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A new research highlights “existential threat” to Muslims and Christians in India

Recent research by the London School of Economics highlights the discrimination against the minority groups like Muslims and Christians in India, and how different institutions in the country work together to make sure that these people are unable to raise their standards of living and rise against the oppression of the bigoted state machinery.

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New research conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science has collected data to argue that minorities Muslim and Christian populations in India face an imminent threat by discrimination and racial violence that needs to be dealt with.

The research was commissioned by an organization known as Open Doors USA, a persecution watchdog organization that has previously urged the Biden administration to immediately convene an international fact-finding commission to investigate these acts of violence and other human rights violations against religious minorities in India. 

Researchers collected data through observations in localities where there had been reported incidents of anti-Christian or anti-Muslim violence, in-depth interviews with ordinary Indian citizens who have been victims of discrimination and violence linked to their faith in India, interviews with local rights activists and experts on Christian and Muslim faith-based communities in India and visual evidence provided by them

The report begins with the fact that incidents of collective and individual discrimination, violence, and atrocity against Muslims and Christians in India continue to rise, particularly in rural areas, and against Dalit and Adivasi groups, and the atmosphere is one of “terror and existential threat.”

The report titled, “Destructive Lies-Violence & Discrimination Against Minorities in India”, mentions various reasons for the discrimination.

Caste and Indigeneity

The research reveals that the census has been done in a way that deprives the minorities in Muslim and Dalit communities of rights. It says that” according to the
2011 Census, although Christians officially number around 2.3% of India’s population and Muslims 13.4%, the real numbers who hold Christian and Muslim faith in India may be somewhat higher.”

The major reason for this low count according to the report is, “that Dalit and Adivasi Christians and Muslims have been placed in a position whereby they are not eligible to receive any state benefits to which they might have been formerly entitled on the basis of caste and indigeneity.”

Read More: Indian Muslims say ‘can’t trust anyone now’

Additionally, according to the report, there is evidence that minority groups avoid proclaiming their identity due to the “atmosphere of intimidation”, due to them belonging to a minority religion.

The research argues that there are also internal hierarchies in religions like the difference between Ashrafiya Muslims and Pasmanda Muslims, which has led to “a lack of institutional support from many powerful religious institutions to help those who are directly affected by the climate of Hindutva discrimination, dehumanization, and violence.”

Structural incentives

The research suggests that since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ascended to power in 2014, there has been an increase in “an unspoken yet tangible (i.e. qualitative and quantitative) shift in the public sphere and in the individual consciousness of citizens towards a discriminatory consensus,” meaning that the Hindutva ideology has dominated the state machinery with BJP in power.

Another reason for the bigotry rising in the country has been the fact that the violence against the marginalized classes has been successfully linked to depicting a strong fearless Hinduism, thus gaining ” consent from the so-called ‘majority’ population.”

The major support of such violence comes from the male teens in their twenties and thirties, who fest that their jobs/opportunities are being given away to minorities in the name of social welfare, thus contempt against marginalized communities.

The report suggests that due to the Hindutva’s ascend to power leading to fear, the actors in government and civil society including administrators, police officials, judges, media persons, spiritual and business leaders – have largely succumbed to the Hindutva narrative and failed to even nominally support those affected by the atrocity, violence, and discrimination, but rather support the perpetrators.

Read More: Islamophobia in India: New attacks on Indian Muslims

Hostility from State

Researchers from LSE found that in the two BJP states they visited, “there was a clear incentive for the political leadership to adopt more hardline Hindutva in both discourse and practice.”

The research notices that Ajay Bisht has been a major influence in inspiring other BJP leaders to indulge in “incendiary and discriminatory politics” against minorities, especially Muslims.

It must be mentioned here that Bisht is known for openly encouraging religious vigilantism against Muslims.

In states where BJP has strong ground support, even the opposition parties like Congress refrain from supporting minorities, as they fear losing the majority Hindu voters.

