Can India Still be Considered a Safe Place for Muslims?
Photograph: Siamlian Ngaihte via Pixabay

The historic conflict between Muslims and Hindus is no secret, but under Narendra Modi’s government, Muslims in India are fearing more for their lives than ever before. The laying of the foundations of Ayodhya Ram temple over the ruins of Babri Mosque has sparked new tensions, deeply rooted in the past.

Babri Mosque was founded during the 16th century in Ayodhya, a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. However, in 1949, an idol of Lord Ram was placed in the mosque and worshipped by Hindus, and Muslims say they haven’t been able to pray in Babri Mosque since then. Ownership of 2.77 acres of land in the northern state, including Babri Mosque, had been disputed over for decades by the Muslim Waqf Board and two Hindu parties, one a right wing political party.. 

During the decades of argument over the land, a campaign was launched in 1984 to destroy the mosque and build a Hindu temple over it . The campaign gained momentum over the years, leading to the demolition of the mosque in 1992 by Hindu mobs and eventually clearing the way for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to gain power in multiple states across the country, including Uttar Pradesh. Under their control, Babri Mosque fell, triggering more tension, more riots and over 2000 deaths.

In 2010, it was decided by the Supreme Court that the land would be split equally into 3 parts and the ruins of Babri Mosque would be owned by the right-wing Hindu political party, Hindu Mahasabha. In an attempt to compensate the Muslims, they were given new land to rebuild a mosque.

In 2014, Modi led the BJP in the general election, promising “a secure environment” for the Muslim community with “no place for perpetrators or exploiters of fear”. But along with this, he was also elected on the promise that he would successfully implement his Gujarat Model.  This economic model uses populist politics to villify the Muslim and secular liberal population whilst elevating the HIndu majority. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a one-off situation. 

 After Modi’s government came into power, Muslims continued to be the targets of lynching and discrimation across India, often in the name of protecting cows. While cows are sacred in Hinduism, protecting them cannot be used to justify murder and whilst it isn’t against Islam to consume meat, only Halal meat can be eaten. ‘Halal’ was redefined  in an attempt to make Muslims appear barbaric, despite meaning an animal should be slaughtered with minimal pain. ,.

During the difficult era of Covid-19 , instead of supporting one another, Muslims have been  blamed for intentionally spreading the virus and claimed they have faced increased harassment and discrimination. Muslim vendors have also been stopped from selling their fresh produce in non-Muslim loacalities, which may be their only income, thus harming them economically. This isn’t an issue purely of the past, it’s an issue of today.

After their re-election in May 2019, Modi’s government vowed to fulfil Hindu nationalist demands to marginalize religious minorities in India further still. Muslims in particular have been marginalized since the Partition in 1947. Amongst the chaos and violence of a new world, they were villainised on multiple occasions and framed for starting many attacks and series of conflict. Whilst they were part of the conflict, it should be remembered that there is no smoke without fire. They became a common scapegoat who could be blamed for a failing economy and changes in the country which not everyone agreed with. In actual fact, change was inevitable after Partition and everyone played an equal part in seeing this change through. Unfortunately, at around the same time, Muslims requesting restorative justice were accused of rebelling against the idea of a unified nation and in turn, rebelling against India.

It has become the norm to see anti-Muslim propaganda and witness official public figures and the mainstream media openly presenting Muslims as “violent, criminally inclined, bigoted, anti- national and Islamist”. Their aim is clear – to alienate and other the Muslim population. While Modi’s government isn’t solely responsible for this misrepresentation of Muslims, they are responsible for a significant amount and must also be held accountable for allowing hate crime to continue under their governing.

The laying of the foundations of the new temple coincides with the one-year anniversary of the revocation of Article 370 and the beginning of Kashmir’s lockdown. Article 370 had allowed Kashmir to have a separate constitution and flag and be a self-governing area. However, since 5th August 2019, the area has been in a state of complete lockdown, forced upon them by the Government of India. There have been countless incidents in Kashmir involving police brutality and torture and pain inflicted on the Muslims trapped inside.

Pragya Tiwari, a writer who spent many summers in Ayodhya, says the timing is “deeply symbolic”. The day will mark not only one, but two events showing Islamophobia in action. It can’t merely be a coincidence that the area in India with the highest Muslim population is the one they chose to cut off from the outside world.

Despite all this, Modi’s government cannot be blamed for all the injustice. Rowena Robinson, a sociology and theology specialist, believes Muslims in India have become even more vulnerable to discrimination and violence due to a lack of representation and opportunity in higher positions of power. The inequality is stark – only 23 MPs out of 543 were Muslim in 2014, only 3.66% of the police force are Muslim and only 4.5% of railway workers are Muslim. It is possible that Modi tampered with the working world of India, but still some inequality is simply due to history and bitter feelings that may last forever.

Across the world, activists, in particular Arab activists, and corporations such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the government of Kuwait have spoken out about the blatant racism Muslims are facing in day-to-day life, especially since the rise of coronavirus. If the issue had not been argued against globally, Modi would never have responded, but the hundreds and thousands of tweets and statements triggered a tweet from him, simply saying “COVID-19 does not see race [or] religion”. Yet, this isn’t the issue- the issue is a country’s Prime Minister and government sees religion and the need to segregate and create a social hierarchy concerning it.

In other cases where global attention is not so high, the country’s nationalist system sees it fit to do little or nothing when religious tension rises, to aid Muslims.

So why do I question whether India is still or even whether it was ever safe for Muslims? As the biggest religious minority in India, they were vulnerable to discrimination from very beginning, but there’s a fine line between discrimination and downright injustice. The destruction of Babri Mosque was a step over that line. Mosques are a peaceful place of worship and the ruin of even one deeply hurts every Muslim around the world.