Mohammed Akhlaq was a 52-year-old man living in Bisara village near Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, India. Last year, after rumours spread that Akhlaq had killed and eaten a calf he was lynched to death. An announcement to this effect was made through the microphone of the local temple, triggering a mob attack against Akhlaq and his son who sustained serious injuries. Investigations later found that these rumours were totally baseless and that what Akhlaq’s family had kept in their refrigerator was mutton and not beef.
This is just one of numerous stories in the past three years, that have shown a clear escalation in violence against India’s Muslim community, supported by government rhetoric and the rise of the far right. There have been repeated attacks against Muslims by mobs of Hindu fanatics with the clandestine support and blessing of the security forces in the country. Such attacks are often justified under the pretext of protecting cows, considered sacred by most Hindus, but eaten by their non-vegetarian Muslim counterparts.
In his campaign for the election in 2014, now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi deliberately stoked these dormant sentiments, publicly denouncing the “pink revolution” that had seen India emerge as a major global meat supplier (in truth, most of it buffalo, which is not considered sacred by Hindus). India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu cleric, began his tenure with a crackdown on slaughterhouses, triggering an acute local shortage of meat, an affordable protein source for Muslims. Most Indian states have banned the slaughter of cows and imposed heavy penalties and jail terms on offenders, while the transportation of cattle across state lines is also barred in some areas.
But this isn’t just an issue of cow slaughter. Many minorities fear the steps that are being taken to impose a cultural nationalism on the country. Attacks on mosques, and the attempts to make Hindu derived rituals such as yoga, or the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy text compulsory for everyone, as well as the easy slur of telling Muslims to “go back to Pakistan”, has made many live in fear of exposing their religious identity. Muslim are thought to be overstepping their rights as a minority, and paying too much attention to their religious clerics, and the numerous scholars and Islamic movements that have their roots in India. The questioning of women wearing burkas, and the furore that has erupted over the issue of triple talaq present the Hindu nationalist BJP party as more modern and liberal than their Muslim counterparts. This is not even solely a Muslim issue; numerous churches have been vandalised in the country and a 71-year-old nun was gang-raped in the eastern state of West Bengal.
Ironically, by 2050, India will be home to the world’s largest Muslim population, estimated at 300 million people. Even more ironic is that a state that lost 3 million girls to female infanticide between 2001 and 2011, and where a reported 92 rapes occurred a day in 2013, is more worried about the wellbeing of cows and persecuting those who choose to eat them. But this is to be expected of someone with the history of Narendra Modi, who chief minister of Gujarat state in 2002 when Hindu mobs killed more than 1,000 Muslims, and was blamed for failing to stem the violence.
The Gujarat riots saw the death of over 2000 people in the course of 1 month
The situation in India is reflective of the rise of populism and fascism across the globe. But we should not make the mistake of identifying this as “Islamophobia”. When endorsed by a state, overtly or covertly, it ceases to have the same impact as individual discriminatory practices, but instead paves the way towards an acceptance of intimidation, oppression and ultimately, a form of ethnic cleansing. To illegalise the religious, historical and cultural heritage of a community is to make their identity illegal, such that the only options they have are to abandon their heritage and assimilate, or be dealt with accordingly.
As Muslims, and as human beings, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are raising awareness about the persecution Muslims in India are facing, and expose the far right agenda of those in power. Its also important to recognise the silence of international institutions such as the UN on this issue, and other Muslim states. Ultimately, only a state that truly values the protection of Muslims regardless of their national identity will be able to take a stand for their rights and ensure their safety is preserved.
May Allah (swt) grant the Muslims in India security and protect them from those who wish to do them harm. Ameen