Home Cover Story Increasing Islamophobia in India: Time to act

Increasing Islamophobia in India: Time to act

In the past week, just as the hullabaloo over the movie Padmaavat/i was at it’s peak, some Karni Sena continuing it’s protests against the movie has been alleged to have attacked  a school-going bus in Haryana. While Padmaavat is being criticized for showing the character of Ala-ud-din Khilji as a cruel barbarian, a fake news spread on twitter which said that 5 muslims were arrested for the attack, a charge which the police denied later on.

This is not the first time that we have seen muslims being caricatured as cruel bearded villains in popular cinema or fake news with communal colour being circulated on social media targeting muslims. This won’t be the last either.

Figure some news reports in the past one year: Muslims assaulted on a train and mocked over their skull caps and scarves; students being barred because of beard; Muslims buying a property in hindu area is conquering; 15-year-old murdered in train by a mob in an argument and termed beef-eater; Muslim man murdered on video on accusation of love jihad. Frighteningly, these are becoming order of the day.

Our stereotypical way of looking at how muslims look, what they wear or eat and that they are cruel terrorists has largely been a seamless narrative in popular culture and imagination. What is worrying, though, is the growing sense of the fear of the Muslim and demonizing a whole community.

This is the biggest contemporary problem we are facing that can damage the social fabric of our democracy in a way that we might not ever be able to reverse the damage. We have to fight against this happening.

Charting evolution of ‘Islamophobia’

‘Islamophobia’ the modern term properly marketed and capitalised upon. It started after the senior George bush came into power in late 1980’s and with the demise of Russia and energy politics, it was made a global phenomenon to fight Islam by creating hate against the whole Muslim community. The senior bush gave the concept of the rogue state after the demise of the bipolar world which included Iran, Iraq and north Korea.

The subsequent presidents of USA have ensured the fate of these countries. The other Muslim sympathisers, not under the purview of the rogue state definition back then, like Syria and Afghanistan have also paid the dues, to the extent that Islam as a religious community has been made and projected as the culprit of human civilisation, by the media and biased politicians to such a height that it became the biggest phobia in the world over time.

The first known use of the term came with the French word ‘islamophobie’ in a book entitled ‘La politique musulmane dans l’Afrique Occidentale Française’ by Alain Quellien, published in Paris in 1910. The origin of the context of the term was a criticism of the ways in which French colonial administrators viewed the cultures of the countries now known as Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. This connotation seems to be for the sociological and market analysis of depicting the arms market for neo-colonialism with respect to these countries.

The first use of the word in English in print media appeared in an article by Edward Said in 1985, where he referred it with respect to Islamophobia and antisemitism’ and he criticised writers who do not recognise that ‘hostility to Islam’ in the modern Christian West.

After that, in 1998, the British non-governmental organization Runnymede Trust equated it with closed (vs. open) views of Islam. The intention of the organization was to counter these closed ‘assumptions’.

Closed and open views of Islam Column1 Column2
Distinctions Closed views of Islam Open views of Islam
1. Monolithic / diverse Islam seen as a single monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to new realities. Islam seen as diverse and progressive,
with internal differences, debates and
development.
2. Separate / interacting Islam seen as separate and other – (a) not having any aims or values in common with other cultures (b) not affected by them © not influencing them. Islam seen as interdependent with other
faiths and cultures – (a) having certain shared values and aims (b) affected by them (c) enriching them.
3. Inferior / different Islam seen as inferior to the West – barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist. Islam seen as distinctively different, but not deficient, and as equally worthy of respect.
4. Enemy / partner Islam seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, engaged in ‘a clash of civilisations’. Islam seen as an actual or potential partner in joint cooperative enterprises and in the solution of shared problems.
5. Manipulative / sincere Islam seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage. Islam seen as a genuine religious faith,
practised sincerely by its adherents.
6. Criticism of West
rejected / considered
Criticisms made by Islam of ‘the West’
rejected out of hand
Criticisms of ‘the West’ and other cultures are considered and debated.
7. Discrimination
defended / criticised
Hostility towards Islam used to justify
discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society
Debates and disagreements with Islam do not diminish efforts to combat discrimination and exclusion.
8. Islamophobia seen as
natural / problematic
Anti-Muslim hostility accepted as natural and ‘normal’. Critical views of Islam are themselves
subjected to critique, lest they be inaccurate and unfair.

