Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, during his recent visit to the US claimed that democracy is “in India’s DNA” and denied that his government has engaged in discrimination based on race, faith or other such distinctions.
Narendra Modi addressing a joint press conference with the US President, Joe Biden, at the White House in Washington on June 22 said, “We are a democracy… India and America both have democracy in our DNA. Democracy is in our spirit and we live it and it’s written in our Constitution. There is absolutely no space for discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed or religion.” However, the fact is that there has been an erosion of religious, political and press freedoms under Modi’s watch in India and Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
India, right from its creation, has been projecting itself as a secular country. Its constitution allows for the freedom of religion, meaning people should be able to follow and freely practice their religious beliefs. However, attacks on the minorities and even low-caste Hindus (Dalits) in the country by the members of majority Hindu community, particularly the followers of the Hindutva ideology, have remained a norm for the last over seven decades. This persecution of the minorities increased to an alarming proportion ever since the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi came into power in 2014. Backed by the extremist Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Modi government is forcefully pursuing its agenda of turning India into a Hindu Rashtra (state).
Sadly, when it comes to Islam and Muslims, especially Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), religious freedom and claims of secularism mentioned in the Indian Constitution are completely absent. After the abrogation of the special status of IIOJK through the repeal of Article 370 on August 05, 2019, the Modi regime is hell bent upon erasing the Muslim identity of the Kashmiri people and impose the Hindutva ideology of RSS. It has also introduced new domicile rules, allowing the Indian citizens to get permanently settled in the occupied territory. So far, over six million Kashmir domiciles have been issued in the last over three years. The main motive behind the exercise is converting the Muslim majority in IIOJK into a minority.
Historically, Jammu and Kashmir has been a place of not only demographic but also religious diversity where followers of various religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism have lived together with peace and harmony for centuries. The three regions of the territory (Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh) differ almost in all respects. The predominant religion in the entire IIOJK is Islam. However, there are different religions dominant in different divisions. Islam is the main religion of Kashmir Valley, Hinduism of Jammu and more than 40% people in Ladakh are followers of Buddhism.
Islam came in Kashmir through many Muslim preachers and Sufi saints, who came to the region during 14th century AD. Many shrines have been made in Kashmir dedicated to these saints. The shrines are located throughout Kashmir Valley. The most important of those is the Hazratbal Shrine, located on the banks of the Dal Lake. The sacred hair of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is preserved in the shrine. The other important shrines include the Chrar-i-Shareef Shrine, Mukhdoom Sahab Shrine, Khanqah-e-Mualla, and Dastgeer Sahib Shrine.
Different religions are predominant in different divisions, however, the religions are not confined to particular places. Considerable numbers of Hindus reside in Kashmir as well and many areas in Jammu are predominantly Muslim. Many important temples and Hindu pilgrimage centres are placed in Kashmir valley. Sikhism is also practised in IIOJK with many important Gurduwaras located in different areas.
Unfair treatment of Muslims
While the Muslim rulers of Jammu and Kashmir treated fairly all their subjects including Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs alike, the same was not the case when Dogra Hindus took over the reins of the territory in 1846 following the Treaty of Amritsar. Under this Treaty the Jammu and Kashmir along with its people was sold by the British Government to Dogra Maharaja Gulab Singh in just 75 lakhs of Nanak Shahi rupees. The victimization of the Muslims was at its peak during the Dogra dynasty. Several policies, which demonstrated the assertion of Hindu belief over that of the Muslims, were enacted. This included the ban on slaughter of sacred cattle, closing down the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar and banning the azaan (call for prayer).
Indian invasion and Kashmiris’ sufferings
The last Hindu ruler of IIOJK Maharaja Hari Singh sowed the seeds of the unending miseries of the Kashmiris by not respecting their aspirations to accede to Pakistan and inviting India to invade Jammu and Kashmir following the Partition of subcontinent in 1947. This Indian invasion brought death and destruction in IIOJK which continues even today. In the first week of November in 1947 alone, over 200,000 Muslims were massacred by the forces of Dogra maharaja, Indian Army and Hindu extremists and thousands of women were gang-raped and kidnapped in Jammu region when they were migrating to newly-formed Pakistan. Later in 1989, the communal Governor of IIOJK, Jagmohan Malhotra, who was already notorious for his anti-Muslim bias, orchestrated the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley to create grounds for punishing the Kashmiri Muslims for demanding freedom from India.
