Islamophobia has been a global problem for some time now. In India, the birth of Islamophobia can be traced back to 1925 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the other collective right-wing Hindu nationalist organization, the Sangh Parivar, were founded. Many early RSS nationalists idolised Nazi Germany and endorsed Hindu nationalism. And since 2014, intolerance towards freedom of expression and diversity of religious beliefs have been growing.
A young business student, Muskan Khan, from the Mandya district in Karnataka state, who had gone to her college to submit her assignment was taunted by a bunch of religious aggressors chanting “Jai Shri Ram” (Victory to Rama) and tried to prevent her from entering the college premises on the 8th February.
Muskan claimed in a tweet: “I was going to college to submit an assignment. There were some people who were not allowing me to go to the college because I was wearing a burqa. They were asking me to remove burqa and then go inside.” (sic).
Muskan however stood her ground, and in response to the bullies chanting “Jai Sri Ram”, she shouted “Allah Hu Akbar” (God is great) and walked on into her class. The video of her courageously responding to the Hindutva bullies has gone viral and has now caught international attention.
The university where Muskan studies does not allow any religious discrimination and has been supportive of Muskan. The right-wing goons who taunted Muskan and tried to prevent her from entering the college premises were mostly outsiders who had no business to be present there in the first place.
Tuesday’s incident is just one of the many examples of Islamophobia that is being allowed a free run in present-day India. The ruling BJP is attempting to transform India into a Hindu-dominant nation through its Hindutva project, in which the oppressor-caste male will be at the apex of the socio-political hierarchical structure.
Back in the early 1990s the present ruling party, the BJP, established itself through a series of Hindu power grab. In 1885 a plea was filed in the Faizabad District Magistrate Court by one Mahant Raghubir Das seeking permission to build a temple dedicated to Ram next to the ancient Babri masjid (place of worship) that was constructed in 1528. The plea was denied. After about six decades, in post-colonial India, in 1949, an idol of Ram was allegedly smuggled into the premises of the Babri masjid and placed there.
In 1990, the BJP under the aegis of Viswa Hindu Parishad led a “Rath Yatras”, pilgrimages from various parts of India that were to culminate in Ayodhya where it intended to construct a temple where the masjid stood. Though the yatra led by L.K. Advani which was on its way to Ayodhya was stopped in Bihar and Advani was arrested, it nonetheless managed to foment Hindu sentiments to such a great extent that it paved the way for the Hindu Right destroying the ancient Babri masjid in 1992. Subsequent court battles saw the Hindu Right establishing its right to build a temple dedicated to Rama in the mosque premises. It was a decade after this incident that the attack on World Trade Centre in the United States took place, triggering global Islamophobia and aligning it with the Indian version.
The anti-Muslim riots orchestrated in 2002 in the capital of Gujarat whose then chief minister was Narendra Modi, India’s present prime minister, gave the Hindu nationalists the impetus to bring BJP into power nationally in 2014. And ever since, a series of hate-promoting schemes featuring anti-Muslim sentiments have been established. A ban on eating beef throughout the country was one of the foremost demands of the Hindutva forces. Such a ban was in existence in many north Indian states even while the Congress party was in power, But Modi managed to call for a law that took effect throughout the country. This triggered violence against Muslims who were suspected to be eating beef or transporting cows.
In 2019, the Modi-led government won a majority in the general elections for a second time, and Islamophobia became more rampant. Kashmir lost its special status and the people of Kashmir who are mostly Muslims were looked down on as terrorists and unreasonable laws to curb their lifestyle were promulgated; Muslim refugees such as the Rohingyas of Myanmar were treated as “invasive pests”; and the collective neighbouring Muslim nation-state of Pakistan was termed an existential enemy.
In December 2019 the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was implemented by the ruling party. It discriminates against Muslim (but not Hindu or those from other religions) refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the granting of Indian citizenship. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) efforts to verify citizenship would affect the most marginalised in terms of their ability to produce all the required documents for citizenship. Millions, mostly Muslims, would be rendered stateless if NRC is implemented as intended. In 2020, the construction of detention camps – similar to concentration camps built by the Nazis – was begun by the Modi regime for those deemed non-citizens. And in early 2020, protests against the CAA and the proposed NRC took off. And armed RSS nationalists even thought it fit to take up arms against anti-CAA protestors at Jamia! But many Muslims protested against the CAA despite the violence against them. The fight against such draconian laws is continuing in response to the Islamophobia they have generated.
And on Tuesday 8th February 2022 it was Muskan’s turn to stand up against Islamophobia. Dictating what one should eat or how one should dress is against the Constitution of India.
What had triggered Muskan’s protest was the attempt by Hindutva hooligans to deny her the rights to education and her fundamental right to wear a Hijab. Muskan courageously responded to the bullies who chanted “Jai Sri Ram” to intimidate her by responding with “Allah Hu Akbar”, emphasising her right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
When oppressed communities, especially women from oppressed communities stand up against a fascist regime, it is not only a sign of courage, inspiration, and growth but a massive hope that India shall not become a Nazi-like nationalistic state!
The Muskan incident has garnered world attention, and Nobel Prize winner and Human Rights activist Malala Yousafzai tweeted addressing Indian leaders to stop the objectification of women.
The courageous young Muskan has become an icon of inspiration and is determined to pursue her education wearing the hijab that she is entitled to wear, come what may! We applaud her.