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India’s institutionalised prejudice against Islamophobia

The whatbaoutism of the Indian state to deflect attention away from Islamophobia towards “religion-phobia” is evident

India recently called out the United Nations (UN) resolution which declares May 15th as the International Day to combat Islamophobia. TS Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative to the UN, expressed concern that an emphasis on one religion takes away attention from the phobias against Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. He states that India had offered sanctuary to Zoroastrians, Jews and others in the spirit of pluralism and expressed concern regarding the attack on gurudwaras (Sikh temples), the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, and the glorification of the breaking of idols. Tirumurti further said he instead preferred the generic term religion-phobia to combat hatred against all religions.

Such a position was to be expected from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) India, which is bent on ‘decolonising’ the influence of past Muslim invaders by furthering the dharmic faiths (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism) at the expense of demonising present-day Muslims and Islam. The fact that the ruling party remains strategically quiet when calls for genocide of Muslims are made is a testament to this observation. Scores of Hindutva trolls are usually out and about on Pakistani and other social media sites where they demonise Muslims and perpetuate their victimhood despite being an overwhelming majority in India. It is against this backdrop that the Indian representative brazenly projected his country’s institutionalised prejudice.

However, Tirumurti conveniently failed to recognise and mention the systemic genocide of the Rohingya Muslims by Buddhists in Myanmar, the concentration camps of Uighurs in China, the mass destruction of Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq in a post 9/11 world that has led to the universal singling out of Muslims and Islam. He ignored the fact that two billion Muslims are often generalised and stereotyped as terrorists and that many Sikhs in the West are targeted not because of their Sikhism but because they are perceived as Muslims. In other words, the targeting of people of colour and Sikhs in the West is also because of Islamophobia.

It is true that Hindu girls face forced conversion in the Sindh province of Pakistan, but this oppression is unique to that province (based on feudalism) and is not found in Arab countries. Similarly, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was perpetrated by the rogue Taliban and not other Afghans who have enjoyed good relations with India. In fact, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has recently facilitated the construction of a large Hindu temple as well. The same goes for Pakistan that unilaterally took steps to facilitate Sikh pilgrims to their holy sites in Pakistan. If anything, it was the Indian government that took draconian steps against Sikhs and the Golden Temple in the mid-80s.

The Indian representative mentioned the glorification of the breaking of idols, which is reminiscent of the past Muslim invaders from central Asia in the age of empires. However, those Muslim invaders from Persia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and other central Asian places are long dead. It was a different time where human rights violations were perpetrated by anyone and everyone. The sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols is one such example. However, the BJP and its leader Narendra Modi seem fixated on the past and not on the present where their government has singled out and marginalised Muslims through the Citizenship Act.

The whatbaoutism of the Indian state in an attempt to deflect attention away from Islamophobia towards “religion-phobia” is clear for everyone to see. The words of Tirumurti remind us of those white supremacists who argue against “Black Lives Matter” by responding with “All Lives Matter”, or of those homophobes who argue against the Pride Parade by resorting to the inanities of “what about Straight Parade”.

It is time India stops comparing itself to Pakistan, which itself has huge issues of intolerance, and starts addressing its internal issues of the systemic discrimination and Hindutva calls for genocide of their own Muslim minorities.

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