Delhi and its discriminatory treatment of Muslims

Delhi and its discriminatory treatment of Muslims
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In the American media, the news from India is the Hindu-Muslim rioting in Delhi and the tragic deaths there. That is only a small part of the story, which is really about the future of Indian secularism and the role of Muslims amidst resurgent Hindu nationalism. 

The proximate cause of the protests and violence was the passage in December of an amendment to India’s citizenship law that provided a path to citizenship for refugees from India’s neighboring countries as long as those refugees were Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, or Buddhists.  

Muslims were explicitly excluded. That and an upcoming plan to register citizens throughout the country have caused Muslims who have lived in India for generations to fear that they could be declared illegal aliens if they cannot produce birth certificates or other documentation to prove their connection to India.

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Whether or not this fear is justified, it reflects a more profound concern among Muslims throughout India as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) implements its long-standing philosophy of “Hindutva.” The party describes this concept as India-first. Minorities worry that it is aimed at creating a nation with Hinduism at its heart; the words and actions of some party members lend credence to this. 

There is no shortage of secular voices raised against this trend. The opposition Congress Party, rooted in the secularism of Mahatma Gandhi, as well as smaller, regional political parties have warned of the dangers of altering long-standing secular laws and policies.

But as leaders like Yogi Adityanath, the BJP chief minister of India’s most populous state, assume positions of power, local police are taking their cues from their political leadership, and becoming partisan players in political and religious disputes. 

The report that Delhi police declined to get involved, at least initially when Hindus destroyed a local mosque, is only one example of what is happening across India’s northern Hindu heartland. 

Prime Minister Modi has done little or nothing to reassure Muslim citizens who see these trends as threatening their future. He has called for an end to the current violence. 

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But he has not been outspoken in condemning those who are committing that violence, nor has he called on the police to protect the Muslim community. 

He has shown no interest in altering the discriminatory legislation that prompted the current round of protests. He may be appealing to what he sees as his base. Still, neither he nor any future leader should want to marginalize further India’s 200 million Muslims or the broader international Muslim community.

It has long been a point of pride in India that Islamic extremism has found no sympathy among India’s Muslims. There has been no departure to the Middle East to fight alongside the Islamic State or al Qaeda.  

Terrorist attacks inside India, such as the Mumbai killings of 2010 and the attack on Parliament in 2001, have been traced to Pakistan. Indian Muslims have shown little if any sympathy for Pakistan’s policies and certainly not for violent attacks on national institutions.  

Especially in the south, Indian Muslims have often identified with their linguistic groupings (Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu) as much as with their religious heritage. 

But India cannot assume it will always be immune to homegrown extremism. Millions of Indian Muslims have worked for much of their adult lives in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia, and have come home exposed to the more extreme forms of Wahabist Islam.  

They grew up in a more secular India but now are home as respected elders who have absorbed an ethic that is focused on the primacy of their religion rather than Indian nationalism.  

The policies being implemented in Delhi and discriminatory treatment accorded by the policy and by government officials risk alienating a community that has been loyal to India since independence. They do not have another country to which to return. India is their home. 

Donald Camp is a non-resident, adjunct fellow and Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Camp is a retired senior foreign service officer whose career was divided between East and South Asia. He was most recently senior adviser on South and Central Asia at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in 2011. He was senior director for South and Central Asia on the National Security Council staff through August 2009. Before that, he was principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia.