The Fate of Secularism In India

‘India’s history as a multicultural and multireligious society remain threatened by an increasingly exclusionary conception of national identity based on religion’

More than a thousand people came together to protest against the construction of Haj House which is to be constructed in Sector-22, Dwarka, New Delhi. The reason cited by protesters was the “law and order problem” which may be caused after the establishment of the building. 
Speakers at the protest said the construction of the building would lead to “terrorism and Muslim domination” in India. Another believed that the Haj house would be a form of torture for the Hindu community. 
B.P. Vaishnav, secretary of the All Dwarka Residents Federation, wrote in a letter to Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal stating that the residents of Dwarka are fearful that once the building is constructed, the community would lose the “brotherhood, harmony and peace in the society”. The possibility of “riots, migration of Hindus and repetition of the situation like Shaheen Bagh, Jafrabad and Kashmir” would be at an all-time high. 
Held in the national capital, the protest, though horrifying, is no longer shocking to the Muslim community. Under the rule of the BJP government, India has witnessed a drastic rise in Islamophobia.
The ever-growing cases of mob lynching have led the country to be infamously known as “Lynchistan”. Lynching, a cruel act of violence, though has been practiced in India for centuries, caught the world’s attention in 2016 when a group of men murdered two Muslim cattle herders who were on their way to sell bulls at an animal fair.
97% of lynching cases were reported after the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014. A large number of these cases were reported in BJP ruled states with Muslims as the main targets. More than half the victims of the self-styled vigilantes were Muslims. 
In Uttar Pradesh, authorities continued to use allegations of cow slaughter to target Muslims. By August, the Uttar Pradesh government had arrested 4,000 people over allegations of cow slaughter under the law preventing it and also used the draconian National Security Act against 76 people accused of cow slaughter. The NSA allows for detention for up to a year without filing charges.
According to several reports submitted by NGOs, religiously inspired mob violence, lynching and communal violence were often denied or ignored by the authorities. Reports submitted by some NGOs, the perpetrators of such incidents were often protected by authorities; moreover, charges were filed against the victims. 
The authorities often did not prosecute violence by vigilantes against persons, mostly Muslims, suspected of slaughtering or illegally transporting cows or trading in or consuming beef. Members of civil society and religious minorities stated that under the current government, religious minority communities felt increasingly vulnerable due to Hindu nationalist groups engaging in violence against non-Hindu individuals and their places of worship. Representatives of religious minority communities stated that, while the national government sometimes spoke out against incidents of violence, local political leaders often did not, and at times made public remarks individuals could interpret as condoning violence. 
India has also observed a surge in hate speeches by some official members of the Hindu party as well as the ruling party. In 2020, the BJP leader, Kapil Mishra, gave an incendiary speech in the national capital of India, which ensued the worst Hindu-Muslim mob violence in more than three decades erupted in Delhi. The communal violence resulted in the death of more than 50 people and left 200 injured, a majority of which were Muslims.
Reports indicate Muslims were singled out by the mob. An investigation led by the Delhi Minority Commission revealed a total of 11 mosques, five madrasas (religious schools), a Muslim shrine, and a graveyard were attacked and damaged by the mob. The Commission also added that the violence and allegations of police brutality and complicity were “seemingly planned and directed to teach a lesson to a certain community which dared to protest against a discriminatory law.”
The Status of Policing in India reported that “about half of the police personnel feel that Muslims are more likely to be naturally prone towards committing violence.” Soon after the communal violence, in March 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Indian Muslims once again was targeted by right-wing media as well as by the public. Disinformation and hateful rhetoric especially by BJP leaders who called the religious congregation a “Talibani crime” and “Corona Terrorism” led to a large number of violent attacks.
Many doctors refused to take in Muslim Covid-19 patients; another cancer hospital refused to admit a Muslim patient unless the family or the patient could prove he was “Coronavirus” free. As the right-wing media published news on “Corona jihad”, many Muslims were forced to relocate after facing severe harassment by their neighbors, Dilshad Mahmoud, a resident of Himachal Pradesh killed himself after villagers allegedly taunted him over the spread of Coronavirus post the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in New Delhi. Social media platforms were also flooded with calls for social and economic boycotts of Muslims. 
“Corona Jihad”, a term invented by the right-wing, is only one fragment of the larger issue of Islamophobia. In late 2020, the Uttar Pradesh government passed an ordinance voiding any marriage conducted for the “sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa.” The ordinance, also known as “love jihad”, which prohibits interfaith marriages or relationships based on the false narrative of “forced conversion” has resulted in a rise of violence against Muslims. Apart from Uttar Pradesh, similar legislation has also been approved by Madhya Pradesh and is being pushed in several states which include Harayan, Assam, and Karnataka.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 2020 designated India as a “country of particular concern” for “engaging and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations” as defined by International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). 
“Perhaps the steepest and most alarming deterioration in religious freedom conditions is in India,” USCIRF vice-Chairman said after the release of the Commission’s annual report.
“India’s history as a multicultural and multireligious society remained threatened by an increasingly exclusionary conception of national identity based on religion. During the year, Hindu-nationalist groups sought to “saffronize” India through violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindus and Hindu Dalits. Both public and private actors pursued this effort.… At the federal level, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made statements decrying mob violence, but members of his own political party have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and many have used discriminatory language about religious minorities. Despite Indian government statistics indicating that communal violence has increased sharply over the past two years, the Modi administration has not addressed the problem.”
  
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has attempted to visit India since 2001 to assess religious freedom conditions on the ground. The New Delhi government has refused to grant visas for USCIRF delegations on three different occasions – 2001, 2009, and 2016. The Indian government has on several occasions “rejected” the findings of the USCIRF reports and also expressed “serious doubts about their credibility”. 
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