Muskan Khan, the lone Karnataka (India) Muslim student in Hijab, standing up against Hindu extremists; Source: CNN
In the past, there were no countries. There were civilizations and empires and then, there were nations of small ethnic and linguistic groups.
‘Country’, is a colonial construct and thus a very a recent idea. For example, before British colonised ‘India’, it did not exist as such, as a ‘country’.
Another interesting aspect of colonially engineered ‘country’ is that, not all such countries evolve into nations. When a ‘country’ evolves as a nation, it achieves permanency of a sort. History suggests many colonially organized countries that have failed to evolve as nations, have since disintegrated.
For colonially engineered countries to evolve as nations, people living in these countries must develop a sense of belonging to and feel equal, with diversities, in such countries.
Failure of British ‘India’ to evolve as a nation
Former British India is among the earliest colonially engineered countries that failed to evolve as a nation and thus was fragmented. In 1947, at the time of decolonisation, the British India split into two countries – the Hindu majority India and the Muslim majority Pakistan.
Although many argue that religious differences have been the key reason behind partition of India, the real reason is quite different.
Thanks to the colonial Britain’s divide and rule policy, Muslims in British India became over the years, structurally the most disadvantaged group and thus were concerned that in the post-independent majoritarian Hindu democratic Indian state where Hindus were likely to emerge as the new ruling class, their rights and dignity would not be protected, nor would they be treated as equals. As a result, as the time for decolonisation neared, this suspicion among the Muslims grew strong and partition became unavoidable.
Partition of British India gives us a clear lesson that countries often separate not so much for cultural and religious differences but mostly, due to group-based inequities. This became quite evident when within 25 years of partition of India and emergence of the Muslim Pakistan, a country which was made up of two wings – East and West Pakistan – split into two, Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) and Pakistan (former West Pakistan).
Indeed, dismemberment of Muslim Pakistan is a reminder that in spite religious and cultural affinities, prolonged group-based inequities, and indignities (east and West Pakistan) and/or fear of loss of influence (East and West Bengal) separate people and split countries.
Post-partition India, Muslims, and growing group-based inequities
Although British India was split into Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan, many Muslims stayed back and embraced post-partition India as their home.
Muslims in India – 250 million and 15% of the population – seem to have not been treated fairly and to date, they remain the most underprivileged group in India and very little has been done to address the inequities except that in 2004 the Congress Party that returned to power after having been in opposition for eight years, took the issue seriously and formed a High-powered Committee, the Sachar Committee, to “report on the latest social, economic, and educational conditions of the Muslim community of India.”
The Committee spent 20 months to research and finalize the report. The Report confirmed through evidence, the inequities the Muslims suffer and recommended several remedial measures to remove the barriers that contribute to their “backwardness”.
Sadly, none of the Sachar Committee recommendations have so far been implemented. On the contrary, in 2013 Mr. Modi, the Prime Minister of India who was then the Chief Minister of Gujrat where a horrific Muslim massacre took place under his watch, challenged the legality of the Sachar Committee, and filed a case in the High Court, calling the initiative, “unconstitutional.”
That ended, India’s first ever effort in addressing group-based structural injustices involving the Muslims.
Rise of Modi, the undoing of a nation
Since then and especially since 2014, with Modi’s ascend to the position of India’s Prime Ministership and with introduction of his Hindutva policies that openly and purposedly discriminate and marginalize the Indian Muslims, things have gone from bad to worse for the Muslims in India.
Inspired and encouraged by Modi’s blatant sectarianism, attacks on and othering, harassment, lynching, marginalization, and murder of Muslims have become brazen, if not a norm. According to Mr. Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of India-administered Kashmir with the rise of Modi, “Hatred for Muslims has been completely mainstreamed and normalised in India today” so much and so audaciously so that a bunch of Hindu Sadhus (priests) called for “Muslim genocide” in India at a public forum, recently.
Citing these broad-daylight horrific incidences of Muslim persecutions in India, Professor Noam Chomsky has recently commented in a TV Talk Show that Islamophobia in India, ”…is taking the most lethal form.”
Indeed, Modi’s Muslim-hate policies have reached such an ugly state and become so pervasive that recently, the news of a Kashmiri Muslim girl who topped at the final high school exam was greeted with ugly Hindutvabadi (Hindu extremist) troll in social media, mainly because “her picture sans a hijab” that “set the fireball rolling”.
Modi’s sectarian venom seem to be spreading and by now has reached India’s education institutions which until recently functioned as citadels of knowledge, tolerance, and freedom. No more, education institutions are the latest casualties of Hindutva virus.
Recent appointment of Prof. Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, a known BJP sympathiser as the Vice Chancellor of the much-respected free-thinking secular Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the Hijab ban in schools in Karnataka, a BJP -run state, indicate a scenario that seems to resonate well with Noam Chomsky’s recent observation that India is now a “Hindu ethnocracy”, a euphemism for ethnic cleansing of Muslims, with Hindu majoritarian consensus.
However, there are signs that Muslims in India are resisting indignities and harassments and refusing to stand by, passively. They are angry, and their anger is boiling over. Some have started to rebel.
The recent scene of defiance and protest by a young lone Muslim girl in Hijab, Muskan Khan, against the threats and heckling by a Hindu far-right mob outside a college, and her chanting of “Allah Hu Akbar (Allah is great) that caught the attention and adulation of many, both within and across India, is a sign that Muslims are standing up against insults and resisting injustices and the danger is that one day, if persecutions continue resistance which at this stage is somewhat mild, may turn violent one day and become bloodied confrontations, who knows?
It is time that Indians, especially the Hindutva Bhakhts (devotees) look deep into their sadistic actions and the pleasure they derive from hurting and harassing their fellow countrymen, the powerless and the besieged Muslims and the harm their actions are causing to India, more generally. At the same time, they must hold Modi to account, especially on issues that are vital for India and the Indians – the economy.
Indeed, other than succeeding in fomenting collective hatred, dividing India, and projecting himself as a fashion icon of Sadhu outfits, Modi’s track record on economic performance and more particularly, in advancing wellbeing of Indian masses especially those who are disadvantaged, and poor are anything but stellar.
For example, Mr. Modi who came to power with the promise, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas” (With All for the Development of All and in Trust with All) has not only not been translated into facts, but he has done the opposite. Modi has made India poorer and made rich richer and poor, poorer.
Indeed, a recent study suggests that after long time, “India is back in a situation to be called a country of mass poverty”. Furthermore, during Mr. Modi’s tenure, India has also grown as one of the most unequal countries in the world where the income gap between the rich and poor is at “historical high” – in 2019, the top 10% and top 1% owned respectively 57% and 22% of the total national income and the share of the top 1% doubled.
Sad part is that no one seems to care. Modi’s Hindutva, “…a new virus…that refurbishes the lung but debilitates the brain”, has gripped India so completely and so infectiously that the love of hate of the other seems to have numbed the intellectual and moral capacities of average Indians, so much so that most do not see the harm Modi and his policies are causing to India, nor do they see the unfolding catastrophe that awaits their country. This indeed is deeply concerning.
India is on the brink. Modi who made thuggery a norm and banished decency, and, in the process, dismantling India’s secular democracy is reversing India’s march to evolve as a nation and if indeed, Modi’s evil spell continue for few more years and people do nothing to resist and if history is any guide, disintegration of India as a country is real possibility!
The author is a retired senior policy manager of the United Nations