Activists at the 'Not in My Name' protest against vigilante violence in Mumbai in early July, 2017. Photo: PTI
Activists at the 'Not in My Name' protest against vigilante violence in Mumbai in early July, 2017. Photo: PTI

The violent and gruesome murder of a Muslim migrant worker in Rajasthan, India, has added yet another episode to the already rising menace of anti-Muslim fever in the world’s largest democracy.

The spiraling trend of hate crime in India is threatening to destabilize the social status of its largest minority community. India is home to about 180 million Muslims, which is the third-largest number among the Muslim-inhabited countries of the world, and the largest among non-Muslim-majority countries. Pew Research Group findings show that India is poised to have the largest Muslim population in the world by 2050.

Since the ascendance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the last general election, hardline right-wing Hindutva nationalists have asserted significant influence in the social spectrum. These extremist outfits often force people to follow their dictates, thereby undermining India’s secular harmony.

They have received worldwide notoriety through hate attacks over the consumption of beef. Referred to as cow vigilantes, these mostly fanatic outfits target the minority community on suspicion of possessing or marketing cow meat, which is considered a serious offense by Hindu traditions. Those traditions revere the cow as sacred and hence the slaughter of this animal is considered an attack on the beliefs of these extremist fanatics.

According to available statistics, 2017 has been the deadliest year in terms of incidents led by cow vigilantes, with 11 deaths registered as a result of attacks. Some 97% of all these incidents have occurred since the BJP’s assumption of power in May 2014, and 86% of those killed in attacks related to cow vigilantism were Muslims.

The latest attack in Rajasthan was the worst of recent attacks on the  Muslim community, on the back of the Indian administration’s reluctance to address previous hate crimes judicially. This reluctance to award speedy trials to instill safety for the minority communities is only helping fuel a climate of hatred in India.

Inflammatory remarks by leaders of the BJP and allied political parties with similar extremist ideologies are paving the way for the growth of such an environment. Even the official data presented to the Indian Parliament presents a gloomy outlook of declining tolerance in India. The BJP’s cow protection campaign has emboldened the extremist outfits to conduct vigilantism, which seems to be operating in some cases with the implicit approval of state authorities.

The growing mob attacks in India are not only being targeted against the Muslim community, but also against non-Indian communities. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is promoting Indian higher education to the world, mobs are targeting Africans pursuing studies in India, not to mention the cow vigilante incidents.

These hate attacks are in sharp contrast to Indians’ outrage at the killing of their own nationals living in other countries, such as the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla in the US state of Kansas early this year. Meanwhile the Indian authorities are doing little to curb such atrocities at home. This is like India ignoring its own brand of hate crime.

The extremist Hindutva outfits are using their propaganda channels to get Muslims deported, dubbing them “illegal migrants,” and the Indian Supreme Court had to intervene to stop the process of possible deportation of more than 4.8 million Indian Muslims living in the state of Assam. Although it brought some relief to them, the calls are growing from other Indian states as well, and they are only getting louder.

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Yogi Adityanath’s inflammatory remarks on minority communities.

Yogi Adityanath, the controversial firebrand chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest Muslim population in the country, has vowed to deport illegal immigrants, and naturally the Muslims there are fearing a backlash. This leader garnered much attention by giving several anti-minority hate speeches prior to his election. It seems India is about to shrug off tolerance from its outlook and don more nationalistic extremist attire.

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BJP-RSS agenda on “Akhand Bharat.”

The spillovers from these domestic developments will have impacts on India’s neighbors, especially its arch-rival Pakistan. The memories of the Gujarat riots of 2002 have not been erased.

The dream of “Akhand Bharat,” or a united India including other South Asian countries and parts of Myanmar and China, is being spoken on open platforms, which is not based on “inclusiveness” or collective well-being, but on Hindutva “exceptionalism.” Now the rising anti-Muslim sentiment in India is raising the fears of India’s transformation as a fascist heartland, which will only worsen tensions with its neighbors.

Khalid Ibn Muneer is an independent foreign affairs analyst with an engineering background based in Dhaka. He is a keen follower of South Asian and Middle Eastern affairs, and is an editor of the foreign affairs blog Qutnyti. He has also authored articles that were featured in Geopolitica.Ru, Daily New Age, Regional Rapport, Millat Times and South Asian Monitor.

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