Longread: Genealogy of Islamophobia and Construction of Muslims as Enemy in India

Image source: wikkicommons

By Mohammad Saif

Being a Muslim in India is one of the biggest threats since the last few years, particularly in the reign of the BJP. I think the prevailing narrative has its base in the predecessors of radical Hindu ideologue. The consequential series of pity narrative and villainizing Muslims in the eye of Indians got manifested as terrorists, anti-nationals, cow murderers, inequity towards women in Islam, beef issue, Islamophobic cartoons, appropriation in the newspapers, systematic targeting of Muslims regarding anti-CAA protest by linking these Muslim students cum activists to Delhi riots and very incapacitated apprehension of Islam as the threat to Hinduism.

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In this article, an effort is made to explore Islamophobia in the thoughts and writings of Hindu Nationalist ideologoes which was later transformed in the speeches, interviews and the podcasts of BJP leaders which provided a base to its increase in our day to day lives. After providing a background to this, my focus will be on the strategy and propaganda adopted by ultra-nationalist organizations of Hindutva and the political leaders of the BJP – who are working in the various dimensions of characterizing Muslims as Islamophobic. The BJP and RSS act out the Islamophobic chronicle at the lowest level in the country.

Islamophobia: conceptualizing in the thoughts of Hindu Nationalists

Overarching Islamophobia as the ideological creation in the thoughts of radical Hindu ideologues is one of the Herculean tasks which vehemently prepared the ground for its progenitor in the current time and how this sick thought grounded a threat to the democratic and secular fabric of India’s forefathers like Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar. In the thoughts of Golwalkar in his We or Our Nationhood Defined, Islamophobic credentials are seen. For Golwalkar, to construct a nation “there are five incontrovertible components likely Country, Race, Religion, Culture and Language. According to him, Hindus were a distinct Nation because first there were only Hindus, i.e. Aryan Race which inhabited Hindustan, the land of Hindus. Second Hindu belonged to a race which had, “Hereditary society having common customs, common languages, common memories of glory and disaster, in short, it is a population with a common origin under on culture. Such a race is by far the important ingredient of a nation. Even if there be a people of foreign origin they must assimilate into the body of the mother race and inextricably fused into it. They should have become one with the original national race, not only in its economic and political life, but also in its religion, culture and language, for otherwise such foreign races may be considered, under certain circumstances, at best members of a common state, for political purpose, but they can never form part and parcel of the national body, if the mother race is destroyed, either by the destruction of the person composing it or by the loss of the principle of its existence, its religion and culture, the nation itself come to its end…The race is the body of the nation, and that with its fall, the nation ceases to exist.”

The above paragraph is visualizing that Golwalkar is saying that the original owners of this land are Hindus, those belonging to Aryan Races. Besides, he indicated that the purity of race is necessary for the construction of Hindustan as a Nation, which he painted through commonness of culture, language and religion. This is necessary not only for the political and economic life of a Hindu citizen but fulfilled in the domain of religion, culture and language. And the person belonging to any foreign origin also converts himself in the same domain then it will create a space for him to live here as a part of the nation otherwise the ethos of the nation will be destroyed. The paragraph itself creates a Hindu Rashtra imagination in a vacuum and the other races, language, culture and religion on this land are subverted. This otherness of different races, culture, language and religion also creates hate and disparateness towards others and in current time this thought has been used against Muslims in India. This is how Islamophobia got its ideological colour.