 

In 21st century, the Council on American-Islamic relations, America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization has defined Islamophobia as:

“Islamophobia is a closed-minded hatred, fear or prejudice toward Islam and Muslims that results in discrimination, marginalization and oppression. It creates a distorted understanding of Islam and Muslims and transforms diversity in name, language, culture, ethnicity, and race into a set of stereotyped characteristics. As such, Islamophobia is a system of both religious and racial animosity.”

In India as well, we are not only experiencing it, rather we have become a part of it unknowingly to the level that we are polluting our civilisation of coexistence and love. We no longer presume ourselves like an Indian thalli of food as connoted by Shashi tharoor in his books. He may presume that the culture of India and USA is of coexistence where many type of foods are rendered in the same thalli but are of different taste. From intellectual to liberal so-called English media, they have been unable to protect it.

(Image for representational purposes)

As we also discussed in our story on hate speech: In the competition of scarce resources, dominant groups create prejudices by legitimizing myths that take us away from rationality, to provide moral and intellectual justification for their domination. Legitimizing of myths with bias approach divides the society into groups.

The fight for the young generation is against these biases and prejudices.

Everyday stereotypes

The first and foremost way in which myths are created is the forming of stereotypes. I have already discussed reports of people being assaulted for wearing a skull cap or barred in activities in colleges for keeping a beard.

Most problematic aspect, however, is when these become a part of everyday conversations or the way we judge people around us. It might sound harmless when it’s done in the form of jokes or insinuations on the beard someone keeps, the hijab someone wears, someone likes to wear green or loves to eat non-vegetarian food.

I remember I used to tease a muslim friend ‘Mulli’ (female mullah). I used to find it funny. She never liked it, she did feel uncomfortable but we never fought per se on this. It did come back to bite me when I started keeping a big beard and there were terrorist jokes almost everyday, by friends and family. Jokes subsided over a period of time; suspicious looks in public and at security points haven’t.

Another popular notion is muslim women are under a pile of patriarchy- muslim men force them to wear a hijab or burkha. By saying this, we are trying to rob the agency of women to choose what she wants to wear and at the same time, reducing her identity to just a piece of cloth.

If she wears it, she is a victim of patriarchy? If she doesn’t, she is free of all patriarchal burdens? Who, in the first place, gave us the agency to decide this for her and create such a binaries? Binaries are always misleading.

While researching on this topic, I came across a piece on hijab on a very interesting website muslimgirl.com. I will just take a quote from there:

“Wearing a hijab is a woman’s choice and her beliefs, morals and character are greater indicators of whether or not she is muslim than how she dresses.”

The burkha-clad women recently went rallying on bikes in an election rally for campaigning in the students union elections of the Aligarh Muslim University, breaking stereotypes and fighting themselves for their freedom. That’s certainly strong belief and character.

We have even stereotyped the colour of what we wear. If you wear green, you are a Pakistani. If you wear orange/saffron, you are a right-winger. And of course, if you wear red, you are a comrade or a naxal!

Spectre of terrorism

Terrorism is a menace, a big one. We have to fight it. How? is the foremost question anyone would think. A lot of answers can be there. The answer cannot merely be targeting young muslim men on fake terror charges and locking them up without proper investigation.

It’s not been an isolated case or two. A list of Muslims wrongfully accused of terrorism-related activities compiled by TwoCircles.net, a non-profit news website, in its series Terror Tales is frighteningly large. Tens and hundreds of cases can be found all over India of many who have served prison sentences for years before getting acquitted.

Lives of the individual and family destroyed- personally, socially, economically.

In some of the sensational cases like the Gujarat Akshardham terror attack, Malegaon blasts and 26/11 terror attack, the accused were acquitted, some after being over 10 years in jail.

It might be tough to say that a particular community is stigmatized by looking just at that community’s share in total prisoner population, but it is reasonable to expect that the ratio of non-convicted to convicted prisoners be similar for all communities.

According to 2014 NCRB data, Muslims have the highest non-convict to convict prisoner ratio in the country and in most states.

For every convicted Muslim, there are nearly 3 others in jail who are waiting because of the slow justice system.

Experts say that this can be because many cases are of terror charges which take a long time and it’s tough for terror accused to get released on bail even after completing half of their maximum sentence.

Mohammad Amir Khan was kept in jail for 14 years on wrong terror charges from late 1990s to 2012- charged in 19 cases when he was just 18! Lost the prime of his youth, but the great part is after he came out, he didn’t lose hope and started his life again. Despite the injustice, he still works from democracy and secularism.

Unfortunately, there is no redressal mechanism yet in these type of cases. No criteria for giving compensation to help them get back on their feet. No punishment to erring officers that can deter them from wrongfully arresting anyone on terror charges. While civil society members have long argued for this, the Supreme Court has been hesitant, saying that it would set a dangerous precedent if the acquitted persons are allowed to seek compensation for their ‘wrongful’ arrest.

And it’s a no mean feat for lawyers defending terror accused. Isolation from friends, neighbours, relatives. Death threats from enraged nationalists. Because in terror cases, one is guilty until proven innocent- reversing the long-held legal adage of innocent until proven guilty?

Shahid Azmi, on whose life movie Shahid was made by Hansal Mehta, got 17 acquittals of terror accused in just 7 years, before he was assassinated for doing his work.

The legal cell of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, one of India’s largest Muslim NGOs, have seen 120 people acquitted since 2007.

Humble cow – used as hate weapon

Non-vegetarian food might be just a taboo but what’s turned into a source of animosity is a humble dairy animal- the cow.

11 deaths due to cow-related hate crimes were reported in 2017, highest in any year since 2010. Since 2012, 29 persons have been killed in cow-related hate violence, 25 of whom were muslims. While only one incident was reported in 2012 and 2013, 76 incidents have been reported from 2014-2017.

Now in some cases it was unclear whether illegal smuggling of cows was involved or not. Like when Akhlaq was killed in Dadri on rumours of storing beef in his house. Or when the rage of public becomes so much that 15-year-old Junaid Khan was killed in an argument on seating arrangement in a train, while being called a ‘beef-eater’?

15-year-old Junaid Khan at Jama Masjid.

But even if it was such a case, the question is can the mob take law in their hands and lynch the alleged accused, while the government doesn’t perform its basic function of law and order?

It’s even more worrying for social unity if one community is targeted more by hate crimes.

Love & jihad

‘Love Jihad’- apparently said to be a way in which Muslim men lure non-Muslim women to convert by pretending to love them.

Yes, forcible conversion is a crime, but not conversion. People can choose their religion. Secondly, time and again it has been said inter-religion and inter-caste love marriages should be encouraged. It will lead to more interaction amongst communities and lead to a better united society. That was why we have Special marriage act in which court marriages take place.

If such complaints of forcible conversion come forward especially directly from women themselves, there should be investigation. However, the most controversial case in this regard has definitely been Hadiya’s till now.

Hadiya is a 25-year-old  woman who grew up as Akhila Ashokan, she converted and married a Muslim man Shafin Jahan last year. This was not acceptable to his father who filed a complaint and termed it as some Islamic State conspiracy.

Shafin Jahan and Hadiya.

Kerala High Court declared marriage of Hadiya ‘null and void’ on the grounds that bride’s parents were “not present or given consent” for the marriage.

Hadiya became a symbol of love and resistance for the youth of this country, when she said in the Supreme Court that she wants her freedom to study and be with her husband.

Gladly, in the first hearing in the Supreme Court, it accepted that Hadiya has ‘Right to choice’, not her parents.

