Kashmir, the CAA, and Delhi Riots: Looking Back On a Year of Modi’s Islamophobic Reign

After the 1947 partition of India, a geopolitical dispute over the state of Kashmir and Jammu broke out between Pakistan and India. The Kashmir/Jammu region was eventually split between India, Pakistan, and China, with India controlling about 55% of the land, including the Kashmir Valley, and about 70% of the population. Fast forward to a year after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971: a “line of control” was officially established between Indian and Pakistani territories in the state. Since that establishment, tensions in the region have boiled over between Indian and Pakistani powers; both of these nations have declared themselves to be nuclear powers, and contestation over the territory reached a breaking point this past year. On August 5, 2019, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi withdrew constitutional provisions that granted the Kashmir and Jammu region a certain previously understood degree of autonomy. Furthermore, Modi’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist government (of the Bharatiya Janata Party, abbreviated BJP) sent military forces into the region and imposed curfews to control protestors. Additionally, millions of people were cut off from telephone and Internet access. These moves were justified by a motion to fully integrate Kashmir and Jammu—India’s only Muslim majority state—into the country. This sudden seizure of total control not only violated the political autonomy of Pakistan but also the personal autonomy of every person living in Kashmir.

Since military installment in Kashmir, there have been several reports of Indian police brutality taking place against Kashmiri residents in the form of beatings, rape, electrical shocks, and more. Because of the lack of contact with the rest of the world, these cases have been drastically underreported. But even prior to the imposed power outage and heightened military presence this past year, allegations of physical abuse by Indian authorities have persisted in Kashmir for years. In 2018, a Kashmiri human rights group profiled over 400 victims of alleged torture in twenty-eight years; that same year, the United Nations issued a separate report detailing “instances of alleged torture, arbitrary detentions, and use of excessive force by security forces between 2016 and 2018.”These abuses are largely ignored by the global population and mainstream media, and, as a result, Modi has not been held accountable for the blatant Islamophobia upon which these human rights violations have clearly been predicated.

His determination to stamp out any Islamic presence in expanding the Indian nationalist state has become clearer in recent months when he pushed his government to make this goal a law. In December 2019, the majority BJP Indian Parliament voted to approve the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which establishes a religious test for migrants who want to become Indian citizens on the basis of protecting people fleeing persecution. However, the CAA was carefully tailored; it amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 so that it now allows a path to citizenship for undocumented Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered India before December 2014. In excluding Muslims from this list, Modi sent a powerful message; Muslims were no longer welcome in India. In his adamant defense of the amendment, he insisted that no Indian citizen would have their citizenship removed; however, protests ensued almost immediately after the passage because citizens could feel the precedent that was being set, suspecting that Muslim citizenship would soon be checked in some way. Sure enough, after the new year, India demanded proof of citizenship from every resident in the state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh. After asking for proof that each person and family was an Indian citizen, the BJP government left two million people, many of whom were Muslim, off of the state’s citizenship rolls. In this instance, Hindus who were left off the list would be protected by the CAA while Muslims in the same situation would not. Modi has fully condemned the Muslim Indians protesting this legislative action, claiming that they had “illicit intention of destroying the country.” His inflammatory rhetoric and anti-Muslim message has added fuel to a nativist Hindu fire that fully manifested last month.

On the night of February 23, 2020 Hindu nationalist rioters began destroying property, and beating and killing any Muslim men they could find in the city of New Delhi. Determining if a man was Muslim or not usually meant forcing him to pull down his pants in the street before he was beaten to death in front of his family. Many reports say that policemen completely ignored Muslims’ cries for help and some even joined the rioters in abusing the Muslim citizens. For four days, mosques were burned and chaos reigned over India’s capital city; over 500 people were injured to the point of needing hospital care and over forty people were killed. The violent mob was undoubtedly, according to several Indian politicians and countless citizens, inspired by Modi’s solidly right-wing Hindu nationalist government and dangerous rhetoric. The rioters were not held responsible in any way by the prime minister, who simply urged general peace on the third day of riots and refused to condemn the instigators. Meanwhile, while the violence was raging, President Donald Trump visited India, sealing his newfound friendship with Prime Minister Modi and discussing how he cannot wait to work further with him. Live viewing of the cozying up of two Islamophobic world leaders was a huge slap in the face to both Indian and American Muslims and allies who were watching.

Many world powers seem to have been going through a dangerously nationalist phase in the last several years. Examples such as the temporary but impactful rules of Italy’s Salvini and France’s Le Pen, the election of Bolsonaro in Brazil, the rapid rise of the Vox party in Spain, and Trump’s consistent popularity demonstrate the permeation of nativist ideals in a world where we as a global population have never been more connected. In the case of Modi, a specific concentration on alienating Muslims in their home country and blatantly enabling abuses against them demands, at the very least, full condemnation by world leaders and appropriate intervention by the UN where it is possible. Unfortunately, a more difficult issue to tackle is the ideological warfare that this government has encouraged; uprooting the seeds of hatred which have been so meticulously sown by people in power must be an active, persistent, and tireless effort that transcends all borders.