Why India’s Muslims Reach for Liberalism

Of note:

By now, the world knows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) have eroded the liberal principles of the Indian Constitution and are turning the country into an increasingly illiberal democracy. It is common knowledge that Mr. Modi thrives on the grievances and bigotries that pit privileged majorities against minorities living in fear.

Less familiar, but much more hopeful, is the response of the main target of this majoritarian assault: India’s Muslim minority — roughly 172 million people who account for just about 14.2 percent of India’s total population of approximately 1.32 billion people, roughly 79.8 percent of whom are Hindu.

This large religious minority of Muslims has gone through a hard time in recent years at the hands of Hindu supremacists: They have faced lynchings, lethal riots, and social and political disenfranchisement.

When minorities are pushed to such walls, they may retreat into a siege mentality that breeds radicalization. But India’s Muslims have not come up with calls for violent jihad, nor chants for Shariah law. Instead, they have embraced and emphasized the blessings of liberal democracy by placing their faith in the Constitution of India and insisting on their constitutional rights as citizens.

This hopeful tack was most visible during the mass protests for three months that started in December against the Citizenship Amendment Act, an unabashedly discriminatory law enacted by the government that fast-tracked citizenship for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants from neighboring countries, but not for Muslims, whom Home Minister Amit Shah tried to dehumanize as “termites.”

Mr. Shah has also proposed a national register of citizens requiring documentary evidence for place of birth and residence that many Indians, especially the poor, lack. Of these the non-Muslims could escape through the loophole in the new Citizenship Amendment Act, but Muslims would find themselves stateless and liable to be put into detention camps.

In response, Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in New Delhi, held a 101-day sit-in against the citizenship law and the proposed citizenship registry, with the protest led not by conservative Muslim clerics, but by Muslim women. Thousands occupied a protest tent 24 hours each day by rotating in shifts and displaying banners saying, “We stand for peace, harmony and fraternity.” They also showed portraits of the Hindu leaders who led India’s independence movement, and festooned their dais with the preamble of the secular Constitution.

The B.J.P.’s propaganda machine depicted Muslim protesters as “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” but they were wearing headbands saying, “I love India.” waving Indian flags, and repeatedly singing the national anthem.

In other campaigns, Indian Muslim women in recent years challenged not just Hindu supremacism but also patriarchy within their own community. Through successful appeals to the Supreme Court — which upholds India’s constitutional principles — they obtained a legal ban in 2017 on “instant divorce,” a contested Shariah ruling that gives Muslim men the right to abandon their wives at will. Another Muslim women’s group gained a 2016 court decision that enforced women’s constitutionally guaranteed right of equal entry, along with men, to a Sufi shrine in Mumbai.

All such liberal moves, according to Sharik Laliwala, a Muslim Indian commentator, signify “a fundamental transformation in the political strategy of the Muslim community.” Indian Muslims, he added, are “marrying a constitutional phraseology of freedom, justice and equality with religious notions.”

Irfan Ahmad, an Indian anthropologist based at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, argues that what is happening is a new emphasis rather than a transformation, which Indian Muslims have always sought along with pluralism. The protests in Shaheen Bagh, he adds, highlighted the rift between the B.J.P.’s rule by and for the Hindu majority and a new vision of democracy that would uphold the rights and dignity of all Indians, including Muslims.

Yet there is still a danger that B.J.P. ruthlessness may backfire and drive Muslims into radicalism. In September, Umar Khalid, a secular left-wing student leader who is Muslim, was arrested on highly contested charges of orchestrating Hindu-Muslims riots last February in Delhi, where most victims were Muslim.

All of this means that India is on a very wrong track. A country that does not treat its minorities as equal human beings will be not the world’s biggest democracy, but rather a tyranny of the majority.

The results may be social strife, radicalism, decline of economic progress, and the ruination of India’s image abroad. The country is already being criticized by human rights organizations for violating human rights in Kashmir, and more recently for forcing Amnesty International’s office in India to close.

India’s story could hold lessons for Muslims elsewhere. Across the border, Pakistan long ago established what India’s B.J.P. seeks: an ethno-religious state dominated by the majority. In Pakistan’s case, this means the hegemony of Sunni Muslims at the expense of minorities such as Shiite Muslims, Ahmadis or Christians.

