75 years of citizenship by choice: Where do Indian Muslims stand?

The marginalisation and hatred have caused much anxiety to Muslims living in India.

After BJP’s win in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his government would work for the development of Muslims in the country. What he said has turned out to be nothing but empty rhetoric. Muslim representation in the Lok Sabha is a mere 4.7 per cent of the total strength of the House, which is very low when compared to the population of the community i.e. 14.2 per cent of the total population of India.

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Madeeha Fatima | TwoCircles.net


“My father loved this land. While his brothers decided to go to that side, he chose to stay here,” said Shujatullah, an octogenarian who is a carpenter by profession. “No, I don’t feel he made the wrong decision; seeing what is happening, I only pray that the situation for my people gets better,” he replied to my question about whether the current status of the Muslim community in India makes him feel that his elders took the wrong decision by staying back. 


The partition of 1947 posed a distressing dilemma in the minds of lakhs of Muslims of the subcontinent. There was no sitting on the fence and the choice was really between this side or that. Yet, there were many who chose to stay back in India while some went to Pakistan. It was a hard decision to make, given the horrendous violence that those times unleashed. But after 75 years of independence, India still finds itself struggling in the clutches of communal frenzy. The increasing rate of religious intolerance and hatred has particularly made the nation’s Muslim community insecure of their status even after more than seven decades of citizenship by choice. Victimisation on a daily basis has reduced Muslims in the country to be treated as second-class citizens. The humiliation so caused has led many to think that “What has changed in these 75 years and where do Muslims in India stand today?”


Hate speech and lynching

Not a few days ago, the capital of New Delhi witnessed yet another incident of hate speech targeted against Muslims. At Jantar Mantar, not quite far away from where the Parliament is, people in saffron-coloured clothes were shouting and calling out for what was nothing short of a genocide against Muslims. These men, some of them closely related to the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), chanted slogans of ‘Jab Mulle kaate jaayenge, hum Ram-Ram chillaayenge’ (We will shout Ram-Ram as Muslims will be killed). Further on, they said that Muslims will have to say Jai Shri Ram if they wish to live in the country. All of this was done under a campaign that was called the Unite India Movement. Following this incident, the police made some arrests in the matter but the organiser, Ashwini Upadhyay, who also happens to be a former BJP spokesperson and a Supreme Court lawyer was released within 24 hours of his arrest. Also, students and activists who protested two days later at the site against this incident were detained for some time for violating section 144 that was imposed in the area. 


All of this, however, was not unanticipated. The bar had already been set pretty high with central government ministers making similar statements, such as shooting ‘traitors of the country’ and recognising them by their clothes, indirectly referring to Muslims.


Cases of mob lynchings have also seen a rise since the BJP came to power in 2014. According to a report by IndiaSpend, almost 97 per cent of the cases of mob violence from 2010 to 2017 were reported after May 2014. Another analysis by the Human Rights Watch said that at least 44 people in India, of which 36 were Muslims, were killed in mob lynchings between May 2015 and December 2018. Some arrests have been made so far but the trend of granting bails to those involved in such violence, however, continues while families of many victims still await justice


Bias in legislations

The religious bias and hatred have also led to legislations, which has become a cause of anxiety for Indian Muslims. One of these is the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that states to gives an opportunity to all undocumented migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to petition for Indian citizenship as long as they are not Muslim.


Another such law is Uttar Pradesh’s Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 alias the so-called ‘Love Jihad Law’ which aims to target and eliminate love jihad, a term used by right-wingers to claim that Muslim men court Hindu women with the aim of converting them to Islam. The legislation has been used as a tool to crack down on interfaith marriages by the government while many have been framed in fake cases. This law also seems to infringe on the right to Freedom of Religion and the Right to Personal Liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. 


Introducing amendments and formulating new laws have not been the only pathways. The abrogation of constitutional provisions has also worried Indian Muslims. The scrapping of Article 370 that provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its after-effects that included a clampdown and a long internet shutdown caused irreparable damage to the residents of the region, the majority of which are Muslims. Moreover, no recommendation or approval was taken from the Constituent Assembly or elected representatives of Jammu and Kashmir for this purpose, making the revocation of the article procedurally unconstitutional. 


Worrying under-representation 

After his party’s win in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his government would work for the development of Muslims in the country. But what he said has turned out to be nothing but empty rhetoric. Muslim representation in the Lok Sabha is a mere 4.7 per cent of the total strength of the House, which is very low when compared to the population of the community i.e. 14.2 per cent of the total population of India. Out of only 27 Muslim MPs in the House, none belongs to the BJP. Moreover, of the top 10 states where 80 per cent of India’s Muslims reside, the total strength of the Council of Ministers is 281, out of which only 26 are Muslim. Besides, not a single state in the country has a Muslim Chief Minister. The 77-member cabinet of the Central Government has only one Muslim minister to represent the entire community. But this under-representation is not limited to these two organs; the judiciary also shows such a trend. Out of 26 judges in the Supreme Court, there is only 1 Muslim judge, which is again a 10 per cent lower representation. Also, representation at the High Court level is 6 per cent less with just 2 Muslim HC Chief Justices out of 25 in the country. 


report from the National Statistical Organisation in the year 2020 highlights the academic marginalisation of Muslims in India. The report reveals that literacy rates among the community are lower than the literacy rates of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the country and the literacy rate among women is the lowest among all religious groups. Also, the proportion of youth who never enrolled in formal education programmes is the highest among Muslims. It so seems that the slogan of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas’ is mere pretension when it comes to the growth and development of the Muslim community. 


This marginalisation and hatred have thus caused much anxiety to Muslims living in India. It is unfortunate that even after 75 years of citizenship by choice, Muslims are stopped on the road, beaten by a mob and asked to prove their patriotism. 


However, Shujatullah’s father and others of his father’s generation who chose to stay behind are now dead. In fact, it is only good that they are gone, as they will not be able to face the betrayal and contempt their community i.e. Muslims face in present day India. In this situation, there is indeed nothing that Muslims in the country can do except “Pray that the situation for their people gets better.”



Madeeha Fatima is a Class 11 student at Aligarh Muslim University and is an aspiring journalist.