THE unfortunate reality of India today is that Hindu extremists — egged on by their ideological fellow travellers in government — are constantly coming up with new ruses to make life for the country’s Muslim minority increasingly difficult. The latest controversy has emerged from the Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, where hardliners belonging to the Sangh Parivar have been protesting over Muslims offering Friday prayers outdoors.
For several months now, zealots have been showing up to prayers and heckling worshippers, accusing them of taking part in ‘land jihad’. The fact is that there are not enough mosques in the area, which has left local Muslims with no option but to hold prayers in vacant lots, particularly on Fridays when congregations are larger than usual.
However, behind the façade of adhering to civic codes lurks the monster of bigotry. The problem in BJP-ruled India is not where Muslims hold prayers. The ‘problem’ seems to be the community itself, as Hindu extremists want to wipe out all traces of Muslim culture and practices from the country. What is even more disturbing is that officialdom is standing by the fundamentalists; the chief minister of Haryana, where Gurgaon is located, has said namaz in open places “will not be tolerated”.
Of course, opposition to Muslim religious and cultural practices seems to be the natural choice for a ruling party whose ideological comrades proudly demolished the Babri Masjid. In fact, that dark day served as a harbinger for India’s Muslims regarding what was to come; the kar sevaks who helped destroy the Mughal-era mosque in Ayodhya have now captured power in New Delhi. Ever since Narendra Modi took power, life has become more and more difficult for India’s Muslims.
From facing accusations of ‘love jihad’ and violent vigilante attacks due to suspected cow slaughter to having to prove their antecedents in order to save their citizenship, Muslims in India face a systematic wave of discrimination and disenfranchisement. The brutal treatment of Kashmiris in the occupied region is another story altogether. Therefore, the confrontation over prayers in Gurgaon is an additional link in this disturbing chain. If the Indian state is serious about preserving its so-called secularism, it needs to ensure Muslims are allowed to practise their religion freely without any threat from violent elements. If not, the assumption that India’s secular order has been replaced by a Hindutva raj will only be proven true.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2021