This article is written by Amulya Bhatia, currently pursuing BBA.LL.B from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article discusses the issues which are faced by the Muslim community in India.
India takes pride in calling itself a secular state where all religions not just coexist but cherish each other. This may be true in theory but the reality is far from what we see on paper. In recent times, the talk regarding growing religious intolerance has been brought up multiple times. The government in India seems to be clutching over religious beliefs and as a result violating human rights. When the law and order of a country emphasize religious supremacy instead of focussing on the rights of every citizen, it only sets the path for the downfall of the country in question. The same is the case with India’s largest minority, the Muslim community. Despite being large in number, the rights of Muslims in India are violated left, right, and center, and the same is discussed in this article. The article will also raise an important question regarding the democratic status of India and will focus on the failure of the legal system in the country to protect all citizens.
History has shown that differences between the Hindu and Muslim communities are not new and have been witnessed through history. The following are only a few of the examples of intense conflicts between the communities, other than the daily discrimination:
Hindu Muslim animosity goes way before the partition but it was only 1947, particularly during the time of partition when tension between the two communities peaked. In 1947, India was finally independent of British rule under the leadership of many personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as a part of the Indian National Congress, who pushed for independence and initiated mass protests against British Rule. On the other hand, All-India Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, realizing that the entire Muslim community might not ever truly be accepted in the Indian State demanded a separate state for Muslims. The British then in a haste decided the border separating the entire Indian subcontinent into two; a Hindu majority India and a Muslim majority Pakistan. What followed this partition was intense communal violence and hurried migration of Muslims to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs to India along with constant arguments and disputes regarding the separation of assets. Towns and cities burned down, blood-shed all around, and bodies in streets, the partition is only recalled as one of the deadliest tiffs between Hindus and Muslims resulting in the death of millions of innocent people. There was extreme panic among the people about ending up in the ‘right’ country, where they wouldn’t be discriminated against or harassed. The friction that we see between the Hindu and the Muslim community today stems from history and the way the two religions have always treated each other.
Gujarat riots, 2002
It was in February 2002 that a train with Hindu pilgrims was set on fire near a junction in Godhra, a small city in India’s western state of Gujarat. Many were injured and even more were killed in this incident. Unfortunately, the blame for this was put on Muslims which resulted in violence and riots between the two communities, killing and displacing many innocent people. What’s worse is that sexual violence and rape were used as techniques to humiliate a community. Muslims are treated and accepted as ‘second-class citizens’ in this district in Gujarat. This violence led to the segregation of neighborhoods between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat.
Violence in Assam, 2012
The violence in Assam in 2012 is because of ethnic tension within the state because of ‘infiltration’ by outsiders which mostly include Bengali-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh Bengal. Bodo, the largest ethnolinguistic group in the state, had tension with Muslim migrants and these migrants were often attacked in the Bodo land. Muslims in the Bodo territory were systematically persecuted and discriminated against which would be described as ethnic cleansing. In July 2012, due to violence between the two communities, hundreds were killed and lakhs of Muslims were displaced which only shows that the current situation of the Muslim community owing to the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and the National Register of Citizens is not new.
Plight of the Muslim community
Issues faced by Muslims in India
Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019
The Citizen Amendment Act, 2019 is an immigration policy that allows Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis, and Sikhs from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to readily receive Indian citizenship, very carefully excluding and discriminating against the Muslim community. The proposed National Register of Citizens, which requires citizens to show proof of their citizenship, when combined with the CAA is a strategic tool opted by the government of India to rule out the Muslim population in the country. Let’s say, I am a Muslim Indian citizen, living in Delhi have never stepped out of the city. If I fail to produce documents to prove my citizenship, I will be declared an illegal immigrant. What will follow is either me being sent to a detention center, or deported to a country that I don’t belong to in the first place.
The Constitution of India does not allow for there to be discrimination based on religion and guarantees to all citizens equal treatment before the law. The CAA is the opposite of the principle of equality as it divides the migrants into categories of Muslim and non-Muslims. If the idea behind this Act is to protect minorities, why wouldn’t Muslim religious minorities who have faced persecution in their own countries like Ahmadis in Pakistan and Rohingyas in Myanmar also be included? The only purpose that appears prima facie is ripping Muslim citizens off of their citizenship. This Act not only discriminates against Muslim minorities in India but also is a display of the government’s sheer insensitivity towards Muslim minorities in the countries which are included in this Act. The enactment of the CAA was followed by nationwide protests as many believed that it violated the secular identity of the country, and endangered their cultural identity. The protestors were termed as ‘anti-national’ and ‘jihadi’. This Act only shows that the spirit of brotherhood, nationalism, and constitutionalism is close to nil in India in the 21st century.
