In June, India found itself in a similar situation experienced by Denmark and France, which angered the Islamic world by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. After the news about offensive statements for Muslims, publicly made by two high-ranking members of the ruling party in the country, went beyond India, about 15 Islamic states protested against New Delhi. Moreover, calls for a boycott of Indian goods began to be heard in several Arab countries. Is New Delhi succeeding in levelling the scandal, and why not everyone inside India is happy with the attempts of the authorities to put a brake on it?
At the end of May, Nupur Sharma, spokeswoman for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), appeared on a televised debate, and when it came to religious topics, she inadvertently hinted that the Prophet Muhammad was a paedophile due to the difference between his age and the age of his younger wife, Aisha. Almost parallel with this, some disparaging remarks about the Prophet (which the media have ceased to mention by now) were made on his Twitter page by another party member, the head of its media service in Delhi, Kumar Jindal.
The statements of party officials provoked an angry reaction among the Muslim minority in India – the followers of Islam in the country of about 200 million. In the state of Uttar Pradesh in early June, several hundred people took to the streets to protest and demand that members of the BJP be punished for inciting hatred. The police brutally suppressed the protests and arrested more than fifty especially active protesters.
The news of officials insulting Muslims and the authorities’ reaction to the protests caused by this soon spread beyond the country’s borders.
A wave of negative international attention forced the Indian authorities to extinguish the scandal hastily. On June 5, on the same day as receiving the first official protests from other countries, Nupur Sharma was removed from office, and Kumar Jindal was fired, exposing them as “fringe elements” because the party itself has always been “against any ideology that offends or humiliates any religion.”
But to completely extinguish the unpleasant aftertaste left by all this history among Muslim countries, the punishment of party officials did not help. In the middle of the week, the terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda (banned in the Russian Federation) threatened to carry out terrorist attacks in India because of the statements of a former representative of the ruling party. Diplomacy saved the situation in the Islamic countries. India is surrounded by Muslim countries with a substantial Muslim population. Pakistan and Bangladesh are the immediate Muslim neighbours. On our sea trade routes to the West, there are Islamic countries with wealth and influence more than India and employ significant numbers of Indians. To the East, Indonesia and Malaysia are Muslim countries. As of December 2022, Saudi Aramco has a market cap of $1.810 Trillion. It represents more than half of India’s $3.5 trillion GDP. A much smaller country in size, Indonesia has a GDP of $1.015 trillion. These countries’ combined economic, diplomatic and military power are many times greater than India’s.
This could have been the tale’s end, but sadly for India, it didn’t end there. Last week, a video of a Muslim student at Manipal University in Karnataka confronting his teacher went viral and sparked widespread outrage. In the video that generated a big controversy on social media, a young engineering student can be seen berating his instructor and informing him that it was not funny to make jokes about the instructor’s religious identity. This exchange was captured on tape. The educator had made an offensive comparison between his Muslim student and the Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab, who had attacked Mumbai in 2008.
Neither party is innocent
While it is true that Indian Muslims have participated in acts of terror, the majority in India is also responsible for the state of affairs in India. The marginalisation and the systematic exclusion of Muslims from the political and public space is the responsibility of the majority in the Indian Indian nation. All political parties, including Muslim parties, are responsible for the great divide between the majority and the Indian minorities. Muslim votes are either exploited or have no relevance in modern India. Either way, they have been pushed out of the political process and decision-making. Some of the hate speech that incited genocide in other countries is very similar to the sentiments offered today at the highest echelons of Indian politics and society. In certain instances, it is as clear.
In Northern, Western, Central, and some North Eastern states, there are greater instances of violence and marginalisation towards Muslims than in other regions of India.
Sadly, these instances are not the result of the actions of a few bad apples. They result from prejudice permeating all institutions and manifesting itself as discriminatory legislation.