In another spine-chilling incident, a man in Rajasthan hacked another man to death and burned the body, filming the whole incident, all the while speaking against “love jihad”.

It’s hard to fathom the low to which the individual, the mob, the society have catapulted to.

Socio-economic representation

As we box away these stereotypes, what we need to look into is that as these biases get a hold in the system, it can be seen in the low representation of muslims in education and jobs.

According to the 2006 Sachar committee report, the literacy rate among Muslims in 2001 was 59%, below the national average of 65%. Though it increased to 68 % in 2011, but still remained less than overall 73%.

Muslims have the least representation, compared to all Hindu castes, as salaried workers employed in government, public & private sector.

According to the committee report, the most striking feature is the relatively high share of Muslim workers engaged in self-employment activity or informal sector, primarily in urban areas and for women workers. The percentage of Muslim women working within their homes (70%) was much higher than all workers (51%).

The overall participation of Muslims in Central Government departments and agencies is abysmally low at all levels. There is not one state in which the representation of Muslims in the government departments matched their population share.

The report further highlighted that about one-third of small villages with high concentration of Muslims do not have any educational institutions or even proper health facilities or even roads and pucca houses.

Interestingly, contrary to popular belief, the report noted that only 3% of Muslim children among the school going age go to madarsas. Instead, many Muslim children are enrolled in ‘Maktabs’, which provide supplementary religious education in addition to enrolment in public schools.

More than a decade after Sachar report, things have unfortunately largely remained the same. The recruitment in Central govt/Public sector jobs in 2006 was 6.93%, which only marginally increased in 2014 to 8.57%. The number of graduates are the only little bright light.  From 23.9 lakh in 2001, it increased to 47.5 lakh.

In some cases, things deteriorated quite badly. In 2005, for example, the share of Muslims among India’s police forces was 7.63%; in 2013, it fell to 6.27%. The percentage of muslims in IPS i.e. Indian Police Services decreased from 4% in 2006 to 3.19% in 2016.

The percentage in IAS increased marginally, from 3% in 2006 to 3.32 % in 2016.

According to the All India Survey of Higher Education 2016-17, the enrolment of Muslim students in higher education is only 4.9% of total.

The rate of enrolment, which means the number of enrolments in higher education in a given year compared to the 18- to 23-year-old population eligible for higher education, for Muslims was 13.8 % in 2014/15, way less than the national figure of 23%.

All this is way below the population of Muslims, which is a little above 14% in 2011 census.

It’s high time we put into action some of the recommendations of the Sachar committee report like:

  • an Equal Opportunity Commission to look into these figures
  • a nomination procedure to increase participation of minorities in public bodies
  • mechanisms to link madarsas with higher secondary school board
  • Legal mechanism to address complaints of discrimination against minorities in matters of employment, housing, schooling and obtaining bank loans’
  • Designate Arzals Muslim group as most backward classes as they need multifarious measures, including reservation.
  • Teacher training components that introduce importance of diversity and plurality and sensitising teachers towards needs and aspirations of Muslims and other marginalised communities

Muslim- House not available

In a 2015 Urban Rental Housing Market study, it was found that Dalits and Muslims experienced discrimination while looking for houses on rent in five metropolitan areas of the National Capital Region of Delhi, even when they met all other conditions as others. But just the difference in caste/region made it tough for them to get a house on rent.

It was found that landlords belonging to the higher castes often gave terms like “uncleanliness,” “pollution,” “non-vegetarianism,” and various other excuses to reject the muslim and dalit tenants. A landlord in Gurgaon openly stated that there were ‘security and safety’ reasons.

It’s bewildering that non-vegetarian food has been made into such a taboo because a nationwide survey, conducted by the Office of Registrar General & Census Commissioner of India in 2014, found that 71% of Indians eat non-vegetarian food. 14% is the population of Muslims in India. So, it’s not just de facto now, it’s de jure that rest of the people from other religions eat non-vegetarian food.

