Why circumstances in India may improve for Muslims
Things are bad for Muslims in India. It is a strange phrase because a statement about India is usually wrong if it contains so few words. Where are the exceptions, the caveats, and the context that pushes the boundaries? But somehow we have reached a point where seven words can describe some 200 million Muslims – the rich and the poor among them, the superstars and the wretches, the men, the women and even the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Gujarati Bohra Muslim fans.
Most of the nasty things that Western humanitarians, politicians and journalists say about modern India are not entirely true. For example, US MP Ilhan Omar’s lament a few days ago: “How much does the Modi administration have to criminalize being Muslim in India for us to say anything? This is nonsense. Usually the American condemnation of India is more sophisticated. It sounds like something we know isn’t the whole truth, but we can’t focus on the lie and unravel it. It is the tilt and the implications that are wrong.
Still, it’s hard to argue with the growing view that Indian Muslims are struggling. They are not brutalized, as some people in the West seem to think, but the perpetual mental torment of the community is probably much worse than what they endured at the height of the Ayodhya dispute, or when Islamist terrorism was the predominant fear of the world. . Any talk of “genocide” against Muslims is hyperbole, but what is true is that every day there are a million little slaps. And it’s worse.
While extraordinary events like riots traumatized Muslims, they were brief and held the promise of being rare. But the ongoing minor assaults that are rampant may have filled Indian Muslims with the sadness of being treated as inferior people in their own country. Just days ago, another man in a suit, his only qualification to claim holy status, told a large crowd that if Muslim men harassed Hindu women, he would organize the sexual assault of Muslim women. The young men in the audience cheered, even invoking the name of a deity. What the man in the suit did was a crime; there were cops in the audience and the event was recorded. Still, it roams free, at least at the time of writing. Every day there are things people say about Muslims: what they are, what they should be allowed to do and where they belong. Everything has become commonplace. Before coming to this, it took an extraordinary incident to disturb the Muslims.
Many of us who have no idea how bad caste discrimination could have been are today presented with its dark power for all to see. Their Muslim identity is held against them; their names are a handicap; even the rich, famous and learned are diminished in public perception by their religious label. The most underrated right that an Indian enjoys is the right to minor offenses and I think Muslims in India have lost that right in many situations. They usually don’t dare to express their road rage, for example, or get into other fights.
Usually in India, an evil has a dark logical reason to exist. Caste, for example, may have started in an ancient pandemic and then become a means of excluding large sections from the use of limited resources. Discrimination against women too, as in other parts of the world, has its beneficiaries. Sporadic pushes against Muslims were also battles over market access and real estate. But the current situation is not only bad, it offers no returns and has no beneficiaries. On the contrary, it is a situation that does not bode well for Hindus either. It has become easy for low-ranking politicians to become popular simply by saying nasty things about Muslims. Pakistanis can tell us how quickly low intelligence religious fanatics with a grouse against progress and modernity can become popular and the destruction they can cause. Democracy is a dangerous medium if the wrong kind of people get quick breaks. The treatment of Muslims also diminished the global prestige of Hindus. The world is ready to believe any hyperbolic report from India.
Most Hindus are not perpetrators of oppression, but the nature of public evil is such that a majority need not actively participate in it. Indifference to small injustices is enough.
Despite the gravity of the situation in India, I believe that things can improve a lot for Muslims. Perhaps what is happening right now is a nadir that we had to pass before modern India rises to a smarter way of being. I see hope in a powerful institution outside of government, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Some of its leader Mohan Bhagwat’s recent speeches go beyond condemnation of violence against Muslims. He said people who commit such violence cannot be considered Hindus.
It emerges from a cultural victory – a feeling that Hindus have won. Exactly what they won can never be clear, but something was won. All the European thought experiments of Indian aristocrats who wished to turn India into a confused imitation of Europe failed. An ancient society will have prejudices; these prejudices are better than layered ideals like secularism.
Unthreatened by Islam, modern Hindus will develop magnanimity to see the point of what Mohan Bhagwat said: “[The] Hindu Rashtra is not an exclusively Hindu nation. Additionally, high-level politicians will see that allowing easy hate propaganda creates new political rivals, so hate speech laws are best enforced. Furthermore, the apparent loss of social stature of Indian Muslims may help them elicit more sympathy than envy, and a period of peace could show the majority that commonplace irritations with all things Islamic are not intuitive responses to danger, but simply a fear of the unknown.
Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist and creator of the Netflix series “Decoupled”
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