It is a fact that Hindus had always desired to dominate as a religious community in IIOJK. They have got an opportunity in the form of the backing of the Modi’s BJP government. The BJP, which always thrives on communal divide and persecution of minorities, have put the religious harmony and peace of the territory at risk through its policies and actions. The Modi regime has snatched all freedoms from the people of IIOJK including the religious freedom. Following are some other events that expose India’s denial of religious freedom and enforcement of Hindu supremacy in Kashmir;
Ban on Muharram processions
Main Muharram processions have not been allowed in occupied Jammu and Kashmir since 1989. These processions are critical to the religious practice of Shia Muslims worldwide, who commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (RA), the grandson of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), and other members of his family. When the Muslims of the territory try to take out these processions, Indian Army, police and paramilitary personnel subject them to brute force. The main Muharram processions last year were also attacked by Indian police and paramilitary personnel resulting in the injuring of many mourners. However, a few days later, rallies and marches were organised by the authorities in connection with the Indian Independence Day under a thick security cover.
Janamashtami processions across Srinagar under police and CRPF protection
Shortly after Muharram, Srinagar city saw processions led by Hindus for the celebration of the birth of their deity, Krishna. Amidst loud pomp and show, these Janamashtami processions were provided security and thus organized under the aegis of the state. Notably, Kashmiri Pandits are known to be Shivites or followers of Lord Shiva and Janamashtami celebrations never used to be amidst such grandeur in the past.
Desecration of Qur’an and religious places by Indian Army
The Indian Army has desecrated the Qur’an, the holiest text for Muslims, and religious places on many occasions in IIOJK. The violation of sanctity of Jamia Masjid Srinagar during a military operation in August 1989, desecration of Dargah Hazratbal during the worst military siege in November 1993 and burning of Charar-e-Sharif in May 1995 are some of its glaring examples. This desecration is part of the psychological warfare and done with full knowledge of the consequences. In 2013, as the videos of an incident of the desecration of a mosque and Quran by the troops went viral, Muslims in the region protested and were met with brute force, leading to the death of four protestors.
Prolonged closure of Srinagar Jamia Masjid for Friday prayers
The historic Jamia Masjid, Srinagar, was kept shut by the authorities for Friday prayers for the three years following the August 05, 2019 move. The mosque has been revered by Muslims across Kashmir for centuries. On religious occasions like Eid, Shab-e-Meraj and Shab-e-Baraat, hundreds of thousands of devotees throng the mosque from across the occupied territory. This closure of this grand mosque was a blatant violation of religious freedom of Kashmiris.
Eid and Shab-e-Qadr prayers not allowed
Prayers were also disallowed in the Jamia Masjid on the holiest night of the year for Muslims, Shab-e-Qadr, last year. On this night during Ramadan, people from across the territory throng the mosque to pray throughout the night. The administration cited “law and order” problems for this ban and only a few days later it disallowed Eid prayers in the old town Eidgah where they are held traditionally and asked for these prayers to be carried out inside the Jamia Masjid. Notably, “praying in the open” (subject to weather and availability) is an important part of Eid prayers. There is no doubt that such tactics are not only violations of religious freedom but have also become a part of the psychological warfare that India is applying against the Kashmiri Muslims.
Continued house detention of Mirwaiz
The head preacher of Jamia Masjid Srinagar, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has been held under continuous house arrest and not allowed to deliver Friday sermons for the last 200 consecutive weeks. Last year, the Lieutenant Governor of occupied Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, in a public statement claimed that the Mirwaiz was not under house arrest. However, only a few days later, the religious cleric was denied permission to deliver the Friday sermon at the grand mosque.
Arrest of Muslims clerics
Muslim clerics from Kashmir have often been subjected to detention without charges. Last year, 7 prominent religious leaders including Maulana Abdul Rashid Dawoodi, Maulana Mushtaq Ahmad Veeri, Fahim Ramzan and Ghazi Moinul Islam were arrested from different areas of occupied Kashmir and sent to a jail in Jammu region. Ahead of the repeal of Article 370, the Modi government had banned Jamaat-e-Islami and arrested about 300 members of the organization, including its Ameer, Dr Abdul Hameed Fayaz.
