19, Dec 2023 | CJP Team
The past nine plus years have seen the numbness and distancing cause by the normalisation of hate slurs that are not just ideologically driven but emanate from the top echelons of ‘constitutional governance’, powerful elected officials. The street, the railway compartment, the classroom and all civic spaces have been tainted.
For the student who is slighted even brazenly discriminated (or even humiliated through a public beating, remember Sahranpur?), or a lawyer who is picked upon and isolated, we have no real measure of how deep and far the poisonous rot has seeped.
For Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) in our Hate Hatao campaign, there is no sweeping this hate under the carpet. To confront, even overcome this toxicity and build allyships with the targets we must begin with giving Voice.
CJP is dedicated to finding and bringing to light instances of Hate Speech, so that the bigots propagating these venomous ideas can be unmasked and brought to justice. To learn more about our campaign against hate speech, please become a member. To support our initiatives, please donate now!
Record and listen to the Voices of India’s discriminated citizen. The Muslim.
Land of the blue hills and red river, Assam, one of India’s seven north-eastern states that is considered a ‘gateway’ to the region, has witnessed its share of consistent hate-letting especially post 2014. This is when a far right government rode to power in the state assembly elections, riding high on the disillusionment and fracturing caused by previous political parties; the same was repeated in 2021. In its second term, the party placed a man known for his sharp vitriol, Himanto Biswas Sarma as chief minister, who missed no opportunity to slur and stigmatise. In fact after the top central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he is after Ajay Bisht aka Adityanath, the poster boy of Hindutva and a hard-line election campaigner, seeking votes after ensuring a cleavage in public sentiments.
Assam has continuously been scaling new heights as per vision of PM Sri @narendramodi. It must continue. Shared our journey since @BJP4India took reins of the state at a Public Meeting at Khalingduar, Udalguri today. @DilipSaikia4Bjp @RanjeetkrDass @BJP4Assam#BJPwithAssam pic.twitter.com/DHRghlbPbQ
— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) November 16, 2020
Much like the propaganda line in any majoritarian, even fascist state, Sarma in his public speeches attributed many of his state’s “ills” to the Muslim. On May 19, 2023, Sarma, he, quite provocatively, went on to dub the “rise in heart, kidney disease in the state due to excessive use of fertilisers in various food items,” not as caused by fertiliser-driven chemical pollution in general but due to –believe it or not — “fertiliser jihad!” This was an attempt to link the primarily Bengali-Muslim vegetable growers who are known to be active tillers of the Brahmaputra soil as responsible for some sinister design. Sarma, has since made several such inflammatory declarations and he has been unchecked by Indian law enforcement.
For young Nabeel (name changed to protect anonymity), such repeated and brazen hate stigmatising from the powerful, if unchecked will result in an utter alienation of India’s minorities, who already feel isolated and abandoned. Narrating a personal incident of discrimination, he recalls the constant fear of facing violence for observing food and cultural practice.
Mohammed Akhlaq. Lynched to death on September 28, 2015
“My mother and relatives are extremely cautious in public spaces. They look over their shoulder and don’t even pack mutton or chicken in tiffin’s when we leave our homes. Why? Because we have heard of so many instances of public lynching’s over meat, Mohammed Akhlaq and others. This is a fear that we carry with us every day, “ explains Nabeel adding, “instances of regular discrimination in finding housing are now every day, very ordinary. A friend has faced this in Assam. Even I faced such discrimination it in Pune (Maharashtra) when I was there a while ago. All formalities had been completed at the place I was to rent. However, when I met the society manager he told me that I do not fulfil the ‘criteria’ for staying at the place. I pressed on and asked him why, he said finally it is because I am a Muslim! I went on and asked him whether this is a written rule to the effect that a Muslim can’t stay in this residential society, but he gave a vague answer and new to the city, I did not wish to argue with him. This is very common, it happens to almost everyone. Some people face even worse marginalisation and discrimination and violence. This is now an ordinary aspect of life.”
Indian social and political space is today dominated by the far right. This, the Hindutva brigade executes both a social and political project of ensuring the permanent construct of an antagonist picture of Muslims. Be it as a violent race, intolerant, aggressive, traitorous or unclean, the doppelganger to these prototypes is the meat consuming, lascivious, male Muslim who is responsible for the insidious rise in Muslim population. Using repetitive propagandist methods of stigma, these forces have fine-tuned this hate-letting to minute detail, harnessing technology and even music for far reach.
