Religious Extremists in South Asia are a Threat to Regional Stability

Mainal Haq’s family including his wife and children sobbed in a makeshift shelter of two small tin sheets that they erected by the river after their houses were demolished as part of an anti-encroachment drive. Up to 1,300 families now have been rendered homeless and are living in makeshift tin houses (photo: Sadiq Nqvi/Al Jazeera).

Religious harmony is becoming an illusion these days with the election win of extremist forces in some parts of our world. Organized violence directed against vulnerable minorities, scripted by ruling power, is often the norm rather than an exception. Nowhere in South Asia is this fact more plain than in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled India where the ruling party is in a competition of its own to prove to the Hindu-majority India that it is the only trustworthy political party to represent Hindu interest. Hindutva, or militant and political Hinduism, has become the party’s religio-fascist ideology to make India Hindu again (akin to Donald Trump’s slogan for making America great again!).

Through a series of bigotry-ridden and anti-Muslim laws and acts, touching the lives of hundreds of millions of Muslims from Assam in the east to Kashmir in the western flank of India, Narendra Modi and his BJP have proven beyond any shadow of doubt that they are serious about making India for, of and by its Hindu majority in which people of the other faiths (esp., Muslims and Christians) have little to no rights in this country of nearly 1.4 billion inhabitants. Since Modi’s ascendancy in 2014 as the head of the government, India has tattered and dropped its pretense as a secular democracy. It is less hypocritical today about what modern India stands for  than any time before in its checkered history. Political parties must now prove how anti-Muslim or pro-Hindu they are to be relevant in Modi’s India.

Consider, for instance, the latest fuss about Priyanka Gandhi. On October 15 BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra accused Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and the party of “appeasing” Muslims during her address at the Kisan Nyay Rally on 10 October in Varanasi.

Patra uploaded an edited video on Twitter twice Tuesday, showing Priyanka and other Congress members listening to the azaan, before cutting to interviews of people who attended the rally. That video was also shared by the BJP’s national Information & Technology Department in-charge Amit Malviya.

“The Congress is upset that the video of them playing azaan in the rally held on 10 Oct in Kashi, the holiest of Hindu cities, has gone viral on social media. Appeasement ploy gone awry. Doing this in Kashi is sacrilege. People in UP are asking if Congress is the new Muslim League?” Malviya tweeted.

The unedited video and media reports about the rally, however, paint a different picture. The full 90-minute livestream of Priyanka’s address at the rally, uploaded by the Congress’ YouTube channel, shows the proceedings began with Sanskrit shlokas, and Muslim as well as Sikh religious chanting, in that order.  The chanting of shlokas during the first five minutes of the video, however, had audio issues. As a result, the YouTube livestream did not pick up the audio even as Priyanka Gandhi is seen listening to it at the rally. The audio issues appeared to be resolved by the five-minute mark, as the crowd is heard cheering loudly before the azaan begins. Over 50 minutes into the livestream, Priyanka addresses the crowd by reciting shlokas, contrary to the allegations of “Muslim appeasement”.

A report by PTI said the Congress leader also told the crowd to chant “Jai Mata Di” and ended her speech with the same chant. Patra and Malviya’s tweets were subsequently called out by users, including Youth Congress President Srinivas B.V. and fact-checker Mohammad Zubair, for sharing the clipped video.

The noise heard in the audio background was not azaan.

But who cares about the unvarnished truth in Modi’s India where Muslims despite their unbroken existence for nearly a thousand years are portrayed as the intruders at best, and as the enemies at worst? Years of lies and distorted history, fed by the Hindutvadi propagandists, and sanctioned by the BJP government, have prepared the religio-fascist mob well to unleash their unfathomed savagery and violence against the minority Muslims. Truly, the blueprint of a genocide of Indian Muslims is so obvious that Dr. Greg Stanton of the Genocide Watch has put India as a country on the brink of genocide.

The persecution and killings of Muslims have become routine events in today’s India. Just a few days ago, nearly 1,300 Muslim families were made homeless in Dhalpur Part 1 and Dhalpur Part 3 villages and two villagers were killed as authorities in India’s Assam launched eviction drive against Bengali-speaking Muslims there. Although nearly two million people, both Hindus and Muslims of Bengali origin, were excluded from a National Register of Citizens (NRC) published two years ago, organized violence including eviction are always directed against Muslims.