Farther in the East, in Malaysia, Malay-Muslim supremacy has been an official ideology since the founding of the multireligious nation in 1957. In Turkey, the Islam-infused populism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with its own insatiable wrath against “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” has strong parallels with Mr. Modi’s populism. And in the parlance of Islamist movements everywhere, “liberalism” and “secular state” are only dirty words, if not heresies.

Alas, it seems that many Muslims in countries other than India enjoy the tyranny of the majority when they themselves are in the majority and control the state, while others realize the blessings of liberalism if they are in minorities. Of course, such a double standard is neither virtuous nor defensible.

A more principled Muslim view of politics is needed, and for that, Muslim opinion leaders should observe the experience of their coreligionists in India. The latter, the largest religious minority in the world, has an important story with a lesson: Human rights and liberties must be defended in every nation, in every civilization. Without them, only power rules. And instead of betting on power, which may be won or lost, they should try to constrain it everywhere, so that no one group is oppressed and everyone is free.

Mustafa Akyol, a contributing Opinion writer, is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute, and the author of the forthcoming book “Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance.” Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, is a columnist for The Times of India, and a commentator for India’s television.

Mississauga Hindu temples’ outdoor hymns expose public divide during pandemic

Of note:

Hindu temples across Mississauga have begun broadcasting daily hymns outdoors for believers who are unable to gather in large groups and partake in three major Hindu festivals after the city granted them a noise bylaw exemption.

The exemption mirrors one made for Mississauga mosques in May, so they could broadcast a daily call to prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. At the time, a small Hindu group was opposed to the idea, but now say if Muslims are allowed an exemption, they should be too.

In late April, some Mississaugans voiced strong opposition to the city’s exemption for calls to prayer. A Facebook group called “Mississauga Call to Prayer on LoudSpeaker Unconstitutional,” which had 10,445 members on Thursday, was fundraising to pursue legal action against the city over the decision after it was approved.

Canadians United Against Hate released a statement asking city council to uphold the decision, saying many of those who were putting pressure on city hall were “Islamophobic and racist elements in Mississauga.”

The community debate in Mississauga exposes a divide over public space and sounds during a pandemic when people are reluctant to gather indoors.

“Initially we opposed calls for prayers during the holy month of Ramadan,” said Rao Yenbamuri, president of Hindu Forum Canada (HFC) – a seven-member Mississauga-based not-for-profit formed in March. A May 2 letter on the group’s website called it “a violation of our secular values.”

“We think that such a precedent would not be practical in a multifaith community, that’s the reason we opposed it,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, adding that despite multiple attempts to communicate with politicians, the decision went forward. “So given these circumstances, we would like the same privileges to be extended to us.”

Amira Elghawaby, a journalist and human-rights advocate who sits on the board of Anti-Hate Network Canada, said many Canadian Muslims face Islamophobia and discrimination under the guise of secularism.

“We see that happening very prominently in Quebec with Bill 21,” she said, referring to a law that prevents many public servants from wearing religious symbols at work, “and we saw it happening in Mississauga and other jurisdictions in the country when the call to prayer was permitted during the month of Ramadan because of the pandemic.”

Ms. Elghawaby also said there was no need “to create us versus them narratives” between both communities.

“I think it’s important to understand that Canada is a country of diversity and diverse raising and diverse backgrounds of people, and all of that is what makes our country strong and rich,” she said. “And we all actually get stronger when our communities are able to fulfill their identities in ways that [are] meaningful to them.”

Kushagr Sharma, a volunteer for Mississauga’s Hindu Heritage Centre, says broadcasting the hymns will help build a sense of connection for many who felt isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of seniors want to come to the temple, just to be there physically but not come inside,” he said.

“So a lot of people would come outside, do their prayers in their cars and leave. But they weren’t able to hear the hymns and the prayers that go on.”

Playing the hymns outdoors also ensures seniors and other vulnerable community members can feel safe, Mr. Sharma said. The temple is not affiliated with HFC and had no prior knowledge of its opposition to broadcasting calls to prayers during the month of Ramadan, he added.

The bylaw exemption allows the temples to broadcast religious hymns every night at 7 p.m., for five minutes, between Aug. 11 and Sept. 1.

Varsha Naik, executive director of the Regional Diversity Roundtable of Peel, and a long-time member of the Interfaith Council of Peel, said all faith communities need places where they feel safe to practise their respective religions.

