As worsening reports of violence against Muslims in India continue to circulate, the origin of such deep hate in the country arises. How did Islamophobia gain a hold on India, a country with over 200 million Muslims?
Muslims have been in India since the 13th century, with Muslim merchants, soldiers, and armies bringing the religion to the subcontinent. Rulers such as the Mughal emperors Humayun and Akbar, Tipu Sultan of Mysore, and the Deccani Sultanates brought a rich and diverse history to the Indian subcontinent. In fact, India’s most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, was built by the Muslim Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Muslim leaders, and Hindu leaders, controlled different parts of India at different times as they ran autonomous states. Although the medieval kingdoms of India battled over land and resources, pluralism and tolerance had a strong tradition in the subcontinent, with many Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs living peacefully with each other. One notable example is the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, which was a wide-scale revolt against the British rulers by the soldiers of the Indian Army. The work of the British colonial apparatus, such as the new additions of a census that forced people to identify with one religion over others, and segregation of religious groups into separate voting blocs, created long-lasting divisions where there previously had been none. These deliberate choices to help divide and rule the colony had impacts on society.
By the 20th century, calls for separate homelands for Muslims and Hindus had grown, and relationships had deteriorated under the new colonial power structure. Various political parties vied for control of their respective religious group, and the division tore apart communities across India.
In 1947, Lord Mountbatten oversaw the Partition of British India into two countries, Pakistan and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh after the war of 1971) and India. Cyril Radcliffe, who had never been East of France, was placed in charge of drawing the boundaries for the new countries and given just five weeks to do so.
Pakistan was created for the Muslims, and India for the Hindus. On August 15th, 1947, British India became no more. The violence that erupted after Partition was unimaginable. As millions of people had been left on the “wrong” side of the border, a mass migration took place, with people leaving ancestral homes by boat, train, or on foot to get to their new country.
Experts say the death toll was between 1-2 million, as communal violence erupted. Rape, murder, and looting were all commonplace, with families separated by borders and violence. Stories of trains leaving Delhi crammed with passengers, only to arrive in Lahore full of corpses were common. Since Partition, resentment towards the 200 million Muslims who stayed in India has grown.
The rise of the Hindutva movement significantly has exacerbated the tensions. Hindutva is a right-wing movement that advocates extreme Hindu nationalism. Hindutva is often the ideology behind many anti-Muslim actions in India. Riots such as the ones in the state of Gujarat, New Delhi, and other cities around India have periodically erupted in the years post-Partition, with extreme violence being used. Sexual violence is common, as seen in the 2002 Gujarat riots where over 1000 people were killed. The government often does little to control the rioters, allowing the anti-Muslim sentiment to grow. Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat at the time, was accused of being complicit in the violence of his state, just one example of a government’s failure to act.
Modi, now Prime Minister of India, has propelled the Hindutva ideology to even higher levels across India. New laws against giving Muslim migrants Indian citizenship, and bans against wearing hijab to school in Karnataka, a state in Southern India, are just two examples of anti-Muslim sentiment in India. In a country that has a long-standing practice of Islamophobia, it seems that India will never accept Muslims with open arms.