It was on December 6, 1992, that the Babri Masjid was demolished by the Hindu community because they believed that that was where the ancient Ram Mandir stood. What followed this demolition was a grave tussle and communal violence between the two communities over this 2.77-acre land, killing and injuring many. This violence then turned into a legal battle between the Hindus and Muslims, which was finally put an end to when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the establishment of the Ram Mandir. The Court in its judgment very clearly observed that the demolition of the mosque was against the rule of law. Yet the judgment was made in favor of the Hindu community because of the belief that Ayodhya was the birthplace of Lord Ram under the caveat of illogical legal reasoning such as Hindus had unimpeded access to certain parts of the land. The question that arises here is if legal decisions of the country can be based on the religious beliefs of a particular community. Either the judiciary is naive enough to resolve such a controversial dispute based on religious ideas, or this is yet another plot to target the Muslim community. Many people were of the opinion that the Supreme Court had the power to uphold the spirit of secularism by giving this land to neither of the two groups, and allocate the same for the holistic improvement of the country by building a school, or hospital on the land. This judgment has proved that the Muslim community will always be treated as second-class citizens in a country we so proudly call secular.
Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 was first enacted with the idea of upholding national integrity and uniting the country that was getting disintegrated. Eventually, after several amendments, this Act took the form of a counter-terror law after the Terrorist Activities Prevention Act was repealed because of criticism by multiple human rights organizations. It is only after the latest amendment by the Modi government in 2019 that UAPA has come under scrutiny. This new amendment has been criticized is because of its callous categorization of individuals as terrorists and because this amendment is violative of the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Neither does this Act specify the grounding for terming someone as a terrorist or allow the person to justify his case before the arrest.
While UAPA has its problems, the issue lies with how and against whom it is being used which is against anybody who questions the government, most of whom have been people belonging to the Muslim community or people fighting for the rights of the Muslim community. Whether it is the Students’ Islamic Movement of India listed as a banned organization under UAPA followed by 127 people jailed for attending a seminar organized by the All India Minority Education Board or Mohammed Habeeb from Tripura finally free from charges because, after four years, UAPA charges were not proved, UAPA is another Hindutva propaganda falsely book Indian Muslims, or those supporting them under terror charges.
Love jihad laws
Anti conversion law, an attempt to protect women, snatch the agency of choice of women, or another legislation to weed out and target the Muslim community, the love jihad law are somehow deemed appropriate by the Supreme Court of India. Love jihad is nothing but a baseless conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of seducing Hindu women into marriage with the intention of forceful conversion to Islam to increase the Muslim population. This legislation has a two-fold problem which not just targets Muslim men but also assumes that Hindu women don’t have the sense to decide between right and wrong. This law has also been misused to harass interfaith couples who have married each other with consent.
In December 2020, Muskan, a Hindu girl, and Rashid, her Muslim husband ended up in jail when went to register their marriage. Muskan was also pregnant and had a miscarriage in the women’s shelter after being arrested. In another case, Owais Ahmad was in judicial custody for allegedly pressurizing a Hindu woman into converting to Islam on the basis of a complaint filed by the father of the woman, despite no evidence. A month after the implementation of this legislation, a Muslim teenager was arrested for inducing a Hindu girl to elope with him. The girl and the boy were attacked by the local police and the boy was booked under this law.
On the face of it, the government states for this law to be an anti-conversion law, meant for the overall protection of the citizens of this country from forceful conversion and also aims at protecting the interest of women in the country. However, it is evident from the number of examples and instances that have taken place since the enactment of this legislation that under the caveat of an anti-conversion law, this law is implemented to harass and target Muslims.
A real estate broker in South Delhi expressed his concern regarding a Muslim tenant and equated having a Muslim tenant with a risk. Another broker in East Delhi said that when they are contacted by a Muslim family, they check if the family is genuine, or are terrorists.
