Recently, the Hyderabad Police arrested T Raja Singh, a suspended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator, under the state’s Preventive Detention Act. This marks the second time that the legislator has been arrested within the same week.
Raja Singh was arrested for allegedly passing derogatory comments against Prophet Mohammed, which sparked protests in Hyderabad. However, soon after, a judge released T Raja on bail, on the ground that no prior notice for the same was issued by the police.
Later that week, police officers from Hyderabad’s Shah Inayathgunj and Mangalhat police stations went to the legislator’s office at Mangalhat and served notice on him before taking him into custody. In a statement, the Hyderabad Police said Raja Singh has been detained under Preventive Detention Act on orders of police commissioner CV Anand and lodged in Central Prison at Cherlapally.
The Hyderabad Police also added that Singh issued such provocative and inflammatory speeches regularly, with an intention to drive a wedge between communities, eventually amounting to public disorder. Hyderabad police officers are also following up on the same by pulling out older cases where no action was taken.
The city of Hyderabad witnessed heavy police deployment in sensitive areas after the arrest to ensure harmony and public peace. This case comes not long after now suspended Nupur Sharma’s contentious remarks against the Prophet. Is this a pattern in formation? If yes then why is Islamophobia so politicized, publicized, and on the rise in India? The following article will further discuss the same.
Preventive Detention Act
Preventive detention essentially means holding a person in police custody on the grounds of suspicion that they would conduct a criminal act or cause harm to society. The word detention simply means when any person is arrested or taken into custody. It can be legal as well as illegal. The police have the authority to hold anyone they suspect of committing a criminal offense. The police have the ability to make arrests without a warrant or a magistrate’s authorization in certain cases. This practice was an integral aspect of colonial India, which made its way into the Indian Constitution after freedom.
There are commonly two types of detentions:
- Punitive Detention: As the name suggests, it means that detention has been awarded as means of punishment for any criminal offense
- Preventive Detention: This suggests that a person has been incarcerated in advance because the relevant authorities sufficiently believe that the person so held will discharge criminal activity or engage in a similar illegal/criminal enterprise. Thus, here, an action is taken solely on the basis of an “apprehension”.
‘Preventive detention’ is also called ‘administrative detention’, since this detention is discharged by the executive and statutory bodies in furtherance of their administrative obligation.
As per Section 151 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, a police officer can apprehend any person without a Magistrate’s authority or without a warrant if he receives any such information that the person is likely to commit any crime of cognizable nature and which cannot be prevented otherwise.
Indian Muslim Population
India is a country of religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. India is host to about an estimated two hundred million Muslims, most of whom identify as Sunni. These Indian Muslims thus, make up roughly 15% of the population, making them the largest minority group. Hindus on the other hand, make up about 80 percent of the population. The country’s Muslim communities are diverse, with differences in language, caste, ethnicity, and access to political and economic power.
Islamophobia, in crude terms, is the fear of or projecting hatred toward Muslims or people following Islam. This hatred stems from systemic prejudice which is a result of conditioning. This conditioning is usually vested in stereotypes of terrorism and geopolitical conflicts. Globally, many Muslims report not feeling respected by those in the West. Significant percentages of several Western countries share this sentiment, saying that the West does not respect Muslim societies. Specifically, 52% of Americans and 48% of Canadians say the West does not respect Muslim societies. Smaller percentages of Italian, French, German, and British respondents agree.
In India however, islamophobia enables and catalyzes violence, and subjugates and intimidates Muslims by perceiving and manifesting them as a threat to the nation. Indian Muslims as suspect citizens include Kashmiri Muslims as emphatically problematic for propagating terrorism, Muslim refugees such as Rohingyas as unwelcome “invasive pests” and the collective neighboring Muslim nation-state of Pakistan as an existential enemy. In this article, we will chronologically discuss the influx of islamophobia and the contemporary. Since popular discourse around islamophobia heavily discusses the role of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, acting as a catalyst, the timeline will broadly be divided into a pre-Modi and post-Modi era.