Speaking to CJP, a young Muslim professional narrates, “I think inter-religious discrimination plays out in insidious ways. I remember during my years as a student, my roommate would specify if ever I borrowed her spoon at a meal, to not use it to eat meat or eggs. She was also someone who jokingly stated that I would burn her in a bed if a ‘riot’ were to take place. In another instance, friends would also “joke in passing” about how one should dress “like a criminal” when the reference was to a kurta pyjama. These sort of micro-aggressions remain salient, often not registered, passing off as anything but humour. It not only makes one fearful, but also resentful. I am always afraid for my family members who wear ‘visible symbols of Islam’ when they go out to the market, and especially when they undertake travel. Every instance of travels reminds one of Junaid’s journey who like Akhlaq and so many other were lynched or brutalised and killed, shot even, only because they were Muslim. I lose hope when I see the attackers go scot-free despite evidence.”
This professional also recounts how ‘Muslim areas’ are looked at with stigma.
“Post the anti-CAA protests (December 2019), auto rickshaws and even Uber drivers would refuse to take us to local Muslim areas in the capital, Delhi, Okhla Jamia etc. The rejection would include this, “hum nahin jayenge, wahan per dangai log (rioters) hote hain.’” (We won’t drive there, rioters live there).
The medical profession ought to be above such hate. Every marginalised and slurred section worldwide however has seen racist discrimination manifest in medical practitioners. One Muslim doctor talking to CJP, again on condition of anonymity, spoke of the pressures of conforming, “There is a need for me in my working environment with my colleagues to be less of a Muslim in order to be a ‘better doctor’. I love my profession, I practise it with a lot of discipline. Why would I need to put aside my religion?”
Dr Muniza Khan is a social scientist based in east Uttar Pradesh, Purvanchal. She spoke to us of how fear has gripped hearts of the ordinary Muslim after the brazen proliferation of hate over the past decade, talking about how public spaces have become more restrictive when it comes to Muslims.
“We cannot carry much loved kebabs when we travel in trains or for family picnics. Earlier it used to be a norm, but now it has become impossible; a special segment of life has been sliced away, now that eating habits are being policed so closely. Our families, also nowadays instruct us not to say words such as “Salam” or “Khuda Hafiz” when we are in public.”
Narrating a specifically harrowing experience, Khan narrates how her work in making education accessible to students has also been marred and set back by discrimination.
“We used to have a 70 year old building that was our school. It was, however, demolished by government authorities. So, we tried our best to find a new building. We went to three different colonies, searching for a place for our school. However, at every place we were told point blank that they will not give the place to Muslims. They would ask us, “which biradari (section) are you”, and once I replied that I am a Muslim, they would immediately decline any space available to us. The irony, however is, that at the end we found a building for our school which, although was 12 kms away, was owned by people who were not Muslims. The only distinction was that this space was not within a gated colony.”
Reflecting on another incident, Muniza Khan also recalls about how people once made an allusion to her homeland being Pakistan. Aghast at this, she asserted that India was where she was brought up in and lives and works, why would she belong to Pakistan and not the land she knows to be her home?
Similarly, Shama, another teacher from eastern Uttar Pradesh, asks about why and how the taboo on meat is a “paabandi” prohibition of dietary habits, despite existing constitutional provisions.
“In our area, meat is completely banned during the 10 days of Dussehra. There is a flurry of enquiries and checking’s on a regular basis. Schools and colleges also enforce vegetarianism and don’t permit students bringing meat in their lunchboxes.” Talking about shared experiences over food with classmates, she asks, “What freedom is this?”
Another, lawyer based in North India, shares her experience of discrimination during past classroom interactions with faculty members, “They would come with preconceived judgements about Muslims and Muslim figures that would just boil over into debates. The right-wing students in the classroom would also hum in agreement, notwithstanding the Muslim students in class. In law firms and think-tanks, the environment would be mostly dominated by non-Muslims, I would often be the only Indian Muslim in these spaces, which would lead to a sense of isolation, alienation and often, during these debates, a feeling of being cornered deliberately.”
