South Asia is endangered when the ‘unholy’ realities in today’s India are ignored

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By Habib Siddiqui    21 Agust 2023

Jyoti Rahman’s (JR) article “An Unholy Omen Is Looming Over Bangladesh,” published in The Wire, was brought to my attention by a retired academic. Although well written, this article suffers from too many theatrics, flaws, and exaggeration.

Writing about the birth of Pakistan on August 14, 1947, JR states, “That country became an Islamic Republic. Hindus were not equal citizens there. They were dhimmis under the ‘sacred protection’ of the majority.”

First of all, Pakistan became an Islamic Republic only after 1956 when the constitution of 1956 was adopted, and there, too, there was no mention of the so-called ‘Dhimmis’ (lit. protected ones). As we all know too well, the naming did not change the secular character of the new government outside the office of the head of the state, which was to be held only by a Muslim. (Let’s not forget that in the last 76 years, India did not produce a single Muslim Prime Minister despite its parliamentary form of government.)

Anyone familiar with the politics of the region also knows that the insertion of Islam into the constitution has been part of a political agenda, which has nothing to do with the faith itself but all about popularity contest in a majority Muslim country. It is unnecessary and has given only a bad name to a polity, run by utterly corrupt individuals who has no fear of accountability either to people in this world or to Allah in the Hereafter. I wish the drafters of the constitution had listened to the Jewish Rabbi who cautioned, “don’t be too excited about the Torah if you are not living a Kosher life.”

JR mentions Salma Ahmed whose observation is incorrect when she reportedly claimed that a Hindu worker in Bangladesh might have “faced discrimination and earnt less than might have been expected from their qualification.” Hindus in Bangladesh hold 3 times their share in government jobs. Most of the top-level jobs in administration are held by them, disproportionately. A study done some years ago showed that most of the DC jobs and joint-secretary and higher-level positions have a higher percentage of Hindus in Bangladesh.

Within the private sector, many well-placed Hindus (either from Bangladesh, or neighboring India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) earn more money working inside Bangladesh than their counterparts not only in India/Sri Lanka/Nepal but also, surprisingly in the USA and the UK. (E.g., a CAD/CAM designer working on Dohajari-Cox’s Bazar railway construction project, reportedly earns Tk. 15 lakh taka per month with free lodging and food, transportation. He works in Chattogram for my BUET classmate. There are many such examples I can cite.)

JR quotes Abul Barakat, a favorite personality for all the Hindutvadis. Barakat’s voodoo economic theory has long been debunked by me and other more credible researchers decades ago. There is little truth to his claims. He has bloated those figures widely and has lost any credibility as a researcher. It is sad to see his unsubstantiated claims quoted by JR in this article.

Barakat and many Hindutvadi pundits won’t tell us about similar land-grabbing government Acts within India that allows for grabbing Muslim properties. Why could not the Ispahanis recover anything of their vast properties in West Bengal? Why did the richest Muslim man on earth, the Nizam of Hyderabad, lost almost everything? The governments in India, since the time of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, took draconian measures to grab all such princely and Muslim estates.

Ignorance on such matters can only be a bliss to a novice, and harmful to the credibility of an expert!

An impartial and objective analysis will show that India has been more communal and a dangerous place for its minorities from the very first day of its Republican history. India has become a de facto Hindu rashtra, an apartheid state, by any definition although it does not wrap itself with that epithet.

Thus, it was no accident that in April 2020, within just two months of the Delhi pogroms, in an interview to VICE Media, the Harvard-educated BJP MP Swamy Subramanian said that Muslims are not equal with Hindus in India. He also alleged, “We know where the Muslim population is large there is always trouble — because the Islamic ideology says so.” If such a hateful statement is not Islamophobia, what is?

The right-wing politician, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, was speaking in the backdrop of India’s controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act — a law that the UN calls “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”.

When reminded that Article 14 of the Indian constitution ensures equal rights for everyone, the BJP leader quipped that it was a misinterpretation of the Article, adding: “The law ensures equal rights for equals.”

The baffled journalist, Isobel Yeung, pressed on, asking Swamy if Muslims were not equal in India. “No, not all people are equal, Muslims do not fall into the equal category,” an unflappable Swamy shot back.

So much for the ‘equality’ under the Indian constitution!

JR mentions that in the last 10 years, nearly a dozen Hindus got killed during riots in Bangladesh. That is unfortunate and should not have happened. But when one compares such casualty figures with those happening daily in India under Modi’s watch, we can all agree that it is miniscule. (No endorsement though of any crime against anyone!) In February 2020, riots in Delhi resulted in widespread bloodshed, property destruction, and rioting that left nearly 50 Muslims dead. Let’s also not  forget that the Gujarat genocide, planned and executed by the then chief minister (now the prime minister) Narendra Modi, witnessed the cold-blooded murder of nearly 2,000 Muslims.