“We need to ensure that nobody in the community gets isolated,” Ms. Naik said. “And especially with COVID-19, we need to create that sense of community, that sense of celebration.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-mississauga-hindu-temples-play-hymns-outdoors/

Poor and Desperate, Pakistani Hindus Accept Islam to Get By

Of note:

The Hindus performed the prayer rituals awkwardly in supplication to their new, single god, as they prepared to leave their many deities behind them. Their lips stumbled over Arabic phrases that, once recited, would seal their conversion to Islam. The last words uttered, the men and boys were then circumcised.

Dozens of Hindu families converted in June in the Badin district of Sindh Province in southern Pakistan. Video clips of the ceremony went viral across the country, delighting hard-line Muslims and weighing on Pakistan’s dwindling Hindu minority.

The mass ceremony was the latest in what is a growing number of such conversions to Pakistan’s majority Muslim faith in recent years — although precise data is scarce. Some of these conversions are voluntary, some not.

News outlets in India, Pakistan’s majority-Hindu neighbor and archrival, were quick to denounce the conversions as forced. But what is happening is more subtle. Desperation, religious and political leaders on both sides of the debate say, has often been the driving force behind their change of religion.

Treated as second-class citizens, the Hindus of Pakistan are often systemically discriminated against in every walk of life — housing, jobs, access to government welfare. While minorities have long been drawn to convert in order to join the majority and escape discrimination and sectarian violence, Hindu community leaders say that the recent uptick in conversions has also been motivated by newfound economic pressures.

“What we are seeking is social status, nothing else,” said Muhammad Aslam Sheikh, whose name was Sawan Bheel until June, when he converted in Badin with his family. The ceremony in Badin was notable for its size, involving just over 100 people.

“These conversions,” he added, “are becoming very common in poor Hindu communities.”

Proselytizing Muslim clerics and charity groups add to the faith’s allure, offering incentives of jobs or land to impoverished minority members only if they convert.

With Pakistan’s economy on the brink of collapse in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the pressures on the country’s minorities, often its poorest people, have increased. The economy will contract by 1.3 percent in the 2020 fiscal year because of the pandemic, the World Bank predicts. And up to 18 million of Pakistan’s 74 million jobs may be lost.

Mr. Sheikh and his family hope to find financial support from wealthy Muslims or from Islamic charities that have cropped up in recent years, which focus on drawing more people to Islam.

India’s Supreme Court awards disputed religious site to Hindus in landmark ruling

Will be seen as another manifestation of Modi’s Hindu bias:

India’s Supreme Court on Saturday awarded a bitterly disputed religious site to Hindus, dealing a defeat to Muslims who also claim the land that has sparked some of the bloodiest riots in the history of independent India.

The ruling in the dispute between Hindu and Muslim groups paves the way for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site in the northern town of Ayodhya, a proposal long supported by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist party.

Representatives of the Muslim group involved in the case criticized the judgment as unfair and said it was likely to seek a review of the verdict.

In 1992 a Hindu mob destroyed the 16th-century Babri Mosque on the site, triggering riots in which about 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed across the country.Court battles over the ownership of the site followed.

Jubilant Hindus, who have long campaigned for a temple to be built on the ruins of the mosque, set off fire crackers in celebration in Ayodhya after the court decision was announced.

Thousands of paramilitary force members and police were deployed in Ayodhya and other sensitive areas across India. There were no immediate reports of unrest.

“This verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody,” Modi said on Twitter.

“May peace and harmony prevail!”

Still, the verdict is likely to be viewed as win for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its backers.It comes months after Modi’s government stripped the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir region of its special status as a state, delivering on yet another election promise to its largely Hindu support base.

Neelanjan Sircar, an assistant professor at Ashoka University near New Delhi, said the court ruling would benefit the BJP, which won re-election in May, but a slowing economy would ultimately take centre stage for voters.

“In the short term, there will be a boost for the BJP,” said Sircar. “These things don’t work forever … Ram Temple isn’t going to put food on the table.”

Hindus believe the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, a physical incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and say the site was holy for Hindus long before the Muslim Mughals, India’s most prominent Islamic rulers, built the Babri mosque there in 1528.

‘Milestone’

The five-judge bench, headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, reached a unanimous judgment to hand over the plot of just 2.77 acres, or about the size of a soccer field, to the Hindu group.

