India School Hijab Ban: Majority of Hindu Women Also Cover Their Heads
Is the ban on hijab in colleges in the southern Indian state of Karnataka motivated by Islamophobia? Is it part of the ruling BJP party's campaign against 200 million Indian Muslims? Results of a Pew Survey help clarify the answer to these questions: Six in ten Indian women, including Hindu women, cover their heads.
|Head Covering By Religions in India. Source: Pew|
The survey found that a majority of Hindu women (59%), and roughly equal shares of Muslim (89%) and Sikh women (86%), wear head coverings when they go out of their homes. It was conducted in 2019-20, well before the current hijab row in Karnataka, and republished recently.
|Regional Differences in Head Coverings in India. Source: Pew|
The Indian practice of head covering is much more common in the North than in the South. It is especially common in the largely Hindi-speaking regions in the Northern, Central and Eastern parts of the country. In the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, roughly nine-in-ten women say they wear head coverings in public.
In the South, 83% of Muslim women say they cover their heads, compared with 22% of Hindu women. In the Northern region, meanwhile, roughly equal shares of Muslim (85%) and Hindu (82%) women say they cover their heads in public.
|Hijab-wearing Muslim Girls Refused Entry in Karnataka Schools. Source: WSJ|
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu Nationalist BJP party's entire politics revolves around hatred of Muslims and other religious minorities in India. The BJP currently rules Karnataka which has seen a rise in activities of Hindutva groups and the targeting of the state’s religious minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians.
“We have been wearing hijab for years without any problem but now, the issue has been suddenly taken up by the BJP and Hindutva groups to rake up communal tensions,” Kaneez Fatima, a Congress member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, told Al Jazeera, referring to the Hindu far-right groups.
NEW DELHI — An Indian court Tuesday upheld a ban on wearing hijab in class in the southern state of Karnataka, saying the Muslim headscarf is not an essential religious practice of Islam.
The high court in Karnataka state delivered the verdict after considering petitions filed by Muslim students challenging a government ban on hijabs that some schools and colleges have implemented in the last two months.
The dispute began in January when a government-run school in Karnataka's Udupi district barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, triggering protests by Muslims who said they were being deprived of their fundamental rights to education and religion. That led to counterprotests by Hindu students wearing saffron shawls, a color closely associated with that religion and favored by Hindu nationalists.
More schools in the state followed with similar bans and the state's top court disallowed students from wearing hijab and any religious clothing pending a verdict.
Ahead of the verdict, the Karnataka government banned large gatherings for a week in state capital Bengaluru "to maintain public peace and order" and declared a holiday Tuesday in schools and colleges in Udupi.
The hijab is worn by many Muslim women to maintain modesty or as a religious symbol, often seen as not just a bit of clothing but something mandated by their faith.
Hijab restrictions have surfaced elsewhere, including France, which in 2004 banned them in schools. But in India, where Muslims make up 14% of the country's 1.4 billion people, the hijab has historically been neither prohibited nor limited in public spheres. Women donning the headscarf is common across the country, which has religious freedom enshrined in its national charter with the secular state as a cornerstone.
Some rights activists have voiced concerns that the ban could increase Islamophobia. Violence and hate speech against Muslims have increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's governing Hindu nationalist party, which also governs Karnataka state.
The idea of freedom of religion through symbolic display isn’t restricted to India as signified by the hijab row.
On Feb. 22, the US Air Force granted approval to Darshan Shah, an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 90th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron in Wyoming, to wear a tilak chandlo (holy mark on the forehead) in uniform.
Born into a Hindu family, Shah is originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Ever since attending the basic military training in June 2020, he had been seeking a waiver in the uniform rules to wear the tilak chandlo while on duty.
“Not only was I wearing the uniform, which is one of my main identities, being a member of the Air Force, but I was also wearing my tilak chandlo,” said Shah, according to a US Air Force website. “It’s who I am. Wearing it is special. It’s my way of getting through hardships and difficulties in life. It provides me guidance…”
The decision by US Air Force has garnered a lot of support from several Hindus across the world. The leader of the sect Shah belongs to shared a phone call from India to discuss the waiver after several Hindu saints spoke to him about Shah’s perseverance.
Around the same time, India has faced turmoil caused by the hijab row in the southern state of Karnataka.
