Indian democracy: A threat to its religious minorities

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Habib Siddiqui

Indian democracy has always been majoritarian since its first day as a republic. As a matter of fact the trend has its roots in the pre-partition days of Congress leadership that did not allow for an inclu-sive democracy in which Muslim and other non-Hindu minorities could participate on an equal foot-ing.

That majoritarian pull of the Hindu leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Patel pushed Jinnah and tens of millions of Muslims to feel alienated. And the rest is history! Pakistan emerged, albeit moth-eaten, as a separate state.

While all the founding fathers of the Indian re-public are dead now but their ghosts are still with us in the likes of Narendra Modi and other Indo-centric politicians to whom majority has the absolute right to decide how India should be run, and who is an Indian and who is not. Thanks to the toxic fascist ideology of Hindutva, promoted under the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) rule, the non-Hindu minor-ity religious groups are worse off today than any time in the past in India’s volatile history.

A presumption and anticipation of a so-called criminal act cannot be an offence, but not so in BJP-ruled India. Under Narendra Modi, even apolitical humorous jokes can result in one’s incarceration in India, especially, when the comedian is a non-Hindu.

Munawar Faruqui, a Muslim comedian in India, was arrested for jokes he didn’t crack. On the eve-ning of January 1, 2021, he was kicking off a 14-city tour with a ticketed show in a café in the central Indian city of Indore. Eklavya Gaud, the son of a ruling BJP politician, had arrived and stopped the show, complaining that the comic was ‘insulting’ Hindu religious sentiments.

Indore is a prominent city in Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP. Hindus make up the vast majority of India’s population. Faruqui ended up spending a month in jail.

In October, activists of a Hindutvavadi fascist group turned up at the cafe seeking a ban on Faru-qui’s shows. He has now hinted at quitting comedy after a dozen shows were cancelled in Mumbai and Bangalore following protests from fascist Hindu groups.

If this is the attitude of the ruling BJP-government towards humorous jokes, it is not diffi-cult to fathom the horrible state of intolerance faced by hundreds of millions of religious minorities in India from the places like Kashmir in the west to Nagaland, Assam and Tripura in the east on a daily basis. They face genocidal pogroms, unjust deten-tion, rape, or torture because of who they are and what they believe that is at variance with those of the majority Hindus.

Every Friday, Najis Mohammad would offer his afternoon prayers at a public ground near his barber shop in Gurugram, still popular by its old name Gurgaon — a satellite city on the outskirts of the Indian capital, New Delhi. He cannot pray Jum’aa there anymore. A number of politicians and Hindu priests, including Kapil Mishra, who belong to the BJP, have stopped Jum’aa prayer for the local Mus-lims there. It is worth recalling that Mishra has been accused of instigating religious violence in New Delhi that killed more than 50 Muslims last year, and yet, he runs free in Modi’s India.

‘Permission to offer prayers at eight previously-identified sites has been cancelled,’ Gurugram po-lice said in a statement. It added that if objections were raised by the residents at other places, ‘permis-sion to offer prayers will be cancelled there as well’.

The police move followed a weeks-long cam-paign by Hindu groups and local residents who had been disrupting the Friday prayers at those sites by playing religious songs on loudspeakers and raising hate slogans. An umbrella group of Hindu groups, called the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti (Joint Hindu Struggle Committee), even issued an ‘ultima-tum’ to the authorities, saying they would stop Mus-lim prayers themselves if the Gurugram administra-tion fails to do so.

Muslim parliamentarian Asaduddin Owaisi said the Gurugram administration’s decision to ban Fri-day prayers at some sites was a violation of Article 25 of the Indian constitution that guarantees Indian citizens the freedom to profess, practise and propa-gate religion.

“How it is that practising my religion or offering my Jum’ah namaz [Friday prayers] once in a week for 15 to 20 minutes is hurting anyone?’ he told Al Jazeera.

Religious intolerance against the Muslims shows no signs of ebbing in Modi’s India. It has, in essence, become a sure recipe to grab and hold onto power in this land of 1.4 billion people.

Muslim villagers living in Naraura in the Tri-pura State heard some villagers scream in panic around 10:00pm on October 23, 2021. As they rushed out, a wooden bier and some prayer mats in the courtyard of the local mosque were on fire. Al-legedly, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), which has been agitating against the Mus-lims is behind the mosque fire.

Lest one forgets, the VHP is affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological fountainhead of India’s Hindu supremacist groups which seeks to convert India into an ethnic Hindu-only state. (Most top leaders of India’s governing BJP, including Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, started their political careers as RSS workers.)

Tripura, an eastern state dominated by Bengali-speaking Hindus, bordering Bangladesh, is currently governed by Modi’s BJP. Muslims living there, like those in Assam, are traumatised and now live under fear.

‘There are 16 mosques which have been tar-geted in Tripura,’ said Mufti Abdul Momin, a Mus-lim cleric.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom — an independent, bipartisan federal government commission that makes reli-gious freedom and foreign policy recommendations to the US president, the US senate and the state department — said in October that it was alarmed by reports of violence against Muslims in Tripura and urged the Indian government to prevent the attacks.

‘USCIRF is particularly alarmed about reports from Tripura of mobs desecrating mosques and torching properties of Muslims. The Indian govern-ment must bring those responsible for instigating and engaging in religious violence to justice and must prevent further attacks,’ USCIRF said in a tweet.

Earlier this year, India’s home ministry said in the Indian parliament that 348 people died in police custody and 5,221 died in judicial custody in the last three years. These numbers point to the anaemic health of the Indian Modi-fied democracy, which is increasingly becoming a joke.

In early November 2021 the death of a young Muslim man, 22-year-old Mohammad Altaf, in police custody in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and the subsequent clarification by the police trig-gered outrage in India. Altaf was falsely alleged to have kidnapped a Hindu girl.

A photograph showing Altaf hanging from a water pipe in the washroom went viral on social media. Altaf was about 5ft 6 inches (167cm) tall and the water pipe was less than three feet (91.4cm) from the ground. How could a 5.6 ft tall young man hang himself from a pipe that is much shorter? Al-taf’s family has demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into his death.

Such custodial deaths (23 people have died in police custody and 1,295 in judicial custody in the same 3-year period) have become quite common in Uttar Pradesh, which is governed by the BJP.

Its chief minister is Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest, who has had criminal cases against him for leading violence against the Muslims.

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