Perilous Times for Muslims in India

Rukhsar, a Muslim woman who fled her home along with her family following Hindu-Muslim clashes triggered by a new citizenship law, reacts as she takes shelter in a relief camp in Mustafabad in the riot-affected northeast of New Delhi, India,. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

This week Hindus in India (and around the world) celebrated the Hindu festival of Holi, also known as the “Festival of Colors.” Jubilant crowds threw colored water and powders at one another during festivities. This ancient holiday commemorates the arrival of spring and it is meant to symbolize, among other things, good triumphing over evil.

In contrast, over the past two weeks crowds of Hindu extremists in New Delhi attacked Muslims peacefully protesting against a citizenship law that they say discriminates against Muslims. Violence raged for four days during which thousands were injured and 43 people were killed. The New York Times reports, “In August 2019, the government scrapped the statehood of India’s only Muslim-majority state of Kashmir and locked up hundreds of its politicians and activists without charge. In December 2019, the government approved a controversial citizenship law that expedites citizenship for every major religion in the region except Islam. Coupled with a citizenship test, observers worry the policies will disenfranchise India’s 200 million Muslims, 14 percent of the population.”

Elizabeth Seshadri, who practices law in the Madras High Court, recently wrote that “the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is a tool to devalue Islam’s association with India.”

When India became independent in 1947, they accepted people of all faiths, creeds, castes, languages and genders, equally and without discrimination as Indians. Over the past six years, there have been political moves to redefine the Constitutional inclusivity that determines citizenship. And religion-based hate crimes, from hangings in trees to burned bodies to mutilated victims, have increased in the last decade. Fear has been growing that violent Hindu extremism could soon spin out of control.

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned the violence in Delhi at a citizenship and religious freedom hearing they convened in Washington, DC. “The widespread protests in recent months in India, in response to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and a proposed National Register of Citizens, citizenship laws are now receiving much needed international attention. Without citizenship rights, minority communities are left to face further persecution and violence by both governments and non-state actors. In particular, government efforts to strip religious minorities of their citizenship can be a key predictor of mass atrocities.”