It began some weeks ago when one Karnataka decided to disallow, henceforth, the woman’s headcover on campus. Several Muslim families with woman students of the institution were outraged and boycotted classes. The row ballooned after other colleges in Karnataka began implementing similar bans.
Following days of protests, the Karnataka high court, a few days ago, upheld the ban on hijab. The row has now moved on to some temples in Karnataka now banning Muslim traders from taking part in their fairs and religious festivals.
Bengaluru: A prominent voice from the corporate sector and executive chairperson of Biocon Ltd, Dr Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, has raised a red flag over the “growing religious divide” in Karnataka and expressed fear that it may affect the IT-BT sector too.
In a series of tweets, she raised a red flag over hardline Hindutva groups to keep out Muslim traders from temple festivals in Karnataka and urged Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to resolve the “growing religious divide” in the state and warned that the country’s “global leadership” in tech and biotech was at stake.
“Karnataka has always forged inclusive economic development and we must not allow such communal exclusion — if IT/BT became communal it would destroy our global leadership,” wrote Shaw, who heads Asia’s leading biopharmaceuticals enterprise,” she tweeted, tagging Bommai and added: “Please resolve this growing religious divide.”
In a subsequent tweet, she posted: “Our CM is a very progressive leader. I am sure he will resolve this issue soon.”
She was referring to reports on how Muslim vendors were being kept out of several temple towns and festivals. Several temple committees organising the festivals, especially in the communally sensitive coastal districts, have been obeying the warning issued by the hardline Hindu groups. Some, however, have expressed dismay over the curbs and say these would hit long-standing social relations. The curbs came after Muslim groups organised a bandh against the hijab ban ruling by the Karnataka High Court.
However, the state government, in an official statement in the state legislature, said the restrictions on non-Hindus conducting business within the premises of temples is as per a rule introduced in 2002 under the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997. This rule, many vendors say, has now been weaponised to keep them out of business.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was monitoring what he described as a rise in human rights abuses in India by some officials, in a rare direct rebuke by Washington of the Asian nation's rights record.
"We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials," Blinken said on Monday in a joint press briefing with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and India's Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.
Blinken did not elaborate. Singh and Jaishankar, who spoke after Blinken at the briefing, did not comment on the human rights issue.
Blinken's remarks came days after U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar questioned the alleged reluctance of the U.S. government to criticize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on human rights.
"What does Modi need to do to India’s Muslim population before we will stop considering them a partner in peace?" Omar, who belongs to President Joe Biden's Democratic Party, said last week.
Modi's critics say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014.
Since Modi came to power, right-wing Hindu groups have launched attacks on minorities claiming they are trying to prevent religious conversions. Several Indian states have passed or are considering anti-conversion laws that challenge the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief.
In 2019, the government passed a citizenship law that critics said undermined India's secular constitution by excluding Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries. The law was meant to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.
In the same year, soon after his 2019 re-election win, Modi's government revoked the special status of Kashmir in a bid to fully integrate the Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country. To keep a lid on protests, the administration detained many Kashmir political leaders and sent many more paramilitary police and soldiers to the Himalayan region also claimed by Pakistan.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently banned wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka state. Hardline Hindu groups later demanded such restrictions in more Indian states.
“Our only answer will be their house getting bulldozed.”
Muslim families I interviewed claim that Hindus and Muslims usually live in harmony and that the riot was unprecedented and surprising. When I interviewed Hindu families and asked them about this general sense of goodwill in the village, they expressed a deep hatred for those same neighbors.
Once he learned that I am Hindu, Om Pal, a Hindu resident of the village, was more willing to speak openly. “Dekho ji, yaha ke Musalmaan waise to inki Pakistaani soch hai, [See, madam, the muslims who stay here have a Pakistani mentality],” he said. “Whenever there is a match where India plays against Pakistan, these Muslims always cheer for Pakistan,” said “These people eat free rations given by Modi and later abuse Modi only. They also have free Rs.500 given by Modi but still plan against India.”
Other Hindu villagers felt the same way, though none wanted to be quoted by name. “Our only answer will be their house getting bulldozed,” one said.
Muslims actually have a lower instance of polygamy than Hindus.
But data has no chance in the face of communal bias.
"You can not assume that women (wearing hijab) are oppressed and then strip them of (hijab as) the insignia of oppression".