Contrary to popular opinion, Islamophobia existed even before Narendra Modi came to power, he simply set the snowball rolling and it has grown in size ever since. Islamophobia has become normalized and largely mainstream in a nation whose population constitutes around 80% Muslims. This apparent “hatred” towards Muslims however, can very well be boiled down to the antecedents and manifestations of a form of contemporary resurgent majoritarian Hindu nationalism, otherwise known as Hindutva. Hindu Nationalism, or in pop-lingo “Hindutva”, is the spatial idea of a purely Hindu nation, by asserting the significance of Hinduism not just as a religious majority, but also as a salient political identity. This phenomenon views any external influence, particularly Muslims as abhorrent.
Many believe that the logical corollary to tracing the enmity between these two religious groups is the newly post-colonial India, followed by the controversial and accounted for violent, partition. However, in reality, the conception of this Hindutva project can be traced back to 1925, when the RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS) was founded. In the modern day, this organization has grown to become a paramilitary volunteer organization that focuses on the resurgence of a Hindu-nationalist India (emphasis on resurgence). However, back in the day, its focus was the creation of such an India. Thus, they expanded rapidly to recruit a “family” of right-wing Hindu nationalists collectively termed the Sangh Parivar. Several prominent early RSS ideologues were admirers of Nazi Germany and advocated ethnic religious/Hindu nationalism, possibly by employing means of “cleansing”. Some of the animus between India’s Hindus and Muslims can be traced to the cataclysmic partition of British India in 1947. (emphasis on some). However, these accounts are vastly subjective. When, due to the weak economic position on account of World War II, the British lacked the resources to maintain control over the Indian subcontinent, many agents like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru led Indian National Congress and Muhammed Ali Jinnah-led All India Muslim League, lined up in succession to take the reins, all with different ideas to run the newly free country.
On Jinnah’s request for a separate Muslim state, a British judge hastily decided the borders for a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan (including what is today Bangladesh). The rest, as we know it is history. With gruesome communal riots, deadly protests, and mass migrations, survivors recall blood-soaked trains carrying refugees from either side to the other. Towns were burned to the ground and bodies littered the streets. Historians estimate between two hundred thousand and two million people were killed.
Why communities that had coexisted for hundreds of years attacked each other remains unclear. While some blame political leaders for employing the British “divide and rule” to wield power, others point to already existing tensions on account of certain electoral privileges accorded to the Muslim population. Around thirty-five million Muslims stayed in India after the partition.
Though prevalent in their initial operational years, aided by political extremists and problematic “activists”, RSS was successful (evident in the ensued violence witnessed during partition), but couldn't quite make the intended dent in the Hindu diaspora. This is because the sentiment of collective patriotism and polarisation against the British was a superior emotion that washed over the population. In the embryonic decades of post-colonial India, the Nehruvian Idea of a socialist, democratic, and secular India appealed to the public and thus remained dominant. By 1991, the International Monetary Fund mandated India to “open” its economy. This liberation though didn't just affect the country economically, it has far-reaching social consequences too.
These “social” consequences can be attributed to the socialization of information and the introduction of new media, which allowed mass mobilization and facilitated the spreading of messages. Taking advantage of the same, Hindu nationalist leaders of the current ruling party, BJP, back established their credentials through a series of nationwide spectacles of Hindu power (“rathyatras”). In 1992, these processions culminated in the contentious destruction of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh. This incident is of importance because it paved the way for the “subordinate” existence of Muslims and institutionalized their treatment as second-class citizens.
Over the next decade, islamophobia became a global phenomenon owing to the attacks on World Trade Center, which enabled its indigenous Indian version. The ‘war on terror” thus became colloquial to “war on Muslims”.
Narendra Modi, as is well known is the unofficial flag-bearer of the formalization of Islamophobia. Though he has never acknowledged his approval of the same (the good politician that he is), people working under his aegis, like Yogi AdityaNath and his anti-muslim campaigns like the ‘anti-love jihad” in Uttar Pradesh have never been publically acknowledged by Mr.Modi and thus, Yogi Ji continues to be endorsed. Moreover, the barbaric acts that have taken place under Modi’s leadership, more often than not, an attempt at ostracization of Muslims, is not a coincidence.
