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India: Are 'anti-Muslim' attacks becoming the norm?

Dharvi Vaid New Delhi
December 7, 2021

Experts have warned that 'low-intensity community violence' tied to religious hate crime is becoming rampant throughout India.

Screenshot YouTube Munawar Faruqui
'Hate has won, artist has lost,' comedian Munawar Faruqui posted on social media after dozens of his shows were cancelled Image: Munawar Faruqui/YouTube

Indian Muslim comedian Munawar Faruqui hinted at quitting the comedy scene last week after dozens of his shows were canceled over vandalism threats from hardline Hindu groups.

"Hate has won, the artist has lost," Faruqui said in a post on social media.

Faruqui spent a month in jail after he was arrested on January 1, just as one of his shows ended. He is accused of "insulting" Hindu religious sentiments in jokes that he had allegedly prepared, although they did not feature in his set that evening.

The stand-up comedian has since been a constant target of Hindu vigilante groups.

In another incident of religious hatred, the right-wing Bajrang Dal group attacked the set of the web series "Aashram" in Bhopal state in October. The group claimed that the title of the series was an "assault on Hinduism." Attackers allegedly smeared the filmmaker, Prakash Jha, with ink and assaulted another crew member.

In August, a video of a 45-year-old Muslim rickshaw driver being beaten by a hardline Hindu mob in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh went viral on social media. The mobsters recited Jai Shri Ram, a Hindu chant, as they cornered the man while his young daughter clinged to him, pleading for her father's safety.

Ghazala Wahab, author of Born A Muslim: Some Truths About Islam in India, warns that incidents of "low-intensity communal violence" has become rampant in India.

"It is becoming more endemic. It has become like an overhang on the everyday life of all citizens but the brunt is borne by Muslims," she told DW.

"I also know of people who are not Muslims but are worried. This kind of pervasive fear is something that is unprecedented," she added.

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Tanvir Aeijaz, an associate professor of political science at Delhi University, says low-intensity communal violence can trace its roots back to the Indian Partition of 1947.

"In India, this low-intensity communal violence is the undercurrent since the Partition," Aeijaz told DW. "Muslims in India are living under the guilt of partition which should not have been the case because Muslims who stayed in India, they never asked for partition. It's only some politicians at the top level that negotiated these things."

According to Aeijaz, a part of religiosity in India is the "othering" of religious communities. "But this process has intensified with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power," he said.

He added that the Indian press has exposed that "protracted, low-intensity conflicts" are "quite visible on the face of civil society."

"The whole definition of self is largely taking place on ethnic and religious lines and then it's the question of 'us' versus 'them'. There is a cultural/religious confrontation…There is religious aggressiveness," Aeijaz said.

Religion as a form of 'impunity'

Most communal violence incidents in recent years were carried out by fringe Hindu organizations, such as Bajrang Dal.

According to Wahab, within registered organizations, "there are smaller organizations" which "police don't want to touch."

"There is a degree of impunity… because they are operating in the guise of religion," she said. "These groups are becoming more and more emboldened."

Delhi University Professor Aeijaz called for stronger accountability within Indian institutions.

"I see the state institutions becoming quite weak, particularly the police, the law and order institutions… They must carry out their work," he said.

Wahab adds that the rising incidents of religious hatred would have dangerous ramifications and deepen fissures in Indian society if left unaddressed.

"If something like this continues to happen… the distance between the communities only grows…misinformation will just increase… We are basically creating a very deeply fractured society and it will take a long time to bridge these divides," she said.

Muslims fear more attacks

Edited by: Sou-Jie van Brunnersum