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Fifth column

April 14, 2018
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The constituency of hate

Opinion

April 14, 2018

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Asifa was only eight years old when a Hindu extremist policeman abducted her and kept her inside a Hindu temple. For eight days, she was brutally gang-raped and given electric shocks before she was eventually strangled. Her body bore torture and burn marks, and her genitals were mutilated.

This gruesome incident took place in mid-January in Kathua, a Hindu-majority district in Jammu. The most macabre aspect of this crime is that the Hindutva forces came together to support the main culprit, Deepak Khajuria, and his accomplices. The newly-formed Hindu Ekta Manch (the Hindu Solidarity Front) held several solidarity marches for the offenders and received widespread support from various members of the Hindu community.

Earlier in the week, lawyers blocked the police from entering the court premises as they wanted to file the charge-sheet against the accused. The Kathua Bar Association even released a statement in support of their action and pilloried the government for failing to “understand the sentiments of the people”.

Since Indian Prime Minister Modi’s ascendance to power, the constituency of hate – mainly against Muslims – has increased manifold. In early February, BJP parliamentarian Vinay Katiyar asked Muslims to vacate India and live in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Such forms of intimidation have been issued from everywhere, including parliament, on a continual basis and are deliberate attacks on the community. They are seen as methodic insinuations in support of the Hindutva vision to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu nation by 2023.

To set the tone, one of the easiest ways is to issue threats to Muslims; initiate deadly violence against them; and destroy the symbols associated with their faith, such as Babri Masjid. In addition, part of this project is to assert claims over Muslim monuments, such as the recent declaration that the Taj Mahal is actually a Hindu temple called Tajo Mahalo. Similar claims have been advanced on several other Muslim symbols – both cultural and religious. The current government is also heavily rewriting history – from textbooks to official narratives – to not only excise the presence and contributions of Muslims but also to demonise them. In addition, all the visible syncretic markers of Indian society are being erased and dismantled at the peril of Indian Muslims and other minorities.

In such an atmosphere, even the so-called secular parties find it convenient to project themselves in terms of the Hindutva-flavoured narrative. The Congress Party is openly embracing what is being described as ‘soft Hindutva’ in order to stay politically relevant and in consonance with the majority sentiment. What this means for the future of India is that we might have to choose between those who want to deny us our rights through carnage – and, thereby, subsume our identity and demands through pernicious violence – and those who want to prevent our right-based claims by creating deliberate bureaucratic labyrinths that are fully aided by the benign but ossified structures of institutional violence.

It is important to note that the Congress Party has ruled India for over 40 years that saw hundreds of big and small incidents of organised anti-Muslim violence. Prior to the 1990s, we saw massive riots in Meerut, Maliana, Bhagalpur and other areas as well as acts of carnage in Mumbai and Ayodhya in the early 1990s that claimed the lives of hundreds of Muslims. In addition, scores of Muslim citizens were killed in 1987 by paramilitary forces in Hashimpura in one of the most brutal state-enacted mass murders in post-Independence India.

In the current milieu, Muslim life has been heavily securitised. They are seen and portrayed as terrorists, even if they are simply trying to live according to their customs and cultural mores. Even Muslim women – a majority of whom are illiterate – are cast as an existential danger to the country as they are portrayed as baby-producing factories. As a result, their acts of procreation or even their empty wombs offer a threat that has the potential to change the demographic balance of India.

Such a toxic narrative has been produced across the board by senior government officials – including ministers, governors of provinces, parliamentarians and Hindutva leaders – who have beckoned Hindus to have more babies to counter the so-called Muslim threat. On top of this, Muslims are continuously asked to go to Pakistan, which is unceasingly described as a vicious geography. Therefore, anyone who is either seen as an impediment to the dream of the Hindu Rashtra or does not conform to the Hindutva order must be banished to Pakistan.

Progressive groups or individuals have been squeezed to such an extent that their voices have become weak and sporadic. Any form of expression is nullified by an extremely militant media, which produces anti-Muslim propaganda on a daily basis. The drip-feeding of anti-Muslim hate has given rise to Islamophobia and anti-Muslim violence. This has occurred to such a dangerous degree that even incidents involving the rape and murder of Muslims like Asifa evoke no sympathy – except, of course, for the murderers and rapists. Anti-Muslim violence has not only been normalised but has also become desirable and commendable. As a corollary to this, hatred for Pakistan is an important and natural component of the narrative.

In this backdrop, it is crucial for Pakistan to understand the gravity of the situation and the importance of its role in stabilising the region. We cannot afford a prospect where both India and Pakistan are taken over by extremists whose only vocation is to peddle hatred and advance war as the only prescription for all our ills – regardless of whether they are historical in nature or current.

While challenging its own extremists from within, Pakistan must join hands with progressive groups and individuals in India to forge a peaceful and mutually beneficial future for the region. The world powers, particularly the US, might have an interest in provoking war and destruction in the region that mirrors what happened in the Middle East. But Pakistan must work with like-minded friends and neighbours, such as China, Turkey and Russia, to respond to the challenges posed by Indian extremism through measured and well-meaning actions. Matching the war rhetoric and hatred from India would be highly unprofitable and extremely irresponsible.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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