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Indian Independence: 75 Years Later and Islamophobia Continues to Heighten

Indian Independence: 75 Years Later and Islamophobia Continues to Heighten

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday September 14 2022

75 years ago, on August 15th, India gained independence from British colonial rule. As one of the final but damaging acts of the British Raj, this date also commemorates the partition of the Indian subcontinent into the Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan. Since the division, the Muslim minority of India has often found themselves living amidst a two-tiered society of discrimination and violence.

On the anniversary of their independence, many Indians worldwide would recall a painful history under British rule. Speaking at a conference in 1880, Sir John Strachey, a high official of the British Raj, said ‘that men of the Punjab, Bengal, the Northwestern Provinces, and Madras, should ever feel that they belong to one Indian nation, is impossible’. In other words, Sir John alluded to India’s social and political division.

Indeed, postcolonial India’s history is littered with religious prejudice towards its Muslim minority. Since the ascension of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has progressed from one act of institutional Islamophobia to another, culminating in the massacre of Muslims during the 2020 Delhi riots and subsequently targeted lynchings of Muslims by BJP supporters since. Moreover, such violence has come to be accompanied by discriminatory laws that have drastically curbed freedom of expression and vigorously imperilled civil liberties.

The Citizenship Act was amended in 2019 to fast-track the citizenship applications of religious minorities fleeing persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. However, this was met with heavy condemnation because the Act blatantly excluded Muslim migrants, largely affecting Bengali Muslims who migrated to Assam during the British colonial rule and the 1947 partition. Essentially, the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 reduced Muslim citizenship to ‘second-class’ status and enforced a legal divide between Muslim and non-Muslim immigrants.

In response to the Act, Gregory Stanton, a genocide expert, warned that the BJP in India was essentially laying the groundwork for the ‘genocide’ of Muslims and feared the reoccurrence of the Myanmar situation, where Rohingya Muslims were first ‘legally declared non-citizens’ and subsequently expelled through violence and genocide.

Furthermore, in late 2020, a law prohibiting forceful conversion through marriage was introduced. Although only Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh introduced such laws, other states were said to be following suit. This ordinance, which propagates the ‘Love-Jihad’ conspiracy, targets Muslim men discriminately and accuses them of luring Hindu women to force them to become Muslim. As a result, such a conspiracy has led to numerous instances of targeted violence against Muslim men in India.

Moreover, in the latest string of Islamophobia in India, Muslim women were barred from entering colleges, as the hijab was declared against the uniform policy. Following petitions and protests across the country, a court in India upheld the ban on hijabs in colleges and inevitably furthered the discrimination against Muslim women. Nevertheless, Muslim students have continued to challenge the decision, arguing that the ban infringes on their right to education and religious freedom, which are guaranteed under India’s constitution.

Indian Muslims are growing fearful for their lives as they are violently and discriminately suppressed. When two BJP spokespeople made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Muslims in India took to the streets to protest. However, in response, authorities in Uttar Pradesh demolished the homes of those accused of partaking in the protest. The leading human rights NGO Amnesty International condemned such demolition of Muslim-owned properties as unlawful and called upon the Indian government to prevent such actions. Despite this, the Indian government showed indifference to Islamophobia as no known action was taken to stop the demolitions.

In the face of such anti-Muslim hostility, it is no surprise that India has not taken any steps to tackle Islamophobia. In March of this year, India, France, and the EU (a bloc of 27 countries) objected to creating a United Nations recognised international day to combat Islamophobia. This was despite a UN report citing India and France as the epicentres of anti-Muslim activities. Inevitably, India’s BJP has stoked the wave of Islamophobia by failing to condemn the increasing violence against Muslims and, more importantly, to address the issue by prosecuting such hate crimes.

Reflecting on Sir John Strachey’s comments, one must consider if he was correct to foresee India as a disunited nation. As BJP extends its majoritarian power, coupled with a lack of international condemnation of anti-Muslim violence and brutalities, Muslims in India will continue to be persecuted and made to feel alien in their homeland.

Ultimately, Islamophobia has become a global challenge, and MEND recognises that collective action is required to root out the issue. Therefore, we call upon the UK government to denounce Islamophobia and demand the Indian authorities uphold religious freedom and the rights of minorities in a country closely allied with ours.


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