May 8, 2018 (DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — In India, where religion pervades every cubic inch of public space, the question of whether Muslims have the right to pray in the open has turned into a contentious debate, stirred up by Hindu nationalist groups and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Across the country, Hindu processions routinely tie up traffic, mosques use loudspeakers to call their faithful to prayer, and popular Christian preachers advertise themselves on billboards. Religion isn’t just plainly visible, it’s part of the fabric of daily life– Islam is the second largest religion in India.
On Friday, however, right-wing Hindu activists in Gurugram, on the outskirts of Delhi, disrupted at least ten small groups of Muslims offering namaz in the open: by the side of the road, or in a park, or on vacant plots of land. The practice is a common one; Muslims who happen to be out of their homes and away from a mosque during the working day drop to prayer in the nearest convenient spot.
Friday’s string of disruptions was the second such incident in two weeks. On April 20 – also a Friday – a prayer session was interrupted in Wazirabad, in Gurugram. A cell-phone video showed members of the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, a collective of a dozen Hindu nationalist groups and political parties, instructing a crowd of praying Muslims to rise and disperse from an otherwise empty square of land.
The Samiti’s members shouted Hindu slogans and declared, in Hindi: “No one will offer namaz here.”
India’s constitution protects freedom of religion but is applied loosely, and several studies have lately shown there’s a rise in Hindu nationalism as well as the perversion of ‘secular India’ narrative.
Even to outside observers, it is increasingly clear that Muslims are being ostracized and singled out and that state institutions are failing them in India.
Last week, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Hindu Yuva Vahini barged into the Aligarh Muslim University campus demanding that the portrait of Jinnah being hung on the walls of the student union office be removed and clashed with students. Soon after, the police arrived and baton-charged the students. This led to protests at the university with the students demanding the arrest of the Hindutva activists. The matter took a political turn on Saturday with BJP chief Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath declaring that Jinnah cannot be honored in India.
The portrait has hung at its spot in the Aligarh Muslim University for eight decades, since Jinnah was an honorary member of the student’s union. Many see this as yet another move to cast Indian politics in a majoritarian mould and politically marginalize Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and in the other states of India.
While Jinnah has nothing to do with India’s politics in 2018, this sudden criticism of him vindicates one of his theories, formulated in the 1930s: that electoral politics would reduce Indian Muslims to the state of a permanent minority, shut out from power and socially marginalized because of their religious identity.
As Hindutva takes control in India, it is worthwhile revisiting Jinnah’s prediction that Muslims in India would become a permanent minority in a majoritarian system. In hindsight, Jinnah’s solution and his identification of the problem was right, as the commentator Aakar Patel noted in the Times of India.
For example, Muslim representation in the Lok Sabha is at an all-time low with just 22 MPs in the 545-strong current House – less than a third of what it should have been were the Lok Sabha to mirror the Indian population.
If these headline statistics were not bad enough, Muslims have been excluded from local, state and national power structures under the current government. They are not given tickets to contest elections and, in some cases, prominent BJP leaders have made it clear in as many words that the party does not even want Muslim votes. As a result, treasury benches in legislatures have almost no Muslims, casting the community into a permanent minority status, locked out of power and dependent on majoritarian whims.
Political marginalization, of course, has a host of knock-on effects including, most prominently, physical safety – with hate crimes against Muslims on the rise.
India’s Muslims have a feeling that a physical and psychological war is being waged against them.
With the general elections around the corner, many fear that anti-Muslim violence in India is only going to increase and intensify in the coming months. This, unfortunately, is being seen by the BJP as a legitimate method of mobilizing Hindu votes in the electoral battle.
India is considered the largest democracy in the world. But the ‘Saffron paradox’ is pushing one of the largest Muslim population in the world it hosts towards a “permanent Hindu majority and a permanent Muslim minority” stillwater.
Democracy getting warped in such a manner is not limited to India, writes Shoaib Daniyal.
“It is a phenomenon found even in the West. At a 2016 rally, Donald Trump, who was then in the race to be the president of the United States, declared, “The only important thing is the unification of the people, because the other people don’t mean anything.” Jan–Werner Muller, a political scientist, sees this as a politics of exclusion based on identity in which certain communities, such as Mexicans, are deemed to not be a part of the “real America”.