"Many women in England are adopting it (hijab) and saying they are finding happiness within".
"Women in Europe used to wear double veils and cover their heads for centuries. Then they started wearing hats before going bareheaded. Some still wear hats or caps when it is cold"
Fertility rate among Muslims is only 0.36 points higher than that of Hindus, according to the latest National Family Health Survey.
The fertility rate among Muslims has seen the sharpest decline among all religious communities over the past two decades, compared to other religious communities, data from the National Family Health Survey-5, released last week, has showed.
The fertility rate is the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime.
The fertility rate among Muslims has dropped to 2.3 during the 2019 to 2021 period, from 2.6 recorded in 2015-16, the survey conducted by the Union health ministry showed. In 1992-93, Muslims had a fertility rate of 4.4.
Among Hindus, the fertility rate has dropped from 3.3 in 1992-93 to 1.94 in the latest survey. In the previous survey for 2015-16, fertility rate among Hindus was 2.1. The numbers show that the fertility rate has declined 46.5% among Muslims since 1992-93 and 41.2% in Hindus.
The fertility rate is 1.88% in Christians, 1.61% in Sikhs, 1.6% in Jains, and 1.39% in the Buddhist and Neo-Buddhist communities. The country’s total fertility rate has dipped to 2, according the survey, from 2.2 in 2015-16. The total fertility rate is currently below the replacement rate of 2.1.
Replacement rate is a crucial factor in the study of population growth. A replacement rate of less than 2.1 ensures the replacement of a woman and her partner upon death with no overall increase or decrease in the population.
When her high school banned the hijab, Ayesha Shifa sued — and her case went to India's Supreme Court. A verdict, expected soon, may redefine what secularism means in the world's largest democracy.
Former R&AW chief A.S. Dulat, while commenting on the recently released Vivek Agnihotri directorial film, The Kashmir Files, has said that he doesn’t intend to watch it.
“I don’t see propaganda. And it is a propaganda movie,” he said.
“Many Pandits who chose to stay behind were protected by Muslims in 1990s. Many Kashmiri Pandit families did stay back. Even after the abrogation of Article 370, the Pandits have not been targeted,” Dulat said.
When asked about Jagmohan, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, he said that when he was governor from August 1989 to January 1990, the situation had changed dramatically by the time he returned.
“The Kashmir that he came back to after four or five months, it was totally different from the Kashmir he had left. He was quite shaken himself,” he said.
“When these killings started, he didn’t want the pandits to bear the brunt of it. So once they started leaving, he was quite happy,” Dulat implied that Jagmohan was relieved when the Kashmiri Pandit migration from Kashmir began.
“It was a natural reaction. If they are leaving, ‘Good.’ There was no way that we could provide any protection to them because things were so bad,” he added.
The pandit migration began soon after the 1990 killings, according to Dulat. Rich KPs travelled to Delhi, while those who had nowhere else to go sought refuge in Jammu’s camps. Dulat also said that Kashmiri Muslims who could afford it left for locations like Delhi. They returned when things seemed to be improving.
A Kashmiri Pandit responds to the film 'The Kashmir Files'.
Published: 31 Mar 2022, 4:37 PM IST
Regardless of its cinematic worth, The Kashmir Files relentlessly pursues a version of truth those hailing it, swear by. By misrepresenting facts just enough, deceitfully layered with disinformation and obfuscating any context, the film succeeds in its true purpose - blatant vilification of Kashmiri Muslims.
Several friends, and acquaintances reached out recently, asking – did it really happen? Yes. Did it happen the way it is shown? Yes, but not really. And, therein lies its voodoo.
Three decades ago, when thousands of Kashmiris left their home, we were perhaps luckier than some to have extended family already in Delhi to stay with. Thereby sidestepping the quagmire of refugee-camps. To that extent, ours wasn’t the median story. It wasn’t even the worst. Others who left, lived in abysmal conditions for years, and died. And yet, many others that survived, showed remarkable resilience by building back lives since - from scratch, despite the tragic displacement, and thrived. Did time heal all the pain? Or did we forget everything that happened, as a defence to cope with our unaddressed trauma?
Unfortunately, trauma works in mysterious ways. Every life event, in one form or the other, gets linked to that traumatic event. I have seen this within my immediate and closed ones. Admittedly, I too, lived so for many years. Silently. And assumed that’s just the way it was, is, and will continue to be.
