India is Witnessing an Apartheid-like Situation Against Muslims

Mantasha Ansari

Discrimination – based on identities such as tribe, gender, caste, race or religion – has existed in all societies through all times. This is because prejudice is intrinsic to humans. But we become civilised when we recognise our prejudices and contain them through good conduct and law. Democracies prevent and curtail prejudice and hate by one group of citizens against another group.

During the first half of 2020, several media reports indicated that there is a rise of hate against Muslims in India. On social media, it was compared with Apartheid, the policy of racial discrimination against black people by the minority whites in South Africa. On Twitter, sociologist Nandini Sundar spoke of apartheid against Muslims in India. Spanish jurist Alfons López Tena described the current situation in India "like the apartheid in South Africa."

In an article, author and activist C.J. Werleman wrote that an era of apartheid has begun in India. Werleman argued that "all apartheid regimes have a definitive starting point" and it is "now likely that future historians will record the Covid-19 pandemic as the official starting point of an apartheid era in India. More precisely, it is likely that this era began on 15 April 2020."

Werleman noted that on this day, a hospital in Ahmadabad began segregating Coronavirus patients based on their religious belief, allocating separate wards for Muslims and Hindus. Another such case was reported from Uttar Pradesh. A cancer hospital in Meerut published an advertisement in the Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran that it would not admit Muslim patients if they did not come with a negative test for Coronavirus. There was no such requirement for Hindu patients.

As per CIA's World Factbook, the National Party of South Africa was voted to power in 1948 and instituted the policy of apartheid – billed as "separate development" of the races and favoured the white minority against the blacks. According to a BBC report, "The political system of apartheid governed every aspect of life in South Africa from 1948 to 1991. In practice, apartheid enforced a racial hierarchy privileging white South Africans and under this system only they had the vote."

Concerns about India's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) are similar. For example, Muslims in India can be deprived of citizenship under this law, when their citizenship status is disputed by politically motivated officials during the process of preparing the proposed National Register of Citizens. But, Hindus, whose citizenship too can be disputed, will be given citizenship under CAA. In December 2019, a group of people gathered at the Indian Consulate in Johannesburg under the banner "South Africans against Apartheid India" and protested against the CAA.

Other than the CAA, Muslims are indeed facing economic discrimination and hate in society. Let's look at some current incidents of hate against Muslims, especially those witnessed during the lockdown starting March 25, 2020. In Chennai, the owner of a bakery was booked by police for advertising that it had "no Muslim staff" – thereby urging Hindus to buy from it. In Deoria, the BJP legislator Suresh Tiwari told his followers not to buy vegetables from Muslims. In Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh, another BJP legislator Brij Bhushan Sharan asked a Muslim vendor not enter his area for selling vegetables.

At a village in Manawar area of Madhya Pradesh, a poster was put up saying: "Byapar keliye iss gaon mein Musalmano ka aana manaa hai" – i.e. Muslims are forbidden from entering this village for business. In the Ramanagara district of Karnataka, a video emerged in which a man beats drum to announce that Muslims are banned from entering the Ankanahalli village and that none of the villagers should work for Muslims or else risk being fined Rs 500-1,000. In Haldwani in Uttarakhand, Muslim vendors were threatened to close their fruit shops.

In Mumbai, a Hindu man refused to accept a package of groceries simply because the delivery boy was a Muslim. The police subsequently filed a case and arrested the man. A video has emerged of how Hindutva activists are planting saffron flags on the carts of Hindu vegetable sellers to distinguish them from Muslims, thereby urging Hindus to boycott Muslim vendors. At an event, organized perhaps before the Coronavirus epidemic, saffron-clad sadhus can be seen urging Hindus not to have any type of relationship with Muslims.

In Jamshedpur, some fruit-sellers put up a banner "Hindu Fruit Shop" on their carts, noting that the banner was approved by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The city police ordered the banner to be removed. Jamshedpur SSP Anup Birhtare held a press conference: "Prime facie, it appears to be a conspiracy hatched with an intention to divide society on the lines of religion." At a five-star hotel, Hindu leaders openly called for economic boycott of Muslims. Similar cases were reported from different states showing vigilante groups enforcing economic boycott of Muslims.

These incidents are part of a trend. In 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not give tickets to a single Muslim. In Gujarat, where BJP has been in power for more than two decades, the party has not given tickets to a single Muslim either for the assembly elections or elections to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The BJP seems to exclude Muslims from the electoral process. This is done to deny them share in power. In Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh too, BJP has adopted a similar policy. However, there are some exceptions such as in Jammu & Kashmir where the BJP gave tickets to Muslims because there was no choice.

Apartheid is a curse that must not happen against any community. It is perhaps the most dangerous concept designed by the dominant classes of society. It shows a corrupt system in which people develop belief that they are somehow superior on the basis of colour, religion, caste, gender and so on. During the Coronavirus epidemic, an anti-Muslim religious apartheid can be seen in India.

As per a global survey carried out by Index Mundi, which tracks data on hate and racism, India is among top 20 countries where such hate is high. Some of the developed countries in which such racial attitudes continue to prevail include the U.S., Italy, France and Austria. However, in none of these countries, police will hesitate from prosecuting such people. In India, police tend to hesitate in prosecuting people for hate crimes, especially when they are influential leaders.

When South Africa did not stop its policy of apartheid, there were protests and international sanctions. Different types of protests and actions were taken by institutions and foreign governments against South Africa during the apartheid. In 1964, the International Olympic Committee banned South Africa from participating in the Tokyo Olympics after it refused to condemn the apartheid. In 1970, the International Cricket Council suspended South Africa from international cricket for failing to end racial discrimination.

Hate incidents are damaging India's image internationally. For example, in the Middle East where millions of Indian workers are employed, negative feelings are arising against Indians. In April, the government of Kuwait expressed concerns over attacks against Muslims in India. Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, a businessman and princess of the United Arab Emirates, too raised concerns about the rising hate against Muslims. Consequently, the external affairs minister of India S. Jaishankar telephoned several governments in the Middle East to rebuild India's relations.

Certainly, an apartheid-like situation prevails in India. The government must act to arrest anyone who is found spreading anti-Muslim hatred. We should bear in mind some points. One, economic boycott of Muslims will make them poorer. A country where some communities remain poor cannot hope to become a superpower. Two, anti-Muslim hate is damaging communal harmony. It will create an internal security issue for India, while benefitting our enemies abroad.

Three, hate is related with politics. Since politics of hate begins from our doorstep, a politics of communal harmony must begin in our streets and neighbourhoods. Good citizenship means supporting the citizen next door. This is part of our collective security. Four, there is an urgent need to enforce the rule of law. Police must crackdown against hate groups, whatever their religion. Five, victims of hate must get swift justice to rebuild their life.

There is also a constitutional obligation. Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of "religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth." Article 15-2(a) and 15-2(b) make it clear that citizens cannot be discriminated with respect to, among other things: shops, public restaurants, hotels, use of wells, tanks, roads and places of public resort. For India to rise as a superpower, we must crush any religious divisions within the country. I read this somewhere on social media: You have lived through a peaceful India, why do you want to hand over an environment full of hate and prejudice to your children and their next generations?

Mantasha Ansari is a writer based at the University of Lucknow.

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May 16, 2020

Mantasha Ansari

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