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Does India have a problem with Muslims?
Many say yes, after a recent political firestorm caused by high-ranking Hindu nationalists.
Earlier this month, Nupur Sharma, a spokeswoman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other party officials made derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammed. The comments kicked off a firestorm of violent demonstrations, reported CNN.
Even then, nothing happened until a group of Arab countries, including key Indian trading partners such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Indonesia and Malaysia, condemned the statements and demanded action and apologies, party officials suspended Sharma and media spokesman, Naveen Kumar Jindal.
In India, a former British colony that has fought wars with its Muslim-majority neighbor Pakistan and has used the Indian military to suppress Muslim-backed civil society movements in the disputed territory of Kashmir, anti-Islamic sentiments have reached a high lately. Far-right, anti-Muslim pop songs that claim “India is for Hindus” and tell Muslims to “go back to Pakistan” have become common fare on the airwaves, Al Jazeera noted.
Modi has stoked anger against India’s 200-million-strong Muslim community in order to capitalize on the outrage of voters who might see his premiership, falsely, as the only bulwark against Islam taking over the country, argued journalist and author Debasish Roy Chowdhury in Time magazine.
Celebrated Indian author Arundhati Roy has dubbed Modi’s India a “Hindu fascist enterprise,” added the Arab News. Speaking to the Wire, an India-based news website, she also warned that the prime minister’s policies could break up the country, though she thought that most Indians didn’t want that outcome from his rule.
Meanwhile, police have cracked down in the wake of the protests that erupted after Sharma’s remarks, prompting accusations that Modi was using the outrage as an excuse for a draconian backlash against his Muslim critics. As Vice News reported, authorities demolished the home of activist Afreen Fatima a day after her father, another activist, was arrested for his role in the protests. Indian laws don’t allow for such destruction but it tends to happen more frequently where the Bharatiya Janata Party controls local government.
Some who defend the BJP party noted that it did move to punish those statements. But they admit that kind of reaction is a first.
Others say it’s just another example of India’s ugly history of anti-Islamic politics, with more to come. “The diplomatic kerfuffle is unlikely to draw any long-term red lines around the Hindu right wing’s anti-Muslim rhetoric,” wrote journalist Bharka Dutt in a Washington Post opinion piece. “If anything, positions might become even more hardline.”
Case in point: Delhi police arrested a prominent Muslim journalist on Monday, accusing him of insulting religious beliefs on social media, CNN reported.
Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, which debunks misinformation in the Indian media, is a regular critic of Modi and the BJP, especially for their alleged crackdown on the rights of Muslims.
He was held overnight for violating two sections of the Indian Penal Code – they relate to maintaining religious harmony.