Is Hyderabad safe for Muslims

The horrors of the new tyranny in India

India is changing right now. Exit and web bans and the exclusion of Muslims are on the agenda.

Injustice, discrimination and violence are not uncommon in India. Today, however, they are normalized, enabled and even encouraged by the state. India's diversity and complex civilizational heritage are under severe attack, which is shaking the foundations of Indian democracy.

In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government stripped Jammu and Kashmir - India's only Muslim-majority territory - the special status that had given it considerable autonomy and split it into two “union territories” over which the central government now exercises more direct control. To prevent unrest, the government stationed thousands of soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir before announcing the changes. She then placed prominent local politicians, including former allies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under house arrest, and imposed a curfew on residents as well as media and telecommunications bans. Months later, most Kashmiri residents still do not have internet access. (...) Instead of protecting the rights of the citizens of Kashmir, the Supreme Court of India postponed the hearings on the related requests. The rest of the population in India has largely ignored, accepted or welcomed the attack on Jammu and Kashmir.

In the northeastern state of Assam, other horrors unfold: in August, authorities released the state's national civil register, which banned nearly two million people who could not provide evidence that their names or those of their parents were on the electoral register before March 24, 1971 were registered. This is an arbitrary date aimed at identifying Muslim immigrants. Many of these now stateless people have been sent to internment camps where they live in dire conditions. The architect of this project, Interior Minister Amit Shah, has disclosed its xenophobic goals by calling these people - many of whom were born in Assam or whose families have lived there for decades - as "termites". He also promised that the government would "arrest intruders and throw them into the Bay of Bengal".

In this case, instead of resisting, the Supreme Court actively encouraged and supported the process. He now watches as the BJP government sets up internment camps across India in preparation for the nationwide implementation of the program - a process that is likely to become even more aggressive against Muslims.

While the civil register tacitly targets Muslims, some Hindus have also been caught in the crossfire. As a result, the government is working hard to pass a new citizenship bill that will grant Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parish or Christian refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan the right to Indian citizenship. Muslims are excluded. Although the bill is obviously unconstitutional, it has already been passed by the Lok Sabha (the first chamber of parliament). It only has to be passed by the Rajya Sabha (the second chamber) to become law.

Muslims are not the only group facing discrimination and violence in India. Hindu nationalists have also targeted the long-marginalized Dalits, the lowest-ranking group in India's rigid caste system. In 2016 alone, more than 40,000 crimes were reported against members of the low cast.

Women abandoned

In addition, India continues to fail its women, who face high rates of sexual violence. Victims who report crimes against them often face much harsher sentences - including harassment, loss of employment and even death - than the perpetrators. The grinders of the dishes grind slowly. The authorities often treat victims badly and justice is rarely served, especially when the accused is powerful or well-connected.

Just last month in Uttar Pradesh, a 23-year-old woman who had reported gang rape last year was set on fire on her way to a court hearing. Among the attackers were two of the five suspects who had been released on bail. The woman died a few days later. Since then, two other rape victims have been killed in Uttar Pradesh.

Even if perpetrators are punished, it may look more like the justice of the mob than an impersonal application of the law. The recent gang rape and murder of a young vet near the city of Hyderabad in the south of the country is a prime example. At first, the local police abandoned the victim by inaction. When her family tried to file a missing person report, the police initially refused to take any action before they referred the family to another police station because the last known location of the victim was under their jurisdiction. Several hours passed before the search began.

However, after four men were accused of raping and murdering the young woman, there was massive public outcry, including calls from prominent women to lynch the rapists. Under such pressure, the police quickly arrested the suspects, took them under a bridge and shot them. (The police claimed the men tried to reach for their guns so they were forced to shoot.)

Such extrajudicial killings are widely celebrated in India. Due process and the rule of law seem nowhere near as satisfying as quick revenge. At the same time, nobody is doing anything about the lack of security for women or the impunity of other rapists who have more political power.

Economic reasons

India's rapid rise in xenophobia and violence - much like support for populist leaders and causes elsewhere - has an important economic dimension. A decline in demand, employment and consumption has left many people feeling insecure and frustrated. But politicians are needed to channel these emotions into nationalism and to encourage nationalists to commit acts of violence. Now that it has done so, will the BJP be able - or ready - to cast out the many demons it has set free?

Translated from the English by Jan Doolan
© Project Syndicate 1995-2019

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The author

Jayati Gosh (* Sept. 1955) is Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, Executive Secretary of International Development Economics Associates and a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation.


("Die Presse", print edition, December 13th, 2019)