From a diverse history to a sectarian crisis
The modern borders of India do not precisely correspond to those of any one of the many sovereign entities that arose in south Asia over the millennia. Instead, today’s India in terms of its political geography was shaped by the modern Partition of British India which began in the summer of 1947. Because of this, India like its neighbours share many of the same historic sovereign antecedents. This has resulted in a rich mix of contemporary cultures, archaeological cultures, religions, architecture, art and literature. Owing to the reality of this rich living tapestry of history, it was decided that India would be established as a secular democratic state where no single ethno-religious group would be constitutionally predominant over any other.
This contrasts with the modern history of Pakistan (including what was East Pakistan) which was founded on the basis of being a specifically Islamic welfare state, albeit one with constitutional protections for non-Muslim minorities.
Yet while India’s secular democracy still exists in theory, in practice extremist Hindu groups that at both regional levels and now at a national level are threatening to erase not only the history of important periods in India’s development that were shaped by Islamic characteristics, but in so doing, the forces of political Hindutva are erasing the cultural and religious identify of millions of modern day Indian citizens. As a result, a cultural and religious cleansing is occurring in India although the wider world remains distracted from this dire situation by slanderous campaigns against China.
Muslims under attack in today’s India
Today, the greatest victims of acculturation and oppression in modern India are Indian Muslims – particularly those in northern India. Northern India remains the political heartland of the ruling political faction BJP as well as its allied paramilitary group RSS. The year 2002 remains a watershed in the post-colonial history of India as it was then in Gujarat state that a violent pogrom was instigated against Muslims leaving up to 2,000 dead. Most worrying, the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002 was a man called Narendra Modi who is now India’s Prime Minister. Many witnesses to the violence in Gujarat continue to assert that Modi’s state government as well as police and other public authorities intentionally allowed the violence to spiral out of control when clearly it is the duty of any government to quash violence and enforce an orderly rule of law.
Earlier this year, the rape and murder of eight year old Muslim girl Asifa Bano by a Hindutva gang further shook India to the core, not least because Hindu extremist organisations took to the streets to rally in defence of the accused rapists rather than the innocent child victim. When two BJP ministers attended rallies in support of the accused, it became clear that sectarian politics and hated specifically directed against Muslims was now ingrained at the highest levels of state.
While the Asifa Bano case was a particularly shocking event, the sexual assaults on Muslims by male Hindu rape gangs is becoming an increasingly common and in some parts of India, a culturally normalised phenomenon. In the years since the BJP formed the current Indian government, the rise of so called “cow protection mobs”, the phenomenon where gangs of extremist Hindus attack and often lynch Muslims accused of eating or trading in beef products, has also skyrocketed. In many cases, the Muslim victims of murder and vicious assault were simply targeted for being Muslims rather than for having anything to do with butchering cows, selling or eating beef.
The contemporary assault on Muslims in India however is not just limited to the mob violence which is clearly sanctioned by elements of the ruling party and their far-right allies. The historic city of Allahabad in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has recently been the site of controversy after the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath decided to unilaterally rename the city Prayagraj. This is a clear attempt to erase the history of the Mughal Empire which incidentally was the pre-1947 independent sovereign entity which came closest to uniting all of what was now India during the early modern period.
One of India’s most internationally famous monuments, the Taj Mahal was built on the orders of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as an Islamic shrine for his wife. While Indian tourism associations promote the Taj Mahal as one of the country’s top destinations, the Archaeological Survey of India have now taken the decision to prohibit Muslim pilgrims from worshipping in the Taj Mahal’s mosque on every day of the week except Friday.
This attempt to de-Islamify one of the world’s most recognisable Islamic shrines is yet another attempt to erase Muslim history and specifically Mughal history from the collective consciousness of modern India.
China gets the blame for what India is doing to Muslims
While the reports of violence against Muslims in India have been well documented both by professional and ammeter journalists on the ground – some of whom are Muslim and some of whom are not, in the wider international media, the Muslims of China’s Xinjiang province have attracted attention and have been the subject of “reportage” from people whose contacts have in most cases never set foot in Xinjiang. The reality is that like the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China is currently working to combat foreign induced religious/political extremism in its geographic hinterlands. Unfortunately the realities in both Pakistan and China have been uniformly distorted by many in the international media.