India may be a diverse and secular country, but even the most advanced cities in the country have discriminatory housing policies to keep out Muslims as they are viewed as a ‘threat’. Muslim tenants are addressed as a liability and sometimes they would be asked to pay a higher rent. Often, many Muslims hide their identity to avoid being treated inappropriately. The lack of housing laws to prevent discrimination against any community along with the bias of the state towards specific communities only add to their vulnerabilities. The simple task of finding a place to live, which is the most basic human right, turns into a haunting and deeply humiliating experience for the Muslim community. Unfortunately, the law and order of a secular country have turned a blind eye to this mortifying reality.
Bias by the justice system
What’s worse than the government of India itself clamping down on citizens and discriminating against certain communities based on their religion, is when the entire justice system also falls prey to systematic marginalization. The Indian Judiciary is always looked at with high regard believing for it to always be on the side of true justice. However, it appears that the judiciary which was supposed to be blind to the color, caste, creed, religion, or gender of the citizens before it has now turned blind to the concept of fair treatment to all and equality before the law. The three pillars of democracy, executive, judiciary, and legislature have together failed Indian Muslims. For example, after the CAA protests, many people who were actually shouting slogans in support of violence, against those who were protesting when CAA came into play, were not arrested. On the other hand, innocent protestors who were simply expressing dissent were treated like terrorists, most of whom were Muslim citizens. The most disheartening case is of Safoora Zargar, a pregnant research scholar in Jamia University, who was charged as a terrorist for inciting violence when all she did was organize peaceful protests to express her disapproval of the CAA, while those explicitly shouting ‘shoot the traitors of the country’ clearly promoting violence continue to roam free in the country had no action taken against them, let alone a warning.
Cow protection groups
In the name of cow protection, vigilantes, or rather extremists are harassing and subjecting minorities in India to violence and humiliation. Lukhman Khan was beaten up with hammers for transporting meat in Gurugram, a 25-year old was killed in Rajasthan when a cow protection group saw them carrying cattle in a truck, 4 Muslim laborers were beaten up for allegedly eating beef, it is evident that vigilantes now want to impose their faith on people of other communities and when not followed, they would resort to violence. What’s worse is the authorities and government turning a blind eye to this behavior and not taking any action regarding the same. In many cases, political leaders of Hindu nationalist groups have defended such violent acts.
Surge in Islamophobia
Tabrez Ansari, a 24-year old man, was tied up and beaten to death by a Hindu mob and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’ is only one of the victims of hate crime and Islamophobia in India. We live in a country where interfaith marriages or relationships in fictional shows like Netflix’s ‘The Suitable Boy’ are condemned and ads like that of Tanishq which is trying to spread a message of secularism is ridiculed, then it is insensible to expect the same citizens reacting angrily to fiction, to treat people with respect in real life. Another example would be about how whenever there is any given terrorist attack, Muslims, especially those belonging to the poorest sections of the society which unfortunately make up a majority of the Muslims in the country are either picked up by authorities without any proof, or are humiliated by the general public, and the entire Muslim community is criminalized.
Issues faced by Muslims abroad
The Muslim community as a whole is marginalized across the globe. Ahmed Shaheed, freedom of religion or belief, independent rights expert raised concern about the condition of the Muslim community in States where they are in a minority as they are targeted based on stereotypical ‘Muslim’ characteristics, such as names, skin color, and clothing, including religious attire, such as headscarves. Due to intersectionality, Muslim women end up facing triple the price because of both, their religion and gender. Even years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, people in the US continue to view all Muslims as a threat and declare all Muslims as ‘terrorists’. Many Muslims living in the west do not feel respected by the people around them. In a 2011 meeting, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, as well as the League of Arab States, a key partner, identified Islamophobia as an important area of concern and this concern has only become more grave with time. Islamophobia needs to be addressed as a global problem and it needs to be understood that international human rights protect individuals, and not religion making it necessary to safeguard the interest of every living person.