The court also directed that another plot of 5 acres in Ayodhya be provided to the Muslim group that contested the case but that was not enough to mollify some.

“The country is now moving towards becoming a Hindu nation,” Asaduddin Owaisi, an influential Muslim opposition politician, told reporters.

Modi’s party hailed the ruling as a “milestone.”

“I welcome the court decision and appeal to all religious groups to accept the decision,” Home Minister Amit Shah, who is also president of the BJP, said on Twitter.

Appeals for calm

The Sunni Muslim group involved in the case said it would likely file a review petition, which could trigger another protracted legal battle.

“This is not a justice,” said the group’s lawyer, Zafaryab Jilani.

Muslim organizations appealed for calm.

The Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the parent organization of Modi’s party – had already decided against any celebrations to avoid provoking sectarian violence between India’s majority Hindus and Muslims, who constitute 14 per cent of its 1.3 billion people.

Restrictions were placed on gatherings in some places and internet services were suspended. Elsewhere, police monitored social media to curb rumors.

Streets in Ayodhya were largely deserted and security personnel patrolled the main road to Lucknow, the capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Ayodhya residents were glued to their televisions and mobile phones for news of the ruling, which delighted Hindus when it came.

“Everyone should come together to ensure that the construction work begins at the site without any delay,” roadside vendor Jitan Singh said over the chants of “Jai Shri Ram” (hail Lord Ram) from fellow shop-keepers.

Source: India’s Supreme Court awards disputed religious site to Hindus in landmark ruling

Citizenship list in Indian state leaves out almost 2 million

Increased sectarianism, weaponized:

On Saturday morning, Farid Ali, a farmer dressed in his best sky-blue kurta and a white prayer cap, walked quietly into his village headquarters and received devastating news.

His name wasn’t on the list.

He looked, he waited, his legs began to shake, his dry lips began to move and he prayed there had been a mistake. But his name wasn’t anywhere.

Mr. Ali’s citizenship in India, where he has lived all his life, was now in question, and he could soon be separated from his family and hauled off to a prison camp.

He is one of nearly two million people in northeast India who were told Saturday that they could soon be declared stateless in a mass citizenship check that critics say is anti-Muslim. The news arrived in small, sunlit offices across the state of Assam, where citizenship lists were posted that drew huge crowds. Many walked away shocked and demoralized; others were joyous.

Source: Citizenship list in Indian state leaves out almost 2 million

India government revokes disputed Kashmir’s special status

Will be interesting to see how this is interpreted by the different Indo-Canadian communities in both mainstream and ethnic media:

The Indian government has used a presidential order to revoke the special constitutional status of Kashmir, in a bid to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country, the most far-reaching political move on the troubled Himalayan territory in nearly seven decades.

Some political leaders in Kashmir warned in recent days that any such move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration — through the repeal of the constitution’s Article 370 — will trigger major unrest as it would amount to aggression against the region’s people.

Authorities, meanwhile, have launched a new clampdown in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by suspending telephone and internet services, and putting some leaders under house arrest.

The security measures include thousands of newly deployed soldiers, who are camping in police stations and government buildings in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The deployment in recent days adds at least 10,000 troops in Kashmir, already one of the world’s most militarized regions.

India also has ordered thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave.

The decision to repeal Article 370 will mean an end to restrictions on property purchases by people from outside the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and state government jobs and some college places will no longer be reserved for state residents.

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region has been at the heart of more than 70 years of animosity, since the partition of the British colony of India into the separate countries of Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India.

Two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since their independence from British rule were over Kashmir.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has rejected the revocation of a special status for the portion of disputed Kashmir that it controls. The ministry said in a statement Monday that under UN Security Council resolutions, India cannot change the status of Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan.

The ministry said the people of Pakistan and Kashmir will not accept the Indian action, and Pakistan will “exercise all possible options” to block it.

The scenic mountain region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city — Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west — and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.

Here are some facts about the region and the constitutional change:

Partition

After partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Kashmir was expected to go to Pakistan, as other Muslim majority regions did. Its Hindu ruler wanted to stay independent, but, faced with an invasion by Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan, acceded to India in October 1947 in return for help against the invaders.

