On 7th July 2018, eight men convicted of lynching Alimuddin Ansari and sentenced to life by the lower courts were released on bail when the higher court suspended the sentence. On their release, they were felicitated and honoured by Union Minister Jayant Sinha and the fact that Jayant Sinha is an IIT and Harvard alumni, having worked in the upper echelons of global finance dispels the myth that illiteracy and backwardness are the ingredients responsible for proliferation of hate and violence. Such adulations from official quarters aid in normalizing anti-Muslim hate and provides a veneer of legitimacy and heroism to wannabe lynch mobs.
To gauge the gravity of the situation, a cursory look at the conviction rate of perpetuators of anti-Muslim violence ranging from individual level discrimination to industrial level genocide and pogroms. The situation is compounded by the lack of data documenting violence against Muslims; only the most crude and brutal forms of violence that culminate in lynching, rape and death make it to the public sphere. Subtler forms of violence like discrimination, intimidation, exclusion, hate speech, online hate, abuse, racial profiling, etc. which in fact form the foundations of and provide the impetus for lynching, rape and murder remain undocumented and hence unhindered. One need only to follow the trajectory that led to the Jewish Holocaust to comprehend this reality. This in no way alludes that things were normal or good for Indian Muslims prior to 2014 or prior to any period after independence for that matter. Since 1947, Indian Muslims have been a marginalised community facing intolerance, systemic exclusion, socio-economic discrimination and physical insecurity and the Sachar Committee Report (2006) was an eye-opener in that regard.
The fact that perpetuators of mass violence and mayhem be it the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the ensuing violence, Godhra, Muzaffarnagar, Assam; bombings by Hindu extremists, lynchings, etc. are either granted bail by our legal system or let scot-free and eulogized. Moreover, propagators of hate speech and preachers who call for violence are seldom brought before the law; all of this point towards a conceptual problem plaguing our justice system. We believe that the lack of a distinct category to mark and criminalize anti-Muslim violence is the prima facie reason motivating perpetuators to act with total impunity. We would suggest taking a page from the Runnymede Trust in the United Kingdom which produced the first report and attempted definition of Islamophobia in 1997 and released a more detailed report in 2017. In addition, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) is in the process of carrying out enquiries in conjunction with British civil society and the British Muslim leadership to facilitate the adoption of a working definition of Islamophobia.
We recommend a similar exercise in India by partnering with civil society and concerned parties for the prospect of deploying Islamophobia as an analytical tool to understand, comprehend and categorize this phenomenon of anti-Muslim violence and importantly Muslim subjectivity in India. This would envision introducing a comprehensive law such as an ‘Islamophobia Act’ which would criminalize not only lynching, but also all forms of atrocities that shatter self-respect and esteem, deny economic, democratic and social rights, discriminate and exploit. We believe that such conceptualization would transcend the understanding of Islamophobia as mere hatred and fear of Muslims and would focus on it as undermining the ability of Muslims, as Muslims to project themselves into the future. We believe such discussions and debates are the need of the hour.