August 5, 2020 was another blot on India’s conscience and its secularism when Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation of a Hindu temple on a razed mosque site in Ayodhya. Modi was seen performing religious rites in the ceremony as the surroundings echoed with chants of Jai Shree Ram, meaning Glory to Lord Ram. Indian Twitter trended with photos from the event and Lord Ram hashtags while prominent politicians from the country too lauded the move. The aspirations of the Muslim community, the fact that they had prayed there for generations, and the blood they had shed in the deadly 1992 riots that were followed by the Babri Mosque’s demolition were clearly not paid heed to and India depicted a dystopian image of a Hindu nationalist state that prioritised the needs of its majority at the cost of its minorities’ rights, especially those of Muslims.
The move evoked a strong response and condemnation from Pakistan. In a statement, the Foreign Office said the “flawed judgment” of the Indian Supreme Court paving the way for the temple’s construction reflected the “preponderance of faith over justice” and the growing majoritarianism in India, where minorities, particularly Muslims, and their places of worship, were increasingly under attack. India’s top court in November 2019 had ruled that the disputed site be awarded to Hindus who want a temple built there while Muslims get a separate land to construct a mosque.
The Babri Mosque vandalism and destruction by Hindu zealots was a blatant attack on religious freedom and the Indian SC verdict only endorsed the illicit and unconstitutional act.
Nonetheless, the misery doesn’t end here. A new wave of Islamophobia and growing intolerance continues to haunt Muslim lives in the world’s “largest democracy”.
During Eidul Azha, in yet another attack on Muslim minority, a video showed a Hindu mob beating a young man for carrying cow meat while forcing him to chant Jai Shree Ram. Similarly, a Hindu mob thrashed a 52-year-old Muslim rickshaw driver and allegedly forced him to chant pro-Modi slogans.
Not long ago, the Covid-19 surge in India too met with Islamophobic outbursts when its initial spread was blamed on the tableeghis while the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act was already discriminatory against Muslims and sought to fast-track nationality for non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — a step that some compared with President Trump’s Muslim ban. Experts believe the CAA violates international law and the prohibition on rendering people stateless.
The growing repression of Muslims and declining civil liberties demoted India to a flawed democracy, slipping 10 places in the latest rankings of democracies around the world while the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its annual report released in April, recommended that the State Department designate India as “country of particular concern” for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act”.
Despite the world taking notice of increasing repression by a fascist regime in India, not much has been done to hold the Modi government accountable or address the grievances of Muslims, especially when racism is being called out worldwide with the Black Lives Matter movement.
On the contrary, great strides have been made in relations with India by many states including the Gulf countries. Not long ago, Modi was conferred UAE’s highest civilian award despite scraping Kashmir off its special status and imposing a security lockdown. Earlier, Saudi Arabia too awarded him while Trump avoided bringing up Kashmir on his visit to India.
The world cannot be complicit to the seeds of bigotry that have been sowed by BJP and ignore the plight of Indian Muslims.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2020.