Article 370

This provision of the Indian constitution that provided for Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy — except for matters of defence, finance, communications and foreign affairs — was drafted in 1947 by the then prime minister of the state, Sheikh Abdullah, and accepted by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was, though, only classified as a temporary provision, and in October 1949 was included in the Indian constitution by the constituent assembly.

Article 35A

This was added to the constitution in 1954 under Article 370, and empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state parliament to provide special rights and privileges to permanent residents of the state. It will die with the repeal of 370, which means outsiders will likely be allowed to buy property in the region and state residents will likely lose their control of state government jobs and college places.

Wars

The dispute over the former princely state sparked the first two of three wars between India and Pakistan after independence 1947. They fought the second in 1965, and a third, largely over what become Bangladesh, in 1971.

Divisions

A UN-monitored ceasefire line agreed in 1972, called the Line of Control (LOC), splits Kashmir into two areas — one administered by India, the other by Pakistan. Their armies have for decades faced off over the LOC. In 1999, the two were involved in a battle along the LOC that some analysts called an undeclared war. Their forces exchanged regular gunfire over the LOC until a truce in late 2003, which has largely held since.

The insurgency

Many Muslims in Indian Kashmir have long resented what they see as heavy-handed New Delhi rule. In 1989, an insurgency by Muslim separatists began. Some fought to join Pakistan, some called for independence for Kashmir. India responded by pouring troops into the region. India also accused Pakistan of backing the separatists, in particular by arming and training fighters in its part of Kashmir and sending them into Indian Kashmir. Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the Kashmiri people.

Indian Kashmir

Governed as the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. It has two capitals, Jammu in winter (November-April), Srinagar in summer (May-October).

New Delhi claims the whole of Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India.

Pakistani Kashmir

Consists of the smaller Azad Kashmir (“Free Kashmir”) and the Northern Areas, which also formed part of the state before independence. Pakistan says a UN-mandated referendum should take place to settle the dispute over the region, expecting that the majority of Kashmiris would opt to join Pakistan.

Geography

Parts of Kashmir are strikingly beautiful, with forest-clad mountains, rivers running through lush valleys and lakes ringed by willow trees. The western Himalayan region is bounded by Pakistan to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest, China to the northeast, and India to the south.

Population and area

Ten million in Indian Kashmir and more than three million in Pakistani Kashmir. About 70 per cent are Muslims and the rest Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. With an area of 222,236 square kilometres, it is slightly bigger than the U.S. state of Utah and almost as big as Britain.

Economy

About 80 per cent agriculture based. Crops include rice, maize, apples and saffron. The area is also known for handicrafts such as carpets, woodcarving, woolens and silk. Tourism, once flourishing, has been badly hit by the conflict.

Source: India government revokes disputed Kashmir’s special status

Protesters in India claim victory as #citizenship bill stalls

Apparent end:

Protesters in northeast India claimed victory on Wednesday after a bill that the government says will help Hindus in neighboring countries settle in India lapsed before it could be ratified by parliament.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill is aimed at helping Hindus and members of other non-Muslim minority communities in neighboring Muslim countries move to India.

But critics say the legislation is as an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) burnish its Hindu-nationalist credentials ahead of a general election, that must be held by May.

The bill had incited exceptional opposition in remote, ethnically diverse northeastern states where for years residents have complained that migrants from Bangladesh are a burden on society.

For days, protesters have taken to the streets, bringing chaos to several cities in the region. Authorities have responded with curfews and blocks on broadcasters in an attempt to quell the unrest.

The lower house of parliament passed the bill last month but it was not ratified by the upper house before the end of its last session before the election, on Wednesday.

Activists in the northeast welcomed parliament’s failure to push the legislation through.

“This is a moral victory for the people of the northeast with the BJP forced to bow down to the voices of struggle,” Samujjal Bhattacharya, a leader of the All Assam Students’ Union, one of the protesting groups, told Reuters.

Members of the Assam state organization had threatened to “shed blood” to block the bill.

Protests over recent days have also rocked the small state of Manipur, where authorities imposed an indefinite curfew and suspended mobile internet services for five days late on Tuesday, following violent protests.

Police said people were defying the curfew on Wednesday.

Protests also erupted in Mizoram state, where some activists have given voice to old separatist aspirations.

Source: Protesters in India claim victory as citizenship bill stalls

Is India waging a ‘war’ on Islamic names?