The very first incident in such context was the infamous 2002 anti-muslim Gujrat riots, which were orchestrated under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi. These riots were brutal and Mr.Modiwas accused of condoning the violence, as were police and government officials who allegedly directed the rioters and gave lists of Muslim-owned properties to them. While he was later absolved of the blame, many in the Muslim communities recall state agents partaking in the violence, and confirming it to be controlled chaos. Many scholars claim that these riots and their aftermath meet the legal definition of genocide or an “ethnic cleansing”. Muslim women were gang-raped and their bodies burned after. Children were force-fed petrol and set on fire. In some cases, entire families were either electrocuted or hacked to death. Pictures and reportage of these riots sent chills down the spines of those observing.
These riots, however, didn't deter the rise and ascendency of Mr.Modi. By 2014, the Hindu nationalists of the 1990s gave way to the Modi-led BJP and its own galaxy of extremist politicians who had no qualms in openly professing explicit anti-minority opinions, especially when it came to Muslims. In 2019, the Modi-led BJP won a majority for the second time in a general election that was marked by a widespread anti-Muslim sentiment. The rest of the world has overwhelmingly stayed silent when it comes to the radical religious transformation in India, presumably since it is a “rising power,” “democracy” and “market.”
All while Mr.Modi created this empire, the only point of contention undermining his ‘democratic” credentials was the issue of Kashmir. In the feminized cartographic representation of India’s geo-body, Kashmir is represented as the “head” of “Mother India,” and any suggestion of Kashmiri self-determination is met with horror at the idea of “beheading Mother India.” The obsession with Kashmir thus is overwhelmingly territorial, as evident in right-wing extremist slogans such as “we will die or kill but we won’t cede an inch of Kashmir.”
In 2019, this territorial dispute took the form of a unilateral constitutional change, wherein the Modi-led government almost singlehandedly abrogated the special autonomous status guaranteed under Article 370. This revocation of Article 370, the bifurcation, and the stripping of statehood, altered the constitutional status of the territory's inhabitants without their consent, express or otherwise. These changes were followed by a communications blackout that lasted several months and covered all forms of telephony and the internet. The rationales given for lack of consent and silencing of dissent in August 2019 were the familiar colonial ones: that it was being done for the “development” and modernization of the people and that it would bring more rights to Kashmiri women. The placing of Kashmir as the “crown” of territorial India and as integral to the very idea of India has led to the erasure of the specificities of Kashmiri Muslim identities.
Also in 2019, the Modi government enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that grants a fast track to Indian citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. This was implemented in conjunction with a proposed National Register for Citizens that implied that one had to go through a “religious” test in order to be granted the status of an Indian Citizen. This test would of course continue to exclude Muslims and blame the same on red tape and policy.
With every passing day, Indian Muslims find themselves living in the apprehension of attack as lynchings and hate speech are all but commonplace in the country. For instance, in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, now led by hardline Hindu monk-turned-BJP politician Yogi Adityanath, a Muslim man was killed by a Hindu mob in March 2019 when he tried to prevent them from destroying an Islamic religious structure. In 2015 a 52-year-old Muslim man was also lynched by a Hindu mob because it was suspected that he was storing beef in his home. This lynching was part of the so-called “cow vigilante” mission – a violent campaign led by BJP cadres against the consumption of beef and cattle trade. This Muslim persecution has become the norm in some states and is rapidly washing over the country.
The Insides of The Hindutva Project
The Hindutva project has always aimed at transforming India into a Hindu-dominant nation with a hierarchically ordered Hindu-ness with upper caste affluent Hindu males at the peak. This project has taken an extremist approach post-2014 (for obvious reasons). Muslims thus, don't find a place in this new image of India as Hindustan. So while they might get “constitutional” rights, their prescribed importance in the eyes of the majority is not aesthetically pleasing. During this discourse, anyone who dares to challenge these Hinjdutva diktats is automatically labeled “anti-national”, a term thrown around so frivolously. Depending upon the context and the vulnerability of the challengers, they can be killed, raped, physically attacked, maligned, harassed, bullied, or divested of any institutional or other power they may have. Dissenters are thus, subject to political intimidation, followed by vilification and character assassination. The popular usage of “Go to Pakistan” anytime any oppositional and seemingly ‘anti-Hindu” sentiment is expressed is another way of othering Muslims, by implying that Muslims belong to Pakistan while India, belongs to Hindus.
