Religion, in its most basic sense as a belief in an external force beyond humanity, is thought to have been present since the inception of humanity itself. There is an inherent link between the existence of religion and the development of human culture and civilization. From the dawn of religious beliefs integrated into human existence, these religious frameworks have embedded the guiding principles for human life. Without delving into a discussion on religion, the attempt to privatize religion during the modern era has paradoxically led to its heightened presence in the public sphere in the postmodern era.
This is evident in India through the ascendance of Hindu nationalism, with political movements and parties advocating for a more pronounced role of Hindu identity in the public and political spheres.
This has led to the reassertion of religious symbols, practices, and rhetoric in public life. Political parties in independent India have consistently sought to create divisions between Hindus and Muslims, exploiting religious and other factors to secure political support. Hindu rightist parties often emphasize historical grievances and cultural subordination of Hindus under Muslim rule to appeal to Hindu voters.
Presently, the political discourse in India is dominated by discussions on ‘communalism,’ where Hindu rightist parties are accused of promoting communal tensions. Over the last three to four decades, radical Hinduism has emerged as a strong force in Indian politics. In their effort to assert Hindu nationalism, commonly known as Hindutva, and to regain the perceived loss of Hindu dignity and identity, Hindu nationalist leaders frequently exploit Hindu-Muslim antagonism by propagating xenophobic discourse, resulting in violence against the Muslim community.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the far-right ruling political party since 2014, is the primary political proponent of this ideology. However, a range of other political and cultural entities, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh (RSS), VHP, Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini, among others, collectively form what is referred to as the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh Parivar, with the RSS at its core, is recognized as a network of organizations sharing a common ideological foundation.
The RSS pursues a lasting political and ideological objective of establishing a Hindu Rashtra by promoting Hindutva.
To achieve this aim, advocates of Hindutva engage in the radicalization of youth and children, fostering conservative and fictional ideologies that, unfortunately, contribute to the rise of Islamophobia.
Indian democracy, once held in high regard for its scale and duration, has encountered a weakening trend due to the surge of xenophobic nationalism and escalating threats against religious minorities, particularly against Muslims. While these tendencies have historical roots, their exacerbation has become incredibly prominent in the current climate marked by the ascendancy of Hindu nationalism. The systematic persecution of Muslims in post-independent India officially commenced with the Babri Mosque episode in Ayodhya.
On December 6, 1992, approximately 300,000 Hindu demonstrators, instigated by Hindu nationalist leaders, breached a police cordon and razed the Babri Mosque. This mosque, constructed in 1528 by Babar, the Muslim ruler who established the Mughal dynasty in India, became the focal point of religious and political tensions. The Ram Temple, consecrated on January 22, 2024, and built on the site of a demolished mosque, symbolizes the success of Modi’s assertive Hindu nationalist politics.
The 2002 Gujarat riots, characterized by significant loss of life, displacement, and property damage among the Muslim community, have been implicated in allegations of ethnic cleansing as well. This transpired with the tacit approval of Narendra Modi, who held the position of Chief Minister then. The revocation of Article 370 in August 2019 entailed the withdrawal of the special status of Kashmir and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, which marked the first instance in which religion was explicitly employed as a criterion for citizenship under the law, primarily targeting Muslims.
Pro-BJP politicians proactively contributed to the proliferation of hate against Muslims, primarily through the spread of misinformation and fake news on social media.
This surge in animosity was because Tablighi Jamaat organized a gathering, as their annual practice, in March 2020 in New Delhi, which subsequently became a focal point for the spread of COVID-19, resulting in infections in more than 400 people. These facts indicate that India is no longer a democratic or a secular state.
Hindu fundamentalists assert that the realization of a flourishing Hinduism depends on the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra in India, viewing Muslims as perceived obstacles. Some extremists even advocate for the removal, if feasible, of this perceived hindrance. Muslims are positioned as a ‘constitutive outside,’ playing a role in shaping the narrative of a Hindu Rashtra. They are perceived as ‘enemies’ who are either targeted for exclusion or expected to assimilate into a Hindu national culture. This is fearsome as the implications are detrimental and warrant careful consideration.
According to John Burton’s theory of human needs, the actual source of conflict is the denial of those human needs that are common to all; for instance, security, social recognition of identity, and effective participation in those processes that determine the conditions of security of identity. These needs are non-negotiable, meaning they are essential and must be satisfied to avoid conflict and promote social stability.
Suppose the current trend of oppression against Muslims and their religious institutions in India, with tacit approval from the state, persists.
In that case, it seems plausible that a day may come when the Muslim community in India could resort to armed resistance against the state, as their identity, security, social status, and everything is in line. This can be attributed to the fact that in extreme cases, if peaceful avenues for addressing grievances are perceived as unavailable, individuals or groups may resort to more drastic measures, such as engaging in armed struggles. As India gradually heads into the shadow of peril, there are growing fears about internal stability.
The writer is an M.phil scholar of International Relations at SPIR, QAU, and Assistant Research Associate (ARA) at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).