The experience of another Muslim lawyer practising in India in the western Indian state of Gujarat reveals hair-raising incidents everyday humiliation and discrimination faced by the community. On condition of anonymity, the individual has stated that his friends don’t talk to him, that they feel the stigma he faces for working for social issues will reach them. “I am left tanha.” Going further, he narrates how bail listings are delayed and rejected for him because of the particular impression the courts have of him. “My bail hearing gets listed for later or delayed, even at times when others have gotten bail in a similar case charged with the same offence, the very day with ease. It so often happens that bail is then granted in a case only when it is taken up by another lawyer, not a Muslim, after I give a no objection. They see me as someone who only fights for the cases of Muslims which is not true. I often take up cases of other communities, including those from marginalised castes. My colleagues from different religions don’t wish to stand next to me, they engage in mocking me, and after that, resort to avoiding me. These instances are not just faced by me, but my daughters too. One of my daughters was enrolled in a technical course at a reputed institute for a year. However, a few months before her course was about to end, her institute got to know that her father was involved in cases fighting for justice for the marginalised. Immediately after that the instructors started behaving differently with her, they delayed her course, which was supposed to end by the middle of 2023, but it is still ongoing. They would keep delaying the course duration and telling her they would teach her ‘separately from other students’. They seem to just want to stall and delay till she loses interest and hope that she herself opts out without completing the degree.
“My youngest daughter too has faced similar issues in her school. She is a fantastic painter and she won the first prize at competitions twice. However, last time she was rejected and not selected from participating in a competition by the school despite her excellent history. Her morale was broken after that. This is what is done, you make a person lose all their hope and morale. Other advocates that I know from the Muslim community face similar issues. They are humiliated in front of their clients and their morale too is broken down publicly. This happens very often. The whole body is punctured (bit by bit), so you really don’t need to draw blood at all.”
The misguided notion of being beneficiaries of “appeasement politics” too proliferates in India and has become part of the extreme right narrative. Appeasement politics is a rhetorical term used by some political parties like the BJP to counter any demands for minority rights and to portray Muslims as people who have taken undue benefits from the government and the country. The miss-placed argument is that Muslims are undue beneficiaries of “too many passes” and financial and monetary benefits by previous governments. This operates primarily on the assumption that Muslims are secondary citizens and should not ask from the government anything more than their basic rights, because they are not authentic Indians.
Over the years, several conspiracies of Muslims looting land, marrying for mass conversions, and attaining higher ranks in the public services as part of a sinister design to take over India have proliferated. Just this year in October, 2023, the Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, had reportedly given a hate speech where he proudly talked about how he had demolished several religious shrines because they were part of a conspiracy by Muslims to commit “land” and “mazaar jihad.” Many of these conspiracies hatch on everyday normal tasks such as marriage, buying land, performing one’s professional tasks or studying for exams that now become a catalyst for suspicion and fear making public spaces, such as workplace, classroom, public travel, unsafe for Muslims.
Over the past decade especially –though the phenomenon first saw a spurt in decades of the 1980 and 1990s—such hate speech has been proliferating in India with many of its propagators being part of a wide eco-system of organisations wedded to the project to convert India away from a constitutional republic to a theocratic, authoritarian state. In the political arena, it is the members of the ruling BJP who spout hate with immunity. Speech that spews slur and hate is also indicative of the prejudices and typologies of violence Muslims, and other minorities, in India face from a growing tide of discriminatory politics.
In India itself latest reports indicate an alarming 500% surge in cases filed under India’s hate-speech law over the past seven years, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
Danish Ali Image source: Telegraph India.
There were 255 incidents of hate speech documented at gatherings that targeted Muslims in the first half of 2023 alone. The report further exposes that a staggering 80% of hate speech events transpired in states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Several incidents, including those involving top official leaders such as Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, have been recorded over the year. Similarly, MP Danish Ali was subjected to slurs in the parliament itself by BJP MP Ramesh Bhiduri. Amongst other abuses and slurs, the MP was also called a “terrorist.” Furthermore, there is a clear link between the use of hate speech to foment communal sentiment and lead to anti-Muslim violence, as we saw in the case of Satara this year, which saw widespread violence, which led to houses and mosques being burned as well as the death of one young Muslim man. Local BJP leader Vikram Pawaskar stood accused of orchestrating and fuelling violence against Muslims between August and September 2023.