In the further extracts from ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, we can take it for granted that Golwalkar visualized Muslims, as not being the sympathizers of this land of Hindus but they are lovers of Pakistan. He writes, “In the consequences of partition he recognized Muslims as an internal threat which intimidates our country. Their threat is like internal subversion to our national freedom and security. They are more dangerous than aggressors outside. Let us take the case of Muslims as they left our country particularly those who supported Pakistan but now the rest are ours, they are loyal to us. Here the fact is different. In the 1937 election, all the Muslims from the Muslim majority province rejected the Muslim league. According to him, this could not prove their loyalty towards the nation. But just before partition there was an election for the constituent assembly, Muslims quietly supported Muslim league in this election so how these Muslim have been in Hindu majority province of U.P. As patriotic in a day just after partition night, so these rest are not faithful while they did not leave for Pakistan. He said that this will be a suicidal delusion to be confident with these Mohammadan’s. They came with twofold strategy one is “Direct Action” produced by Jinnah by which they got success in creating Pakistan. Next one is Kashmir by arguing through the purview of Arnold Toynbee, Golwalkar said that this historian provided a right assumption that they can fulfil their dream to create a separate nation which they had seen twelve hundred years ago by entering in India. Now Pakistan is trying to capture Kashmir by the support of pro-Pakistani elements in Kashmir. The ultra-nationalist thought of Golwalkar created Muslims in India as the most dangerous one as well as the supporters of Pakistan and anti-India in the matter of Kashmir. This argument is working for ultra-nationalist Hindus in propping Muslims as the enemy of India, which is very dangerous for the ecumenical dream of India. Of course in my view, this vision of Golwalkar created an anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim genesis in the mind of people.’’

Now after looking at Golwalkar, one more entrenched ideologue of RSS V.D. Savarkar in his important scripture ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (1923),’ reckons a bad image to Muslims. He was in jail to create a suicidal plot for British secretary of state Curzon Wyllie and he met with a person from the Khilafat movement and considered them as the sympathizers of Pan Islamism. Savarkar saw them as one of the consolidated enemies of India, even greater than British.

Savarkar assumes that they (Muslims) had no sympathy for nationalism. In his book ‘Hindutva’, Savarkar placed Hindus on the top of the native citizens, descended from Aryans and established in India, where they already made a nation. He talked about the ethnic-based nation, but the only criteria common was culture, common language, and geographical boundaries were the further condition for the construction of a nation.

Of course, it is needless to say here what Christophe Jefferlotte reflected by Savarkar’s thinking about Christian and Muslims as an otherness of threatening nature, but the conversion of Muslims and Christian few generations ago can be integrated with Hinduism conditioned by faithfulness towards Hindu religion and culture. The narrowness of Savarkar towards Muslims and Christian and portrayal of them as threatening did not leave any space for these communities in the space of Hindu Nationalism. This can be recognized with conformity through another paragraph of his on Muslims.

“We are one because we are a nation (about Hindus), a race and own a common Sanskriti (civilization) in the case of some of our Mohammedan or Christian countrymen who had originally been forcibly converted to a non-Hindu religion and who consequently inherited along with Hindus, a common Fatherland and a greater part of the wealth of a common culture – language law, custom, folklore and history are not and cannot be recognized as Hindus. For though Hindustan for them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu yet it is not to them a Holy land too. Their holy land is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently, their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin. Their love is divided. Nay, if some of them they really believe what they profess to do, and then there can be no choice – they must, to a man, set their Holy land above their Fatherland in their love and allegiance. That is but natural”.

Here either Savarkar is condemning not just the Muslims or Christians but proving their Holy land is desperate might have prepared the base in the eye of others that they cannot be loyal towards this Fatherland (Hindustan) and their love is not genuine as well as for the holy land and they cannot be united for India in the time of struggle but for Arabia or Palestine (Holy land of Christian and Muslims). This imagination of Muslims in their thoughts gave relevance to the propaganda of ultra Hindu nationalist in the last decade since this BJP government is in power, which is justifying that Muslims are not ours and that they have different culture, language and ethnicity and therefore they cannot live with us. This unnecessary creation of otherness towards Muslims has been turned into Islamophobic poison nowadays in our society.

Continuing Agenda of Hindutva: Propagating Islamophobia and Rhetoric

The agenda of Hindu Rashtra is transparent and propaganda against Muslims is a combined project of both BJP and RSS. What is the way forward for the Hindutva forces that are driving to fulfil their long seen project of Hindu-Rashtra? I would like to quote here Prof Dibyesh Anand, what kind of politics they used to do as a Hindu Nationalist or Hindutva? According to him “Hindutva is a ‘schizophrenic Nationalism’, one that brings together politics of imagination, insecurity, cultural transformation and social mobilization in a manner that generates violence and fear at the same time allows for the myth of tolerant Hindus to go unchallenged”. This filthy agenda of their project has been adjusted as a popular one against Muslims. They linked Muslims as invaders in India with the current generation of Muslims as a common foe. Like Mohammad of Ghazni and Mohammad bin Qasim were responsible for disturbing the peace and plenty of Sindhustan, Muslims are being scapegoated in the name of these rulers those who came to India from far distant lands.

S Sayyid discusses six clusters of Islamophobia in his paper ‘Measuring Islamophobia’ while five among them usually performed by individuals or organizations may be private or public. In the same way, India is embracing Islamophobia by its far-right and Ultra Hindu nationalist propagandists.

This mechanism of stereotyping of the antagonistic identity of Muslims is very common nowadays in a way to achieve the combined agenda of both BJP and RSS. Also, this can be seen in further events happening in India in the name of Islamophobia. This propaganda of (Other Vs Us) is very common nowadays. The recent congregation of Tablighi Jamaat Markaz Nizamuddin, a world headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, caught in the news because of its gathering during the time of COVID-19 outbreak. Of course, their act was irresponsible, but the far-right Hindu nationalist forces from media, academicians and ultra Hindu nationalist organizations put these Tablighis on remand and painted this event in communal and religious colour to show their recklessness, thoughtlessness and as the enemy of India to these Tablighi Muslims. Even on Facebook, Twitter, Media headlines (electronic and print) started to trend them as super-spreader of COVID-19 in India, while so many cases came, later on, showing they had no links with Tablighi Jamaat.

The issue of Kashmir was highlighted by BJP and its far-right supporters as a threat to the sovereignty of India. They are using this Islamophobic propaganda just for political gain and projecting the Kashmiri struggle as “Islamic terrorism” is nothing but for its ideological legitimacy. After the abrogation of Article 370, several BJP leaders denoted it as the end of terrorism in the valley and a step towards development. Contextualizing the abrogation of 370 in terms of end of terrorism means locating the Muslims of Valley as the spreader of terrorism and separatism and anti-Indian image of Kashmir’s surfaces again and provides a consolidate base to the existing narrative of the valley people as the supporters of Pakistan. This imaginary threat created by Hindu Right-wing is a big challenge in halting sufferings to the Muslims in India.

Social media is one of the biggest platforms for propagation of Islamophobic environment in India. Recently, one of the Asian American human rights organization released a report in which they delineated the hate speeches and misinformation on Facebook and social networking sites being responsible for 37 per cent of Islamophobic content. One more report on Islamophobia from University of California Berkeley centre added that rising nationalism in India is one of the agenda to create Islamophobia against Muslims and 29.9 per cent of total message spreads on WhatsApp across the country just in 2018 in the name of Nationalism were fake.

New propaganda of population control is also running afoot, with several BJP linked organizations like VHP and RSS propagating this to curb the population of Muslims and pushing Hindus to produce more children. They have a narrative that Muslims are doing jihad so that they could overpower Hindus in the near future by increasing their population and their vote bank will be strong. They do not take into account that Hindus are more than 80 per cent of the population and Muslims comprise only 14 per cent of the total population of India. In northern and central India, the population control movement is gaining momentum against Muslims in India. The campaign is punctuated with Islamophobia which is being promoted in both offline and online worlds.

A 2017 Outlook India article exposed that the government and a section of the media are trying to project that the increasing number of Rohingya refugees in the country will encourage Islamic fundamentalism by locating the Rohingyas as terrorists and linking their ties with Pakistani terror groups. This was another attempt to make Muslims – here Rohingya refugees, as others and a threat to the nation.

A bigger debate should be held on the issue of Islamophobia in India. The projection of both Islam and Muslims as a threat to India is not good for Indian unity or Hindu Muslim harmony. In the last six years, the root of Indian secularism has been shaken.

Christophe Jafferlote, a French-based political scientist having expertise on Indian Politics has said that, “Hindu nationalist quest for power can only succeed in a context where there exists a perceived threat either real or imagined to the majority community of Hindus”. We should be serious to note the narrative of Hindutva prevailing in our society and we should take a reasonable stand against this project. The rising hate of Hindutva should be a wakeup call to our sleeping collective conscience and reason.


Mohammad Saif is a Research Scholar at the department of political science AMU, Aligarh (U.P.) India. He can be reached at [email protected].