Religious violence between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority in India reached its worst for decades at the end of February. More than 50 people died, and thousands were injured in Delhi, mainly Muslims, as a consequence of massive violence in the capital. In four days in the north-east of Delhi, many mosques, Muslim businesses, and property were set alight. Muslims were burned alive in their own homes or lynched on the streets. There were stabbings, beatings, and acid burns. Some Hindu mobs stopped men in the streets to show their IDs. However, a refusal would result in being forced to show whether or not you were circumcised. Many fear for their lives and are never planning to return to Delhi again.
“Some of them forced me to pull down my trousers. They started beating me violently as soon as they became sure that I was Muslim.” Imran Khan, 30
Ever since the end of the British colonial rule and the independence of India, large-scale religious violence has occurred periodically. Now, there have been cruelties on both sides, but the Muslim community has been affected the most. The Delhi Police have been accused of failing to address the issues, and enabling and even joining the Hindu mobs that have used horrible means and power. It has been claimed that the police investigations run were mainly unjustifiably targeting Muslims. Even before the riots, Thomas Blom Hansen, a Stanford professor of anthropology studying religious identities and violence in India, states how the police have harassed Muslims in Muslim neighbourhoods that are often over-policed, in a way African-American communities are in the US.
The Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has supported the mobs. The party has ruled the country for the past six years and has become increasingly dominant. They have openly built hate against Muslims, and the violence seems a natural continuation to the politics the party has been practising in the past years. On February 26th Modi expressed strong disapproval over the violence, but both academics and Muslims agree that his rhetoric led to the destruction and hate in the first place. The BJP has continuously tried to display Muslims in India as traitors, anti-nationals, and terrorists, and many Indians have come to believe that Muslims possess a threat to the country. Hence, Modi has awakened many of the far-right Hindu nationalists, who see Muslims as “invaders of a rightfully Hindu India”.
“They kicked my stomach and my whole body. I pleaded with them not to harm my baby, but they kept kicking.” Muskan, 20
Many of the 200 million Muslims in India are feeling the pressure of being cast even more as second-class citizens now. A turning point for the riots, the BJP’s newly designed citizenship amendment act (CAA) grants all refugees of South Asia’s major religions, except Islam, citizenship in India. Many see this as an act from the Hindu nationalists to threaten the country’s secular foundations and very discriminatory. The BJP has tried to sell the law as proof of commitment to help refugees and nothing against Muslims. Yet, it does not convince. The party has also tried establishing a new project to fight illegal immigration. It would require all citizens to prove their residency with papers many do not have. The population register has already been tested in Assam, where the government is building detention camps for the ones without papers, many of them Muslims.
Modi’s India is supposed to be the ”world’s largest democracy”, but the reality looks much different. Muslims or other minorities do not have a place in the future that BJP is plotting for the country. Despite the efforts, not everyone has turned their back on humanity. It was reported by the Guardian how many Hindus and Sikhs helped Muslim families to escape their homes and mosques to survive the terrible violence, albeit India is currently facing a dark period in its history of religious conflicts.
“I did not see if they were Muslim or Hindu, I did this for humanity. I had to save them.” Mohinder Singh, 53