Even during various Congress governments, Indian Muslims faced discrimination and hostility from the Hindu majority. When the BJP under Narendra Modi came to power for the first time in 2014, fears of Indian Muslims deepened because of the overt communal posture of that party against the Muslim community. In the election manifesto of the BJP, it was pledged that if voted to power, it will end the special status of Jammu & Kashmir and absorb it in the Indian Union. Because of the special status guaranteed to it according to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, Jammu & Kashmir was called India’s jewel in the crown; it the only Muslim majority state in the Indian Union which was termed a guarantee of Indian secularism.
The BJP also mentioned in its election manifesto that it would end the secular status of India which was tantamount to declaring India as a Hindu state. In its first term, the BJP was trying to create conditions to implement its election manifesto which were directed against the Muslims of J&K and the Indian Muslims but when in the 2019 elections it returned to power with two-third’s majority, it felt confident enough to proceed with its age-old ambition to declare India a purely Hindu state. Back to back steps were taken by the BJP and its allies to target the Indian Muslims, particularly by promulgating CAA and the 200 million strong Muslim community of India was forced to rethink its future in India. Taking advantage of the marginalized position of the Indian Muslims, Hindu nationalists started threatening them either to convert them as Hindus or force them to migrate to Pakistan and other Muslim countries. It were not only the Indian Muslims who were facing hostility and violence from the Hindu nationalists and fanatics but the Christians, Sikhs and scheduled caste Hindus were also coerced and threatened. This strategy of India’s Hindus continues on these lines.
The future of the Indian Muslims in the prevailing circumstances looks quite gloomy and bleak because they are facing a situation of being between the devil and deep sea. They cannot go to Pakistan and, they continue to live in India, they face discrimination, hostility and threats. The worst part of the prevailing situation against the Indian Muslims is the silence and indifference of the majority to resist and oppose acts of the Indian state which are anti-Muslim and discriminatory in nature. There are some voices raised against the CAA and the injustices done to Muslims and other religious minorities but it is true that despite not having a majority in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) of the Indian parliament, the BJP was able to get the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Act, which ended the special status of J&K and the CAA passed by the upper house? This means members of various opposition parties, including the Congress, must have supported such acts despite their ostensible opposition. Hypocrisy and bluff have now emerged as stark realities in Indian politics.
The U.S-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its 82-page report titled, “Shoot the Traitors: Discrimination Against Muslims Under India’s New Citizenship Amendment Act”, released recently, stated, “the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, together with planned nation-wide verification process to identify “illegal migrants” can threaten the citizenship rights of millions of Indian Muslims.” Criticizing the discriminatory and partial role of the police and other law enforcement agencies to cope with protests of Indian Muslims against CAA, the report lamented “government policies have opened the door for mob violence and police inaction has instilled fear among Muslims and other minority communities throughout the country.” Referring to the implications of the CAA on Indian Muslims, the report said, “India’s National Register of Citizens had already left nearly two million people at risk of arbitrary detention and statelessness in Assam. Women who were more likely than men to lack access to documentation were disproportionately affected.”
Unfortunately, the Indian state which looked the other way to the international reaction to CAA and the revocation of special status of J&K, took advantage of the situation emanating from the spread of COVID-19. Under the pretext of maintaining social distance, police dispersed women who had been carrying out a sit-in in Delhi for months against CAA. Furthermore, BJP and Hindu nationalists began to blame Indian Muslims of spreading the coronavirus and blamed India’s Tableeghi Jamaat. It now seems, Indian Muslims will further face the wrath and discrimination of the Indian state asa result of the spread of COVID-19.
Indian Muslims are certainly at a crossroads. Their option to have their own state is unrealistic because it is not in one place in India that they are concentrated and are scattered throughout the country. The better option for Indian Muslims would be to empower themselves with better education and knowledge. It was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who in the third quarter of the 19th century launched a renaissance movement for Indian Muslims by urging them to get modern education, particularly learning the English language. Despite that, Indian Muslims have lagged behind other communities in the pursuit of knowledge and have not excelled in research, science, technology and modern education. The younger generation of Indian Muslims does not want to carry the baggage of the past with reference to their perceived disloyalty and siding with extremist elements. They have already suffered a lot but their task to seek an equal status in India today seems to be an uphill one.
In essence, the Indian Muslim’s moment of truth can be termed as a major challenge to their survival while maintaining their self-esteem and dignity. They should not be defencive about allegations by Hindu nationalists and communalists that they are not loyal to India when they have lived all their lives along with their predecessors in the land.
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