This “Pakistan” strategy has manifested into a surefire way of gaining electoral victory by feeding into the Anti-Pakistan hyper-nationalism. A tangible example of the same would be the 2019 general elections, where Pakistan played a huge role in ensuring the BJP’s success, as the latter used India's hostilities with its neighbor, in an aftermath of the Pulwama attack to appeal to Indians’ patriotism.
As mentioned before, Indian Muslims are faced with rhetoric linked to the global war on terror as demonstrated in the trope that “Muslims are a problem wherever they are”. In 2020, Muslims were accused of propagating “Corona Jihad”, by spreading the virus in areas with a dominant Hindu population. The use of social media and the spread of fake news, particularly via WhatsApp, added fuel to fire in this not-so-secluded case of spreading Islamophobia. Even the presiding Home Minister, Amit Shah, often referred to as the right-hand man of PM Modi, has more than often likened Muslim migrants to termites, promising to throw them into the Bay of Bengal.
Sacrality is so deeply embedded in the idea of India as a Hindu land that violence against dissidents is simply a means to attain the greater good. In order to sell the public on this idea of a Hindu nation, Muslims have been portrayed as “unpatriotic”, “over-populating” and “backward”. Some even go to the extent of relating their hatred towards Muslims by tracing their “invasion” back to the Mughals. Building on the sacrality, Muslims are widely subjected to myriad forms of torture on account of them being “unclean” because of their beef consumption, an animal considered sacred in Hinduism. Even the infamous “beef ban” was enacted early in Modi’s tenure, in an attempt to uphold the moral sanctity and supremacy of Hindus, particularly the vegetarian sect.
The phenomenon of lynching minorities, and especially Muslims on grounds of them allegedly carrying cattle for slaughter, or storing beef has become truly mainstream in recent years (cases such as Akhlaq or Pehlu Khan have come to be known after the names of their victims). A very prominent pattern in these cases can be observed where organized right-wing Hindu vigilantes gather and kill Muslim Indians and the court cases against the perpetrators come to nothing as the suspects are exonerated on specious grounds.
In multiple instances, self-confessed Hindutva hate speech ideologues are celebrated and garlanded by their supporters even after being convicted, because they speak “truth to power”. A new test of patriotism (owing to the vigilantes) is chanting of “Jai Shree Ram” (All hail Lord Ram), the refusal of which is a succinct enough ground for extremist Hindus to violate Muslims. On the very day that Modi was elected in 2014, a Hindu mob killed a Muslim man in Pune for apparently rebelling against Modi's victory. His “rebellion” was him merely wearing a skull cap (a Muslim symbol). BJP leaders have since, not shied away from expressing their deep-rooted propaganda against Muslims, for instance, an extremist BJP politician,
who shared a platform with a Hindu pride and masculinity advocate vociferously suggested that all Hindus exhume the graves of Muslim women and rape them, just because. After 2014, perpetrators of well-evidenced gory violence against Muslims in the Gujarat genocide who had been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms have been given bail by the pliant courts (for instance, BabuBajrangi in 2019 and very recently the 11 rape convicts of the Bilkis Bano case).
Hindutva organizations exhort Hindu women to bear more children so that the “overpopulating “Muslims do not take over the country. There are campaigns such as “Bahu Lao, Beti Bachao” that work towards ensuring Hindu women do not marry Muslim men. Muslim men thus are portrayed as rapacious, lascivious, and scheming to deter “innocent Hindu women” from falling “prey” to their devious plans of gaining geo-political control over the subcontinent by virtue of a majority population. Instances of marriage between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman are seen as the practice of “Love Jihad” where a Muslim man intentionally corrupts the purity of a Hindu woman by deceiving or blackmailing her, essentially forcing her into a marriage.
In a society like India, where patriarchy still pollutes many minds, legal focus too selectively targets the regressive and gendered practices of the Muslim community as a way of confirming their backwardness. This validates the notions of domesticating, expelling, and exterminating these “foreigners”.