Ainuddin shows his brother Mainal’s identity documents issued by the government. Mainal Haq, a 28-year-old farmer was one of the two people killed during a government eviction drive in Dhalpur Part 3 village located on the riverine island of the Brahmaputra river in Darrang district (photo: Sadiq Naqvi/Al Jazeera).

According to Al Jazeera, soon after the Friday prayers on the platform of a razed mosque, Ainuddin struggled to recount the sequence of events of the previous day when his elder brother Mainal Haq was shot dead by the police in Darrang district of the northeastern Indian state of Assam. “The police shot him in the chest. The photographer thrashed him. They kept thrashing him even after he was dead,” Ainuddin told Al Jazeera. The stomping of his bullet-ridden body by a photographer had gone viral.

It is worth noticing that the state of Assam is ruled by the same BJP that rules India. BJP has been targeting the state’s Bengali-speaking Muslims, who form the bulk of the state’s Muslim population of more than 12 million for eviction and calling them “encroachers”, “intruders” and “illegal immigrants”.

Villagers near their houses which were demolished during an eviction drive, at Gorukhuti in Darrang district, on Friday September 24, 2021 (photo: PTI via Hindustan Times)

Religious chauvinism against the vulnerable people in Modi’s India is not limited just between the various religious groups but is also visible within each group. A Dalit Sikh identified as Lakhbir Singh was killed — his hand chopped off at the wrist, his ankle hacked at ankle, by members of the Nihang sect — at Singhu border on Friday for alleged sacrilege. Speaking to ThePrint, several Nihang Sikhs present at the site claimed that Lakhbir Singh, identified as a Dalit Sikh and father-of-three, had committed sacrilege with a holy book, the Sarbloh Granth, that he allegedly picked up and sought to run away with.

In Buddhist Sri Lanka, discrimination and persecution against Muslim minorities are at an all time high. The government has banned face coverings worn by some Muslim women; shut down thousands of Islamic schools, or madrassas; and prohibited burials of Muslims who have died from COVID-19. According to Amnesty International all of these developments exacerbate “a worrying trend of increased marginalization and targeting of Sri Lanka’s Muslim community.” Muslims cannot practice their religion freely and peacefully.

Is the condition of minorities any better in the peripheral terrorities of South Asia?

In nearby Myanmar and China, religious persecution of Muslim minorities has been duly qualified as genocide. With the tens of thousands killed, hundreds of Muslim villages scorched, and girls and women raped, nearly a million Rohingyas have been pushed out of their ancestral homes in the Rakhine (Arakan) state to take refuge in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Even there, the refugee leaders are targeted for assassination. 

Nearly a million Uighurs are interned in concentration camps in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) of Xi’s China where the natives are treated as unwanted terrorists for their Islamic identity. Adult Muslim men are incarcerated and tortured, women raped, Muslim graveyards, shrines and mosques routinely razed while the government constructs newer Buddhist temples. So unlivable the condition has become that Uighur women there are asking for fatwa: is it okay to commit suicide under the prevalent abuse? 

The Chinese religious persecution is not limited just to Uighur Muslims alone, but encompasses all Muslims living there. Under the directives of the Xi’s government, Apple has lately removed the Qur’an App from its stores. 

With the recent collapse of the NATO and Indian-backed Afghan puppet government, Afghanistan is seemingly threatened by the Kharejite extremists that want to destabilize the Taliban government.  

Last Friday, on October 15, a group of suicide bombers belonging to the terrorist network ISIS-K attacked a Shi’ite mosque in southern Afghanistan, triggering explosions that killed dozens of people during crowded Friday prayers. The massacre, while the mosque was crowded for Friday Prayer, was the group’s second attack against a mosque in just a week. On October 8 a suicide bomber had devastated a Shi’ite mosque in the northern city of Kunduz, killing dozens of worshipers in a deadly continuation of the terrorist group’s campaign against the Hazara minority.

With the superpowers defeated and gone, surely, ISIS-K, however, won’t be the only nemesis for the Afghans desiring safety and security in their native land, rightly called the Graveyard of the Empires. Lest we forget, foreign intelligence agencies like the RAW of India and the CIA of the USA have long been known to have trained suicide bombers in places like the NDS Base called the Q1 within Eagle Base and then sent to Pakistan and inside Afghanistan to kill and neutralize their enemies, and plant the seeds of sectarian violence. 

