Muslims fear more repression as Indian mega-state votes
Aishwarya Kumar Agence France-Presse/Meerut, India
The Jakarta Post
Almost all the 23 people believed to have died when police cracked down on a wave of protests in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh little more than two years ago were reportedly Muslims. Now, many members of the major religious minority fear more repression if Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand monk from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wins another term in state elections that began this week. Shahbuddin is a 26-year-old man who says his brother Aleem was shot dead by police during the 2019 crackdown just meters from his home in the Muslim quarter of the town of Meerut. “We are scared that if this government stays it will kill our brothers, our kids and us just like this,” he tells AFP outside his home in the narrow alleys of the town, declining to give his family name for fear of reprisal. Adityanath “is a murderer, a terrorist”, Shahbuddin says. Adityanath, 49, is the poster boy of a muscular Hindu nationalism that has gone from strength to strength in recent years, culminating in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP winning power in 2014. Like Modi, 71, he has been a lifelong member of the militaristic Hindu-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose rallies and outfits are reminiscent of 1930s fascist organizations in Europe and which is the ideological parent of the BJP. But in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP’s agenda has gone the furthest, with curbs on slaughterhouses — cows are sacred in Hinduism — and on the use of loudspeakers for the Muslim call to prayer. Adityanath’s government brought in a law against “love jihad”, an alleged conspiracy by Muslims to hoodwink Hindu women into marriage to convert them to Islam. Deadly ‘encounters’ But what really scares the state’s Muslim minority, around 20 percent of the population of more than 200 million, is what they see as Adityanath’s disregard for the rule of law in the vast and poor state in northern India. Since Adityanath took office in 2017, more than 100 alleged criminals, most of them Muslims or low-caste Dalits, have reportedly died in “encounters” with police that rights groups say were extrajudicial killings — a charge the government denies. Adityanath’s administration has been an enthusiastic user of colonial-era “sedition” charges and anti-terror laws allowing suspects to be held for six months without charge. The aim, critics say, is to silence any dissent. What opponents say is the ruthless brutality of Adityanath’s regime was laid bare in late 2019 during protests around India against the Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This legislation gives citizenship to refugees in India, but not if they are Muslim, which critics said was discriminatory and revealed the BJP’s anti-Muslim bias. The government denies this. After some of the protests turned violent, Adityanath vowed “revenge”. Riot police went on the rampage in several cities, in particular in Muslim areas, barging into houses, assaulting the inhabitants and smashing up their belongings, witnesses said. Most of the 23 fatalities were from bullet wounds, according to media reports. The police have denied that anyone was shot. ‘Injustice’ More than two years later, Shahbuddin says his family are yet to see justice. “During court hearings [for this case], our brother Salahuddin is made to sit for hours and then is just asked to go home with another date in hand,” Shahbuddin said. “They think we are weak and there is a complete effort that is made to suppress us.” Nafisa Begum, 52, says her 28-year-old son Mohsin was also among those killed. “There was nothing that day which suggested bullets could be fired here. It was a normal day, everyone was going about their daily activities,” Nafisa told AFP. “There is a lot of injustice [against Muslims under this government]. A lot of injustice,” she said.