Can we put a brake on rampant Islamophobia?


Islamophobia as a word came more into vogue after 9/11 2001 twin tower attack. In the aftermath the American media popularised the word “Islamic Terrorism” and for the first time in global history a religion was given association with the political act of terrorism. In India the Hate against minorities had already been prevalent, but with different arguments. It was by-product of the communal politics, which came up during freedom movement as a reaction to Indian nationalism. Hindu communal politics propagated Islam as a religion associated with violence, it was propagated that it spread through force, it indulges in terrorism, Muslim kings destroyed Hindu temples, Muslims indulge in polygamy, produce more children, are more aggressive, eating beef etc. All this was already the part of ‘social common sense’ here.

The events in India during last few months, beginning with abolition of article 370, bringing of Citizenship Amendment Act and the spectacular democratic protest of Shaheen Bagh created a situation where the Hate spreading mechanisms became more aggressive. To cap it all came the Covid 19, the incident of Tablighi Jamaat, where the blame of spreading Corona was falsely put on Muslims as a whole. It was alleged that Muslims are out to launch Corona Jihad, are producing Corona bomb etc. became the part of popular thinking and life of Muslim community in general became unbearable. Even the lynching of Sadhus near Palghar by the local villagers was presented initially as the act of the ‘Hated’ community.

Normally the international community articulates an occasional protest and criticism against such gross inhumanity and violation of human rights of minorities. This time the levels of demonisation was so much that many international platforms and voices that matter expressed their unhappiness over the life of Muslims in India which is becoming unbearable and difficult. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, its Independent permanent Human Rights Commission, called for steps to protect the Muslims in India.

In addition, a drama unfolded in UAE. Here there are lakhs of Indians, many of them being Hindus. Some of them are seeped in the core communal ideology, proudly displaying their photographs with Indian prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Few of them tweeted on Tablighi Jamaat, Indian Muslims as doing ‘Islamic Jihad’, ‘Islamic virus’, ‘Muslim virus’ with gay abandon. Around this time one of the earlier tweets of the rising star of BJP, Tejaswi Surya resurfaced. In this tween Surya endorses the tweet of Tarek Fateh which is derogatory to Arab women. Some claimed that it is Indians who have contributed to the growth of gulf countries. As the whole atmosphere was becoming full of nauseating, labelling of Muslims in negative light.

Some prominent members of Royal family took the cudgels to counter these hate warriors. The UAE Princess, one who upholds Gandhi, Hend Al Qassimi, tweeted, that the ruling family is friends with India, but “… your rudeness is not welcome. … You make your bread and butter from this land which you scorn and your ridicule will not go unnoticed.” She then quoted UAE laws prohibiting hate speech by citizens and non-citizens. This royal intervention has opened the floodgates to comments from other sources.

She further made an important point “Don’t these successful so-called powerful millionaires know that hate speech is the prelude to genocide? Nazism wasn’t born in a day. It was allowed to grow like a weed that went wild because people chose to look the other side and it thrived on that specific weakness called silence. Hate is being preached openly in India against Muslims, in a nation of 182 million Muslims.”

Narendra Modi, who generally has been responding late to such incidents earlier also, finally woke up with these goings on. One knows that not only large number of Indians are employed gainfully in these countries; they are also sending millions of dollars back home. India is the third major country having trade with these countries. Modi’s tweet is being taken in a positive light by most commentators, who see a ray of hope in this. Modi said in the tweet, “”COVID-19 does not see race, religion, color, caste, creed, language or border before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.“ He knows who in media, social media and through word to mouth channels are spreading this hate, but there is no reprimand against them in his tweet.

On similar line, the Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Leader) of RSS Mohan Bhagwat also said that whole community should not be targeted for the actions of few. Both these top leaders of Hindu nationalist politics fortunately woke up after the international reprimand, particularly the reaction from UAE, gulf countries who have already started terminating the jobs of some Indians for spreading Hate. Interestingly at the same time, Modi’s Cabinet Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi described India being Jannat (Muslim’s heaven) for Muslims.

Many commentators are hoping that the statements of Modi and Bhagwat can put a brake on the ongoing atmosphere of hatred against the hapless minority! Things are not so simple. This atmosphere today has been built up through close to a century long work of the communal forces. The molecular permeation of these hateful interpretations of history, and the presentation of Islam-Muslims by America dominated media after 9/11 are the twin pillars, which have been dug fairly deep in the social thinking in India.

Covid 19 demonstrated as to how deep are the roots of this type of thinking that such concoctions could be made part of the social thinking. It is possible only because of the decades long propaganda, which is divisive and against the concept of fraternity, which is the foundation of Indian nationalism. The protests from UAE, which incidentally gave the highest civilian honor to Narendra Modi in 2019, may put a small brake on the unabashed process here, but the real struggle is inside the country, where we need to see that the social perceptions of Indian nationalism, articulated by Gandhi and Nehru in particular are made to reach all the Indians through innovative and rational mechanisms.

Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. Response only to [email protected]




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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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