The history of the Indian subcontinent is replete with unpleasant episodes of communal violence. Even after the partition of British India in 1947, the spectre of communalism has remained part and parcel of Indian society, wherein minorities, particularly Indian Muslims, have been constantly hounded by the overwhelming Hindu majority.
The normalization of Muslims’ persecution through malicious tactics of resorting to public humiliation of Indian Muslim women is a defining feature of the Hindutva agenda promoted by the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under its Islamophobic leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a driving force behind the intensification of Islamophobia for gaining political mileage.
Modi’s Islamophobic ploys aimed at molesting Indian Muslim women
The incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was central to fostering violence against Muslims during his stint as chief minister of Gujrat state, where more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims were killed, and mobs of Hindu supremacists had used rape as a tool of terror against Muslim women.
Many heart-wrenching instances of Hindu fanatics slitting open wombs of pregnant Muslim women and pulling out their foetuses had occurred under the auspices of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is now head of the Indian state. A senior police official in the Gujrat intelligence bureau during the pogrom had later disclosed that Modi had ‘allowed’ the Gujrat 2002 anti-Muslim riots.
Ultimately, Modi landed in hot water for his involvement in the Gujrat riots and faced legal battles over the years. Though his state administration never probed the appalling massacre, his request for a US visa was turned down over persistent human rights concerns.
Islamophobia on the rise since 2014
Two consecutive electoral victories of the Hindu nationalist BJP in 2014 and 2019, however, have only served to intensify the Islamophobia inside the country.
As BJP embarks on its quest for expanding and consolidating a fairly strong Hindu vote bank by baking Islamophobia into Indian political life, Indian Muslim women are taking the ultimate brunt of BJP’s strong-arm and anti-Muslim tactics.
Mainstreaming Islamophobia by degrading Indian Muslim women
The Hindutva ideology is now being bled into the national political discourse across India to transform the secular and pluralistic nature of the state into a purely Hindu nation. Resultantly, Islamophobic sentiments are being moved from society’s fringes to the heart of the Indian mainstream with dire consequences for Muslim women in the state.
For instance, the BJP government’s unilateral action of scrapping articles 370 and 35A in occupied Kashmir had made Kashmiri Muslim women a target of objectification and sexist jokes. Misogynist online trolls in India celebrated getting ownership of Kashmiri women, as the government had announced domicile rights for Indians, allowing non-locals to buy property and get employed in the disputed territory. Senior BJP leaders even expressed joy over the move and hinted at marrying ‘white-skinned’ Kashmiri women. A Delhi-based professor lamented the statements stoking misogyny and targeting Kashmiri Muslim women saying ‘these are proclamations of conquest and plunder, and reveal the real intention behind the abrogation of 370.’ In fact, online searches for Kashmiri women had topped the Google trend list in India.
Recent episodes of online harassment of Muslim women in India
Nowadays, the women challenging right-wing Hinduism are being subjected to online harassment.
More recently, the “Bulli Bai” case has caused uproar where more than a hundred Muslim women have been offered for sale online. In July 2021, a similar controversy known as “Sulli deals” had surfaced where dozens of notable Indian Muslim women were presented for online auctioning, indicating an intensifying trend of Islamophobia in the state. A prominent Kashmiri journalist whose photo was also up for sale believed that such efforts were designed to “degrade and humiliate vocal Muslim women”.
Another Delhi-based journalist who also became a victim of online harassment by right-wing Hindu groups seemed hopeless despite assurances from the government to provide justice. The perpetrators were emboldened because no arrests were made when ‘Sulli deals’ had made headlines. Rana Ayub feared that the incident showed the ‘moral degradation of India and its constitutional values’, with Shahshi Tharoor terming it ‘communal targeting’.
An extensive investigation conducted by The Wire reveals that a BJP-backed IT cell known as ‘Tek Fog’ was regularly used to disseminate right-wing ideas and harass women who would speak up against the policies of the ruling party. An “auto reply to female users” feature was also included which enabled the auto-generation of ‘gender-based abuses and rape threats’ to women.
Modern India inspired by the Modi-led BJP’s malevolent Hindutva agenda appears increasingly callous to the plights of Indian Muslim women, who are brutally falling prey to state-backed Islamophobic policies inside the state and state-sponsored cyber harassment online.
The author is a Research Assistant at the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI).