Former media head of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, Naveen Jindal, tweeted a few days ago, asking why Prophet Muhammad married Lady Aisha when she was only 10 years old. Similar offensive statements about the Prophet and his wives were made by BJP Spokesperson Nupur Sharma. These unacceptable statements led to an escalation of official and popular anger in several countries in the Arab and Islamic world, amid widespread calls via social media for boycotting Indian goods.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the statements of BJP, which were insulting to Prophet Muhammad, stressing its permanent rejection of attempts to prejudice the symbols of Islam, and its refusal to prejudice all religious figures and symbols. Also, Pakistan said in a statement that it “condemns in the strongest possible terms” the “extremely offensive” statements, and calls on the international community to take immediate measures to avert what it described as the worsening situation of Islamophobia in India.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also issued a statement strongly condemning the insults issued by the official in the ruling party in India towards the Prophet Muhammad. In a statement, the organization called on “the Indian authorities to confront firmly these abuses and all forms of insults to the Holy Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, and the Islamic religion, and to bring the instigators, those involved, and the perpetrators of violence and hate crimes against Muslims to justice, and to hold the parties behind them accountable.”
Nevertheless, despite the clear demands of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and despite the widespread state of anger and the summoning of Indian ambassadors in some Arab and Islamic countries such as Qatar and Kuwait, New Delhi did not issue an immediate comment, but its embassy in Doha issued a statement saying that “firm measures” were taken against ” Marginal elements” made derogatory statements, without providing any other details. In addition, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which is frequently accused of targeting the country’s Muslim minority, said it “respects all religions”.
Certainly, these flimsy measures by the ruling party to stop the official spokesmen were not enough to calm the Arab and Islamic countries that look with grief at the persecution of Muslims in India, especially after the current ruling party took over. The current crisis is nothing but a new incident added to a series of previous accusations leveled against the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for adopting policies that exclude Muslims, since Narendra Modi’s rise to the premiership in 2014.
A large number of international human rights organizations and local activists, as well as retired security leaders in India, assert that hate speech there has reached dangerous new levels. On February 8, 1922, to name a few, The New York Times published an article by Mujib Mishaal, Sohsini Raj, and Hari Kumar in which they dealt with the rise of hate speech in India by Hindu right-wing parties that comes close to calling for genocide against Muslims. This is after monks in India called in front of a large crowd and hundreds of thousands via the Internet for violence and the killing of nearly two million Muslims, in an ethnic cleansing process similar to that targeting the Rohingya in Myanmar, in one of India’s holiest cities.
Most importantly, international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the political cover provided by President Modi to racism against Muslims, who make up 14% in a country with a population of about one billion and four hundred thousand people.
The current ruling party in India is a right-wing populist party that adopts a Hindu nationalist discourse that does not hide its major fanaticism and prejudices. It is also no secret that this party is working to replace any mosque with Hindu temples. Therefore, the party strongly criticized the performance of the Congress party and its secular practices that ruled India for many years. This was the starting point of the BJP and its distinction from the rest of the Indian parties that embrace secular principles and do not believe in the superiority of one religion over another. Thus, one of the most important incidents that foreshadowed a future marred by the persecution of Muslims was the event of the demolition of the Babri Mosque, which resulted in clashes that claimed the lives of a thousand Indians, most of whom were Muslims.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, which was voted on by both houses of the Indian Parliament in 2019, is another very clear example of the persecution of Muslims in India. This law legislates to facilitate the granting of citizenship to refugees from minorities belonging to all religions of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, i.e. Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jains; But it excludes only one religion, which is Islam.
The Indian government under the current ruling party has also attempted to pass a law requiring all citizens of Assam to prove their right to hold citizenship based on their history of residing in the country since 1971. Under this law, the state has the right to strip the citizenship of millions of Muslims, displacing them from their land in Assam, northern Eastern India, which they have inhabited for dozens of years, on the pretext that they are not original Indians and have come from the state of Bangladesh, unless they prove that they came to Assam before March 24, 1971, which is the date of the establishment of the state of Bangladesh. This law was not implemented after the widespread protests that hit the country. But certainly, under the Muslim majority in this state, it was clear that the Islamic religion was the target, and that the widespread denationalization of its population (nearly two million people) would gain Hindus a demographic balance under flagrant religious and ethnic discriminatory criteria.
Undoubtedly, the biased practices of the current ruling party erase the secular political, economic and social liberal legacy of Gandhi and Nehru and destroy the ancient history of India, which earned it the title of the largest democracy in the world. Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, the idea that Hindus equal a nation, represents the dominant ideology of the BJP. This populist conception of the nation directs the party towards anti-secular principles and opposes the idea of a homogeneous Indian people. Hindu nationalism opposes pluralism, which is the basis of liberal democracy and rejects any potential opponents of the nation. In this sense, the BJP supports majority rule, made up of Indians or Hindus, and restricts the rights of minorities.
What is currently happening in India is a new example of the intolerance and chaos that could prevail in the world if the populist right-wing parties were able to reach power. The Indian case confirms that populism is a threat to civil society and civil liberties, the most important of which is freedom of religion and belief.
Dr. Marwa El-Shinawy: Assistant Professor at International American University for Specialized Studies