Author : Dr Amna Shabi


Narendra Modi, the Bhartiya Janta Party’s parliamentary leader, started his prime ministership’s first tenure after swearing in as the 14th PM of India on 26 May 2014. This gave momentum to Hindutva ideology in India, which is a political code of maxims encompassing the cultural justification of Hindu nationalism and the belief in establishing Hindu hegemony in India. With this agenda to achieve, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has always been malevolent against the “internal threats” – as mentioned by Golwalkar in his Bunch of Thoughts – namely, the communists, the Christians and the Muslims. As per the RSS hypothesis, these people have ruined India. Especially naming Muslims, the RSS followers believe that the Muslims raided India, desecrated their places of worship, looted their treasures, raped their women, did mass conversions of the Hindus and ruled for 600 years. Therefore, if, once again, these Muslims gain competence and become powerful, they have the potential to devastate once again and tumble the nation. As an automatic consequence, Muslims have had to bear with various incidences of communalism and discrimination.

Indian Muslims have always dealt with emotions of malice, hatred and animosity. These feelings remained under wraps before 2014. Post-2014, these incidents have obtained governmental patronage. Muslims in India are being targeted by vile propaganda, intimidation and mob violence.

Anti-Muslim hate speech incidents have averaged more than one a day in 2023. There were 255 documented incidents of hate speech gatherings targeting Muslims in the first half of 2023. From Union Minister Anurag Thakur’s phrase “desh ke gaddaro ko goli maaro saalo ko” (shoot the traitors of the nation, using pejorative slang) to PM Modi’s comment of kapdo se pehchhaney jayenge (their attire can recognise them), have been documented as use of disparaging and derogatory language against a group based on their religious identity. Activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad said hate “flows from the top” in India. “Hate is a state policy and used for political mobilisation”, she said.

A project of homogenisation

The BJP’s attempt to culturally homogenise Hindus started with the renaming of places in an overtly Hindu vocabulary and progressed to new strategies of bulldozing Muslim monuments and ordering archaeological excavations to find Hindu roots at Muslim religious sites. In recent times, the Mughal monuments have been under the scanner. Even the globally acclaimed Taj Mahal has not been spared. Far-right Hindu groups claim, again without any evidence, that it was a Hindu temple. The illegal destruction of the Mughal-era Babri Masjid served as a declaration of a mute war cry against history. But Babri was not destined to be the only mosque to be demolished; instead, it was only the first of many monumental martyrs to follow. The slogan, “Babri to bas jhanki hai, Kashi Mathura baki hai” (Babri is only a glimpse; Kashi and Mathura are yet to happen), attests to the longing that persists even today. A list of such Muslim landmarks and monuments marked for demolition has been in broad public circulation for quite some time.

In 2019, Modi’s government enacted the citizenship law, which is seen to discriminate against Muslims. This new citizenship law, which was an amendment to a 1955 legislation, allowed Indian citizenship to “persecuted” minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan but made no reference to Muslims. The BJP has made every effort to redefine the “citizen” to fit within its Hindutva ideology and has, in the process, marginalised Muslim citizens. Updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam in December 2015 is a textbook example. To be included in the NRC, residents were required to produce official documents demonstrating their “Indian roots” on or before 24 March 1971. In a country like India, where lack of documentation is a significant issue (due, among other things, to a shortage of human and financial resources), marginalised Muslims have become even more disadvantaged. Sanjay Jha, the spokesperson of the main opposition Congress party, stated that the law is “part of a deeper divisive BJP’s political strategy to polarise India, hence the exclusionary element of religion in the Citizenship Amendment Bill,”.

Recent political developments

The passage of the CAA and fears over a potential NRC triggered a wave of peaceful demonstrations across India, with Muslim women leading the sit-ins at various places, including at Shaheen Bagh, a working-class Muslim-dominated neighbourhood in southeast Delhi, which turned into the epicentre of the protests. Irked by the demonstrations, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) encouraged their supporters to suppress the sit-ins and even “shoot” the protesters. The hate speeches led to an outbreak of religious riots in the Northeastern parts of Delhi in the last week of February 2020, killing more than 50 people, most of them Muslims, while dozens of houses and mosques were torched. The police, accused by victims and witnesses of colluding with Hindu mobs during the violence, made a series of arrests of anti-CAA activists, charging them under a stringent “terror” law called the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Meeran Haider, a PhD student at the Jamia Millia Islamia University; Asif Iqbal Tanha, a third-year undergraduate Persian language student at the Jamia Millia Islamia University; Shifa Ur Rehman, president of the Jamia Millia Islamia Alumni Association, were some of the students arrested during this period. Jawaharlal Nehru University student activist Umar Khalid, one of the main accused in the Delhi riots case, was arrested on 14 September 2020. FIR 59 had named him as the main conspirator behind the Delhi riots and had charged him with UAPA along with other charges of rioting and criminal conspiracy. Sharjeel Imam, a research scholar at JNU, was arrested after a video of him allegedly making ‘anti-national’ comments and allegedly calling for a “chakka jam” was widely circulated online. Journalists like Siddique Kappan and Aasif Sultan were also taken into custody on account of baseless allegations. PhD student of Jamia Millia Islamia University, Safoora Zargar, a Muslim of Kashmiri descent, was accused of being part of a conspiracy to cause riots and of making an inflammatory speech on 23rd February 2020 and thus arrested. At this time, she was pregnant. She happened to spend four months of her pregnancy in Tihar Jail. All these arrests are add-ons to the BJP’s agenda of Muslim marginalisation, to withhold them from educational empowerment and financial empowerment, and finally being able to term them as second-class citizens living in India under the mercy of the Hindus.

Media propaganda at its peak

As if all these things weren’t enough, propaganda films that demonise Muslims are being showcased in India. Movies made in these years include The Kashmir Files (2022), Padmaavat (2018), Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016), Tanhaji (2020), and recently, the film endorsed by the PM, The Kerala Story (2023). All these movies have an anti-Muslim, anti-Islam slant blaming the Indian Muslim community for following a barbaric, oppressive, harsh, uncivilised religion. The problem with the anti-Muslim film is that they cherry-pick incidents and don’t see it from a larger historical perspective. These films serve the purpose of the mental manipulation of the audience’s understanding of history and give a push to the ruling party’s majoritarian political agenda. In the case of Kashmir Files, the film blamed Kashmiri Muslims for it, while they had protected the minority Hindus. In the Kerala story, it is told that 32,000 Hindu women were converted to Islam and sent to Iraq and Syria to serve the jihadis fighting there. The allegation is only three women were found to be involved in such activity; among them, two were Muslims, and one was Hindu converted to Islam.

Lastly, not to forget the Muslim attire that has consistently received backlash. Be it the skullcap, kurta pyjama or the most disparaged hijab. The government of Karnataka, at a point, had even banned the hijab in educational institutions, thus crushing at its feet the constitutional right of freedom of religion.


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