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Hindu nationalism have also grown during this time. The rights, representation, and socioeconomic situation of India's Muslim community have therefore come under scrutiny as a result of these developments. This article examines the current situation of Muslims in India under the Modi government. It will shed light on the complex dynamics influencing Muslim lives in the biggest democracy in the world by examining the policies and actions taken by the government. It is crucial to acknowledge that perspectives regarding these policies and incidents differ, and the classification of these actions as anti-Muslim can be open to interpretation.
With the help of leaders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi the Indian independence movement sought to abolish British rule and allay the worries of many religious groups, especially Muslims. In the end, the movement resulted in the division of India and the founding of Pakistan in 1947. After gaining independence, India confronted the task of establishing a democratic system that emphasised secularism and inclusivity. The Indian Constitution ensured equal rights for all individuals, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, Muslim minorities have encountered disparities in social and economic conditions, lack of political representation, and occurrences of communal violence. These challenges underscore the persistent endeavour to safeguard minority rights and promote a governance structure that embraces inclusiveness. The type of secularism post-independent India aimed to pursue has been debated upon since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ascension to power in 2014 and the rise of Hindu nationalism. BJP has implemented several policies that have targeted muslim minorities after being re-elected in 2019.
With the exception of Muslims, the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act expedites the asylum claims of unauthorised immigrants from the close-by Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. It was put into effect at the same time as the BJP administration was pushing for a national citizenship verification procedure through the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), with the intention of weeding out "illegal migrants." The citizenship legislation has received widespread criticism for being discriminatory on the grounds of religion from the United Nations and a number of other states. Although it was approved by the assembly three years ago, it has still not been put into effect. The home ministry announced in January 2020 that the Act would go into effect on January 10, 2020, but it later asked the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha parliamentary committees for additional time to implement the regulations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To develop the regulations of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, the Parliamentary Committees on Subordinate Legislation in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and the Lok Sabha (Lower house) gave the Union Home Ministry even another delay in October 2022.. Yet, even if it is executed without modifying the discriminatory rules against Muslims, its harmful impact would remain just as severe as when it was initially approved in 2019.
The government's citizenship policy provoked major demonstrations around the country in December 2019. There were times during these rallies when police chose not to step in when BJP-affiliated organisations attacked protesters. At least 30 demonstrators were killed and several others were injured when law enforcement officers used excessive force in places where the BJP was in power. The demonstrators were branded as anti-national and pro-Pakistan by certain BJP officials. On February 23, 2020, confrontations broke out between BJP supporters and demonstrators, many of whom were Muslim, in response to a BJP leader's appeal to violently disperse peaceful protesters. Hindu mobs armed with swords etc started attacking Muslims in several northeast Delhi neighbourhoods, which aggravated the situation. Although Muslims made up the majority of the 53 deaths, there were also several Hindu victims, including a police officer and a government official. According to an independent investigation by the Delhi Minorities Commission, the violence was planned and targeted Muslims, and some police officers actively took part in the assaults on them.
Another law passed under the Modi Administration was the “Love Jihad” law. The goal of the "love jihad" legislation was to prevent coerced conversions. The Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance imposes a penalty of up to 10 years in jail on those who convert another person by compulsion, deception, misrepresentation, or inducement. It also mandates that anybody seeking to convert get clearance from the district authorities. The implementation of this rule however, has mostly focused on Muslim males involved in Hindu-Muslim relationships. Authorities in the state of Uttar Pradesh had accused 86 individuals, 79 of them are Muslims, of "enticing a woman" to convert to Islam since the law took effect. Seven other people were accused of forcing women to become Christians. Due to the law's retroactive application, lawsuits had been brought against the Muslim men's families. Notably, the complainant was frequently not the woman herself but rather her relatives, who were against interfaith relationships. Sceptics of India's Hindu nationalist government argued that the law is a notion to boost Hindu support nationwide and incite animosity toward Muslims.
