In the United States, residents of seven predominantly Muslim nations were barred entry into the country by the Trump administration. One of newly elected President Joe Biden’s first acts in office was reversing the so-called “Muslim ban,” but for many whose lives were upended by the original ban, the damage was already done.
Concurrent with those realities, Muslims in India have become one of the largest oppressed minority groups in the world. After Hindus, Muslims are the second largest religious group in the nation, making up nearly 15% of India’s population, or just over 200 million of roughly 1.39 billion Indians.
Despite their numbers – or perhaps because of them – the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu, has singled out Muslims for imprisonment and deportation.
Since Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, won a substantial majority in parliamentary elections in May 2019, that persecution has only worsened. The actions of Modi’s government have been described as an “alarming” break from democratic norms.
The prime minister currently enjoys broad support in India, suggesting that the persecution of Muslims in the country is unlikely to abate anytime soon.
The persecution of Muslims in India
In December 2019, India passed a citizenship law that purportedly was created to provide citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighboring nations. The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which updated the 1955 Citizenship Act, provided an expedited route to citizens for multiple religious groups, including Hindus, Christians and Buddhists.
However, Muslims were not included in the bill, which sparked anger and months of occasionally violent protests. These included the protests that occurred in February 2020, when then-President Donald Trump was visiting Modi in New Delhi.
The Indian government attempted to ease minds at the time of the amendment’s passing, with the Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah, stating, “The Muslims in India are our citizens, they won’t be tortured.”
As justification for Muslim exclusion in the amendment, Shah explained, “What do you want – all the Muslims coming from all over the world should be given Indian citizenship? This is not possible. The minorities are being persecuted in these three countries, that is why we have included only these countries.”
The protests, though, were also related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which Shah has vowed will be implemented across the nation. The NRC is intended to identify undocumented immigrants in India, with the goal of having them deported.
However, the NRC has predominantly excluded Muslims, leaving potentially millions susceptible to being placed in detention camps and deported. Many of the targeted Muslims are people who have lived in India for generations but do not have the necessary documentation to prove their citizenship.
The persecution of Muslims in India also extends to lynchings, which have been on the rise in recent years. And while other religious groups in the country, including Christians and lower-caste Hindus, have also been lynched, Muslims have predominantly been the targets.
India’s former vice president, Hamid Ansari, a Muslim who was in office from 2007 to 2017, said upon leaving office that the Muslim community in India was feeling “insecure.” In a recent interview, Ansari lamented the “disappearance” of secularism from India’s government.
A worrying trend
In a recent report, Freedom House, a US-funded nonprofit that advocates for democracy, political freedom and human rights, put the oppression of Muslims in India within the context of a global “assault” on democracy and pluralism (or diversity within a political body).
Entitled “A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy,” the 2020 report states, “The Indian government has taken its Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level with a succession of policies that abrogate the rights of different segments of its Muslim population, threatening the democratic future of a country long seen as a potential bulwark of freedom in Asia and the world.”
Once considered a leading example of democracy in the region, India under Modi has been embracing policies that increasingly marginalize a substantial portion of its population.
In a telling parallel to the oppression of the Uighurs in China, Modi at one point denied the existence of detention centers in his country. However, the existence of these detention centers has been well-documented, including by India’s own government.
A 2019 video report from Germany-based DW News revealed that some Muslims living in the northeastern Indian state of Assam were responsible for building the detention centers that they themselves were likely to be placed in once the NRC took effect.
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