Xinjiang is home to an Islamic population that has not been immune to the same kids of extremism as those in parts of Pakistan. In order to fight extremism in Xinjiang, China has implemented measures to combat extremism that are remarkably similar to those which the provincial PTI government has employed in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2013. When the PTI party which now forms a national government under Imran Khan was first elected to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly in 2013, they inherited a part of Pakistan that many felt was ungovernable.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was home to some of the most notorious terrorist groups that infiltrated Pakistan as a result of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Extremist groups under the leadership of terrorist warlords began to exert more power in north-western Pakistan than the central government over the course of many years. 2013 marked a notable change in the fortunes of the innocent civilians of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as the PTI government in cooperation with national security services and the intelligence services began to work jointly to neutralise extremism through a combination of intelligent policing, crackdowns on armed groups and parallel moves to improve education, economic opportunity, social cohesion and the material wealth of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In many ways, PTI’s success in turning the ungovernable into an area where violence as dramatically deceased was one of the reasons that PTI scored an historic nationwide victory in general elections earlier this year.
While Xinjiang has not suffered the kinds of hardship that the civilians of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have endured, China has been careful to police noticeable trends in the fomentation of extremism by taking proactive positive measures to ensure that education, material fulfilment and social enlightenment expunge the international forces of violence, extremism and gangsterism. China continues to lavishly fund educational facilities where adults can learn new professional skills and trades while the young can simultaneously be given an education that emphasises community values, harmonious relations with one’s fellow man and an aversion to the rhetoric of hatred. At the same time, China has invested evermore in developing the modern infrastructure of cities and remote areas throughout the province.
Yet in spite of or perhaps because of the success that both China and Pakistan have had in fighting and deterring extremism, both countries have been subject to hateful campaigns that have seen Pakistan being accused by the US President and multiple Indian politicians of harbouring rather than fighting terrorism while China has been accused of committing hostile acts against its own people rather than educating them with valuable skills that in other countries people pay copious amounts of money to receive.
Thus, while China and Islamic Pakistan have taken a similar approach to combating extremism, China has been forced to defend its education and vocational programmes in Xinjiang against unfounded and inflammatory rumours that including the myth that Chinese Muslims are forced to eat pork and consume alcohol as part of “re-education” programmes when the reality is simply that the young are schooled in modern civics lessons while adults are being offered skills to help improve their lives in Xinjiang’s rapidly developing modern economy.
One of the reasons that it is easier for irresponsible journalists to offer unverified reports about Chinese Muslims rather than report on the easily verifiable reports of Hindu extremist violence against Muslims in India, is due to the fact that Chinese governance tends to be more centralised than that in India. Because of this, it is comparatively easy to run stories comprised of rumours regarding the internal “realities” in China and then cast the blame for these “realities” on the central government in Beijing.
By contrast, because of India’s de-centralised political model, it is easy for local actors to obfuscate blame for undeniably gruesome attacks on Muslims. This is the case even though many of those who would deny culpability before international reporters actually revel in the attacks on Muslims before friendly pro-Hindutva domestic media.
Yet because so many individuals connected with the ruling BJP have either been exposed or more often than not have exposed themselves (often proudly) as being on the side of anti-Islamic mobs and rape gangs, it is clear that India’s wave of anti-Muslim violence has as much to do with the government as for example the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has to do with the powers that be in Riyadh.
While millions of moderate Hindus are embarrassed by what has happened to India under the BJP, far too many feel that discussions of India’s anti-Islamic pogroms somehow constitutes an anti-India narrative. This would only be the case if India was legally defined as a Hindu theocracy which constitutionally it is not.
If India is to remain the secular and inclusive state that its laws mandate that it must be, the issues facing Muslims in India must be heavily scrutinised both by sensible Indian outlets and by the wider world. Unfortunately, because western corporations still control a substantial amount of international coverage, Donald Trump’s Sinophobic policies and his pro-BJP stance are increasingly shaping the narrative.
Because of this, a naive person might think that in the 21st century, it is easier to be a Muslim in India than in China where in reality, the precise opposite is the case.