India: Muslims attacked, madrasas burned as Islamophobic attacks spike

India: Muslims attacked, madrasas burned as Islamophobic attacks spike
There has been an alarming uptick in anti-Muslim violence in India following a Hindu religious celebration at the end of March.
4 min read
12 April, 2023
Hindu nationalist violence against Muslims has been on the rise in India [Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

Multiple Muslim-owned shops in Jamshedpur, India were burned by a Hindu extremist mob on Sunday over the alleged desecration of a Hindu flag, amid an alarming uptick in anti-Muslim violence in India.

Videos circulating on social media show several buildings in the eastern Indian city burning in the night as people can be heard shouting 'Jai Shri Ram', a Hindu religious slogan that has been turned into a war cry by Hindu extremists. Police arrested 50 people and banned gatherings in the area in response.

Also on Sunday, six Muslims were attacked in a mosque by a group of armed men in a village in Haryana state in northern India according to local police. The attackers also vandalised mosque property, according to the Indian Express

These are just two episodes of the recent, alarming rise in violence against Muslims in India. Muslims have been beaten, their property burned, and their mosques and madrasas attacked since the end of March. 

The recent uptick in violence comes amid celebrations of Ram Navami. The festival and other Hindu celebrations like it have seen increased violence in recent years.

Processions organised in several parts of the country saw the mobs wielding swords and stopping outside mosques to chant incendiary and abusive slogans. 

On 31 March, members of a procession in the eastern city of Bihar Sharif attacked Muslims and their businesses, vandalising and burning shops.

The mob threw petrol bombs at the 110-year-old Madrasa Azizia and its adjoining library, destroying more than 4,500 rare and precious books in a devastating act of vandalism. 

One person died in the subsequent violence over the following days, while police said they had arrested 77 people. 

MP Asudduddin Owaisi blamed the local government and the organisers of the procession, saying the targeting of Muslim property "makes it clear that it was all part of a plan". 

A day earlier, T Raja Singh, a suspended leader from Prime Minister Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led a procession in Hyderabad where he made several inflammatory and hateful statements.

Singh,  who is out on bail after being charged with hatred and incitement, sang songs filled with anti-Muslim rhetoric, and stopped his procession outside a mosque before openly calling for violence against Muslims. 

Posters of Nathuram Godse - the assassin of India’s founding father MK Gandhi and reportedly a member of influential Hindu paramilitary group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - were also present during the rally. 

Many of the attacks are related to the consumption of beef. The slaughter of cows – which are considered holy in Hinduism – is already banned in 20 out of India’s 28 states, and police can make an arrest without a warrant.

This has emboldened extremists, who have carried out several recent attacks against Muslims suspected of consuming beef or being involved in cattle slaughter. In February, two Muslim men in Haryana were abducted by Hindu vigilantes and burned alive.

The accusations against Muslims are often falsified. On Monday, four members of a Hindu right-wing group were arrested after they allegedly slaughtered cows to frame Muslim men.

Academics and activists have largely blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  government for encouraging Hindu extremist violence. 

On Tuesday, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejected the claims that the government was sponsoring anti-Muslim violence, arguing: "India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, and that population is only growing in numbers.

If there is a perception, or if there's in reality, their lives are difficult or made difficult with the support of the state, [...] I would ask, [...] will the Muslim population be growing than what it was in 1947?"

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Hindu nationalism is the dominant worldview of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP, and his government has presided over waves of violence against minorities in India since it was elected in 2014.

Politicians and religious leaders have incited violence against India’s 213 million Muslims – in some cases urging their followers to take up arms and even calling for a genocide.