Nowhere in South Asia, the minorities are better treated and positioned in public and private sectors than in Bangladesh. Truly, under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has been a bonanza for its ten percent religious minorities where they hold many lucrative jobs and key government positions, albeit disproportionately – almost three to five times their due share inside the population. The Hindu festival of Durga Puja, despite its rather problematic origin, is observed as a paid national holiday. Sheikh Hasina has donated 30 million taka to Hindu Kalyan Trust. The government also provides tons of rice free to the thousands of Hindu temples in all parts of the country. 

Under such favorable circumstances one would have thought that Bangladesh would be an oasis of religious harmony in this rather troubled region. Nope! 

Recently, Bangladesh witnessed desecration of the Holy Qur’an in more than one Hindu temples during the Hindu festival of the Durga puja. On Wednesday (13 October), Bangladesh’s religious affairs ministry released an emergency notice saying it had come across news that the central religious text of Islam had been 'disrespected' in Cumilla, but the ministry urged the public not to take the law into their own hands. On Friday some 2,500 Muslim worshippers gathered outside Baitul Mukarram Masjid, Bangladesh's largest mosque in central Dhaka, demanding "exemplary punishment" for the "desecration" of the holy book. 

While desecration of the Islamic scripture and demolition of Muslim cemeteries, mosques and shrines, let alone killings of Muslims under any pretext (from alleged storing of beef meat in the refrigerator to being a potential terrorist), are rather common and encouraged at the government level in countries like China, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, where Muslim minorities face genocide, Bangladesh government has been a trend setter in religious harmony and plurality. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned, "Any attempt to destroy this peaceful and harmonious environment would not be tolerated,” adding that the purported desecration of the Qur’an and subsequent violence is extremely unfortunate. "The incidents in Cumilla are being thoroughly investigated. Nobody will be spared. It doesn't matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished," she said.

Bangladesh has detained at least 74 people in the east-central district of Cumilla, according to police sources. In the port city of Chattogram, meanwhile, police fired 50 rounds of blanks to disperse hundreds of Muslim protesters, local police official Bijoy Basak said. 

This unfortunate sacrilegious incident leaves the door of inquiry open: who has done it, and/or who benefits from such an act? It is highly unlikely that the copies of the Qur’an could be left under the feet of an idol by any faithful Muslim in a Hindu-temple under watchful eyes of its devotees. The very act would be deemed infinitely disrespectful of the Islamic scripture. It is also doubtful that any sane Hindu would be foolish to commit such an insane act. At this stage, there are no shortage of theories as to the possible perpetrators.

Many observers see these acts in Bangladesh as part of a coordinated sabotage committed to embarrass the government of Hasina, who in recent years has been alleged to have ruffled Modi’s feathers by cozying up to Xi’s China. Many Bangladeshis point fingers at the extremist elements, esp. those within the RSS-affiliated Hindu Unity and HRCBM, let alone intelligence groups like the RAW (of India) from hostile governments. They opine that such acts strengthen BJP’s anti-Muslim stance in various parts of India, esp. in Assam, further gravitating Hindus to the fascist Hindutvadi agenda. With a murderous fascist regime in power and a history of troublemaking in the region, everything is plausible!

Due to the presence of CTV cameras in the Hindu temples, I am sure the culprits in Bangladesh would be caught and prosecuted for their crimes. 

The more important question, however, is: how can South Asia defeat fanatic extremists who have no respect for  the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of others, and thus, consider it as a duty to persecute the minorities? Can a South Asian live with others that are different respectfully, peacefully and unthreatened?

In my opinion, the short answer is – yes. It’s possible. 

However, the case of India – the so-called largest democracy – appears doom and gloom to achieve that state of multi-culture and religious and ethnic harmony, until and unless her people makes a concerted effort to abandon fully its Hindutva, which is nothing short of religio-fascism at its worst. They must defeat the evil forces that promote and execute intolerance against the minorities. Anything short of this, India would have difficulty erasing its troublesome lynching image and so would RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat’s outreach to Muslims appear hollow. 

Surely, people suffer when the government is run by chauvinists who have not learned the wisdom behind the Qur’anic dicta of ‘la ikraha fid-din’ (there is no compulsion in religion) and ‘lakum deenu-kum waliya-din’ (to you is your religion, and to me is mine).

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.