In India, the new year has begun with a perverse attack on the country’s Muslims. On January 1, photos of more than 100 Muslim women on a app called Bulli Bai, claiming that they were “for sale as maids”. Prominent journalists, actresses and activists were among those targeted.
The apparent attempt to sexualize, humiliate and force politically active and socially prominent Muslim women has made India’s 200 million strong Muslim community understandably furious. After significant setbacks, the application was removed, and several arrests were made in connection with the incident.
But it was only the latest in a series of Islamophobic incidents in India.
On the last day of 2021, for example, a leading national daily newspaper ran an openly Islamophobic advertisement funded by the government of Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state. Just a few weeks earlier, several far-right Hindu leaders had openly called for genocide against Muslims during a three-day religious summit held in northern India’s Haridwar city.
Also in December, India’s far-right prime minister, Narendra Modi, linked Muslim figures from India’s distant history to current “terrorism and religious extremism” in two of his public speeches, implying that India’s Muslims should be held accountable and punished for the alleged crimes committed by their “ancestors”.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who belongs to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has stated that the state’s forthcoming election for the assembly can be described as “80 to 20 percent”, which is not so subtle. indicates that he does not see the state. elections as a struggle between the Hindus, who make up 80 percent of the state’s population, and the 20 percent Muslim minority.
The anti-Muslim propaganda committed by India’s elected and unelected leaders in 2021 was also supported by the country’s brutal Islamophobic media, as well as anti-Muslim laws and policies approved or proposed in many states.
Muslims in India have felt threatened since the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power in 2014. But in recent years, hostility towards this community has become even more open. Today, far-right Hindu nationalists, with the support and sometimes encouragement of the government and local authorities, make it clear to Muslims that they are no longer seen as equal citizens in their own country. Their dietary habits and religious rituals are attacked and even criminalized. Muslim women are humiliated and harassed just because they are Muslim. Muslim livelihoods are threatened. Calls are being made for genocide on Muslims. It is no longer safe to be a Muslim in BJP’s India.
Christians are also facing increasing attacks
However, Muslims are not the only religious minority targeted by the increasingly encouraged right-wingers in the country. Christians across India are also facing similar hatred and violence. Laws forbidding conversion are enacted state after state, and Christians are blamed for the violent conversion of poor Hindus and tribes. It turns public opinion against Christian communities. Christian Sunday prayers are repeatedly disrupted, churches are attacked, priests are beaten.
As veteran journalist John Dayal recently reported, last month “violent Hindu crowds attacked churches, Christian congregations in prayer and groups celebrating Christmas in at least 16 cities and towns.” Such incidents have been seen in states across the country, from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in the north. To Karnataka in the South. According to United Christian Forum, at least 460 attacks against Christians have been recorded in India in the past year.
Under BJP’s leadership, India has become one of the most dangerous countries for Muslims and Christians in the world. They are being persecuted physically, psychologically and economically. Laws are passed to criminalize their religious practices, food habits and even businesses. In addition to discriminatory laws, they are also regularly threatened with physical violence and subjected to physical violence. The media, as well as the TV and film industry, are biased against it. Perhaps most importantly, the elected rulers of the country are constantly dehumanizing and even demonizing themselves to advance their own political agenda.
2021 was a year of fear, violence and harassment for Muslims and Christians of India. And as the Bulli Bai incident showed, the Hindu far-right’s attacks on religious minorities are likely to continue violently in the new year.
But the battle for India’s identity and soul is not over yet. Resistance to violent majority politics is slowly growing in the country, and many who believe in democracy and human rights are fighting tirelessly to save India’s national unity and secular identity.
The way forward
India’s Muslims no longer take down the attacks against them. When they discovered, for example, that they were “for sale” on a so-called “auction app”, Muslim women refused to be intimidated and submitted a series of First Information Reports (FIR) to pressure the authorities to find and punish them. . responsible. When it became clear that Muslims would not let the issue go, security forces – who had almost ignored similar anti-Muslim crimes in the past – acted quickly and arrested four people who were allegedly behind the application.
Meanwhile, a new crop of Muslim journalists and activists are tirelessly recording and documenting Islamophobic incidents and attacks across the country, demanding accountability from state institutions. As a result of their efforts, state authorities are increasingly struggling to ignore or downplay the abuse that Muslims face. These journalists and activists, with the support of the wider Muslim community and many other pro-democracy Indians, are working to ensure that the recent genocide calls against Muslims in Haridwar do not go unpunished. Thanks to increasing public pressure, police have already announced an investigation into the incident.
Some of India’s leading institutions, which still uphold the country’s secular constitution, also help minorities to withstand the tide of majority oppression and violence. The Supreme Court, for example, announced on Monday that it would urgently hear a petition hearing the arrest and prosecution of people involved in hate speech and violence against Muslims in Haridwar. The court also recently ordered the Tripura police to refrain from taking any sanctions against Muslims who speak or write about the episode of anti-Muslim violence experienced in the state in October-November 2021.
The resistance to majority violence in India is growing because it has to. The BJP will remain in power until at least 2024 and its leaders are unlikely to abandon their anti-Muslim and anti-Christian rhetoric any time soon. Religious minorities speak out, because for them silence is no longer an option. They are fighting for their rightful place in their homeland – they are fighting for their survival.
The efforts of India’s religious minorities and their allies to document and pay attention to anti-Muslim and anti-Christian attacks and threats, as well as actions by the Supreme Court, will undoubtedly help to slow down the tide of majority violence in the country. But India cannot heal and become a country again where different religious communities coexist in harmony on its own. The international community must also recognize and take a stand against routine harassment of and genocide threats against Muslims and Christians in the country.
If we look at past atrocities, we can clearly see how the international community’s silence against growing hatred and violence against persecuted communities has paved the way for genocide.
Today, many powerful and “democratic” nations, pretending to be human rights protectors around the world, refrain from condemning crimes against religious minorities in India because they see India as a major strategic ally against China or a major trading market they prefer. not anger.
But if the democratic nations of the world remain silent and allow India to continue on this path, the country could soon fall into civil war. And an India at war with itself cannot buy other nations’ products or help them contain China’s influence. All countries in the region and beyond will suffer if inter-communal violence tears apart the world’s largest democracy.
But this grim scenario is not inevitable. Different religious communities have existed peacefully together in India in the past, and they can do it again. Muslims and Christians resist the majority violence supported by India’s government, and with the help of those around the world who want India to remain a secular democracy where all its citizens feel safe, they can still fight this battle for the soul of their country wins.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.