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Is Islamophobia Any Different From Organised, Communal Violence?

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Trigger warning: Islamophobia

Indian history has been witnessing a change in religious dynamics. The pre-independence period marked Britishers formulating the “two-nation theory” or the  “divide and rule” policy in the subcontinent.

People were provoked against each other on the basis of their religions, which was followed by the partition and bloodshed. The wounds of the violence, which happened decades ago, are still fresh.

Even after 75 years of Indian independence, there has not been any respite. However, the intensity of the hatred is much lower now.

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 party.

There have been clear instances of the leaders leaning and favoring 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’t be done by the secular-liberal elite or political parties, that are only attempting to quietly accommodate the Muslims.

Rise In Violence Against Muslims

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 organised communalism and Islamophobia.

What we witness in India is not the latter.

If we go by definition, Islamophobia is the baseless and irrational fear as well as hatred towards Muslims and Islam as a religion.

At present, one has witnessed organised 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 a fact that people have narrated history for self-interests of further partition and majoritarianism.

Distortion Of History For Political Gains

For instance, Telangana has a history of being ruled by the nizam (ruler of Hyderabad) 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.

The sangh parivar (a collection of Hindu nationalist organisations) 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 mobilise the people against each other by distorting the facts from history.

The Anti-Muslim Violence In Delhi

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 organisations 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.

Umar Khalid, activist and student leader, has been wrongfully imprisoned for his alleged involvement in the violence which broke out in Delhi. Representational image. Photo credit: The Print.

This, however, does not work without an accompanying moral story. What needs to be countered is the moral vision behind the 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 (CAA). These actions by the leaders have threatened the Indian democracy.

They gradually built on the rather non-existent Islamophobia in the country. The people of Delhi, however, responded to the government by giving a clear majority to the opposition, thereby giving the signal of unity, despite constant polarization.

Holy Cow!

Recently, “cow economy” started gaining importance with the objective to ban the illegal slaughter of the cow to be 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.

Many Muslim men have been lynched by vigilante groups with Hindu nationalist affiliations. Representational image. Photo credit: DNA.

Religion was targeted once more, during the lockdown. The tablighi jamaat, a religious gathering in the capital city, ended up being termed as a “super spreader” of the virus, because the majority of the gathering was Muslims and international guests.

Again, fake news and social media played an important role in blaming Muslims. Even the popular news channels started off by targeting the people part of the congregation and ended up blaming the entire community for the virus.

The Women Of Shaeen Bagh

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 at Shaheen Bagh (much to the surprise of the ruling party).

A protest that started off with a few women, locally, went on to be the most successful protest in Indian history and it also 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.

They need to 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.

In doing so, they might have already conceded the legitimacy of converting communalism into Islamophobia.

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

Written by Simi Mehta and Anshula Mehta

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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