Hijab and Growing Anti-Muslim Hysteria

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I fail to see how a woman’s choice to cover her head bothers Indian politicians, when the origins of ghoonghat can be traced back to ancient Indian civilisations.

DR SAMINA SALIM | Clarion India

I WAS born and raised in a Muslim family and spent my early formative years in a Catholic convent school, where my close friends were Hindus with whom I celebrated Eid and Diwali, Ramadan and Raksha Bandhan. After a few years of post-doctoral studies in Europe, I eventually settled down in the United States.

To my American colleagues and friends, I always have proudly declared my Indian heritage. I self-founded a role for myself- that of a cultural ambassador of India because I felt that I was a true representative of the composite culture, that India was. I don’t think I can say that anymore because I do not represent what India has become today. How can I represent an India where Muslim women are subjected to auctions and public stripping of their hijab? The anti-Muslim hysteria has reached a new level in India.

Why have Muslim women become an electoral agenda item? Why target Muslim women? Here is why – by attacking their freedoms, the Hindutva forces have found a quick and a cheap means of demoralising and invisibilising the Muslim identity in India. The absurdity is appalling. While the odhni and ghonnghat, both head coverings which have been commonly used for hundreds of years as part of the Indian culture have suddenly become scandalous. While it is okay for women other than Muslims to cover their head and even faces, yet Muslim women are subjected to brutal trolling and disrespect for wearing the same. What’s in a name? Whether you call it a hijab or a ghoonghat– both are symbols of grace and dignity?

I fail to see how a woman’s choice to cover her head bothers Indian politicians, when the origins of ghoonghat can be traced back to ancient Indian civilisations. To this day most women from Rajput and other princely state families cover their head, not as a sign of subjugation or regression but as a symbol of piety and decorum. On one hand, the argument is to liberate women from “regressive” customs, at the same time their freedom is encroached by prescribing them what they can or cannot wear, while also denying them of the freedom to practice their faith and the right to seek education. This is insult to injury or shall I say shooting two birds with one stone!

If France was uncomfortable with hijab, one could understand it to some extent because hijab is a foreign exotic and unfamiliar idea for the French, but emulating French hijab ban in India is nothing short of Islamophobia.

The question is, how has India descended to this level? The question of “why” is much more complex and rooted to some extent in the history of the partition of India, but it is mind boggling to note the perpetuation of hate since 1947 to 2022. How can a generation who was born after 1947 and never saw or experienced partition remained committed to hateful sentiments? This continuum of hate is no accident but a well-organised propaganda war which has gradually transformed India into a hot incubator of conspiracy theories largely promoted by the internet and social media platforms.

Conspiracy theories are not a new concept, they have been used in the past all across the world, as propaganda tools to enable conflict and genocides. Two examples come to mind, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion which led to extermination of 6 million Jews and Radio Rwanda which propagated conspiracies around Tutsis culminating into the Rwandan genocide killing nearly 800,000 Tutsis. The same type of conspiracies theories are in abundant circulation within the Indian social media circles. These theories are being pushed by influential Indian media houses who allegedly are funded by some sections of the Indian political elite. This false and fake reporting is either conveniently overlooked or at times endorsed by the state.

I am reminded of the 2019 remarks of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating that he can recognise the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) protesters on the basis of their clothing; referring to Muslim skull caps and hijabs.  India’s Home Minister Amit Shah’s references to Muslims as “termites” and “terrorists” are well-published. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Islamophobic comments are routine occurrences, with his references to Muslims as “green virus”, “criminals” and “terrorists”.

When the role models are hateful bigots, what can you expect of the country they lead? This is true at all levels whether it is an organisation, a corporation, or a family. I am reminded of something I experienced not too long ago. I received an email from someone in a leadership position at work, the content of the email suggested implicit bias, misogynistic attitude, professional harassment and micro-aggression. Several people were copied on that email, all men. No one said anything. I paused, and said to myself, if others don’t speak up, this behaviour will be endorsed, and there will be more of the same and eventually the behaviour of this individual will be normalised. And, that is exactly what happened.

The point I want to make is that the safety and the convenience of silence eventually becomes an inconvenience for all. It is this muted mentality, and the perceived safety of neutrality which has created a zombie majority in India. The zombie culture has allowed injustices and discrimination to flourish. The more a society tolerates, the more is thrown their way without them even realising what is acceptable and what should never be permissible. This is basic human decency which the zombies tend to lose as they continue to live a meaningless life.

The silence of the majority community in India makes them an accomplice. Coming back to the issue of the conspiracy theories, and false propaganda currently prevalent in India, I want to submit that it is hate speech, direct, and subtle both, which have made India a hot incubator ready for a Muslim genocide. Muslims have been demonised to the extent that they were described as perpetrators of bioterrorism, of being responsible for spread of COVID (corona jihad), Muslim men and Muslim women are murdered for marrying in the Hindu community (love Jihad), Muslim businesses are accused of adulteration, accused of acquiring illegal land, shunned from renting or buying property or conducting businesses (Land jihad).

Clearly, the Indian hysteria against Muslims is leading the country towards a genocidal path, crafting a route for their elimination either via extermination or by forced migration paving the way for creation of a Hindu nation (Hindu Rashtra). This has become even more evident from the recent election results. It seems to me that to the present Indian voters, secularism is a foolish concept, a fantasy of the educated. Seemingly, nothing matters to them- whether they have food on the table or not, whether their kids go to school or not, whether they have healthcare or not, they will vote for a party which will build temples by demolishing mosques.

Whether they are allowed to enter those temples or not, is another story. Whether they have any say in the construction, design or organisation of the temple or not, is a whole another matter. They want to vote for a party which disallows Muslim women to wear a hijab. They want to vote for a party that bans cow slaughter yet are okay with minting huge profits from cow trade. India’s heartland Uttar Pradesh’s election results speak volumes of this mindset.  CM Yogi managed an easy victory despite having grossly mismanaged the pandemic. It will take years to diminish memories of the pictures of overcrowded Indian hospitals, graveyards and cremation sites, with dead bodies floating in the river Ganges. Scenes of frantic family members scrambling and begging to find ways to provide their loved ones just a few more hours to breathe their last with dignity, are still fresh.

UP has the worst report card in terms of the statistics on healthcare, education, and human rights.  Yet CM Yogi was re-elected. This a huge victory for the Islamophobic agenda and a big loss for Indian secularism. The cancer of hate has spread all across India in its most infectious and metastatic form. A social, and cultural genocide already has taken place in India. Conscience, morality, and reason are fantasies in Modi’s India. I think things are going to get worse in India, the stage is set for a genocide to happen- the world is distracted by a major international crisis in Ukraine, atrocities of its worst kind towards minorities especially Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and Sikhs will continue in India – unchecked with no accountability whatsoever.

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Samina Salim, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacological & Pharmaceutical Sciences, Houston College of Pharmacy. She was born in Lucknow and raised in Aligarh and moved to the United States in 1999. The views expressed here are author’s own and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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