The Indian Muslim: An immigrant at home
The 2014 elections in India saw the rise to power of a Hindu nationalist right-wing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While many assumed the reason for this was the public outrage vis-à-vis the charges of corruption against the former government, what was not given much attention was the anti-minority nature of the BJP. The party has a history of religious supremacy and nationalism, often resorting to extremely violent measures in order to achieve their ends. The BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a nationalist organisation, have always been more aggressive when it comes to matters of the Indian Muslim community. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is responsible for one of the most gruesome communal massacres of the Muslim community that took place in the state of Gujarat in the year 2002. Instead of being held responsible for his wilful negligence in administration, he was paraded as a hero immediately after the riots and, as the years passed, allowed to contest for the post of Prime Minister due to the large support he gathered at the national level.
The extent to which violence against the Muslim community has been normalised in the Indian context in the six years of the BJP reign can be attributed to the Hindu right wing’s deep-seated islamophobia, reflected in its imagination of the Indian society and ideas of nationalism. These ideas, manufactured on a larger scale over the years and now gaining legitimacy, facilitated a process in which the Indian Muslim, a citizen by birth, has been transformed into a foreigner in the eyes of the political masses supporting the BJP.
Ever since the Partition of India and Pakistan, a huge question mark has been put on the identity of Muslims residing in India. Due to the circumstances of the Partition, with India constituting a Hindu-majority population and Pakistan holding a majority of Muslim citizens, with horror stories of violence and escalating tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities, the Hindu right wing got just the ammunition they needed to in order to portray the Muslims residing in India as foreigners. The literature for such a project already existed, as many prominent ideologues of the BJP and RSS had written vastly on India as the Holy Hindu Land, where all those who belong to the land and have taken birth here are Hindus. When it comes to the question of Muslims and Christians who reside in the country, the Hindu right believes they are all a result of conversions. One leader of the RSS explicitly wrote that if the Muslims and Christians wished to be treated as equals in the Hindu nation, they must renounce their false faith and return to the Hindu fold. In failing to do so, if they still wished to remain in the country as non-Hindus, their existence would be that of an oppressed class, unable to enjoy the same luxuries and freedoms as that of their Hindu counterparts.
With the political elites of the Hindu right influenced by such hyper-nationalist literature, it is no surprise that the leaders of the BJP loudly proclaim that Muslims must be sent back to Pakistan or that Muslims are doing themselves no favour by staying back in India. Following this trend, the recent Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are one more step towards establishing a Hindu nation, where citizens are being differentiated on the basis of religion. The CAA allots citizenship to communities on the basis of religion, excluding Islam. The NRC asks citizens to prove that they are Indian by birth through the show of documents. Anyone not possessing the necessary documents and belonging to the Muslim community will find their citizenship scrutinised by the state. It is a well-planned systematic ploy in order to label the Muslim community as outsiders. While the Prime Minister has himself emphasised that this is not the intention of the NRC and the CAA, when they were put in place in the state of Assam, many Muslims who have been Indians by birth found themselves excluded from the list that solidified their citizenship. That was not the case for others who due to the CAA could apply for citizenship.
The attack on citizenship is the finishing touch to the long-term project of the demonisation of the Indian Muslim. The Hindu right wing has been constantly attacking all elements which contribute to the making of the Indian Muslim. During the recent Delhi riots, rioters could be seen vandalising Islamic places of worship and desecrating a few mosques with flags representing the Hindu religion. The clothing and look that most Muslims of India adopt has also been tagged as one of menace, foreign to India. The Prime Minister himself contributed to this with his remarks saying all those seeking and creating violence can be identified by their clothes. The appearance of the Indian Muslim – the beard, the burqa, the kurta and skullcaps – due to massive Hindu-right propaganda, is viewed as dangerous and suspicious by the state and society. With the dangerous increase in mob-lynchings against Muslims during the reign of the BJP, it is extremely disheartening but unsurprising to see the police also indulge in Islamophobic activities, the most blatant being the aiding of rioters in the Delhi riots and the attack on the Jamia Milia University students during the anti-CAA protests.
The anti-Muslim rhetoric of the BJP and the RSS has made its home in the hearts of many Hindus in India, who have pledged their support to the Hindu-nationalist ideology and, at times, taken matters into their own hands when it comes to brutalising Indian Muslims. So then, what is home for a Muslim belonging to India? This country, where even their appearance is regarded with distrust by their fellow citizens. The state constantly desiring to delegitimise their national identity, society not being safe to inhabit, and the structures of Justice ignoring their demands for rights. It is an everyday battle for everyday existence, on the battlefield known as home.
Rashad Ullah Khan is a recent graduate in Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in India. He wishes to pursue in-depth studies in themes of knowledge connected to society using an intersectional framework, in order to ensure that those who have been historically marginalised are included in mainstream discourses.