Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that the new National Democratic Alliance
government should win the trust of minorities and puncture the ‘myth of fear’
has been received in two different ways. A section of political observers remain
unconvinced about this assurance. They argue that aggressive Hindutva politics
has marginalised the minorities. If the Modi government is serious about this
lack of trust, it needs to do much more. On the other hand, some have
optimistically received Mr. Modi’s statement. They claim that minorities,
especially Muslims, must appreciate Mr. Modi’s positive gesture and explore
possibilities of constructive dialogue.
definite and categorical sets of argument are partly appropriate. The
increasing alienation of minorities is certainly not a myth and expecting the
new government to respond to the anxieties, aspirations and imaginations of
these communities is morally legitimate and politically justifiable. However,
there is a serious need to ask a fundamental question: Why do minorities feel
alienated in contemporary India?
question takes us to an unofficial political mechanism that has produced a
sense of fear among minorities in the last five years. This political mechanism
relies heavily on a minority-majority binary to establish that Hindus and
Muslims are the two core fundamental identities that represent two distinct and
conflicting world views. There are four identifiable components of this
unofficial political mechanism: discourse of violence, events of violence,
justification of violence, and silence on violence.
The media —
TV, newspapers, social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp and even films — has
played a significant role in creating a violent anti-Muslim Hindu victimhood
discourse in the last five years. Every aspect of Muslim life in India has been
targeted to create an impression that Muslims are the main problem of the
country. For instance, we are told that the birth of a Muslim child is a threat
to the Hindu population; the education of a Muslim child is a symbol of
separatism; the eating habits of Muslims are anti-Hindu (as Muslims eat beef);
the married life of a Muslim couple is a social evil (as Muslims practice
triple talaq); and even the death of Muslims is an anti-national act (because
Muslims occupy valuable land for graveyards).
aggressive anti-Muslim propaganda nurtured an equally powerful imagination of
‘Hindu victimhood’, at least in three possible ways. First, Hindus are
presented as a homogeneous nation-state community with a unique and distinct
culture. Hindu belief in multiple gods and goddesses is articulated as a
distinctive feature of Hinduism to create a defining binary between Hindus and
marginalisation of Hindus is demonstrated by producing quantifiable
data/evidence. The Hindu Human Rights Report 2017 is an example of this
political strategy. This report records the violation of human rights of Hindus
in India. It argues that despite being a numerical majority, Hindus are treated
as second-class citizens. In order to justify this claim, atrocities faced by
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are also included in the
Hindutva groups construct what political theorist Partha Chatterjee calls the
two imaginary domains of politics. The inner domain is defined as a realm of
Hindu faith and culture where the state is not allowed to intervene. The
Hindutva positions on Babri Masjid and Sabarimala stem from this inner domain
of politics. However, this is not the case with the outer political domain,
where Hindutva unequivocally invokes legal-constitutional discourse. The demand
to recognise Hindus as a minority in eight States is an example of this
selective use of the Constitution and law.
establishing this discourse of hatred and violence, Hindutva forces failed to
provoke Muslims to create a large-scale riot-like situation in the last five
years. Issues like ‘love jihad’, ‘Ghar Wapsi’, Ram temple, and even the ban on
triple Talaq could not generate riots. In this hostile communal atmosphere, a
new style of violence was invented, however — the lynching of Muslims. A few
Muslim individuals were killed to create a powerful impact. It was very easy to
mobilise a mob of unemployed youth in the name of Hindu pride, especially in
the cow-belt region.
the government did not condemn this new form of anti-Muslim violence. On the
contrary, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders not merely justified such events but
also offered legal and political support to the accused. It began in September
2015 when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri, and his son Danish was brutally
beaten up for allegedly eating and storing beef on Eid. Union Minister Mahesh
Sharma, who was also the MP from Gautam Buddha Nagar, did not condemn this
incident. He described the Dadri killing as an “accident”, visited the house of
the main accused and avoided any contact with the family of victim.
Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha evoked this line of argument
differently in 2018. Mr. Sinha provided legal aid to the main accused involved
in a lynching case in Jharkhand. When a fast-track court accepted the bail of
the eight accused, he welcomed them at a public function. Justifying his move
Mr. Sinha argued that the court had granted bail to the accused upholding the
fairness of justice and, therefore, as an elected representative of people as
well as a Union Minister, he was entitled to honour the “due process of law”.
Minister maintained a strange silence on all this for a long time. In June
2017, he finally said “no person has the right to take the law into his own
hands”. Although he denounced cow vigilantism, Mr. Modi did not recognise the
lynching of Muslims as a specific form of anti-Muslim violence. He reduced it
to a law and order problem.
political reflections, it seems, created the impression that lynching Muslims
is a natural social phenomenon and the ruling establishment subscribes to the
discourse of Hindu victimhood.
If the new
BJP government is concerned about the myth of fear among minorities, it should
systematically dismantle the mechanism that has actually created an atmosphere
in which violence on religious lines has become normal and acceptable.
killing innocent Muslims is certainly a law and order problem. We do have a few
laws to deal with such incidences of violence. But we certainly do not have an
Ahmed, an Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing
Societies, Delhi, is the author of ‘Siyasi Muslims: A story of Political Islams