Even though, the first friend I made in Delhi (and life) was a Kashmiri Muslim, himself a product of this complex tragedy of Kashmiris (not just Pandits), I failed to recognise what stared me in the face, for a long time. Today when I struggle with many trepidations of life, more than thirty-two years after that fateful day, I realise I am a product of privileges, choices, misgivings, mistakes and learnings, all uniquely mine. It took me many years to realise – Trauma induces hate, and hate consumes you. No matter how deep a wound runs, hate can't be right. Because, it blinds you.
What happened in Kashmir, did it happen spontaneously, out of thin air? Did it happen to just us? Even in its most modern form, there is over seventy years of history to Kashmir, that includes the exodus, but also multiple wars, ambiguous promises and a continual sense of estrangement. We know it.
History is a double edged sword. In the right hands, it inevitably bleeds out its wielder. In the wrong ones, it does so to rest of the world. In our emotional and vociferous response to the events depicted in the film, we are staking claim over our truth. By discarding everything that happened before, and continues to happen after; and calling it history; we are consciously choosing a side where all of them are fundamentally baying for our blood, and will not stop until our extermination. Unless, annihilated first, eye-for-an-eye style.
Pitting one’s loss against another’s, is criminal. The only thing worse is to deny the other truth just because it does not align with ours, and attempt to obliterate it. When we put a magnifying lens on our suffering, every minutiae stands out in high-definition. It hurts. Of course, it does. Shift that lens a little and the new details that emerge, will hurt in equal measure too, if not more. There’s a truth outside ours. As confusing and uncomfortable as it may appear, that is real too
Fans say that Moose Wala was merely confronting the dark truths about modern life and holding up a mirror to society. "He was just making sense of the chaos, whether it was corruption, violence or the gun problem in Punjab," one fan said. "And that contribution in itself is valuable."
Moose Wala's music has meant different things to different people. Some say they admired him for the "courage and I-don't-care attitude" that was evident in his songs. Others liked the way he added English words to his Punjabi songs, which gave it a contemporary sheen.
"His simple and colloquial style of writing made it easy to understand for his audiences. Also, we loved the way he answered his critics through his songs," 27-year-old Niyamat Singh, one of his fans, told BBC Punjabi.
Mr Singh is particularly fond of the track 295, in which the singer delivers a strong-worded commentary on the shrinking scope for dissent in the country. The song's title is a reference to Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with "injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class".
"Every day there will be controversy with someone or the other. There will be a debate in the name of religions. If you speak the truth, you will get 295 (section) And if the son progresses, he will get hate," Moose Wala sings in the track.
Mr Singh told BBC Punjabi that he loves the way the singer "says what it is".
Ms Sethi remembers a concert Moose Wala did at an upmarket Delhi hotel a few months ago. "People from every walk of life came to see him perform. The excitement was so high that people were willing to pay extra money just to get a glimpse of him," she says.
Fans also credit him for baptising hip-hop - which until recently clung to the fringes of popular culture in South Asia - as a mainstream genre. His songs were hugely popular not just in India but across the subcontinent, and especially among the Punjabi speaking population in Pakistan.
In 2021, he decided to enter politics. He contested elections as a candidate for India's principal opposition, the Congress party, in the 2022 Punjab assembly elections. Although he lost, his popularity as a "people's leader" continued to grow. He was especially invested in the betterment of his village. "That is why I chose to be known not by my name but by that of my village," he would tell people during his political rallies.
For starters, Ms. Sharma and Mr. Jindal are hardly champions of Enlightenment values. BJP state governments routinely arrest people for insulting Hindu sentiments, and many party supporters cheer these arrests. Last week, while releasing a report on international religious freedom, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out India for “rising attacks on people and places of worship.”
But even if the BJP were a good steward of free speech—rather than selectively intolerant—India would still face the stark reality that it can’t afford to antagonize the Muslim world. For starters, about two-thirds of Indian citizens abroad—8.9 million of 13.6 million people—live in the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, in recent years GCC countries have accounted for more than half of India’s roughly $87 billion in remittances.
The Gulf is also among India’s largest trading partners. Last year, two-way trade with the six GCC countries was $87.4 billion, which is more than India’s bilateral trade with the European Union or Southeast Asian countries. The Middle East supplies more than half of India’s oil and gas imports.
