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For India’s Muslims, Eid al-Fitr Brings Little to Celebrate

6 minute read
Debasish Roy Chowdhury is the co-author of To Kill A Democracy: India’s Passage to Despotism

The day the Hindus wake up, the consequence will be
That the skull-cap wearer will bow down and say victory to Lord Ram.
The day my blood boils, I wish to show you your place
Then I will not speak, only my sword will.

Whoever does not hail Lord Ram, send him to the graveyard.

In past weeks, incendiary songs with lyrics such as these, blaring over giant loudspeakers, have interrupted the Ramadan fasts of Muslims across India, followed by mob violence and state persecution. This year, as the dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan ends in Eid al-Fitr, there is little joy for India’s 200 million Muslims—the world’s third largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan—tinged as the festival is by a new anxiety over their place in the country.

The state pandering of the mob, and its own subversion of the rule of law, signal a crumbling social contract between Indian Muslims and the Indian state—even by the standards of the state-sanctioned intimidation, anti-Muslim violence, and hate speech that have become a staple of the eight years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has been accelerating its bid to dismantle the country’s constitutionally mandated secular democracy and create a Hindu-first state. Its conspicuous subjugation of Muslims includes choreographed hate campaigns, violence, as well as official measures designed to weaken the community. Lynchings are frequent, as are organized boycotts of Muslims and their businesses. Hindu nationalism, called Hindutva, has been gorging during this fasting month of Ramadan.

The holy Muslim period, which coincides with several Hindu festivals, saw organized attacks on Muslims in many parts of India on a scale not seen lately. Muslim homes and shops were attacked and burned, Muslim places of worship desecrated, and Muslim prayers interrupted. A familiar pattern that emerged was that of religious processions organized by Hindu groups through Muslim neighborhoods. Men brandishing swords, sticks and guns, chanting loud slogans and playing music that demeans and threatens Muslims, linger around mosques hoping to pick a fight.

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Their provocations extend beyond offensive music. On one occasion, a militant Hindu priest threatened to rape Muslim women in a rousing speech in front of a mosque. Sometimes baits such as these produce the desired result and clashes break out, with Muslims pushing back, sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t matter, the marching mobs eventually embark on violence anyway, blaming the trouble on Muslims.

The police, who usually stand by passively or join in the attacks on Muslims, avoid booking the Hindu instigators and arbitrarily round up mostly Muslims after the mob has had its fill. In one instance, they arrested a Muslim man for pelting Hindu marchers with stones even though both of his hands had been amputated. In some instances when the police do file cases against Hindu supremacist organizations for unlawful behavior, they are forced to drop the charges.

In the case of the monk threatening the kidnap and rape of Muslim women, the police took six days just to file a case—despite viral videos of him in the act—and 11 days to arrest him, only for him to walk free in a little over a week. On being released, he declared that he had no remorse for his action and would happily do it again. The emboldening of such extremists is the result of BJP-run federal and state governments giving Hindutva vigilante groups a free rein to ratchet up their war on Muslims. Open calls for the genocide of Muslims by militant Hindu leaders, and hate speech by senior BJP functionaries and Hindu organizations, have become increasingly common in recent months, with little or no official reprisal.

Muslims offer a special morning prayer to start the Eid al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of their holy fasting month of Ramadan, at the Jama Masjid mosque in the old quarter of Delhi on May 3, 2022.MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images

India’s Ramadan war on Muslims

If the Indian state’s silent endorsement of such treatment of minorities has been a feature of the Modi years, this Ramadan has seen the state itself join the marauding mobs in ravaging and dispossessing Muslims—using bulldozers.

When individual Muslims are suspected of attacking Hindu marches, the police in some states, including in the capital Delhi, have started a disturbing and illegal policy of collectively punishing Muslim communities. Without notice, entire clusters of Muslim homes are demolished on the tenuous pretext that these are unauthorized constructions. Bulldozers have actually emerged as a nationalist symbol in some BJP-ruled states, paraded in election rallies to drum up support.

Hindu nationalism, called Hindutva, has been gorging during this fasting month of Ramadan.

The state-enforced homelessness of Muslims speaks to two dominant tropes of Hindu supremacist politics: the inherent degeneracy of Muslims, and the illegitimacy of their presence in India. Disinformation campaigns, political messaging, and official policy paint Muslims as criminals, jihadis, predators waging “love jihad,” and over-procreating sexual deviants. The government of the north-eastern state of Assam last year appointed seven “sub-committees” to recommend ways to control the growth of the Muslim population. They have just submitted their report.

Contrived protests over the veil, halal meat and even the use of loudspeakers for the muezzin’s call to prayer have made even everyday Muslim practices a matter of political contestation for Hindu supremacists, who speak of expelling the entire Muslim population from what they see as the Hindu homeland. Even senior BJP leaders now openly articulate this dangerous proposition. Hindu extremist groups in some villages have started putting it into action, vowing to evict Muslims.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its recent report recommends—for the third year in a row—that the U.S. government designate India as a “country of particular concern”, along with Myanmar, North Korea, China, Iraq, Syria and Eritrea, among others. It also recommends targeted sanctions on Indian individuals and entities responsible for violations of religious freedom. But the unfolding makeover of the Indian state and the capture and capitulation of its democratic institutions shows the dynamic is far too widespread for such intervention.

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India’s media cheer-leads the cruelty. One top TV anchor reported aboard a bulldozer while several others cracked bulldozer jokes on Twitter even as hundreds were being rendered homeless and their possessions destroyed. India’s once-powerful judiciary finds itself increasingly helpless against a dominant executive—the bulldozers continued to wreak havoc in Delhi well after a court order to stop. Even the highly respected and inclusive Indian Army has had to bow to the mob. It removed a tweet about an iftar (evening meal breaking the daily Ramadan fast) event it had organized, after a right-wing television anchor kicked up a social media storm over the “disease” of secularism afflicting the armed forces. The same anchor is often spotted administering Nazi-style oaths to turn India into a Hindu state.

These are not hopeful signs for India’s Muslims. The community ponders its future, this Eid, in a country where the foundational promises of equal citizenship and rule of law now lie in a heap of bulldozed rubble.

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