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'Otherisation & Demonising of Muslims Has Risen Since 2014': Prof Tanweer Fazal

Prof Tanweer Fazal discusses the changes within Indian Muslims since 2014.

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Politics
10 min read
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Tanweer Fazal is Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad. As a political sociologist, he specialises in sociology of nationalism(s), community formation and identifications with specific focus on their implications on discourse of rights and entitlements. His current interests lie in the study of collective violence and analysis of state practices.

He is the author of 'Nation-state’ and Minority Rights in India: Comparative Perspectives on Muslim and Sikh Identities (Routledge 2015) and Practices of the State: Muslims, Law and Violence in India (Three Essays, 2024). He has also edited Minority Nationalisms in South Asia (Routledge 2013), The Minority Conundrum: Living in Majoritarian Times (Penguin-Random House 2020), Marginalities and Mobilities Among Muslims of India (Routledge 2023).

In this interview with Abhish K Bose, Prof Fazal discusses the changes happened within the Muslim community ever since the arrival of Narendra Modi government in 2014 and other issues.

Here are some excerpts from the interview.

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Could you explain regarding the noticeable changes occurred within the Muslim community in India ever since the Narendra Modi governments ascendance to power in Delhi in 2014? Does the past nine years of the community stands in stark contrast to the official claims of secularism in the earlier post independence history of the country?

Ordinary Muslims of India, since 2014, live in a state of perpetual fear. There is a concerted process of what I call, ‘otherisation’, wherein a particular collectivity comes to be excluded from routine social and political processes, as much as it is also at the receiving end of violence and prejudicial treatment. There is data by Indiaspend which demonstrates that lynching Muslim men has increased manifold since the institution of the BJP government at the Centre.

The state policy too is clearly directed towards dehumanising Muslims, to the extent of denationalising a section of them.

The anti-cow slaughter laws in certain states have extended legitimacy to the so-called gau-rakshaks or the cow vigilantes accused of leading lynch mobs. We are aware of the impact of NRC in Assam on the so-called immigrant population. Nearly 1.9 million have been stripped off their citizenship and rendered virtually stateless. The CAA, which was meant to grant citizenship to those excluded by NRC, makes one single exception, and that is the Muslim. Young Muslims are today incarcerated under draconian laws such as the UAPA for merely opposing the CAA and speaking against its enactment.

However, this does not imply that prior to 2014 i.e. the coming of the present regime, Muslims of India, had a contented and secure existence. Large sections of Muslims of the north Indian states lived under conditions of abject poverty and persisting inequality. They filled the ranks of the most insecure informal labour force along with sections of Dalits and the tribals.

Targeted violence, in the form of riots, had episodic occurrence in many states of India. They, according to the Paul Brass, were pogroms, singularly targeting the Muslims. Many discriminatory laws and provisions such as clause 3 of Article 341 which disallowed Muslims and Christian low castes from availing SC status remained in the statute books. However, despite prevailing inequalities, targeted violence and discriminatory provisions, there is a remarkable difference between the times and circumstances under which we live today, and that prior to the current ascendance of Hindutva.

Firstly, the state in the past, had never abdicated neutrality in its philosophy of being than it has self-confessedly now. Symbolically, the PM’s inauguration of the Ram temple, conveyed that the Indian state, had decisively shifted from secularism as a political philosophy to that of majoritarian triumphalism. Secondly, the national public, now nurtured on staple supply of hate finds the Muslim as the scapegoat, and has only served to endorse the actions of the government and that of the stormtroopers. Thirdly, the hegemonic Hindutva nationalism seems to have prevailed to the extent that the alternative institutions to check the absoluteness of state-power such as the national media, the judiciary, the intellectual power of the intelligentsia etc too seem to have succumbed and collapsed.

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The role of British colonialism in implementing separate electorates for various communities, politically incorrect census in terms of communities, and perpetuating the divide and rule policy had deteriorated the communal equations making Indian secularism damaged. In the light of this do you think that secularism is an untenable idea in India?

Instead, I am of the opinion that secularism is the most plausible idea that along with concepts of democracy and pluralism constitutes the defining elements of Indian multi-nationhood. Indian nationalism is not constituted of any singularity of thought, culture, language or ideology. It’s structural make-up, unlike the European nation-state system, resides in its multiplicity and diversity. The quest to impose singularity or monochromatism, will on the contrary lead to tendencies towards separation. State re-organisation on the basis of language speakers and ethnicity to a certain extent accepts this reality and accordingly formulated the state policy. This is a success of the Indian story and instead of being embarrassed about the prevailing diversity, we should celebrate it. However, diversity should not imply accepting hierarchy or inequality and discrimination between status and cultural groups.

Secularism, as a state philosophy and policy needs to be adapted to the Indian reality. A wall of separation between Church and state is perhaps not advisable but the state can insist on equal treatment and non-discrimination on grounds of religious and cultural practices. It should be able to command legitimacy both among the majority and the minority, the elite and the subaltern, the prosperous and the vulnerable.

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The anti-cow slaughter law was enacted post independence as in the colonial period the ban was not enforced as there was a custom that Muslims used to sacrifice Cows on the eve of Bakrid whereas Hindus worshipped the Cow. This points to the fact that in the colonial period the Indian state was amenable to the religious customs of minorities whereas in the post colonial period the Indian state adopted majoritarian tune. Is that way of thinking correct?

Complete ban on slaughter of cattle of any variety or age is more recent, an enactment of the Hindutva regime. The state policy on this question has varied depending on the nature of state and its source of legitimacy. For the colonial state, the imperative was maintenance of public order. In most instance of inter-religious dispute they looked for status quo and local resolution of the problem. The state post-independence was ambivalent on this question. It enacted anti-slaughter laws in many states. They excluded non-milch animals and cattle of certain age from the ambit of the law. However, post-Hindutva ascendance, the law has been revised to include buffalos and bulls along with cows. The new law enacted by certain states such as Gujarat and Haryana insist on total ban. They have led to new kinds of problems.

Let us remember that the question of slaughter is not just a Hindu-Muslim question though politics likes to play it on as one between the two communities. Muslims are not the only consumers of beef. Many dalit and tribal communities as well as sections of general population eat beef and beef products. It is a staple source of protein to the labouring population of the country. Further, the political economy of beef ties castes and communities together. Farmers, mostly belonging to Hindu peasant caste (also some Muslim groups) traditionally rear milch animals. The aged and uneconomical animals are sold out to Hindu and Muslim butchers and slaughter houses run by big businessmen irrespective of their caste or religious locations. The carcass and the leather work is performed by the lowest castes. Evidently, there is a social hierarchy which is reinforced but then, there are livelihoods that are dependent on cow/cattle economy. In fact, according to one report, the cattle population has declined following the slaughter ban as farmers find rearing cattle uneconomical for they no longer can dispense with old cattle.

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According to the 2011 census 14.22 percent of the population of India comprises of Muslims, while among the 524 elected members of the Loksabha elected in 2014 general elections, only fourteen members (2.67 percent) were Muslims. In the 2019 general elections among the 542 members elected to the Lok Sabha, only around 18 (Only 3.3 percent) were Muslims. In the light of the above inadequate representation of Muslims in the Parliament don't you think that alternative measures should be put in place so as to ensure that religious minorities be provided with proportionate representation in the legislative bodies so as to reflect the spirit of constitutional principles? What modifications if any to the system of electoral voting might help to mitigate lopsided results such as we are witnessing, in your opinion?

Democracy is a form of governance and state-craft central to which is the question of representation. A democratising society is one which ensures a voice and representation to every section of the population, particularly the most vulnerable and under-privileged. I am not of the opinion that reservation should be extended to all Muslims, irrespective of their caste/class location. A mechanism needs to be evolved so that even among minority groups, the most vulnerable and powerless receive recognition and representation. This extends to the OBCs and the Dalits too. However, representation alone may not serve the purpose of equality. We will have to make serious and concerted efforts to address the problem of deep material deprivations suffered by large sections of these social groups.

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Incidents of moral policing have been reported at various places in the country in which not only Hindu outfits carry out the moral policing activities, but also Muslim and even Christian groups attempting to control the behaviour of those in their community. Post 2014 there have been a number of high-profile attacks against those accused of eating beef or transporting cows. What deep changes have been trickled down post 2014 in Indian society that precipitates the emergence of these vigilantism?

Cow vigilantism is certainly endorsed by the local state and this has enhanced manifold since the institution of new Hindutva regime at the Centre. Though conservatism prevails and even minority groups are susceptible to those tendencies. However, I do not think that the state functionaries extend any kind of support or patronage to them. Whatever be the case, the principle of individual ‘choice’ and ‘no harm’ should be ideally applied in every case. If a practice does no real and tangible harm to groups and individuals, there should not be any attempt to proscribe it. In fact, the state needs to reign in the vigilante groups so that it’s authority and autonomy is not compromised.

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There are anxieties that the numerical strength of the Muslim community will grow beyond the proportionate rate and this causes an insecurity in the minds of other communities. How realistic are such anxieties?

This absolutely a canard and a simply scrutiny of the demographic trends testifies it. Fertility among Muslims is high, but also the decennial rate of decline is faster than other communities. In fact, in developed states, Muslim fertility is much lower than those in lesser developed states. It certainly indicates that population trends are more a feature of developmental indices rather than religious persuasion.

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Is India an ethnic democracy where the majority community enjoys more rights than the minority community? From when did this transformation proceed, and what are some of the milestones in this process - which its supporters appear to welcome as irreversible?

The framework, ethnic democracy, aptly defines the prevailing situation in India. We have seen how histories are being re-written and revised, monuments and archives demolished, roads and mohallas renamed, minority protections being eroded and laws being enacted that reinforce prejudice and intolerance.

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What is the veracity of the love Jihad allegations against the Muslim community members. Is the accusation of the Muslim community members enticing people from other religion for the sake of the growth of their community hold water?

This is another canard and is not backed by any evidence on grounds. Inter-religious marriages are common in India as communities live in close proximity to each other, and interact on various occasions. Individuals convert in as well as convert out of a given religion in order to solemnise marriage. Although, special marriage act allows for non-denominational marriage between inter-faith couple, but it has little social sanction. It is for this reason, that conversions into one religious community or the other is relied upon. Unfortunately, certain state governments have got themselves busy in enacting laws that could proscribe such choices exercised by individuals.

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According to the Status of Policing in India Report 2018, between 2006 and 2013, Muslims were particularly underrepresented in the police force of the country. While the average index is 0.31 percent (compared to 0.50 for women), it varied between 0.08 in Assam and 0.69 in Andhra Pradesh, with only 0.09 in Rajasthan and 0.18 in Uttar Pradesh. What are the reasons for this underrepresentation of Muslims in the police force despite having OBC reservation in favour of them to enter the government services?

A combination of factors leads to Muslims eventually remaining under-represented in the police. It ranges from active discrimination, lower share in secondary and higher education, expectations of high physical standards etc. It is not good for the health of the democracy as well as for the sake of effective administration that one of the largest minority groups remains virtually unrepresented in law enforcement. State governments should come up with effective policies of affirmative action to enhance participation of under-represented social groups and communities.

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How do caste distinctions within Indian Muslim communities undermine or reinforce Hindu majoritarianism?

Caste system is intrinsic to Indian social order, and impacts Muslims despite Islam’s proclaimed egalitarianism. In fact, the endemic nature of caste hierarchy is such that it has come to influence even those religious communities that broke away from the Vedic religion for its endorsement of the caste and varna order. Here I mean, Buddhism and Sikhism. I do not see a direct connection between caste as a social phenomenon among Muslims and the rise of Hindutva. Though Hindutva is trying to capitalise on it through its outreach programmes for middle and lower caste among Muslims. But this is unlikely to succeed to any significant extent for the simple reason that the brunt of anti-minority violence and discrimination is faced by the Muslims of lower castes be it the Meo cattle traders, the Qureshi meat-sellers and traders, the lower caste Muslims kept out of the SC reservation, the weavers and so on. BJP and its allied political organisations well have to go through a revamp of their core political agenda and programme to enlist their support. This is unlikely to happen.

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What are your responses to the allegations that there is radicalisation in the Muslim community in India?

I do not see it as an important question particularly when radicalisation of the majority is condoned by the state. In any case, terror is not specific to any religion, neither does it have religious goals. This applies to ‘Hindutva’ terrorism, ‘Sikh’ terrorism or ‘Islamic’ terrorism.

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Topics:  Hate Crimes   Islamophobia 

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