The state governments have passed laws creating a false pretext for arresting Muslims under “love jihad” kind o slogans while charges are filed against Christians for converting Hindus, or claiming state benefits.

Even if some group/person resists and gains some support, the state machinery is quick to take countermeasures to discredit these leaders by using tactics like disproportionate charges against them.

“The rationale for these tactics is to tie courageous Muslims, Christians and Human Rights defenders up with so much paperwork and legal procedure that most of them become discouraged or give up altogether,” the report mentions.

It further adds, “Overall, the complete abandonment of religious minorities by both their elected representatives as well as the government machinery has left them with an overwhelming sense of isolation since they are already living in oppressive social conditions, surrounded by a culture of majoritarianism.” This leads to these groups becoming hopeless about their future.

Read More: Coronavirus misinformation causes hostility against Indian Muslims

Role of media

The research mentions that the role of media, both mainstream and social media, is gaining importance and its consumption has the ability to program the minds of people, and the media is highly mediated.

Social media is powerless in challenging the discriminatory speech, disinformation, and hate speech in India, as major social media companies have entered the country partnering with big businesses usually owned by people who sympathize with the Hindutva ideology.

Researchers note that “in what has come to be a bizarre ritual of Hindutva vigilantism, perpetrators unfailingly make digital records of their own violent actions and then post it to various social media platforms.”

They argue that This kind of posting serves several purposes.

Firstly, it advertises the perpetrators to other Hindutva groups and politicians as bold Hindu nationalists and consolidates their reputation for safeguarding Hinduism.

Secondly, it serves as a warning to the police that the groups do not see their violence as being against the law.

Thirdly, it serves as a warning to other groups affiliated with the victims in the posts – if you tangle with us, then we will do to you what is being done to these people/persons.

Such posts are used to wrongfully accuse Muslims, Christians, Dalits of smuggling cattle, consuming beef, or other activities that are against Hindu values.

The minority narrative is undersold by the mainstream media pushing for Hindutva ideology.

Social media posts and videos are being tailored and shown by the vigilantes, mobs as evidence of Cattle smuggling, forced conversions to Christianity, and they are anchored to support Hindutva views regarding minorities.

For example, through spoken commentary or through a textual description appended to the videos, a routine private prayer meeting amongst Christian Adivasis is labeled as a “secret meeting to convert Hindus into Christianity”, the report said.

When it comes to popular imaginaries targeted at religious minorities, for example, the alleged complicity or intention of Muslims in spreading Covid-19 to Hindus or that Christians are forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity, it is clear that mainstream media play a key role in legitimizing and strengthening such imaginaries.

Recommendations

In light of these findings, the researchers gave several recommendations. The most prominent ones included asking the international community to convene an international fact-finding commission of violence and other human rights violations against religious minorities in India; Compilation of an exhaustive database of violence, discrimination, and other human rights violations against minorities in India, by the international community; international organizations to take cognizance of the status of ongoing human rights violations while transacting with India; ensuring swift action any Indian police officer involved in such heinous acts.

On the social media end, the document asked corporations to increase the number of moderators who can address specific local issues of discrimination, harassment, and violence on their apps and platforms.

Read More: After OIC and Turkey, Iran slams India for “organized violence against Indian Muslims”

A recent incident 

The Dalit population of India suffers every day. Asia News reported that Mgr Arulselvam Rayappan is set to become the new bishop of Salem (Tamil Nadu); however, for local Dalit Catholics, the appointment remains an open wound since the new prelate was not chosen from their own ranks, that of the “untouchables”.

The Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) protested in Salem reiterating their demand to have a Dalit lead the diocese, something that has not happened for 15 years in any Tamil Nadu diocese, despite the fact that most Catholics belong to “disadvantaged castes”, Asia News wrote.

According to a new story unearthed by UNDARK, even the elite and progressive institutions of the country are racist against the minorities, especially the Dalit community. For example, IIT Bombay, in Mumbai, and IIT Delhi had no Dalit professors at all in 2020 — compared with 324 and 218 professors, respectively, in the General Category.

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