New Delhi also has close strategic relationships with some of these countries. As India has grown closer to the U.S. in recent years, it has also stepped up cooperation with such American allies as Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. The Saudi government has extradited terrorism suspects to India. In 2019 the U.A.E. bestowed its highest civilian award on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Four years ago, Oman, with which India has close strategic ties dating back to British rule, granted the Indian navy access to one of its ports. This gives India a foothold in a region where China has made inroads with its Belt and Road Initiative.
All this means that even if it were not hypocritical for BJP supporters to lambast penalizing Ms. Sharma and Mr. Jindal, it would be foolish for ruling party officials to insult revered Islamic religious figures. Hard-line Hindu nationalists may hate the idea of India’s kowtowing to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but Mr. Modi knows better than to pick a fight that he can’t win.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERTS TO EXAMINE INFORMATION ABOUT ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL LAW COMMITTED AGAINST MUSLIMS IN INDIA SINCE JULY 2019
S O N J A B I S E R K O
M A R Z U K I D A R U S M A N
S T E P H E N R A P P
The report makes compelling reading and highlights significant areas of discrimination targeted
against Muslim Indians.
The scale and pattern of human rights violations against Muslims across India since mid- 2019
are alarming. The acts of physical violence perpetrated on Muslims, including by state actors, combined with anti-Muslim hate speech and incitement disseminated through several platforms
in the country, pose a serious threat to the survival of the religious minority. As noted in the report, in some cases, particularly in the state of Uttar Pradesh and in the Jammu
and Kashmir region, the alleged violations have potentially reached the threshold of crimes
under international law.
At the same time, it is also evident that such violations are not isolated region-specific incidents, as they appear to be unfolding rather systematically in much of the country indicating likely
further deterioration of the situation.
It is particularly concerning that Muslim women and girls have been subjected to threats and
acts of sexual violence, while some of them have been deprived of education for choosing to
manifest their religious identity. It is clear from the report that underpinning the acts of
violence is also an attempt by the authorities to undermine the equal rights of Muslims
guaranteed by the Indian constitution to all its citizens. The Citizenship Amendment Act, its
nexus with the National Register of Citizens in Assam, and other discriminatory laws and policies
being rolled out across India, in effect, downgrade Muslims as a separate category. They
normalise unequal treatment, enable further exclusion, stigmatisation and violence against this
group, thus creating the grounds for mass atrocity crimes against the targeted Muslim
It is unacceptable that the authorities use the legal framework, including counter- terrorism and
national security laws to clamp down on civil society and silence human rights defenders who
speak out on behalf of the minority community. Administrative detentions, denial of citizenship, bad-faith prosecutions, withdrawal of licences, and threats and reprisals against human rights
groups, human rights defenders and activists and journalists, all have a direct impact on the
safety and protections available to targeted communities. This widespread attack on basic
freedoms and the shrinking civic space, bring shame to a once proud democracy.
The report notes that the situation risks deterioration because of the absence of an
accountability framework. The Indian legal system provides a wide range of laws and institutions
that are designed to combat religious discrimination. However, the Panel found sufficient
grounds to conclude that the ideological and religious prejudices of the current government
appear to be permeating all independent institutions, resulting in the lack of effective and
adequate accountability initiatives.
At the international level, despite India's commitment to the contrary, it has neither acceded to
the individual complaints mechanisms nor is it a state party to the Rome statute of the
International Criminal Court. The report also highlights that India's engagement with the Treaty
bodies and independent mandate holders has been passive and inadequate. As a consequence,
the current milieu does not provide victims of systematic human rights violations any avenues
to seek relief and remedies.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERTS TO EXAMINE INFORMATION ABOUT ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL LAW COMMITTED AGAINST MUSLIMS IN INDIA SINCE JULY 2019
S O N J A B I S E R K O
M A R Z U K I D A R U S M A N
S T E P H E N R A P P
I endorse the two goals emphasised in the report, namely, accountability for past crimes and
prevention of future atrocity crimes. The report makes a timely call to the international
community to act on the early-warning signs emerging in India by invoking the wide range of
measures at their disposal to protect the rights of the Muslim minority.
