Faith Matters

In today’s India, one’s name makes the difference between life and death.

By M.Tahir Iqbal | March 2020

William Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name?”If he were alive today, he would be shocked to know how erroneous his judgment was, considering the vulnerable state of Muslims in India. In today’s India, most regrettably, it takes merely one’s name to identify who is a patriot and who is a traitor.

As things have happened over the last few years during the Prime Ministership of Narendra Damodardas Modi in particular, values of secularism, imbued with indiscriminate justice, racial and caste equality and religious freedom, seem to have lost their relevance.

After its indepedance from the British rule in 1947, India had two options to frame its constitution: Hindu nationalism or secularism. The founding fathers of the country chose the latter option. The successive political leadership of the country kept it adhered to the secular narrative of the state. To some extent, they have been successful in achieving the dream of a secular India, but there is still a long way to go.

Alongside with a desire to establish the country’s secular credentials , there has always been a streak underneath, promoting the ideals of Nathuram Godse, an extremist RSS ideologue who killed Mahatma Gandhi because of his kindness towards Muslims.

Once epitomized by Godse, the same ideology is now raising its venomous head with the sole purpose to sabotage the country’s secular structure and to enforce Hindutva ideology on the nation.

In 2002, the Hindutva forces found a ray of hope in the shape of Narendra Modi when he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat with a pent-up agenda to turn India into a Hindutva state purely on theocratic lines, a Hindu Rashtra where they could settle the scores with the descendants of the Mughals.

As Modi ascended the throne of power in 2014, the bevy of Hindu nationalists had a sigh of relief as they had been waiting for the moment for centuries . As the revenge spree started, it unleashed a series of ‘race strikes’ against Muslims. In 2017, over seven hundred academics, including vice-chancellors, from 51 states and central universities of India gathered in Delhi University to learn how to bring the “true nationalist narrative” to the main discourse of the country. The event was called the Gyan Sangam, or the Knowledge Summit. Mohan Bhagwat, the supreme leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was the main speaker for the event. The topics under discussion, reportedly, were the “cultural onslaught on the educational system,” the “colonization of intellectuals” and the “resurgence of nationalism in academia.”

Incidents of hate crimes have been on the rise since Narendra Modi assumed the Prime Minister's office for the second term on the trot in May last year. The revoking of the special status of Indian-occupied Kashmir and the subsequent lockdown of the valley, the judicial verdict to build the Ram Temple on the site where Babri Masjid once stood, and the recent wave of anti-Muslims legislations (e.g. Citizenship Amendment Act) prove the fact that only Muslims are the target of racist acts and ideologies sponsored by the state.

Several outrageous happenings have befallen on Muslims in India since the enactment of the biased Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), extending Indian citizenship only to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, and Christians from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, excluding Muslims.

Residents of the Muslim-dominated areas say that the police enter their homes, break their doors, hurl abuses at everyone around, including women and children, and beat them up.

A Muslim cleric, Maulana Asad Raza Hussaini along with his some seminary students, was picked up by the Delhi Police. The police stripped him of his clothes in front of his students, beat him mercilessly and shoved an iron rod into his private parts, causing excessive rectal bleeding, writes Hannah Ellis Peterson in The Guardian newspaper.

According to Hamid Hassan, a 73-year-old victim of recent violence in Delhi, the police stormed into his home, attacked him, his 65-year-old wife and a 22-year-old granddaughter and beat them with metal batons. The granddaughter was beaten to the extent of suffering a severe head injury and she got 16 stitches on her forehead at a nearby hospital.

Talking to news reporters, Hamid Hassan said, “Muslims in this country are being made to live in fear, even in our homes we are not safe from violence now.”

A fortnight ago, an ideologically-motivated man shot at peaceful Muslim protestors at Jamia Islamia Millia a public central university in New Delhi. When taken into custody by police, he was still saying in a loud voice, “Hamaray desh main sirf Hinduon ki chalegi aur kisi ki nahi (only Hindus will prevail in our country)”.

In the aftermath of the on-going protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, one’s religious identity has become the order of the day. Hoisting the Indian flag, Muslims chant ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ at the top of their voice emerging in response to ‘Har Har Mahadev,’ which means ‘Everyone is Lord Shiva' a a chant associated with Lord Shiva as well as a Hindu war-cry against Muslim invaders.

Many Indians believe Hindutva communalism cannot be overcome by promoting Muslim communalism, since identity politics will destroy India to the core.

The ground reality suggests that when a certain community is persecuted and victimized because of its religious beliefs, it is left with no option but to rise up to defend itself from the wrath of the majority. “When one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man,” says Hannah Arendt Bluecher, a German-American philosopher and political theorist.

In a word, one’s name, one’s faith and one’s identity carries a huge significance in today’s India. Honetsly speaking, Muslims in India are struggling to regain the ideals of a secular India, as cherished by the country’s forefathers, namely Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thoughts or in action.” Has India failed its forefathers?

The writer is an educationist and historian. He can be reached at tahiriqbalstars

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