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Organized Communal Violence And Islamophobia: Differentiated Concepts

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Dr Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

Indian history has been witnessing a change in religious dynamics. The pre-independence period marked Britishers formulating the two-nation theory/divide and rule in the country. The people were provoked against each other based on their religions, which followed the partition and bloodshed. Still, the wounds of those violent events decades ago are afresh. Even after 73 years of Indian independence, there has not been any respite. However, the intensity of hatred is much lower.

Since independence, there have been a lot of political shifts and turns. It is no hidden fact that the ruling party of India at present is a right-wing leaning party. There have been clear instances of the leaders leaning and favouring one section of the society while easily neglecting the other side.

Majoritarianism is a certain kind of moral imagination that influences social, political, and even economic dimensions of everyday life. One needs to deflate the moral potency of this image if one wishes to defeat it. This can be done not merely by a secular-liberal elite or political parties that are attempting to quietly accommodate the Muslims.

muslims praying

There has been a sudden rise in the cases of violence against Muslims in India since 2014. People talk about this rise in cases in the context of Islamophobia, but there is a fine line between organized communalism and islamophobia. What we witness in India is not the latter.

If we go by definition, Islamophobia is the baseless and irrational fear and hatred towards Muslims and Islam as a religion. At present, one has witnessed organized attacks/communalism against one community which is being transformed into islamophobia by some sections of the society. Thus, Islamophobia continues to be a foreign term in Indian society.

The major reason for the sudden rise in the violence against Muslims is the distortion of the facts in history. It is also the fact that people narrated history for self-interests of further partition and majoritarianism. For instance, Telangana with a history of being ruled by Nizams and the violence perpetrated by his private militia, the razakars. The razakars were supported by Hindu landlords because it was the Nizam who had granted Hindu landlords the right to land and taxation to counter the armed struggle led by communists.

Sangh Parivar often offers a selective rendering of history, which pushes the consolidation of a majoritarian Hindu identity. Majoritarianism can be consolidated only when one moves away from identifying the authentic sources of violence. Similarly, in Bengal, the memory of partition plays a fundamental role wherein both Hindus and Muslims suffered violence. Thus it is easier for the right-wing group to mobilize the population against each other by distorting the facts from history.

In February 2020, northeast Delhi witnessed two days of killings, firing, loss of livelihood, and property. The spread of fake news through the medium of WhatsApp was widely shared by people. Muslim organizations and individuals active in the public sphere have attempted to counter the factual incorrectness of various kinds of information floating around, much of which is consciously floated. This, however, does not work without an accompanying moral story. What needs to be countered is the moral vision behind fake news, not just fake news.

The statement by the leaders in power which triggered the riots was “Love Jihad“, “Ghar Wapsi“, “beef ban” laws, and also, very importantly – the Citizenship Amendment Act. These actions by the leaders have threatened the Indian democracy and have gradually built up on the rather nonexistent Islamophobia in the country. However, the people of Delhi responded to the Government by giving a clear majority to the opposition and giving the signal of unity despite constant polarization.

Recently “cow economy” started gaining importance to ban the illegal slaughter of the cow from being consumed as meat by the people. The law took a very violent turn when people started targeting Muslims and naming them as traitors to consume beef. People were ‘lynched‘ in broad daylight, and houses were raided by mob vigilantes. People who were subjected to these atrocities are yet to be given justice.

Pandemic again targeted religion during the lockdown. Tablighi Jamaat, a religious gathering in the capital city, ended up being termed the “super spreader” of the virus because the majority of the gathering was ‘Muslims’ and international guests. Fake news and social media again played an important role in blaming Muslims. Even the popular news channels started by targeting the people of the congregation and blaming the entire community for the virus.

Defaming one community continuously in a democracy is a violation of our fundamental rights. During the CAA protest and these riots, women came forward in the protests of Shaheen Bagh (much to the surprise of the ruling party). A protest that started with a few women locally, went on to be the most successful in Indian history and attracted widespread protest across the country.

Therefore, to conclude, instead of taking recourse to Islamophobia, which, by default, is in denial of history and culture as they exist, secular-democratic forces need to re-focus on the roots of communalism and look for means of burying the memories of violence between religious communities in the past and resist it in the present. The Sangh Parivar undermines history to distort it. Secular forces cannot undermine it because they find it difficult to negotiate with its complexity, and in doing so, they might have already conceded the legitimacy of converting communalism into Islamophobia.

The above is the event excerpts of a webinar organized by Gender Impact Studies Center at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Delhi Post News and Gender Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurugram on Muslim politics beyond Islamophobia. The main speaker of the event was Dr Ajay Gudavarthy, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.

Acknowledgements: Annmarie Thomas is a research intern at the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi. She is an undergraduate in History from Ambedkar University, Delhi, and joining as a master’s candidate in International Relations at the University of Bristol, UK.

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