This Eid, Muslims in India face repression and erasure of their cultural identity

Spread the love
Indian devotees take part in a religious procession to mark the Ram Navami festival in Siliguri on 14 April 2019 (Diptendu Dutta/AFP)

Important celebrations, such as Ramadan and Eid, are being publicly stifled and marked by peaks of discriminatory violence

In the popular consciousness, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power transcends politics; it is imagined as the turn of an era – the return of the golden age of Hindu rule that was destined to arrive.

This sentiment is reflected in how Hindu nationalism today is heavily invested in creating a new timeline to mark the initiation of this anticipated epoch. Within this transformation, the “Hinduisation” of the national calendar plays a crucial role.

Under the Hindutva regime, we simultaneously occupy two timelines, where the present is constantly in a state of compromise to accommodate the nostalgia of a politically constructed myth.

For Indian Muslims, a targeted attack on their cultural identity is reflected in both how public spaces are reimagined, and how time is conceived within those spaces. Important celebrations, such as Ramadan and Eid, are being publicly stifled and marked by peaks of discriminatory violence.

This Ramadan, five students at Gujarat University were injured after a Hindu mob attacked them, beating them with sticks and rods, while they were performing prayers on campus. The university subsequently issued new guidelines asking students not to use public spaces for religious purposes.

This follows a pattern in which Muslims have been targeted for practising their faith, even in private spaces. Last year, in Moradabad and Greater Noida, both in Uttar Pradesh, residents faced strong objections for hosting collective prayer sessions in private warehouses and residences. Also in Uttar Pradesh, police cracked down on hundreds of people offering prayers on the streets of Kanpur during Eid.

Such incidents have had a chilling effect. In Purola, Uttarakhand, which has faced campaigns by Hindu groups to evict Muslims from their homes, residents decided not to hold community Eid prayers last year for fear of further escalation.

Hindutva ambitions

As the ambitions of Hindu nationalism grow, it is increasingly coalescing into a transformative force that seeks to mould a homogenous national and cultural identity, with iconoclastic campaigns waged against the vulnerable historical cultural markers of Indian Muslims.

Amid this onslaught, the overtly tangible expressions of culture tend to make news, sidelining the equally important, intangible cultural legacies preserved through generations. Festivals and cultural celebrations are a key way to preserve the continuum between ancient and present times. An attack on such events is thus equally an attack on the lived history of Indian Muslims.

We are witnessing a total reengineering of traditions, redefining religious devoutness as a sentiment inseparable from anti-Muslim hatred

Schools and universities have been adapting their calendars to this sentiment, as Muslim festivals are either shunned or regarded as an insular community affair, undeserving of official recognition. In one example, at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi this year, Muslim students were denied permission to hold iftar celebrations on campus, while other religious festivals were allowed.

Holidays associated with Muslim festivals have also been targeted. Last year, Muharram holidays were cancelled in schools across Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, following a government directive to broadcast an address from the prime minister instead. Similarly, at the University of Delhi, the Eid holiday was canceled to accommodate a Modi address.

Separately, a principal at a private school in Gujarat was suspended after a video from his school showed Hindu students performing a skit for Eid, stirring anger among parents.

New symbolic order

There is a condition being established for being a Hindu in India today, which is not just to show love towards your own community, but also to demonstrate an open disgust towards the cultural practices of Muslims, which are deemed alien, impure and incompatible with shared public life.

This is also reflected in the yearly online debate that takes place before Eid, when images of goat sacrifices are shared to highlight the supposed barbarity of the Muslim community towards animals. While animal sacrifice is a practice followed by several communities across India, Muslims are singled out each year, called upon to justify their rituals.

How India’s demolition drive is alienating its Muslim population

Read More »

In the current circumstances, the meaning associated with festivals is also transforming for the Hindu community, reshaping collective identities and reinforcing a new symbolic order.

Over the past couple of years, celebrations of Hindu festivals have expanded their presence in public spaces, visibly affecting municipal life by dictating what should be open or closed to facilitate the movement of processions. The violence that often accompanies such events has resulted in substantial damage to Muslim properties, mosques, shrines and other aspects of cultural heritage.

The coinciding of the Hindu festival of Ram Navami with Ramadan in the past two years resulted in a deeper confrontational tone. It has become evident that religion and politics are not just merging as independent entities; politics itself is becoming ritualised as if it were religion. We are witnessing a total re-engineering of traditions, redefining religious devoutness as a sentiment inseparable from anti-Muslim hatred.

A perceptible schism is being created, explicitly signifying that “your history and celebrations do not intertwine with ours”. These are attempts not just to discriminate against Muslims, but also to establish Muslim cultural expressions as incongruous with the overarching narrative of the newly emerging Hindu nation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Post Disclaimer

Disclaimer: This Eid, Muslims in India face repression and erasure of their cultural identity - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *