Amid growing dissent over India’s controversial religion-based citizenship law, emerging evidence indicates that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government embarked on a “reign of terror” against Muslims aimed at sending a stern warning that it would deal with any assertion of their rights with a heavy hand. The pattern of state violence unleashed by the country’s ruling party workers in cahoots with the police suggest the systematic targeting of Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods, which were vandalised and hundreds of innocent residents abused, detained and framed under stringent laws.
Muslims across India were gripped by fear and uncertainty as Modi’s ruling dispensation doubled down its crackdown on protests, with serious allegations of police brutality largely against Muslims coming to light. The state-led violence has been brutal, especially in the North India state of Uttar Pradesh, which Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controls. Here, state authorities have taken an openly communal and retributive stand against Muslims.
Victims and witnesses in the state have accused police and state authorities of grave rights violations that include firing indiscriminately, vandalising and looting Muslim homes while shouting Islamophobic slurs and Hindu nationalist slogans, detaining and torturing Muslim children, forcing signed confessions and filing bogus criminal charges against thousands of Muslims.
Many reports suggest that Uttar Pradesh police officers were encouraged by their superiors to kill protesters. In one case, officers smacked a 72-year-old Muslim man with a rifle butt, telling him, “Muslims have only two places: Pakistan or the graveyard.”
Reports indicate that 25 people have been killed nationwide since the demonstrations first broke out, with many of those killed being stated as Muslims. Dozens of young Muslim children were rounded up, beaten and had rods inserted into their anuses, causing rectal bleeding.
Notorious Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is a militant Hindu nationalist who has openly called for violence against and the persecution of Muslims, pledging to take revenge on protesters. His supporters have called for digging up Muslim women from their graves and raping them. In 2015, he said that if given the chance, he would install idols of Hindu gods in every mosque.
Tales of violence
Although demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 (CAA) have been largely peaceful, authorities in the BJP ruled that states have used indiscriminate and brute force to quell the demonstrations, which are mainly in Muslim-dominated areas. The police brutality was first unbridled at the campuses of two renowned minority universities, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) in New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh. Both institutions cater for predominantly Muslim students. Eyewitness accounts and testimonies from victims of the police brutality clearly indicate a premeditated and disproportionate use of violence against Muslim protesters.
On 15 December, police officers descended on the campus of JMI, releasing tear gas, firing rubber bullets and beating demonstrators with batons. As hundreds of terrified students sought shelter inside the building, the police used communal inflammatory slurs against Muslim students.
“Communal slurs were thrown at us while the CRPF personnel charged at us with batons,” Danish Khurshid, who was detained by the police, told NewsClick. “They made us say expletives forcefully, directed towards our friends! It was part of their torture technique,” said student Abdul Rehman.
Amid the rampage against students at JMI, Delhi cops were heard telling their colleagues to thrash “the circumcised”, a direct reference to Muslims. “Maaro inko, ye katwe hai (Thrash them, these circumcised). I heard them saying this many times,” eyewitness Mohd Nazeef Khan told Quartz India.
Hisham Siddiqui, a doctorate student at JMI, described how he was inside a mosque on the university campus when more than a dozen police officers burst in. At AMU, police violence was purportedly worse than that unleashed at JMI. While dozens of students were beaten and many others detained, as many as 13 000 were forced to leave campus overnight.
Renowned sociologist Nandini Sundar, who visited AMU, wrote in a series of tweets about the distressing episode at the university campus: “26 detained on 15th [Dec] night, who were severely beaten and belted in police custody, along with communal slurs. Hostel room in Morrison Court burnt by shell thrown inside; students who were studying in room dragged out and arrested.” She added that provosts told students to vacate their hostels instantly, a written order says only resident doctors and interns can keep their hostel rooms.
“The brutal police action against students at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, a majority of whom are Muslim, seemed calculated to peddle stereotypes of violent Muslims and to terrorise India’s Muslims, once again, into silence, by criminalising their best and brightest,” wrote Anjali Mody in The New York Times.
The police also resorted to brutal violence against protesters in several Muslim-dominated areas in the national capital, including Jamia Millia, Seemapuri, Chawri Bazar, Jama Masjid and Seelampur. Officers deployed drones to keep an eye on gatherings and in many places also carried out marches as a show of strength.
A video posted to social media by journalist Saahil Menghani showed the Delhi Police detaining a bearded, middle-aged man as he walked past an anti-CAA protest in Central Delhi. Twitter users expressed shock and dismay at how the seemingly Muslim man was profiled by his appearance and detained without any reason or provocation.
The police picked up Kashmiri journalist Omar Rashid, the Uttar Pradesh correspondent for national newspaper The Hindu, along with his friend at a restaurant and detained him for more than two hours. Rashid said the police held him without explanation and accused him of taking part in a violent protest against the amended citizenship act, threatening to beat him.
He said the police brought up his Kashmiri background repeatedly, and accused him of hiding Kashmiris and asked him to reveal their whereabouts. “Each time I was trying to ask them something they asked me to shut up,” he said, adding that another police officer used communal slurs against him and threatened to tear his beard.
Days after the public took to the streets to protest against the CAA, Modi put a communal spin on the protests by claiming that those indulging in violence over the new citizenship law could be identified by their clothes. “Unke kapdon se pata chal jata hai (They can be identified by the clothes they are wearing),” Modi said at an election rally in the tribal heartland of Jharkhand state in northeastern India.
In a direct attack on the principal opposition Congress Party, Modi added that whenever some key decisions were taken in India, such as the Supreme Court judgment on the Ram temple and abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistanis in London would protest in front of Indian embassies or resort to violence.
“What Pakistan did all these years in London … the Congress is doing the same thing. Can there be a bigger shame than this? Have you ever seen Indian residents protesting in front of the Indian embassy? This is a conspiracy to defame India in the world,” he alleged, while subtly inferring that those protesting are akin to Pakistanis.
Rashtriya member of Parliament Janata Dal Manoj Jha condemned Modi’s statement about the protesters’ clothes as a divisive message aimed at profiling a community. “This is a dog whistle message, I condemn it strongly,” he said.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh also tweeted a picture showing five people belonging to the South Mumbai chapter of the All India Professionals’ Congress wearing skull caps and bearing vermillion marks on their foreheads. “Modi’s remark shows how shallow his thoughts are. Shameful,” Singh tweeted.
Days later, a senior BJP leader in the South India state of Karnataka, CT Ravi, outright threatened protesting Muslims with Gujarat-like violence if they continued to dissent against the CAA. “People have given us a mandate for this reason. Those who are protesting [against the CAA] are anti-democratic and against the Constitution.”
Responding to Congress lawmaker UT Khader’s statement that he would not adhere with the National Register of Citizens that follows on from the CAA because it is discriminatory and unconstitutional, Ravi added: “People with the mentality of UT Khader did the acts in Godhra [a train-burning incident in February 2002 in which 59 people died]. People with his mentality burnt the karsevaks [Hindu Sangh workers] in Godhra. But if we start responding, they have seen what happened.”
Ravi, who is also the state’s cultural minister, warned that the majority community is being patient. “This does not mean that you can provoke people … We are prepared to do that also, but it should become Akhand Bharat first. Then we will give citizenship to everyone.” Akhand Bharat, or Undivided India, envisions Pakistan, Bangladesh and certain other countries as part of India.
Another BJP leader, Kapil Mishra, led a rally in support of the CAA. He shared a video of the rally on Twitter, in which supporters were heard shouting slogans such as “Goli maaron saalo ko (Shoot the bastards)”. The slogans implied that anti-CAA protesters are traitors and asked the police to shoot them.
“The exclusion of Muslims leaves no room for doubt that the bill advances the blatantly sectarian agenda of Mr Modi and his government, which is to transform secular India into a majoritarian Hindu nation,” Mody underlined in her New York Times article, titled “India awakens to fight for its soul”.
Author Arundhati Roy was among those who expressed their dismay at the new legislation and said that India was facing its “biggest challenge since independence”. She said: “Are we going to stand in line once again, obediently, and comply with the policy that eerily resembles the 1935 Nuremberg laws of the Third Reich?” Roy urged the people of India to stand up.
Modi’s game is not just aimed at silencing Muslims into submission but at ensuring that their fate can be dictated through the Hindu majoritarian objectives of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu group of which Modi has been a lifelong follower. The unrelenting campaign of the RSS through Modi’s ruling dispensation is to render Muslims second-class citizens.
Be it the beef lynchings, love jihad politics, anti-conversions campaigns or the ghettoisation of Muslims and their disenfranchisement, the BJP is rapidly inching its way towards the realisation of the RSS’s Hindutva project of Hindu Rashtra – a Hindu nation in which rules, regulations and legal proceedings are based on the principles of Hindu beliefs and scriptures – that for so long has been the aspiration of Indian Hindu nationalists.
This systematically crafted and state-led project of the RSS and BJP through blatant communal politics is a dangerous game that has all the ingredients to throw India on to a perilous path of communal violence and fragment the country irreversibly.