This morphed and discriminative ideology of an extremist, violent nationalism has captured the conspicuous support of the public. Credit must be given where it's due, almost all BJP-aligned politicians, especially the man, Narendra Modi, know how to command and even sway an audience, with such seeming ease. This “swaying” of opinion gives way for the usage of state apparatuses like the police and judiciary to act in support of the Islamophobic anti-Muslim violence through delays in hearing cases or problematic judgements.
An example of the same is the Babri-masjid demolition. Years after the demolition, in November 2019 the final Ayodhya verdict on the Babri Masjid awarded the highly contested site to Hindus, citing a 1024-page-long anonymous Supreme Court judgment that (a rarity) unprecedentedly did not name the judge who wrote it. In September 2020, a special court further acquitted all the BJP leaders for their role in the demolition of Babri Masjid by Hindu rioters, absolving them of any blame. Moreover, soon after the verdict judges and judicial officers were given political tickets by the BJP, which were perceived by the public as an “incentive” for delivering a verdict that was in line with the BJP mandate.
In February 2020, when President Trump visited India to hold rallies with PM Modi in Gujarat, the anti-CAA protestors were met with unprecedented cruelty. In an attempt to quickly quash such protests and hide their presence, the protestors were met with severe violence. The capital city of Delhi witnessed targeted violence against Muslims, in the form of severe policing in Muslim neighborhoods and propulsion of crime rates in the same neighborhoods. Those who presumably voted against the ruling Modi-led BJP in state elections had to face extra-judicial repercussions.
Several BJP leaders were found using the slogan- “Deshkegaddaronko, golimaarosaalonko” which can be translated to- these traitors of the nation, shoot these bastards. Since traitors and being a Muslim were used interchangeably, Muslim persecution faced a whole new dynamic.
Videos of Delhi police and their brutality toward Muslim protestors went viral. In one video, uniformed men can be seen poking and prodding an already dying Muslim protestor, mocking him by saying “aurmaangoaazadi”, which translates to “go on, ask for freedom”. Even after such damning evidence, Muslim students and protestors were detained for months after the protest, implicated for their involvement in the same.
These protests also resulted in a resurgence of militancy in Kashmir, bringing the issue back into the spotlight. In spite of overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses and suppression of fundamental rights including and not limited to their manifestation in the form of enforced disappearances, rapes, preventive detention, arbitrary arrests, and media censorship the Indian public, through restrictive and state-centric media coverage, only perceive this through the lens of terrorism, separatism, and possession of the territory. A slogan that became popular during this time (which was used by politicians alike) was “Doodhmaangokheerdenge, Kashmir maango cheer denge’; literally, ‘if you ask for milk, we will give you pudding, if you ask for Kashmir, we will tear you to bits”
In 2016, Muslim majority Kashmir Valley dissidents and civilians including children were subject to mass pellet-blindings after the extrajudicial killing of a Kashmiri militant. This event was widely lauded by Kashmiri Hindus and perceived as a form of “revenge” for the mass Hindu exodus that took place prior. Then in 2017, a Kashmiri Muslim man was tied to the front of a jeep and used as a human shield by an Indian Army major who was awarded for his bravery for having done so. Kashmiri Muslims are thus, dehumanized and fall victim to systemic violence.
It can be fairly concluded that Islamophobia in India is pervasive, predatory, and dangerously ascendant. The effect it has on the already marginalized Muslim populations can be studied economically, socially, and psychologically. Its consequences are thus, (by no means) trivial and easily resolved. Muslims in India have to thrive in the face of stereotypes, battling symbolic violence. What Muslims face in India, and in Kashmir in the name of India, is an egregious violation of human rights which is only exacerbated both by employing varied technology in the form of surveillance, maintaining large-scale data registers, restrictions on Internet use, social media hate, and the novel “non-lethal crowd control” style weaponry and by developing infrastructures such as detention camps or enacting legislation to enable land grabs or demographic change.
The ethnic and religious chauvinism resulting in “Hindu supremacy” has normalized punitive regimes which only undermines the secular status of India. Addressing this brute denial of rights of marginalized and oppressed Muslim minorities is the only recourse. Engaging with the multiple existing contexts to develop a transregional understanding of challenges, and solidarities all while doing your part by dissenting is the only barrier preventing India from becoming a Hindu authoritarian state.