Never like what appears to be politically-driven name changes:

What’s in a name? For India’s cities and villages, seemingly plenty.

More than 100 of them, including the most prominent, have been renamed since Independence – Bombay to Mumbai, Calcutta to Kolkata, Madras to Chennai.

Names mangled by British rulers have been corrected, and colonial names rejected.

Identity pride, cultural assertion, linguistic nationalism and plain whimsy have all led to renaming in the past. And now, to appease its Hindu nationalist base, Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP appears to have embarked on a new renaming frenzy.

It began in July with the renaming of Mughalsarai, an iconic British-era railway station in the BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh, after its ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya.

Last month, the city of Allahabad in the same state was renamed Prayagraj,apparently to restore the city’s ancient identity as a major Hindu pilgrimage centre. (The city is located at the confluence of three holy rivers.) More significantly, BJP leaders were peeved by the fact that the city’s 435-year-old name was given by a Muslim ruler.

As if that was not enough, the local government, led by a controversial Hindu religious leader, has changed the name of Faizabad district to Ayodhya, best known as the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram

It was in Ayodhya that hardline Hindu mobs razed an ancient mosque in 1992, sparking one of the worst episodes of religious violence in which nearly 2,000 people were killed across the country.

Now BJP leaders want to give more Hindu-friendly names to the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, home to the iconic Taj Mahal, and to Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat. Earlier this year, BJP-ruled Rajasthan changed the “Islamic-sounding names” of three villages.

The new names heap glory on what the BJP calls India’s “glorious” Hindu past, and pour scorn on its Islamic heritage. With general elections barely a year ago, the renaming is seen by critics of Mr Modi as a blow to India’s fabled syncretism – the merging of different faiths and cultures.

Gaganpreet Singh, who teaches at Delhi University, says the politics of renaming in India is often “rooted in the nationalisation of heritage”.

To be fair, in 2014, Mr Modi’s government renamed a road called after Mughal ruler Aurangzeb in central Delhi, instead honouring former president APJ Abdul Kalam, who also pioneered the country’s military missile programme.

“This was the BJP replacing the name of a Muslim villain with a Muslim patriot,” remarked Aatish Taseer, author and columnist.

It is difficult to see why India’s majority Hindus should be feeling besieged by a lack of representation, or why the BJP sees them as a persecuted majority. More than 7,000 of India’s 677,000 villages are named, for example, after Ram and Krishna, two popular deities. Mughal king Akbar, by comparison, had barely 234 villages in his name.

The renaming of cities and places goes on elsewhere in the world for a variety of reasons, some of them similar to India’s.

But critics say erasing Islamic names is another way to disempower India’s Muslims and deny them a stake in the country’s history.

They compare it to what has happened in neighbouring Pakistan, where most roads and spaces have been renamed to be associated with Muslim heroes or personalities. History, as historian Irfan Habib says, is always the “first victim of politics”.

With crucial general elections barely five months away, the BJP’s name-changing moves can be seen as an attempt to woo voters. A home ministry official told parliament in March that it had received 27 proposals from different states requesting a change of names for various villages, towns and railway stations. Most of the requests had came from the BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan and Haryana.

But there’s no evidence that renaming places draws more votes for the party pushing the purge. There have been no recent agitations for name changes, and no great relief among people that they are happening.

“In the absence of broader improvements in actual welfare, name-changing also gives a sense of things changing,” sociologist Sanjay Srivastava told me.

“I am not sure who cares. It doesn’t appear to be a vote-winning issue. Except that it consolidates the BJP’s image as ‘decisive’ across all spheres. It is really the politics of spectacle.”

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46191239

As India Eases Citizenship Path for Hindus, Rohingya Muslims Fear Expulsion

Legacies of partition?

Nar Singh can vividly recall the day in 2014 when Narendra Modi promised to provide refuge to Hindus suffering around the world. The 39-year-old shop owner sat awestruck inside his two-bedroom house in Pakistan’s eastern Mirpur Khas district, as Modi’s voice boomed from the television during his successful campaign to become India’s prime minister.

“If there are atrocities on Hindus in Fiji, where will they go? Should they not come to India? If Hindus are persecuted in Mauritius, where should they go? Hindustan!” Modi declared to a roaring crowd.