While large-scale discrimination and violence against Muslims has been recorded by some officials and several government and non-government agencies, the significance of how this intricately woven hate affects microscopic aspects of life that go unexamined is worthy of note.
The persistent shaping of a divisive image, portraying Muslims as the “Jihadi”, wherein immediately an image of an evil, violent and menacing figure comes to mind.
Discrimination in housing is a well-recorded phenomenon. In fact the land that is India deeply discriminated against the Dalit untouchables by compelling this section to live out of the precincts of the village and not even access water from a common well. Today, over past decades, Muslims have clearly been notched into this brutally excluded category.
According to a survey conducted by Saugato Datta and Vikram Pathania in a paper titled “For whom does the phone (not) ring? Discrimination in the rental housing market in Delhi, India”, it was discovered that discrimination in housing is extremely pervasive for Muslims and Hindus. The survey details that the probability that a landlord gets back to an upper caste Indian is 0.35, while for a Muslim applicant it is only 0.22. The article details that an upper caste applicant would have to send 29 queries for housing, whereas a Muslim person would have to search almost twice as much 45.10 queries to be able to get a response.
The internet has been proliferated with multiple unscientific theories surrounding meat-eating, colouring such practices with an inherent impurity attached to the consumption of meat. Attacks by cow vigilante groups or attacks against Muslims who are suspected of eating meat have whipped this societal hysteria up further. Add to this potent base, scrutiny and prejudice associated with religious attire such as skullcaps, hijabs, and burqas etc. And the othering is near complete.
A hope for harmony
Though sharp and distressing, amidst these varied testimonies also lies an underlying even desperate sense of hope for a lost harmony and shared humanity. Hamza, a professional in the development sector, residing in the capital, New Delhi, offers a slightly different take on the situation.
“There is a need for Muslims to push towards education; it is something we lack.” He further discusses the need for a more enthusiastic participation in public life by Muslims, saying “Say for instance, there is a cricketer who’s played excellently for India, we (Muslims) should congratulate him visibly on social media. There is a shared sentiment in India that “these people” (Muslims) only deal with aspects that concern ‘them and their faith’. There is a necessity to work very, very hard to counter such claims. We really need to work harder.”
Narrating an incident, Hamza Khan recalls, “We really need to get out of the ghetto that this hate wants to push us into and participate actively, increase our education levels, although they have improved somewhat.” Citing an incident from his residential colony from the last Diwali he adds, “Last Diwali we all decided to collect some money collectively to give gifts to security guards and other personnel. All the Muslim families in the vicinity put in money and took the initiative. In fact we saw that people from other community members also admired the initiative and expressed the sadness that they too did not participate.”
However, poet and writer, Hussain Haidry reflects on how firmly entrenched and pervasive propaganda and otherisation of Muslims has become.
“What has happened is that the otherisation is pretty much complete. Now it is very difficult to not be spotted as a Muslim under any circumstance, in any room. Today, I couldn’t pass off (without my identity). Identity is obvious.
“Secondly, while there may not be physical violence, because my class capital and social capital afford me some protections. But, this also exposes you (me) to online attacks, which can easily translate into real life by harming your career and lead to social and economic ostracisation. There may not be an imminent physical threat as such, but online attacks can also affect and attack my career since my livelihood is dependent on that.
“It’s just not the same since 2014 (elections) happened. Not just in the sense that discrimination has increased, but also in the sense that if there is road rage, if this is targeted at a Muslim, me, this can be terminal. Regular conflict can happen between anybody in India. But, for a Muslim, a very harmless tiff can become violently communal. This is something that also contributes to fear.
“See, what happens is, the propaganda swirls, repeatedly sent to non-Muslims, it seeps into their psyche, it builds a new found bias or it creates a misconception and this happens across economic class, caste, gender, age; it is in all forms, at every level. This propaganda exists and is being promoted in every medium, every kind of content, in public spaces such as bus stops, literally everywhere. The content is either pro-Hindutva, pro-BJP or anti-opposition or anti-Muslim. These formulations then collectively reflect in the majority’s psyche, speech and macro-behaviour. This effect reflected in behaviour, enters into vocabulary, after affecting thought and mental attitudes. It is unclear whether it is society that is reinforcing prejudice through propaganda, or it is propaganda that renews this and re-creates and re-enforces this prejudice. It is however so widespread, present across a diverse population, and sadly, the brunt of it is borne by Muslims.”