June 14, 2022
ISLAMABAD – THAT The controversy sparked by a BJP leader’s vile, hurtful comments about the Holy Prophet (PBUH) refuses to be silenced as the Indian state cracks down on protesters with immense brutality.
Two protesters died when police opened fire on unarmed protesters in the eastern city of Ranchi on Friday, as protests against the BJP government’s outrageous remarks and insensitive handling of the matter spread to many parts of India. According to media reports, hundreds of protesters have been rounded up by police, while disturbing videos have surfaced of law enforcement torturing protesters in custody.
Rallies against the offending remarks were held in various Muslim countries, including Pakistan, but the Indian state’s response to its own Muslim citizens, who were exercising their basic right to protest, was ruthless. A particularly shocking episode occurred in Allahabad, where police arrested the mother, sister and father of student activist Afreen Fatima and surrounded their house to force them to surrender.
Rather than appease the anger of its Muslim citizens and seek to heal the wounds of division, the Indian state has unleashed the brute force of the law to force them into submission. Suffice it to say that the BJP is entering very dangerous territory with this clumsy approach.
While India’s Muslims have been systematically marginalized by discriminatory laws under Narendra Modi’s rule, the attack on 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 urged the UN not to remain silent on this sensitive issue, while the Foreign Ministry has also criticized the “indiscriminate and widespread” use of brute force against protesters. The Muslim world in particular needs to speak with one voice, particularly the energy-rich Middle East that India fears is alienating. A strong message must be sent through the OIC stating that Islamic sacred symbols must be respected and that malicious treatment of Indian Muslims will not be tolerated. Moreover, India’s western friends of the “world’s largest democracy” must also say that it cannot be so violent with its Muslim citizens.
The sad fact is that the monster Hindutva has been gnawing at the guts of Indian secularism for decades. India’s hard right has never accepted its Muslim citizens, viewing them as perpetual “outsiders,” spiritual heirs to foreign invaders who pollute the “pure” character of Hindu Rashtra.
But while the Sangh Parivar’s criticism of Muslim emperors and ancient warriors was tolerated, the targeting of the ruling party’s spokespersons at the holy figures of Islam just to please their rabid vote bank went a step too far. The Indian state must take immediate steps to end the crackdown on Muslims and rein in the hateful forces that are doing their best to stoke the fires of communalism.
Published in Dawn, June 13, 2022