IN today’s India, the majoritarian assault on Muslim cultural and religious symbols continues, with the latest controversy surrounding the azan. Mosques in India’s commercial capital Mumbai have been turning down the volume when it comes to calling the faithful to prayer over the microphone after Raj Thackeray, leader of a local Hindu party and a nephew of the late radical politician Bal Thackeray, threatened to chant Hindu prayers outside mosques if they refused to lower the volume. Again under the fig leaf of enforcing civic regulations, moves are being made to erase or at least severely curtail expressions of Muslim public life. Last year, the government in the state of Haryana issued orders restricting namaz in public places, apparently acting after pressure was applied by extremist Hindu groups. While the law of the land needs to be respected, something sinister is afoot in India: Indian Muslims are being marginalised and excluded from the public sphere through state-sanctioned discrimination. Meanwhile, the administration looks the other way when Hindu zealots enforce their own anti-Muslim codes and practices.
On one end of the spectrum, there have been numerous calls for the economic boycott of Muslims by extremist Hindu outfits. On the other end, state functionaries themselves have been involved in spewing anti-Muslim venom, or doing little to punish the perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence. Suffice it to say, the developments of the past few years — particularly under Narendra Modi’s watch — have made a mockery of Indian secularism, with the shock troops of the Sangh Parivar remaking India in their own saffron image. Those political forces within India that still believe in a multicultural, multifaith polity, as well as civil society, will need to raise a voice against these prejudiced moves. It is very easy to use religious and ethnic rhetoric and the ‘othering’ of minorities to capture a few votes. But the long-term effects of these misguided policies will be disastrous for communal harmony. Indian Muslims should not be made to continuously prove their patriotism and forcibly choose between their religion and their country, while moves to restrict Islamic cultural practices need to be resisted.