Comparing the genocidal pogroms faced by Muslims in India with the few targeted violence by political hoodlums in Bangladesh, often associated with the ruling party, is pitiful. Unlike Bangladesh and Pakistan where the police quickly responded to stop the communal violence, and government repairs and compensates the victims heftily, Indian police have either chosen not to stop such crimes or helped the Hindu criminals. Modi has not only been silent on genocidal pogroms faced daily by Indian Muslims, but his criminal silence and the encouragement  from the fellow BJP leadership are seen by Hindutvadi fascists as a sign of endorsement for repeating such heinous crimes. The lives of some 200 million Muslims living there has, thus, become unlivable. It is not by mistake that the Genocide Watch has repeatedly put India under its genocidal watch. And so did the Congressional bipartisan committee in the US, despite Obama/Trump/Biden’s kowtowing with Modi.

In Modi’s India, on the first week of August 2023, an imam was stabbed and shot to death in a mosque that was then burned to the ground. A young doctor, walking home, was thrashed with cricket bats and iron rods, and molested by an armed mob. As she pleaded for help, they laughed and told her: “You can’t do anything, the administration is ours.” A railway officer, boarding a train, prowled the carriages for his targets and shot dead three men. The killer said, “If you want to live in India, you must vote for Modi and Yogi.” These incidents, which all took place in India that week, were seemingly unconnected, yet the victims were united by a common factor: they were all Muslim, and so were the perpetrators – they were all Hindu.

JR quoted G C Roy, a leader of the opposition BNP in Bangladesh, saying, “It is a sad fact that the people of Bangladesh’s minority community have no say anywhere; neither in administration, nor in judiciary. In one word, Bangladesh does not care. Due to insecurity, there is a gradual exodus of Hindus from Bangladesh.” Roy’s claims are patently false. He lied bigly (to borrow Trump’s phrase).

Even the critics of the Awami League, including many leaders within his own BNP, would admit today that every word of G C Roy is inaccurate. The minority Hindu population is far more privileged and better positioned than majority Muslims under Hasina’s watch as never before in Bangladesh.

JR himself mentions that of the 300 contested seats in Bangladesh Parliament, 70 are held by Hindus, which is more than 23%, a figure that is higher than 9% Hindu population in the country. Does this figure support the claim: Hindus are discriminated in Bangladesh when it comes to government jobs or policies?

In contrast, Muslim representation in India is only a small fraction of their community proportion of 14% not only in government employment but also in terms of the elected members in the Lok Sabha. If India had a true representative government, instead of having just 27 elected MPs, they should have close to 78 MPs who are Muslims. Not a single of them belong to the ruling BJP. Not a single Muslim candidate was fielded for the Lok Sabha election anywhere by the BJP either. There is not a single Muslim chief minister in any of the 28 Indian states. Fifteen Indian states don’t have a single Muslim minister. Muslims have only 3% representation in civil services, 4.5% in Indian Railways, only 6% in police, 4.4 % in health, 1% in the armed forces and 7.8 % in the judiciary. Not surprisingly, compared to all other communities, Muslims have the highest dropout rates at the primary, middle and senior secondary levels. According to the 2021 census, literacy rate of Muslims is 68.5%, which is below the national average in India. (Ref: my upcoming book on India)

The state-sponsored Islamophobia has created the fertile ground for the event of 21 July 2023 when a 16-year-old Muslim boy was beaten up at Bandra Terminus railway station in Mumbai for being with a minor Hindu girl. A video has gone viral on social media. In the video, a group of Hindus can be seen thrashing the boy at Bandra Terminus railway station. A police officer can also be seen in the video, though he does not intervene at all. The allegation is that the Muslim boy was accompanying a Hindu girl, and he was attacked by members of a right-wing outfit. A vicious attack followed, in which a mob can be seen chanting “Jai Shri Ram” and “Vande Mataram”. Slogans against “love jihad” – a bogey peddled by Hindutva groups who claim there is a conspiracy by Muslims to convert Hindu women through marriage – were also heard. The girl is seen asking the men not to hurt the boy, but they are seen to ignore her.

Only when the video went viral on August 15, it prompted the Bandra railway police to launch an enquiry and investigation. The resulting FIR invokes sections relevant to rioting, unlawful assembly and voluntarily causing hurt. Without that video going viral this thrashing attack would have been conveniently ignored by the India’s police.

Sadly, such incidents of lynching Muslims have become the new norms in Modi’s India.

Towards the end of his article, JR warns that there is every reason to fear that Bangladesh may witness the age-old tactic of communal violence ahead of the upcoming election. His fears are not far-fetched. I pray and hope that his fear proves to be wrong.

I wish JR had not overlooked India, which also goes to the polls around the same time in 2024. India has worse records of using communal violence in an election year.

JR must be thanked though for saying that unless a free and fair election is held, Bangladesh will remain a divided and polarized nation. (Readers may like to browse my book – Bangladesh: A divided and Polarized Nation? – where I have covered the subject adequately.)

My major concern, however, is that today’s India, despite her record of delivering fairer election results than those in Bangladesh, is locked down by the never-ending specter of genocidal pogroms against her minority Muslims and Christians. She poses more danger than any of her neighbors. I see Narendra Modi as the greatest threat to peace and security of entire South Asia. The BJP rule of India has weaponized religion, normalized fascism and given free license to every Hindutvadi to kill and plunder non-Hindus. The sooner the Indian voters throw him out of his office the better it is for the entire region. Period.