India gripped by a new wave of anti-Muslim violence
Several states in India have witnessed a surge in anti-Muslim communal violence in April during Hindu religious festivals.
Two people have been reported killed so far, with mosques desecrated, vandalised, and set on fire.
Saffron flags, a colour associated with Hindu nationalism, were planted on several mosques while Muslim properties, homes, and shops were set alight.
One man, 28-year-old Ibrish Khan, was killed in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh on 10 April, reportedly by a group of 7-8 people. Another unidentified 65-year-old was reported killed in Khambhat city, Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"Hate speeches, mob violence, and other anti-Muslim campaigns have created an atmosphere of fear and panic amongst the Muslim community in India"
Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was one of the states worst affected by anti-Muslim attacks.
Violence broke out in Khargone on 10 April when a group of Hindu nationalist organisations, including the Gauraksha Samiti (Committee of Cow Protectors), took part in religious processions on the Hindu festival of Ram Navami.
A parade of around 5,000 Hindus had marched through the city chanting provocative sectarian slogans and playing loud music in front of a mosque.
In Khargone, as in other states across India, hate-filled songs have become a feature of such processions. Known as ‘Saffron pop’, many call for the killing of Muslims and those opposed to Hindutva, the ruling BJP’s ideology, which seeks to turn India into a Hindu state.
Nawab, a 60-year-old Muslim from Khargone, was one of the victims. His property was looted and set on fire.
“First stones were pelted at our house. Then, my shop was set on fire. Around 1 am I called the police and told them that my shop was burnt down. Now, they are breaking into my home to come inside. They wanted to kill and burn me…. but the police did not arrive,” Nawab told The New Arab.
After calling again the police finally arrived, with the attackers fleeing the scene. By that time Nawab’s grocery store had already been looted and burnt down.
No FIR (First Information Report) has been filed on the incident and he is too scared to file a complaint with the police for fear of being targeted and attacked again. On 18 April, his son Ismail was beaten up by the police when he left his home to buy medicine.
According to Nawab, the violence broke out because the religious procession had gathered outside of the mosque at prayer time.
“The timing for the procession was until 3 pm. It was held around the mosque until 5 pm which was the time of prayer,” he said. The attacks continued late into the night.
The following day on 11 April, local authorities bulldozed 16 Muslim homes and 29 shops after accusations they had thrown stones at the Hindu religious procession.
International human rights watchdog Amnesty International called the demolitions collective punishment.
“The majority of demolished properties are owned by Muslims,” Amnesty India’s head Aakar Patel said.
“Such punitive demolition of family homes of suspects could also amount to collective punishment, in violation of international human rights law.”
The police in Madhya Pradesh mostly detained Muslims in connection with the communal violence.
"The state could have prevented these attacks by stopping genocidal rhetoric from becoming normalised amongst Hindutva mobs"
In addition to Madhya Pradesh, the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Delhi also witnessed anti-Muslim violence during the Hindu festivals of Nav Samvatsar, Hanuman Jayanti, and Ram Navami.
In Rajasthan’s Karauli, anti-Muslim violence broke out on 2 April. A fact-finding team found that 62 properties mostly belonging to Muslims were damaged and set alight.
In almost all these states the communal violence followed a similar pattern: Hindu religious processions passed through Muslim areas chanting provocative slogans and playing anti-Muslim songs.
Alishan Jafri, a journalist who covers anti-Muslim violence and hate speech in India, pointed to the silence of the state, and the inaction of the police against Hindu extremists, as the key reasons behind the communal violence.
“The state could have prevented these attacks by stopping genocidal rhetoric from becoming normalised amongst Hindutva mobs. Silence has emboldened those who now see anti-Muslim violence as a fun activity or a notable point on their CV,” he said.
“Even the actions by the state after the violence are cruel and unjust; the disproportional use of force, one-sided arrests, and the use of bulldozers against Muslims will only embolden the mobs to go a step further,” he said.
Calls for violence against Muslims have become common in India.
In December 2021 at a Dharma Sansad (religious assembly) attended by Hindu monks, several speakers made explicit calls for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims.
“Either get ready to be killed yourself or be ready to kill. Just like Myanmar, our police, our politicians, our army and every Hindu must pick up arms and organise an ethnic cleansing,” one speaker said.
The government has taken no action against the speakers or the event organisers.
Hate speeches, mob violence, and other anti-Muslim campaigns, including the hijab ban and social and economic boycotts, have created an atmosphere of fear and panic amongst the Muslim community, who make up around 14% of India’s population.
In response to these incidents of communal violence, opposition parties have failed to hold the BJP (which controls most states where violence occurred) accountable for its constitutional responsibilities.
They are often reluctant to condemn Hindu extremism for fear of losing votes from the majority community.
However, 13 parties have issued a joint statement accusing Modi of giving protection to Hindu mobs.
“We are shocked at the silence of the prime minister, who has failed to speak against the words and actions of those who propagate bigotry and those who, by their words and actions, incite and provoke our society," the statement said.
"This silence is an eloquent testimony to the fact that such private armed mobs enjoy the luxury of official patronage.”
Waquar Hasan is a Delhi-based journalist. He covers hate crimes and human rights abuses in India
Follow him on Twitter: @WaqarHasan1231