For Singh, whose grandfather had been born in British-ruled India before the bloody partition that led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Modi’s words resonated deeply. “He spoke so wholeheartedly, it felt like a warm invitation,” said Singh. “I was so proud and happy.”

Living in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where Hindus say they often face religious discrimination and hate crimes, Singh had always felt drawn toward India. Seven months ago, he and his family stepped off a train in India’s border state of Rajasthan with a 25-day pilgrimage visa and no intention of returning. They now live in a hut on government-owned land on the outskirts of Jodhpur city, alongside about 150 other Hindu families from Pakistan.

He is hopeful he will be granted Indian citizenship – a process that, for immigrants such as Singh, would become much easier under a bill likely to be debated in India’s parliament next month. Drafted by the Modi administration, it would tweak the law to relax rules for Hindus and other non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to become Indian citizens.

Critics say the bill is blatantly anti-Muslim and have called it an attempt by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to increase its Hindu voter base ahead of a national election next year. Protests have erupted in recent weeks in the border state of Assam, where a movement against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has simmered for decades.

While the BJP denies the bill is discriminatory, it offers no concessions to Muslim asylum-seekers, whatever their predicament. That is evident in the tourist city of Jaipur, some 200 miles east of Singh’s new home in Jodhpur, where about 80 Muslim Rohingya families eking out a living share none of his optimism.

The group, among the estimated 40,000 Rohingya who live in India after fleeing waves of violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have recently been asked to submit personal details that they fear will be used to deport them back to the country where they say they face persecution.

“We have no option but to fill these out,” said 38-year-old Rohingya community leader Noor Amin as he looked at a stack of forms handed to them by police last week.

Amin fled Myanmar in 2008, when he says his madrassa was shut down by the authorities and harsh restrictions on travel for Rohingya made it impossible for him to continue studying.

Bouts of violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state have continued for many years, culminating in a sweeping military campaign unleashed in August 2017 in response to militant attacks. That crackdown has forced more than 720,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, in what the United Nations’ human rights agency has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Myanmar has denied almost all the accusations made by refugees against its troops, who is said engaged in legitimate counterinsurgency operations.

The Modi government has said the Rohingya in India are illegal immigrants and a security threat. It deported the first seven Rohingya men back to Myanmar last month, despite warnings by rights groups that conditions in Myanmar were not safe for their return and the move was a violation of international law.

“They were sending a message to the whole world about what they really think about us,” said Sayadi Alam, another Rohingya leader in Jaipur.

Alam fled Myanmar a decade ago, hoping for a better life in India. Like many of the Rohingya in Jaipur, he started off picking up scrap and selling it for recycling, but now he drives an electric rickshaw.

“We are not asking for citizenship. We are not asking for anything more,” he said. “Just let us stay here. At least don’t send us back to Myanmar.”

Such is the fear of deportation among the Rohingya in India that some families have fled for Bangladesh in recent weeks, according to community leaders in the capital New Delhi.

CITIZENSHIP LAW

If the Modi government bill passes, critics say it would for the first time seal into law the ruling party’s disregard for Muslims, and take the BJP a step closer to achieving its often-stated ambition to make India a Hindu nation.

“On the one hand the government says it doesn’t want illegal immigrants. Then why are they taking X refugees and not Y?” said Tridivesh Maini, a foreign policy analyst with the Jindal School of International Affairs.

Arun Chaturvedi, a BJP minister in Rajasthan, defended the bill, saying it was meant for persecuted minorities from specific countries. “This is not a dustbin,” he said. “Everyone cannot come here to claim citizenship. Rohingyas have to be deported because they are staying here illegally.”

Modi set up a task force shortly after coming to power in 2014 to speed up the process of granting Pakistani Hindus citizenship. In 2016 the government gave seven states, including Rajasthan, powers to issue citizenship to Hindus and other religious minorities from neighboring Muslim countries, and allowed them to seek driving licenses and national identity cards.

As a result, the number of Pakistani nationals who received Indian citizenship rose to 855 in 2017 from 508 in 2015, according to home ministry data. The number getting long-term visas increased to 4,712 in 2017 from 890 in 2015.

Immigrants like Singh are a meaningful vote base for the BJP. Of the roughly 500,000 Pakistani Hindus who have arrived in Rajasthan since the India-Pakistan war of 1965, some 200,000 are now registered voters, said Hindu Sodha, who runs the Seemant Lok Sangathan non-profit for Pakistani Hindus out of Jodhpur.

