India's Secular Democracy is in Crisis – What will it do when the Inevitable Happens?
CJ Werleman asks the darkest of all questions: what will happen in India the day after a handful of would-be violent “jihadist” terrorists carry out an attack motivated by Modi’s Hindu nationalism?
Despite eight Muslims being lynched and brutally assaulted by Hindutva extremists in separate attacks during the seven-day period that followed the successful re-election bid of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, many observers of Indian society were hopeful these hate crimes would come to represent little more than the predicable outcome of a political campaign that was built upon the demonisation of everything related to adherents of the Islamic faith, including neighbouring Pakistan.
These hopes have now been dashed, however, as it’s becoming increasingly evident that India’s 200 million Muslims stand on the precipice of an existential crisis, a mere step away from eradication or annihilation, leaving many to answer a terrifying question: what fate will befall them the day after a handful of would-be violent “jihadist” terrorists whip the country into a hyper-reactionary frenzy by carrying out a 2008 Mumbai-scale attack?
In order to answer what amounts to the darkest of all questions, one must first analyse and understand where India finds itself today, starting with the fact that 44 people have been lynched to death – a majority of the victims Muslim and all of the perpetrators Hindu – during the five-year period of Modi’s first term. These attacks were carried out in the name of “cow vigilantism”, a phenomenon that has emerged uniquely under the rule of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule.
“After Modi’s spectacular victory, Hindutva mobs do not think there is any need to mask their attacks against Muslims under cow protection or love-jihad,” observes Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research and commentator on Indian politics. “Catching a Muslim and forcing him to chant Jai Shri Ram has become a new normal to target the minority community.”
If a false rumor was enough to ignite a three-day anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002, then what will come from something similar or even more sinister today or tomorrow given the way in which Hindu nationalists have stacked the deck against them?
These attacks against Muslims and other minorities have become ever more frequent and ferocious in recent weeks.
On 21 June, a Muslim youth was lynched and mercilessly thrashed to death by a Hindutva mob in BJP-ruled Jharkhand after being forced to chant Jai Shri Ram and Jai Hanuman.
Four days later, a Muslim teacher was beaten up by a Hindu mob before being pushed off a moving train near the city of Hooghly for refusing to chant Jai Shri Ram.
That same day, hundreds of Hindutva fanatics surrounded a mosque in Delhi, chanting Islamophobic slogans and threatening to destroy the house of worship. But, when the Muslims complained to local police, it was they, the victims, not the perpetrators who were arrested and with a first information report (FIR) filed against them.
Under Modi and BJP rule, the country’s judicial system has turned away from its role as the protector of justice and fairness and moved towards becoming a prosecutory arm for the Hindu nationalist agenda.
A 2019 report by Human Rights Watch reveals how the Hindu murderers of Muslims and other religious minorities go unpunished, with law enforcement often working to justify the attack on behalf of the perpetrator while at the same time filing charges against the victim and their family.
In almost all religiously-motivated attacks recorded between May 2015 and December 2018, the victims’ families faced significant resistance from authorities when they pressed for justice, including claims the police “stalled investigations, ignored procedures, or even played a complicit role in the killings and cover-up of crimes”.
It’s becoming increasingly evident that India’s 200 million Muslims stand on the precipice of an existential crisis.
“Indian police investigations into mob attacks are almost as likely to accuse the minority victims of a crime as they are to pursue vigilantes with Government connections,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
Compounding this new judicial reality, or rather nightmare, is the fact the country’s mainstream media is largely choosing against reporting hate crimes, and doing so only at such time as sufficient outrage has been generated online or in the international media – which points to an even more troubling realisation: that violence against Muslims is “fast becoming an acceptable norm”, according to Ashok Swain.
When the country’s independent and free press demonstrates a reluctance to report hate crimes against Muslims, the Government, in turn, feels no pressure to either condemn the attacks or instigate measures to prevent more occurring. This, in turn, only further emboldens Hindutva thugs by signalling to them that they have the tacit support of the state.
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So, this is where India’s 200 Muslims find themselves today. Confronted by ever more numbers of Hindutva extremists who are willing to carry out acts of violent terror for the objective of driving the religious minority out of the country. A political class that’s rewarded for vilifying them. A judiciary which sympathises with their attackers. A news media that ignores their cries and pleas.
Which brings us back to the earlier question of what happens to them the day after a handful of violent “jihadists” take it upon themselves to carry out a Mumbai level attack as a misguided and reprehensible means to resolving this crisis?
“If… a terror attack like 2008 Mumbai takes place, it depends on the Modi regime, how it wants to react,” Swain explains. “In India, no riot takes place without the consent of the Government. [The] Modi regime will most likely go for some aggressive actions against Pakistan, while it will let its Hindutva foot soldiers target Muslims. In the case of [the] Pulwama terror attack, they had targeted Kashmiri Muslims. If the attack takes place outside Kashmir, they will target Muslims in general. No doubt, it will make the survival of Muslims in India more difficult.”
When Swain uses the words “more difficult” he’s somewhat inferring a return to the kind of anti-Muslim pogrom that swept Gujarat in 2002, at the time Modi was the state’s Chief Minister, after false rumors were spread that Muslims were responsible for a train fire that burnt 58 Hindu pilgrims to death in Godhra on 27 February 2002.
The country’s judicial system has turned away from its role as the protector of justice and fairness and moved towards becoming a prosecutory arm for the Hindu nationalist agenda.
In the end, upwards of 2,000 Muslims were murdered in the three-day period which followed – alongside thousands of others who were assaulted both physically and sexually – with Human Rights Watch accusing Modi’s Government of being complicit in the mass slaughter.
It’s been a full 17 years since Gujarat, but India’s Muslims are now pondering a terrifying thought: that if a false rumor was enough to ignite a three-day anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002, then what will come from something similar or even more sinister today or tomorrow given the way in which Hindu nationalists have stacked the deck against them?