In India, the new year began with a malicious attack on the country’s Muslims. On January 1, pictures of more than 100 Muslim women appeared on an app called Bulli Bai, claiming that they were “for sale as maids”. Among the targets were prominent journalists, actresses, and activists.
The apparent attempt to sexualize and silence politically active and socially prominent Muslim women has angered India’s 200 million Muslim community. After a huge backlash, the app was taken down, and several people were arrested in connection with the incident.
But this was only the latest in a series of Islamophobia incidents in India.
On the last day of 2021, for example, a leading national daily published an outright anti-Islam ad that was funded by the government of Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state. Just a few weeks ago, several Hindu far-right leaders openly called for a genocide against Muslims at a three-day religious summit held in the northern Indian city of Haridwar.
Also in December, far-right Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made connections between Muslim figures from India’s distant history and present-day “terrorism and religious extremism” in two of his public speeches, implying that India’s Muslims should be held responsible and punished for the crimes. allegedly committed by their “ancestors”.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) declared that the upcoming state assembly election could be described as “80 to 20 percent”, not subtly hinting that he sees the state election as a battle Among the Hindus, who make up 80 percent of the state’s population, and the Muslim minority of 20 percent.
Anti-Muslim propaganda perpetrated by India’s elected and unelected leaders in 2021 has also been supported by the country’s scandalous anti-Islam media, as well as anti-Muslim laws and policies that have been passed or proposed in several states.
Muslims in India have been feeling under threat since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. But in the past year, hostility towards this community has become more visible. Today, far-right Hindu nationalists, sometimes with support and encouragement from the government and local authorities, are making it clear to Muslims that they are no longer seen as equal citizens of their own country. Their dietary habits and religious rituals are under attack and even criminalized. Muslim women are humiliated and harassed simply for being Muslim. The livelihoods of Muslims are under threat. There are calls for the genocide of Muslims. It is no longer safe to be a Muslim in BJP India.
Christians are also facing increasing attacks
However, Muslims are not the only religious minority targeted by the country’s increasingly emboldened far right. Christians across India also face similar hatred and violence. Laws prohibiting conversion are being enacted in state after state, and Christians are blamed for forcibly converting them to poor Hindus and tribes. This turns public opinion against the Christian denominations. Christian Sunday prayers are frequently disrupted, churches are under attack, and priests are being beaten.
As veteran journalist John Dayal recently reported, “Violent Hindu mobs have attacked churches, Christian prayer congregations and groups celebrating Christmas in at least 16 cities and towns” in the past month. Such incidents have been seen in states across the country, from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in the north. to Karnataka in the south. According to the United Christian Forum, at least 460 attacks against Christians were recorded last year in India.
Under the leadership of the BJP, India has become one of the most dangerous countries for Muslims and Christians in the world. They are subjected to physical, psychological and economic persecution. Laws are passed to criminalize their religious practices, food habits and even their businesses. On top of discriminatory laws, they are routinely subjected to threats and physical violence. The media, as well as the television and film industry, are biased against them. Perhaps most importantly, the country’s elected rulers are constantly dehumanizing and even demonizing them in order to further their political agenda.
2021 was the year of fear, violence and harassment for Muslims and Christians in India. And as the Polly Bay incident has shown, attacks by the Hindu far-right on religious minorities are likely to continue in force in the new year.
But the fight for India’s identity and soul is far from over. Resistance against violent majority policies is slowly growing in the country, and many who believe in democracy and human rights are fighting tirelessly to save India’s national unity and secular identity.
The Muslims of India are no longer standing up to the attacks against them. When they found out that they had been “put up for sale” on the so-called “auction app”, for example, Muslim women refused to be intimidated and filed a series of First Information Reports (FIR) to pressure authorities to find those responsible. When it became clear that Muslims would not leave the case, security forces – who had all ignored similar crimes against Muslims in the past – took swift action, arresting four people believed to be behind the app.
Meanwhile, a new group of Muslim journalists and activists is working tirelessly to record and document incidents of Islamophobia and attacks across the country, and they are calling for state institutions to be held accountable. Because of their efforts, state authorities are increasingly struggling to ignore or downplay the abuses Muslims face. These journalists and activists, with the support of the broader Muslim community and many democratic-minded Indians, are working to ensure that recent calls for genocide against Muslims in Haridwar do not remain unpunished. Thanks to increased public pressure, the police have already announced the opening of an investigation into the incident.
Some of India’s leading institutions, which still maintain the country’s secular constitution, are also helping minorities resist the wave of majority oppression and violence. For example, the Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will urgently hear a petition calling for the arrest and prosecution of people who have engaged in hate speech and incited violence against Muslims in Haridwar. The court also recently ordered Tripura police to refrain from taking any criminal action against Muslims who speak or write about the anti-Muslim incident in the state in October and November 2021.
Resistance against majority violence in India is increasing, as it is compelled to. The BJP will remain in power until at least 2024 and its leaders are unlikely to abandon their anti-Muslim and anti-Christian rhetoric anytime soon. Religious minorities raise their voice, because for them silence is no longer an option. They are fighting for their rightful place in their homeland – they are fighting for their survival.
Efforts by India’s religious minorities and their allies to document and draw attention to attacks and threats against Muslims and Christians, as well as actions by the Supreme Court, will undoubtedly help slow the tide of violence against the majority in the country. But India cannot heal and once again become a country where different religious communities live together in harmony on their own. The international community also needs to recognize and take a stand against routine harassment and threats of genocide against Muslims and Christians in the country.
If we look at past atrocities, we can clearly see how the silence of the international community against the growing hatred and violence against persecuted communities has paved the way for genocide.
Today, many powerful and “democratic” countries, which present themselves as the protectors of human rights around the world, refrain from condemning crimes against religious minorities in India because they see India as an important strategic ally against China or its main trading market. And not anger.
But if the democratic nations of the world remain silent and allow India to continue on this path, the country could soon descend into civil war. India is at war with itself and cannot buy other countries’ products nor help them contain China’s influence. All countries in the region and beyond will suffer if sectarian violence rips apart the world’s largest democracy.
But this bleak scenario is not inevitable. Various religious communities lived peacefully in India for long periods in the past, and they can do so again. Muslims and Christians resist the violence of the majority, which is supported by the Government of India, and with the help of those who want India to remain a secular democracy where all its citizens feel safe, they can still win this battle for the soul of their country.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.