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Constructing Muslims as “Others”: how Hindu nationalism in India inflicts religious division and social conflict within the country.

In 2014, Narendra Modi, an active member of Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was elected as the prime minister of India. In 2015, the assistant general secretary Abdul Rahim Qureshi of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board criticized the Modi government at a press conference, saying that the board was “concerned about the situation in the country which has worsened after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. Not only Muslims, but Christians are also feeling uncomfortable”, as the right-wing forces have become “active against the minorities after the formation of a new government at the Centre.” In 2019, Narendra Modi was re-elected for the second consecutive term, and was determined to build India as an explicitly Hindu state. Beef ban in Maharashtra, different forms of coercion of Muslims, and the revision of Indian city names are some of the problems that have been brought by the Hindu nationalism in India. 

During Narendra Modi’s second year of his presidency, he approved the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill stating that the slaughter of cows and sale of beef were banned in the western state of Maharashtra. Anyone accused of breaking the law will face a fine and a prison-time up to five years. The bill was first passed by Hindu nationalist party BJP in 1995 and was sent to the president for approval in 1996. For 19 years, the bill has failed to become a law until Narendra Modi became the president. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, also expressed his thanks to the president on Twitter. While the cow is a sacred animal for Hindus, the meat industries across the country were dominated by Muslims; thereby, many Muslims facing unemployment by the time the bill took effect. “This is a political decision,” said Mohammed Aqil Qureshi, the President of the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association in New Delhi. “They want to gratify the Hindus and harass the Muslims.” In 2015, a farm worker, Mohammad Akhlaq, was lynched to death by Hindu extremists, (due to the) accused of slaughtering a calf and possessing beef at his house. The charge was later proved to be a rumor spread by six people including temple priests and young boys, all of whom were arrested and sentenced. “We are the only Muslim family here”, said by Jameel Ahmed, Mohammed Akhlaq’s elder brother, “we have been living here for four generations and had never faced any issues before.” With the rise of the ultra-right BJP government since 2014, India has been quickly losing secularism by letting down its effort of maintaining distance from all religions. 

Larger campaigns launched and propagated by Hindu organizations are essentially about consolidating Hindu society across India. “Love-jihad” and “ghar wapsi” remain as two of the most controversial issues across the nation. The term “love jihad” is used to imply the kind of romantic relationship between young Hindus and Muslims that is not built out of affection, but the sole intent to convert each other, typically from Hinduism to Islam. Since 2015, this belief was propagated by Hindu natinoalist organizations, such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Sri Ram Sena, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, and Hindu Janjagruthi Samiti. India’s right-wing parties have declared that “love-Jihad” is a part of an Islamist conspiracy, urging Hindu nationalists to be alert for the “love jihad”. In November 2020, a Netflix show named “A Suitable Boy” has a Hindu-Muslim kissing scene, which led to members of the Hindu nationlist party condemning the scene as offensive to their beliefs and asked India’s authorities to investigate Netflix. According to a report provided by The Economist in September 2017: “One populist Hindu organisation’s helpline claims to have ‘rescued’ 8,500 girls from ‘love jihad’. A website called Struggle for Hindu Existence carries endless titillating stories about Muslim youths luring Hindu maidens into wickedness. Repeated police investigations have failed to find evidence of any organised plan of conversion. Reporters have repeatedly exposed claims of “love jihad” as at best fevered fantasies and at worst, deliberate election-time inventions.” The meaning of “Ghar wapsi” is “Back to Home”, representing a set of religious conversion activities planning to facilitate conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism. THE Vishva Hindu Parishad’s leader Ashok Singhal has said that “ghar wapsi” was one of the “developmental agendas” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In December 2020, BJP member of Parliament Anant Kumar Hedge held a ceremony in Haliyal taluk that successfully converted 23 people from 5 Christian families to Hinduism.

Hindu nationalism also desire to change Indian cities and landmarks that are relevant to Islam, eliminating the culture and heritage of many Muslims. In 2018, officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party changed the name of the city “Allahabad” to “Prayagraj”- meaning the Hindu holy journey site. The city was constructed in 16 century by Muslim kings. The name “Allahabad” signifies the legacy of a Muslim ruler, the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Yogeshwar Tiwari, the head of the local university history department, said that the history needs to be changed along with the name. The name of India’s Mughalsarai railway station was also changed to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, for the purpose of memorializing a right-wing Hindu leader who passed away at the site in 1968. 

Many problems caused by Hindu nationalism in India involve impeding of Muslim life. The relations between the two communities have become increasingly strained. Before Hindu nationalists held most of the political power, riots and fights between the two groups have never happened so often. The loss of secularism and the rising mutual distrust have also brought about extremism and even terrorism, leading to significant tensions within the country.