Tenants are openly advised to look for housing in a Muslim locality, again ghettoizing i.e. making people from different castes and religion to stay in their own islands. It’s again defeating the concept of a cosmopolitan urban place where different communities merge into each other.

Those who did manage to get homes on rent had to do so by agreeing to unfair terms and conditions. The study also noted that it is a failure of market principles as non-economic factors played a big role in determining the renting decision.

Studies like these are useful, but if we just look around in our friends and family circle, observe and examine ourselves, this study is just a confirmation of what we have always known. I will be lying if I say I haven’t heard these from people I know very well.

It’s essential to be concerned here because a news report also came where it was found that a muslim family buys a part of property in a Hindu area in Meerut and the locals are wary that Muslims are out to conquer the area.

Some self-professed local leaders again raised the bogey of different customs, habits, etc. Just one family buying property made people to call it land jihad!

Fourth pillar of biasness

It is absolutely impossible to perpetuate any of these stereotypes, biases and prejudices in the society without the most precious instrument of democracy- the media- the fourth estate.

(Image for representational purposes only)

Basically, the traditional media creates caricatures of looks that we talked about at the start of this video, increasing the fear among non-muslim communities. On the other, it represents views of a few conservative muslim leaders as views of the whole community.

In thirst of sensationalism and revenue generation, there is no voice of reasoned debate or what a young, average muslim thinks and believes in.

Also, the presence of muslims in mainstream hindi and English media is again really less; and Urdu journalism has hardly survived in the modern tech age.

In a 2006 survey of media in Delhi, it was found that Muslims account for only 3% of key decision makers in national media. Muslims do better in the Hindi electronic media, forming 6% of key decision-makers. In the English electronic media, the survey found there were no Muslims at the senior-most levels in Delhi.

Now, nothing could be more fortunate for this generation that now we have 2 forms of media- traditional and of course, social media.

More the forms, more the sensationalism, more the prejudices, more the hatred and more the violence.

We judged the TV media for its sensationalism and TRP. Social media hasn’t been kind either. For all it’s importance, there is a lot of fake news filled with hate that keeps circulating on social media which has chances to increase communal tension. Let’s take a couple of examples:

Muslims fed bomb to cow which blew inside her mouth, screamed some Twitter handle ShankhNaad, posting a video shot in Madhya Pradesh.

When Alt News, that works on busting fake news, talked to the local SP, it was found that the cow had accidentally chewed an explosive. There was no Muslim angle. Local publications reported same.

Another video that got viral claimed Muslims in Mumbai celebrating Pakistan’s win in Champions Trophy final cricket match. After investigation, it was found that it was shot in Pakistan, not Mumbai.

To counter these problems, Muslims have increasingly tried to form their own media- by launching their own websites, Facebook pages and twitter handles. Websites like Ummid.com and Asia Express were launched by individuals from Malegaon to counter perception of it being called the terrorist city.

There is a Muslims of India Facebook page as well. Muslim Voices India- a twitter handle– run by different individuals at different times from different professions.

There is high-time we focus on gearing up our journalistic skills. New Canadian Media (NCM) has an Ethnic Media & Diversity Style Guide, a handbook for journalists who operate in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society like ours

It gives 5 Tips for reporting & writing on Religion.

  1. Respect the role of religion in people’s lives.
  2. Do not treat the person being interviewed as a representative of all people from that religion.
  3. Be aware careful not to repeat stereotypes about people with different religious affiliation.
  4. If religion is relevant to the story, make sure to be mindful of different sects, branches, schools of thought that exist within each religion. Make sure to have the interview subject explain his or her beliefs in detail.
  5. Describe various beliefs well and correctly, even if you personally disagree with them.

Basically, just follow the basics: Properly Factual and Contextual.

From 24/7 sensationalist media to social media to drawing room discussions, the children are getting influenced and bullying has increased on the lines of the stereotypes we have talked about. Muslims children are being called terrorist, Baghdadi or Pakistani, even in high-class international and private schools; and the teachers look away, doing nothing.

What kind of society have we given and want to give to the new generation? Its high time we seriously think about it!

 

 

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