I reaffirm the recommendations made by the expert Panel members, not only to India and its
public institutions but also to the UN Human Rights Council as well as the wider UN system. I
hope that international values and the responsibility to protect will prevail over political
considerations and that the international community will deliver on its promise of " Never again"
to gross human rights violations. Ultimately, however, it is the Indian leaders and the country's
independent institutions that must rise to the occasion, recommit themselves to the inclusive
values of the Indian constitution, and defend and protect all Indians equally.
Sandeep Chaturvedi, 26, is readying to record his new song in a makeshift studio in the city of Ayodhya in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The song is about a mosque that has became a subject of controversy after Hindus claimed the right to worship there. It is riddled with innuendos against Muslims. But Chaturvedi says the song could get him back in business.
Chaturvedi's songs are part of a growing trend of music on YouTube and other social media platforms where supporters of the Hindu right-wing spew venom at Muslims.
Why people get away with hate speech in India
The lyrics are abusive or threatening. They are usually based on the premise that Hindus have suffered for centuries at the hands of Muslims - and now it's payback time.
Writer and political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay says that in addition to being a source of income, such music fetches their singers some attention. But for him, this is not music. "This is a war-cry. It's as if music is being used to win a war. This is a misuse of music and this has been happening for years."
Rana says that he gets a steady income from the videos he uploads on YouTube.
"We are bringing foreign currency to India. YouTube pays in dollars," he beams, pointing to wall-mounted YouTube Silver Play Button that shares space with images and portraits of Hindu warriors.
Ever since Rana moved on from composing devotional and romantic songs to ones with "historical" overtones, he has become a kind of star in Dadri. He has close to 400,000 subscribers on YouTube and many of his songs have been viewed millions of times.
Rana says that creating a music video costs him a mere 8,000 rupees (£84; $100). He has his own set-up to record and edit videos and a team comprising a cameraperson and an editor.
The young Indians spreading hate online
Mr Mukhopadhyay says the trend of weaponising music against minorities is reminiscent of events that have occurred in the past. He recalls the controversial foundation stone-laying programme in Ayodhya in 1989 organised by the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) which culminated in the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992.
"Just before that, an industry of audio tapes had sprung up. They contained religious songs and so-called provocative slogans related to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue [Hindus believe that Ayodhya is Lord Ram's birthplace] and these tapes used to be played in processions to mobilise people."
Three decades on, the tone has become shriller.
Compositions proclaiming "if you want to live in India, learn to say Vande Mataram ("I praise you, Mother")… and learn to live within your limits", or "thinking of Hindus as weak is the enemy's mistake" make no effort to hide who they are targeting.
These songs have also helped right-wing organisations "mobilise" their cadres.
Experts say it is only the latest example of how the toxic politics that are roiling India — and leading to the persecution of Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities — have migrated to other parts of the globe.
Across the Indian diaspora, ugly divisions are emerging. A bulldozer, which has become a symbol of oppression against India’s Muslim minority, was rolled down a street in a New Jersey town during a parade this summer, offending many people. Last year, attacks on Sikh men in Australia were linked to extremist nationalist ideology. In April, Canadian academics told CBC News that they faced death threats over their criticism of growing Hindu nationalism and violence against minorities in India.
Since India’s independence struggle, Hindu nationalists have espoused a vision that places Hindu culture and religious worship at the center of Indian identity. That view, once fringe, was made mainstream when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party came to power.
Human rights observers have since documented a sharp rise in violence against minorities in India, particularly targeting Muslims, but also Christians. Activists and journalists, including many Muslims, have been jailed or threatened with prosecution under an antiterrorism law that has received scrutiny from India’s highest court.
Mr. Modi has largely responded to this violence with silence, which experts say his most extreme supporters interpret as a tacit sign of approval. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a prominent Indian public intellectual, last month wrote that the Leicester episode followed a playbook “familiar for anyone who knows Indian riots: The use of rumors, groups from outside the local community, and marches to create polarization in otherwise peaceful communities.”
The tensions that spilled onto the streets last month have prompted soul searching among the different religious communities in Leicester, a city of about 368,000 in England’s Midlands. Leicester has one of Britain’s highest proportions of South Asians, a vast majority of them people of Indian heritage, who make up some 22.3 percent of the city’s overall population, according to the most recent government statistics.
