New Delhi-During his trip to the United States of America, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was questioned about the rights of religious minorities in India. Defending the current government, the minister asked in return, 'What is the true test of fair and good governance or of the balance of a society?' He then continued, 'It would be whether, in terms of amenities, benefits, access, and rights, you discriminate or not, and in every society in the world, at some point, there has been some discrimination on some basis. I defy you to show me discrimination.'
In a nation as diverse as India, the 'balance of a society' is not that simple. There are various intersections of religion, caste, class, and gender that one must navigate. Even then, certain sections of the population have been structurally marginalized.
Amit A. Pandya, former Chief of Staff and Counselor to the International Labour Affairs Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labour, published a report with the Stimson Centre titled 'Muslim Indians: Struggle for Inclusion.' There, the researcher states, 'Muslims have experienced discrimination in areas including employment, education, and housing. Many encounter barriers to achieving political power and wealth and lack access to healthcare and basic services. Moreover, they often struggle to secure justice after suffering discrimination, despite constitutional protections.'
When the moderator, academic, and The Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead questioned the External Affairs Minister about rising religious intolerance, he pointed out that governance had become 'fairer,' but the facts point to a different story.
On September 26th, during the auspicious time of Ganesh Chaturthi, a differently abled Muslim youth was lynched for simply eating prasad kept before the idol in a Ganesh Mahotsav Pandal. This incident occurred in the Sundar Nagari area of the capital Delhi. According to the police investigation, when questioned by the mob, the boy could not answer properly due to his disability and was then thrashed. A video of the act has gone viral, where he can be seen being beaten with sticks while tied to a pole. The helpless citizen is heard shouting for help but in vain.
In August, while the G20 preparations were in full swing, a despicable video started to circulate on social media. In that video, a Muzaffarnagar schoolteacher named Tripta Tyagi called her students to take turns hitting a Muslim student. She can be heard encouraging the students to 'hit harder.' Only after the outrage, the police filed cases against the teacher.
On July 31st, Chetan Kumar, a railway police officer, openly fired on an express train, killing his senior officer and three Muslim passengers. After the rampage, he was reported to have said, 'If you want to live and vote in Hindustan [India], I am telling you, it's only Modi and Yogi, these two people.'
Even the parliament of the nation is not free from discrimination. Ramesh Bidhuri, MP from South Delhi, hurled Islamophobic abuses at his colleague and BSP MP Danish Ali. Unparliamentary words such as 'pimp' and 'terrorist' were used against Danish Ali. Bidhuri went a step further to call him 'Mullah' and 'katwa,' which are derogatory terms used for men who practice the Islamic faith. Former cabinet ministers of NDA, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Harshvardhan, can be observed laughing in the background of the live footage. Instead of being reprimanded, the minister was 'awarded' with a promotion. He has been assigned the responsibility of poll duties in Tonk district of Rajasthan.
According to Statista, Muslim representation in parliament has 'stagnated' over the last two decades. After the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the community, which makes up 14% of the Indian population, held only 5% of seats. Since mid-2022, there is no Muslim MP from the ruling party in the parliament. It is not only the legislature that is suffering. There seems to be a new brand of justice that has emerged, despite the Judiciary's presence.
This brand, termed 'Bulldozer Justice,' refers to the heavy machinery used to crush homes and, in turn, the aspirations of the community. In states like Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh, bulldozers are being used to demolish houses of Muslim activists. Such meticulous acts have even awarded Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath the title of 'Bulldozer Baba.'
Common Cause, a Non-Governmental Organization, conducted a survey in 2019, which reported, 'half of police surveyed showed anti-Muslim bias, making them less likely to intervene to stop crimes against Muslims.' Such practices, aided by the multitude of hate speeches against the community, have surely led to an unequal society.
In July 2022, a Panel of Independent International Experts consisting of three renowned international law experts, Sonja Biserko, Marzuki Darusman, and Stephen Rapp, published their research on the human rights violations of the Muslim community in India since 2019.
According to the report, federal and state-level authorities 'adopted a wide range of laws, policies, and conduct that target Muslims directly or affect them disproportionately.' The Panel further 'found that some of the violations may amount to crimes against humanity, war crimes, and incitement to commit genocide.'
S. Jaishankar's words on discrimination being present in every society are the bitter truth. But what is not right is using the bigotry of other societies as an excuse to hide one's own problems. There is more than enough evidence that makes up for the fact that the society we are a part of is, in fact, prejudiced.