Latest incident of breaching sanctity of religious places
In the latest incident of blatant breach of religious place in occupied Kashmir, Indian army soldiers barged into Zadoora Jamia Masjid in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district on the intervening night of June 23 and June 24 and forced the worshipers to chant Hindu slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ over the loudspeakers of the grand masjid. As per the details, the soldiers, led by an officer, conducted raids in the area as if they were looking for some targets. During the ‘operation’, they detained at least 10 teenagers and subjected many to inhuman torture. The villagers were kept awake till the break of dawn. At the crack of dawn, a local muazzin went inside the village grand mosque to issue the call for prayers (azaan). As per eyewitness account of the locals, the Indian soldiers followed him. In the middle of the azaan, the soldiers forced him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans over loudspeaker. In the meantime, the soldiers also forced the detained youngsters to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in chorus behind the muazzin. The army also vandalised the mosque.
Indianising Islam and Friday sermons
The attacks of the Indian occupation on Islam and Muslims in occupied Jammu and Kashmir have not only been blatant and evident, but stealth and under cover too. While Friday sermons by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other prominent religious leaders have been disallowed owing either to their house arrests or detentions, an “Indianized” version of Friday sermons are being popularized. India also brings in clerics that align (or are forced to align) with its ideology in Kashmir.
Hindu pilgrimage Amarnath Yatra is a glaring example of discriminatory attitude of the Modi government against the Muslims. The same, Modi regime, which doesn’t allow the Muslims to perform and fulfill their religious obligation, brings hundreds of thousands of Hindu yatrees to occupied Jammu and Kashmir and mobilizes all its resources to facilitate them. It deploys military, police and paramilitary personnel along the routes of the Hindu pilgrimage for providing security to the yatrees. It even ignores the disastrous impacts of this huge movement of people on the fragile ecology of the occupied territory.
Modi’s false claim
Ironically, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, during a joint press conference with the US President, Joe Biden on June 22, claimed that democracy is “in India’s DNA” and denied that his government has engaged in discrimination based on race, faith or other such distinctions. However, the fact is that country has seen an erosion of religious, political and press freedoms under his watch. The RSS-inspired Modi regime is planning ethnic cleansing of minorities, particularly Muslims, through discriminatory laws like Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Population Register, and National Register of Citizens. Prominent watchdog, Genocide Watch has already warned of the genocide of Muslims in India and IIOJK. Muslims, Dalits and Christians are completely unsafe in India because of their faith.
International concerns on suppression of minorities by India
The present situation of the minorities in India has been explicitly explained by renowned Indian writer and analyst, Pankaj Mishra. In his last article, Mishra strongly criticized the US for overlooking the oppressive policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi against minorities in India. He wrote that India is a country, where, Muslims are discriminated against and are lynched, their homes and mosques are bulldozed and their livelihoods are destroyed. He further said in India, Christians are beaten up and Churches are attacked.
It is due to the continued persecution of the minorities that United States Commission for International Religious Freedom in its 2022 report has urged the US State Department for the 3rd successive year to designated India as a “Country of Particular Concern” “for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.
Former US President, Barack Obama, in an interview with CNN, also said India may start “pulling apart” if the government does not protect the rights of its ethnic minorities.Obama’s statement came when Narendra Modi was on his state visit to the US. Obama said that if a US president meets with Modi, the “protection of the Muslim minority in a majority-Hindu India” is worth mentioning.
As part of its settler-colonial project, the Modi regime wants to manage and eventually marginalize Kashmir’s Muslim identities and histories. The Indian government wants to suppress the people’s right not only to practice their religion freely but also enforce greater Hinduization in society. Religious freedom of the Muslim-majority population in Kashmir has been caged for decades and with each passing day, to further its settler-colonial project in the region, India continues to tighten the noose around this freedom. The international community must come forward in a big way and stop India’s onslaught on the religious freedoms and rights on the Kashmiri Muslims and ensure their protection. It must also play its role in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the Kashmiris’ aspirations so that they can follow their religious beliefs at their free will. The settlement of the Kashmir dispute, which is a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia, is also vital for ensuring durable peace in the region and the world.
(Compiled by Muhammad Raza)
Disclaimer: Restrictions on religious freedom in Kashmir and Modi’s hollow claims in US - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view