Leicester is 13 percent Muslim and 12.3 percent Hindu, and most of the people from both religious groups are ethnically Indian.
After British rule ended with the partition of India in 1947, creating a separate state of Pakistan, subsequent legislation allowed citizens from across the Commonwealth to move to Britain. Another wave of South Asians arrived in the 1970s after Uganda’s dictator, Idi Amin, suddenly expelled thousands of people of mostly Indian origin from Uganda. By then, Leicester had gained a reputation as a city that was generally welcoming to immigrants.
“Leicester has always been proud of the fact that we have new people coming from all parts of the world,” said Rita Patel, a local councilor and member of a South Asian women’s collective working toward peacebuilding.
India's rising tide of Hindu nationalism is an affront to the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, his great-grandson says, ahead of the 75th anniversary of the revered independence hero's assassination.
Gandhi was shot dead at a multi-faith prayer meeting on January 30, 1948, by Nathuram Godse, a religious zealot angered by his victim's conciliatory gestures to the country's minority Muslim community.
Godse was executed the following year and remains widely reviled, but author and social activist Tushar Gandhi, one of the global peace symbol's most prominent descendants, says his views now have a worrying resonance in India.
"That whole philosophy has now captured India and Indian hearts, the ideology of hate, the ideology of polarisation, the ideology of divisions," he told AFP at his Mumbai home.
"For them, it's very natural that Godse would be their iconic patriot, their idol."
Tushar, 63, attributes this tectonic shift to the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Modi took office in 2014 and Tushar says his government is to blame for undermining the secular and multicultural traditions that his namesake sought to protect.
"His success has been built on hate, we must accept that," Tushar added.
"There is no denying that in his heart, he also knows what he is doing is lighting a fire that will one day consume India itself."
Today, Gandhi's assassin is revered by many Hindu nationalists who have pushed for a re-evaluation of his decision to murder a man synonymous with non-violence.
A temple dedicated to Godse was built near New Delhi in 2015, the year after Modi's election, and activists have campaigned to honour him by renaming an Indian city after him.
Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a still-prominent Hindu far-right group whose members conduct paramilitary drills and prayer meetings.
The RSS has long distanced itself from Godse's actions but remains a potent force, founding Modi's party decades ago to battle for Hindu causes in the political realm.
Modi has regularly paid respect to Gandhi's legacy but has refrained from weighing in on the campaign to rehabilitate his killer.
Tushar remains a fierce protector of his world-famous ancestor's legacy of "honesty, equality, unity and inclusiveness".
He has written two books about Gandhi and his wife Kasturba, regularly talks at public events about the importance of democracy and has filed legal motions in India's top court as part of efforts to defend the country's secular constitution.
His Mumbai abode, a post-independence flat in a quiet neighbourhood compound, is dotted with portraits and small statues of his famous relative along with a miniature spinning wheel -- a reference to Gandhi's credo of self-reliance.
Tushar is anxious but resigned to the prospect of Modi winning another term in next year's elections, an outcome widely seen as an inevitability given the weakness of his potential challengers.
"The poison is so deep, and they're so successful, that I don't see my ideology triumphing over in India for a long time now," he says.
The Rise and Rise of Islamophobia in India
Muslims have been subjected to violence for decades, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only made things worse.
By Danylo Hawaleshka
Published On 18 Apr 2023
18 Apr 2023
History Illustrated is a weekly series of insightful perspectives that puts news events and current affairs into an historical context using graphics generated with artificial intelligence.
Muslims in India are being targeted by vile propaganda, intense intimidation and mob violence.
For instance, Hindu nationalists in 1992 destroyed the 16th century Babri Mosque. Nationwide riots then killed about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.
In 2002, 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a train fire in Gujarat state, which was blamed on Muslims.
Narendra Modi, who headed the state at that time, was accused of doing little to stop the violence.
In 2019, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party enacted a citizenship law, seen to discriminate against Muslims.
Human Rights Watch said ensuing riots in New Delhi over that law killed 53 people, mostly Muslims, and that Hindu mobs injured over 200.
Propaganda films like The Kashmir Files demonise Muslims, a film Modi endorsed.
Today, mosques are often attacked, like the 300-year-old one in Uttar Pradesh razed for a highway.
This cycle of violence and vilification directed at a religious group is something history has seen before—and it never ends well.