Protection of the Muslim community
Secularism is nothing but the belief that religion must not have any influence on the working of an organization or society. India is a country that harbors many religions and the principle of secularism has been enshrined in the Constitution of India. At the time of the freedom struggle, the maintenance of a secular India was emphasized by our forefathers. But given the current socio-legal issues that prevail in the society, Does the principle of secularism hold any value? We may have Article 14 which requires all citizens to be treated equally before the law or Article 15 which does not allow for there to be any discrimination based on religion, but how effective are these laws if every day there are new cases of people from the Muslim community either being ridiculed or being subjected to violence. India claims to be proud of its secular nature but the realities of the country display otherwise.
Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum And Ors (1985): This judgment started the conversation around maintenance for women under Muslim law. The court rules in favor of Shah Bano, asking her husband to pay maintenance, which was criticized by the Muslim community. As a result, ‘The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce), 1986’ was enacted and it was held that women must be given a fair and just amount of maintenance within the ‘iddat period’ as provided by the legislation.
Shamim Ara v. State of U.P. (2002): This case questioned how the procedure of Talaq as pronounced by a Muslim man is carried out. The question of whether ‘Talaq’ is simply pronounced without communicating to the wife is valid or not. The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that ‘Talaq’ must be carried out as per Quranic procedures. However, it was only through this case that the idea that triple Talaq is a demeaning and humiliating practice was brought up.
Shayara Bano vs. Union of India (2017): In 2017, this case brought up the issue of triple talaq wherein the court declared this practice to be unconstitutional. The Indian judiciary does not always interfere in the matters of personal law, but the argument given in this case was that most Islamic countries have also abandoned this practice which only goes to show that this is not an essential practice in this religion. This landmark judgment is a step towards equality and is one of the very few examples where the Indian government has made decisions in favor of the well-being of Muslim citizens of the country.
The Constitution of India does not allow for there to be any positive or negative discrimination in any situation whatsoever, based on religion. Therefore, it is not possible for there to be any reservation based on religion. However, it does take into account the need to protect certain socially and educationally backward classes, known as OBC(other backward classes), who have to face challenges in their daily lives because of the social set up of the society, and thus provide a 27% reservation for them in employment and educational facilities. Based on the criteria opted by the Mandal commission to recognize a community as OBC, close to a negligible number of Muslim communities were added to this list, meaning that Muslims are till date not able to reap enough benefits through this reservation, which they deserve considering how they are treated in India. It is hard to believe that after being treated the way they are as mentioned in this article, Muslims are still not recognized as a socially backward community. It has been observed that since the mid-1950s, the intergenerational gap in terms of the availability of opportunities has improved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, but the case for Muslims has only gotten worse. Muslims in India seem to only be catered to when a vote bank is required and the government comes to rescue the people of this community right before elections.
Whether the situation is changing
If a community that has been socially and economically marginalized and discriminated against since time immemorial do not find a place under the ‘other backward classes’ listing, then it is only natural for them to not have adequate representation in the myriad aspects of the society, or even have a chance to stand as equals with other citizens of the country. Such is the case with the Muslim community in India. The Muslim community may be a dominant minority in India, forming around 14% of India’s population, but barely forming even 4% of the parliament. When it comes to politics, it was observed that in 2017, the Bhartiya Janata Party failed to give even a single seat to a Muslim candidate in Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of 40 million Muslims. The same was the case in Gujarat as well. The lack of political representation of the Muslim community in the decision-making process of the country only leads to issues faced by minorities being ignored in the longer run. In a secular democracy like ours, every community must be given a fair chance to present their case and raise a voice to advocate for causes concerning them which seems like a dream, even in the 21st century. The Muslim community or any other minority for the matter are not given enough representation in India and are constantly treated as second-class citizens.
Social perception is a mental process that occurs when we try to form an image of a person in our heads. When you meet someone new, you immediately form a perception of the person, basically making snap judgments and decisions. Unfortunately, these judgments lead to the creation of bias and stereotypes. A major chunk of why Muslims continue to be discriminated against is because of a perception which people have formed about a Muslim person, about how they look, how they talk, or how they behave. A lot of this perception has to do with the representation of Muslim characters in movies for example showing Muslim people as terrorists. This perception has been formed over years and is not easy to get rid of. The unfortunate and deadly combination of exclusion in the sphere of politics, academics, legalities, and most importantly holistically within the society only seems like the start to destabilize India and rid it of its secular nature in years to come. India must truly move towards secularism, not just on paper, but in reality too.
Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skills.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals, and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: