India doesn’t care what the US Commission on International Religious Freedom says about how we treat our minorities. But don’t just blame Narendra Modi or the BJP for it. India has never cared much about this report in the past either.
Of late, Western institutions, scholars and media have criticised India over Article 370 dilution and clampdown in Kashmir, and over NRC and CAA. But India hasn’t been deterred. Instead, it has fed into the political narrative of ‘the West is biased against India’ and the ‘West is colluding with Indian liberals and anti-nationals’.
As long as Western leaders like Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron continued heaping praise on Modi and hugging him, it didn’t quite matter that the institutions in those countries thought otherwise.
Calling India out
Recently, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) slammed India in its report over the treatment of Muslims and other minorities, designating it as a “Country of Particular Concern” for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.” “We are seeing impunity for violence by non-state actors committed against religious minorities (in India),” USCIRF chair Tony Perkins said.
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) April 28, 2020
The USCIRF put India on the list of 15 nations, which includes Pakistan, China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia among others, for the first time since 2004. But New Delhi has rejected the report, calling it “biased”, “tendentious” and “misrepresentation at new levels”.
New Delhi had similarly rejected the USCIRF report in 2015 highlighting the forcible “reconversion” of Christian minorities by Hindu groups, saying “the report appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its Constitution and its society”. “We take no cognisance of the report,” then-foreign ministry spokesperson had said. Over the years, the Indian government, including under the Congress party, has dismissed the USCIRF’s report. The Manmohan Singh government in 2009 had termed the US panel’s move to place India under the ‘watch list’ as “regrettable”.
But this international criticism has its roots in the 2002 Gujarat riots and in the accusations against Modi for his “reluctance” in taking action against the perpetrators, since the USCIRF had first listed India among the ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ in 2004. The group had also criticised India’s treatment of Christian missionaries, and included the 1999 murder of Graham Staines and his two children by Hindu extremists in Orissa (now Odisha).
The 2020 report highlights the fall in India’s religious tolerance after the BJP returned to power in May 2019, calls out Home Minister Amit Shah’s reference to Muslim migrants as ‘termites’, Yogi Adityanath’s comment that the anti-CAA-NRC protesters in Shaheen Bagh must be fed bullets and not biryani, and the failure of the Delhi Police to protect Muslim citizens when their neighbourhoods were set ablaze in February 2020. The USCIRF accused the BJP of having “allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship” and engaging in hate speeches that incite violence.
BJP MLA @Brijbhushanbjp threatens Muslim vegetable vendor in front of his kid. 'बस्ती में दिख नही जाना तुम लोग, नही तोह मार मार के ठीक कर देंगे, मुसलमान होकय अपना नाम झूट बोलते हो'.
News link : https://t.co/PEM05T6S6k pic.twitter.com/PTS590pkg2
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) April 29, 2020
The invincible BJP
Western media and human rights bodies have been calling India out over harassment of religious minorities. A New York Times editorial titled ‘Mr Modi’s Perilous Embrace of Hindu Extremists’ hit out at Modi, under whose watch the Godhra killings took place, for appeasing his Hindutva base and demonising Muslims. The TIME magazine in 2019 called Modi “India’s Divider in Chief”. In response, the BJP attacked the Indian author of the article over his Pakistani roots.
In December 2019, the US Congress introduced a resolution urging India to remove the restriction on Kashmir after Article 370 was diluted. The Seattle City Council also passed a resolution against India’s stringent anti-Muslim law, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), calling them a tool to isolate Indian Muslims. The US lawmakers also expressed concern during the Northeast Delhi riots, saying that the “deadly surge of religious intolerance in India is horrifying.” Moreover, human rights monitoring group Amnesty International has been constantly trying to communicate with India over its lack of religious freedom and rampant Islamophobia.
However, nothing really has changed as far as the fate of Indian Muslims is concerned, from Babri Masjid demolition to Gujarat riots to cow vigilantism that has resulted in lynching of many Muslims. In fact, with the BJP ruling at the Centre and in several states, the party has become invincible in the past few years, with its elected leaders asking people not to buy groceries from Muslims, a junior finance minister inciting slogans that call for shooting dead of protesters branded as “traitors”, and another minister calling for a check on protesting Muslims who otherwise will “rape and kill”. The idea of transforming India into a Hindu rashtra is happening and no matter what international bodies say, Modi’s Hindutva brigade doesn’t seem like it would stop.
Vicious circle of Islamophobia
India’s Hindu majority, the ‘silent’ Indians, and the ruling BJP love it when Donald Trump comes to India, hugs Modi, or organises ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event to welcome the Indian PM in the US. But they will not flinch an eye on the atrocities committed against Muslims even after repeated attempts of international organisations to convey that stigmatisation of Indian Muslims must stop. This clearly shows that the West matters to Modi and to the majority of Indians only when it is about business and strategic ties to remain in the US’ power circle.
Modi’s silence and the venom unleashed by his party’s IT cell go hand in hand. The IT cell disseminates misinformation, triggers non-stop hate with propaganda content such as “Muslim matlab atankwadi’, ‘Mulla jihadi’ etc..
In fact, what seems to matter more is if Muslim nations in the Middle East criticise India.
After the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Kuwaiti government and UAE royal Princess Hend Al Qassimi rang alarm bells on India’s Islamophobia, foreign minister S. Jaishankar made a few phone calls to make sure this doesn’t affect diplomatic ties. The BJP leadership made some effort to reach out — like Modi asking Muslims to pray more during Ramzan to fight Covid-19 — because it knows that the Arab world is now watching.
But Indian Muslims know that this is done solely to maintain India’s relations with the Gulf nations and will not change the Hindutva agenda of the ruling BJP. Hashtags full of hate, fake videos with captions demonising Muslims will continue to flood people’s phones and the government will do nothing to penalise its ‘non-state actors’ for engaging in violence against Muslims.
Views are personal.