While the aforementioned policies have consequences for Muslim minorities, the BJP's anti-Muslim conduct has also fostered an environment that empowers Hindus in India to harbor animosity towards Muslims. The Gujarat Riots, which occurred in 2002, stands out as a prominent illustration of this phenomenon. Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, blamed the large Muslim community for the burning of the train which resulted in the death of 58 Hindu Pilgrims. While officially categorised as a communalist riot, numerous scholars have characterised the events of 2002 as a “pogrom”. Some also have alleged that the attacks were meticulously planned, with the train incident serving as a deliberate trigger for premeditated violence. Others have gone so far as to claim that these events fulfill the "legal definition of genocide" or have referred to them as instances of state terrorism or ethnic cleansing.
Putting aside the policies/acts that specifically targets Muslims, let's examine how Muslims are treated unfairly in other spheres of society, such as the workplace. The Indian Constitution ensures the right to equality and forbids discrimination on the basis of race, caste, sex, or place of birth while also prohibiting discrimination based on religion. Despite these legal safeguards, there have been reports of and charges of religious prejudice in Indian society's different spheres, including the workplace. While the Indian government works to promote equal opportunities for all, implicit biases, societal prejudices, and economic inequalities that disproportionately affect particular religious or ethnic groups contribute to this problem. Some people or employers may have prejudices towards particular religious communities, which can result in discriminatory hiring or promotion practices.
LedBy Foundation, a leadership incubator that focuses on the professional development of Muslims, conducted a research in June 2022 that found bias and discrimination against Muslim women when hiring for entry-level positions in a variety of industries. According to the "Hiring Bias" research, Muslim women frequently face discrimination in the recruiting process even though they are equally competent for the position. The foundation claimed to have produced two resumes with equivalent qualifications. The sole distinction was in their names: Priyanka Sharma for the Hindu profile and Habiba Ali for the Muslim one. The Hindu woman received 208 affirmative answers, however the Muslim woman only received 103, resulting in a net discrimination rate of 47.1%. The Hindu applicant received friendlier treatment from recruiters. Sharma was linked with more than 41% of the recruiters through phone conversations, compared to only 12.6% for Ali.
In more recent times, the Karnataka Hijab Controversy, while on the lower end of the spectrum of anti-muslim acts has still sparked a huge debate. Six students at a government-run college in the Udupi region of the state of Karnataka started demonstrating in the early months of 2022 after being denied access to their classrooms because they were wearing hijabs. When Hindu students started showing up to campuses wearing saffron shawls, the situation rapidly became controversial. They were shouting "Jai Shri Ram" or "victory to Lord Ram" while sporting saffron turbans and scarves. While there is nothing wrong with chanting “Jai Shree Ram” in general, it is important to note that this was done just to undermine the original protest by the six students about hijabs.
So what does this all signify for the present and future of Muslims in 2023 with the upcoming national elections? Despite the anti-Muslim actions and policies, experts suggest that poor administration, internal strife, and divisive political strategies may gradually cause Modi's BJP to lose ground. Using Karnataka as an example once again, exit polls conducted after the May 10, 2023 voting in the southern Indian state suggested that the opposition Congress party had a higher likelihood of forming the next government compared to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was the incumbent party in power.
In the end, the Congress won 135 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, garnering 43 percent of the vote, which was 5% more than in the previous 2018 election and 7% more than the BJP this time. Modi's party, which had won 104 seats in the previous election, had to settle for 66 this time. In contrast, the BJP no longer has power in any of India's five southern states as a result of its loss in Karnataka. While it can be seen as a win and a confidence boost for the opposition Congress party, it may not be sufficient to secure victory in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha (national) elections, considering that the BJP still maintains power completely or in alliance over a total of 17 out of the 29 states.
Despite the fact that India's constitution upholds secularism and equality, reports of discrimination, victimisation, and violence against the Muslim community, as well as instances of intercommunal conflict and violence motivated by religion, highlight the challenges in achieving true religious inclusivity and harmony. Deliberate efforts must be taken to advance a society where all people may live peacefully and flourish, regardless of their religious affiliation, in order to maintain India's standing as a varied and inclusive nation. Such initiatives are the only way India can really represent the ideals of a democratic and secular nation.
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