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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The derailing minority rights in India

A large-scale anti-Muslim riot after every two to three years has become a norm in India. The recent escalations are, in fact, a direct consequence of the  BJP's popular anti-Muslim narrative, where party discourse blames India’s Muslim Mughal rulers for ending the Indian empire's golden age.

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India of today presents a slow inevitable train wreck where religious minorities are likely to clash with the majority Hindu population. According to India’s Constitution, India is a secular state where religious minorities enjoy equal rights to the majority group. Article 15(1) of the Constitution declares that the state must not discriminate against citizens on the basis of religion or race. India’s Penal Code (1860) and Code of Criminal Procedure (1973) obligate the executive to provide all residents protection against communal violence.

On paper, the Indian legal framework, with the exception of a few laws- such as Article 48 of the Constitution, which obligates the executive to prohibit cow slaughter and anti-conversion laws- provides religious freedom as well as equal rights to all citizens. Practically India’s executive and judiciary bypass all these laws and turn a blind eye to the plight of minorities in the country. Communal violence has become frequent in the secular, pluralistic  India, with   Muslims as the main target, followed by the Christian community. The Jahangirpuri violence is the latest incident in a series of events, including rioting, hate speeches and questionable anti-Muslim legislation.

Read more: India in no position to talk about minority rights violations anywhere: Pakistan

Why minority rights are being ignored in India?

The rioting at Jahangirpuri,  a locality in Delhi, began when a Hindu religious procession celebrating the birth of the Hindu god Hanuman entered a Muslim neighborhood and stopped in front of a mosque where Muslims were carrying out Ramadan prayers.  Violence broke out, and riots ensued. Two days later, the BJP-controlled municipal cooperation began to demolish houses and shops at the site of the riots, human rights activists cite the entire endeavor as political victimization of a minority community already disproportionally affected by the Jahangirpuri violence.

The videos of the Hindu procession chanting religious slogans and raising swords outside the mosque offer an eerie and bone-chilling glimpse into the growing Hindutva nationalism in India and majoritarianism griping the Indian society. Just two years prior to the Jahangirpuri violence, Delhi had been gripped by some of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots in the capital’s history. The February 2020  communal riots were instigated by Hindus, encouraged by local BJP leadership; the majority of the deceased and wounded were Muslims. The state machinery during both incidents was complicit and allowed Hindu mobs to wreak havoc on Muslim majority neighborhoods.

According to available data, from 2016 to 2020, there have been 3,399 cases of communal violence in the country. In 2020 alone, approximately eight hundred instances of communal riots occurred. A large-scale anti-Muslim riot after every two to three years has become a norm in India. The recent escalations are, in fact, a direct consequence of the  BJP’s popular anti-Muslim narrative, where party discourse blames India’s Muslim Mughal rulers for ending the Indian empire’s golden age. According to a shocking Human Rights Watch report published in 2019, the BJP government has failed to prosecute and prevent mob attacks against religious minorities perpetrated mostly by BJP supporters and sympathizers.

Digital media has played a key role in vilifying some Muslims as outsiders unworthy of similar rights as the Hindus, while others are descendants of Hindus who were forcefully converted by Muslim invaders. The reconversion movement is a direct product of this thought process. Traditional news media, anti-Muslim songs, and dubious discourse on the internet explaining imagined history and imagined victimhood have mainstreamed Islamophobia in the country. The anti-Muslim hatred has become so mainstream that the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act failed to rouse condemnation from the majority of Indian society.

Read more: Pakistan Supreme Court protects Minority Rights in new judgement

Gregory Stanton, the director of Genocide Watch, has already rung alarm bells on an impending Muslim genocide in  India. Releasing its annual 2022 report-the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom- much like two previous years, recommended the US government designate India as the “country of particular concern”.  The report identifies how all non-Hindu communities, including Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Dalits continue to suffer religious intolerance encouraged by the ruling party. Muslims in India remain the most economically deprived community.

The way forward

The average per capita expenditure of an Indian Muslim is a mere Rs.32.66 per day; the illiteracy rate among Muslim communities is a staggering forty-two percent, with the lowest worker population ratio. The Muslim representation in parliament shrank from nine percent forty years ago to a mere four percent in 2014. This figure is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that Muslims make up fourteen percent of the entire Indian population.  Along with Muslims, Christians in India have once again become extremely vulnerable to vigilantism and religious violence perpetrated by Hindu mobs. The Freedom of Religion Act, an anti-conversion law, is particularly used to harass the Christian community.

In one incident in February 2021, a mob attacked a Church and assaulted twenty-five worshippers. Furthermore, the mob registered an FIR against the Church, alleging conversions of Hindus, conveniently making use of the anti-conversion laws. The pastor was arrested while the attackers roamed free. During the nineties, anti-Christian violence was at its peak. Hindu Christian communal violence once again reached alarming levels from 2008 to 2009. The intermittent years saw some stability, only for violence to erupt once again in 2015.  According to World Watch List 2021, India is ranked number tenth in the fifty country list where being a Christian is hardest.

Read more: NCHR Report on Poor working condition of minority calls serious attention

According to Religious Liberty Commission Report, anti-Christian hate crimes exponentially increased in 2021 compared to the previous years. The reported incidents of anti-Christian violence jumped up a staggering eighty percent from 2020 to 2021. A total of 504  incidents of violence against Christians, perpetrated mainly by Hindus, were reported in 2021. These incidents range from murders to physical violence, destruction of Churches and social boycott of Christian families. It is important to note that Christians make up only two percent of India’s total population.

The five hundred incidents of violence against such a small minority is a staggering figure showcasing the dire situation of Indian Christians. The ground realities show that minority rights will be curbed even further in the future. Only the global community can convince the Indian government to give up on its unstated policy of prosecution of religious minorities.


The writer is a Political Scientist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.