June 14, 2022
ISLAMABAD – THE controversy sparked by the vile, hurtful comments made about the Holy Prophet (PBUH) by a BJP leader refuses to die down, with the Indian state cracking down on protesters with immense brutality.
Two protesters died when police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in the eastern city of Ranchi on Friday, as protests against the sacrilegious remarks, and the BJP government’s insensitive handling of the matter, have spread to many parts of India. As per media reports, hundreds of protesters have been rounded up by police while disturbing videos have emerged of law enforcers torturing demonstrators in custody.
Rallies against the offensive remarks have been held in various Muslim countries, including Pakistan, but the response of the Indian state towards its own Muslim citizens exercising their fundamental right to protest has been marked by ruthlessness. One particularly shocking episode occurred in Allahabad, where police detained the mother, sister and father of student activist Afreen Fatima and surrounded her house to force her to surrender.
Instead of soothing the anger of its Muslim citizens and trying to heal the wounds of division, the Indian state has unleashed the brute force of the law to beat them into submission. Suffice to say, the BJP is heading into very dangerous territory with this ham-fisted approach.
While under Narendra Modi’s rule India’s Muslims have been systematically marginalised through discriminatory laws, the targeting of Islam’s most sacred symbols by a member of the ruling party has crossed a red line.
In this regard Foreign Minister Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari has rightly asked the UN not to remain silent on the sensitive issue, while the Foreign Office has also slammed the “indiscriminate and widespread” use of brute force against protesters. The Muslim world in particular needs to speak with one voice, especially the energy-rich Middle Eastern states that India is worried about alienating. Through the OIC a strong message must be sent stating that Islamic sacred symbols must be respected, and that vicious treatment of Indian Muslims will not be tolerated. Moreover, India’s Western friends must also tell the ‘world’s largest democracy’ that it cannot deal with its Muslim citizens in such a violent manner.
The sad fact is that the monster of Hindutva has been eating away at the innards of Indian secularism for decades. India’s hard right has never accepted its Muslim citizens, viewing them as eternal ‘outsiders’, spiritual heirs of foreign invaders polluting the ‘pure’ character of the Hindu rashtra.
However, while the Sangh Parivar’s criticism of Muslim emperors and warriors of old was tolerated, the targeting of Islam’s sacred figures by spokespersons of the ruling party just to please its rabid vote bank was a step too far. The Indian state needs to take immediate steps to end the crackdown on Muslims, and rein in the hateful forces trying their best to ignite the fires of communalism.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2022