India is home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants and refugees, but does not have a legal framework for dealing with them and has not signed the 1951 UN Convention for Refugees. Successive governments have dealt with immigrants on an ad hoc basis.

While the citizenship bill has been pegged as a humanitarian effort by the Modi government, some experts said the government would draft a refugee policy or sign the convention if it was serious about the issue.

“Hindus from Pakistan will understandably seek refuge in India, and they deserve to get citizenship, but that doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye to the fate of other oppressed communities,” said Maini.

It is unclear how many Hindus move to India, but until 2014 that number was roughly 5,000 a year, said Rakesh Vankwani, patron of the Karachi-based Pakistan Hindu Council and a politician in the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf.

Many of those living around Singh’s settlement told stories of harassment and discrimination in Pakistan to explain their move.

One recent afternoon, Singh scrolled through photos on his smartphone of his life back home: a shiny white sedan, fully stocked general stores, and several acres of land.

Singh now sews t-shirts at a factory. He recently fulfilled his father’s dying wish by immersing his ashes in the Ganges, a river considered holy in Hinduism.

Water is scarce, and there is no electricity in the area yet. Still, he says he is much happier than he was in Pakistan.

“I had a big house and lived comfortably, but there was no mental peace because there was no freedom of religion,” he said. “We can be accused of blasphemy any time there. We cannot wear what we want, and our women are not safe there.”

Source: As India Eases Citizenship Path for Hindus, Rohingya Muslims Fear Expulsion

Study Shows The U.S. Attracts An Elite Muslim And Hindu Population : NPR

One area where US immigration policy works well:

Hindus and Muslims who have migrated to the United States in recent years are especially well-educated, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. On average, Hindus in the U.S. have nearly 16 years of schooling, significantly more than Jews, the next most highly-educated U.S. religious group. Muslim Americans have nearly 14 years of schooling, which is well above the U.S. average.

The high education levels of U.S. Hindus and Muslims are in stark contrast to the schooling levels of those populations worldwide, where they are the two least educated of all religious groups, with just 5.6 years of schooling on average. The Pew data underscore how U.S. policies and world migration patterns have produced a highly selective representation of the two immigrant groups.

“Hindus and Muslims in the United States are a pretty elite segment of the global Hindu and Muslim population,” says Conrad Hackett, a Pew demographic researcher.

In both cases, they are generally newcomers. Nearly nine out of ten Hindus in the United States and two out of every three Muslims were born outside the country, according to Hackett.

With their relatively high levels of education, they qualify for higher paying positions. As immigrants, their experiences challenge the stereotype of foreign-born workers competing with native-born workers for low-skill, low-wage jobs.

“A lot of people, when they look at Asian Americans and their relative success, say there’s something about Asian culture,” notes Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist and immigration expert at the University of California, Riverside. “[But] if you look at culture in Asia, it doesn’t predict the same level of success. So we have to look for answers elsewhere.”

The answers largely lie in the unique U.S. immigration experience of Muslims and Hindus, almost all of whom have come from distant countries in the Middle East and South Asia.

“They’ve had to travel to the United States, perhaps at considerable cost,” notes Hackett, meaning they are likely to be among the most privileged part of the population in their native countries. In this regard, their situation is different from that facing immigrants from Mexico or Central America, who can move to the United States more easily, with or without immigration papers.

Without the option of being able to come illegally across the southern U.S. border, Hackett notes, Muslim and Hindu immigrants “have to deal with U.S. migration policies, which in many cases favor people who have skills that they have acquired through considerable education.”

The Muslim and Hindu immigrants to the United States leave behind the more poorly educated segment of their religious groups, who can’t afford to immigrate or don’t qualify for immigrant visas.

The Hindu and Muslim stories contrast with that of Jews, who according to the Pew survey are well-educated wherever they are found. Worldwide, Jews have an average of 13.4 years of schooling, compared with 14.7 years for U.S. Jews. (Christians worldwide have 9.3 years of schooling on average, while U.S. Christians have 12.7 years.)

The disparity in schooling levels between Hindus and Muslims worldwide and those in the United States may be diminishing, however. The Pew study found education for Hindus and Muslims is improving around the world, with especially notable gains for Hindu and Muslim women.