Since February 23, 40 people have been killed in the riots in north-east Delhi, including the tragic loss of life of an 85-year-old woman who was burnt to death in her home. Two hundred people have also been injured during what have been described as India’s worst riots in decades. And at the heart of it is prejudice against India’s Muslims – a deadly passion which has been encouraged by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Over these last few days, gangs of Hindu nationalists took to the streets targeting Muslim homes, mosques and businesses.
The result has been a full-fledged riot.
To understand how we got to this point, you have to go back to December 11, when the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) came into force. This law has been the target of nationwide protests for the last three months – and no wonder. The new law provides naturalisation of citizenship to illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who have fled religious persecution. But it leaves out Muslims – including the Ahmadiyya, Shia, Rohingya and other minorities in the region.
This law can only be explained by the BJP’s attachment to the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the largest cultural organisation in India. As the ideological arm of the BJP, the RSS espouses Hindutva, a divisive ideology that politicises – and miltarises – Hinduism, with the goal of making India a Hindu Rashtra (nation). Its founding ideologues derived inspiration from 1930s fascism, with its focus on the protection, promotion and interests of one race.
There is a long history of troubled relations between Muslims and Hindus. Indeed, it led to the Partition in 1947. But while tension between the two communities is not a new phenomenon, and had even appeared under the Congress government, the BJP has crafted a narrative of Muslims as the enemy within. This ethno-religious style of government has led to propaganda about the dangers of Muslim population growth, resulting in fear and hate towards the community. They have been characterised as villains, portrayed as representing only the interests of global Islam and with no loyalty to India.
Hindu nationalism is changing India, with religious minorities being made to feel like second-class citizens. The space for religious minorities to practise and profess their religion is narrowing: a private Christian prayer meeting can quite easily become ground-zero for a targeted attack.
In some villages, a local Christian community has been ostracised by the rest of the village and prevented from accessing communal water and other basic needs. Under some circumstances, to be identified as a Muslim can lead to the person being lynched – commonly after rumours are spread that they ate beef or transported cattle.
Meanwhile, dissenting voices are being silenced, sometimes through aggressive rhetoric (government critics are said to be anti-national even of they are defending the principles of India’s constitution) or through the violent means which have recently been seen in Delhi.
Henry Smith is a pseudonym
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