Islamophobia and Fragmentation in India: Mirroring the denial of Critical Race Theory in USA
Some recent events…
On January 28th, 2023, the iconic and beautiful Mughal Gardens of the presidential abode or palace (Rashtrapati Bhavan) at New Delhi were renamed as ‘Amrit Udayan’, with the BJP (the ruling party in democratic India) proclaiming that India, today, sheds another symbol of ‘colonialism’. I guess that the BJP has expanded its scope of ‘anti-colonial initiatives’ from the renaming cities and towns that remind them of Islam into renaming of gardens now.
On January 27th, 2023, Bill Maher in his Friday talk show almost denies the role of racism in the recent deadly police beating of Tyre Nichols, by claiming that the five policemen who killed him were themselves ‘black’. He then offers the evidence of another mass shooting that happened last week, where the shooter was an Asian American who shot and killed several people from the same community.
On January 23rd, 2023, Arindam Bagchi, as the voice and representative of the Ministry of External Affairs, commented on the national ban of the part 1 of the BBC documentary on Narendra Modi, by claiming that — “We think that this (documentary) is a propaganda piece, designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, lack of objectivity & continuing colonial mindset is blatantly visible”
Ironically, the second part of the abovementioned BBC documentary refers to a period of three days (February 3–5, 2020) where on one hand, we have riots in our capital Delhi, where in one of the many violent encounters, Delhi Police is filmed violently beating up five Muslim boys, demanding that they sing the national anthem and one of them — a 23 year old boy — Faizan subsequently dies. On the other hand, Donald Trump lands in Ahmedabad — the city of Modi that has been meticulously sponged up as well as walled up so that Trump and his convoy do not see the poverty and the dirt. Most ironically, Trump heralds Modi as his friend and sees him as a symbol of unity and harmony.
Trump and his fellow republicans have been on a war path to ban Critical Race Theory in schools, universities and even federal agencies in USA, claiming that CRT is anti-USA, it villainizes White people, and promotes radical leftism.
Why is it important to explore CRT
While preparing myself for an oncoming group relations conference — Race Relations In a Global World, that would be held in CUNY Schenectady Community College, NY, in April 2023, I was struck by how easy it was to deny the impact of CRT in India, and see it largely as an American phenomenon.
Those of you that are unfamiliar with Critical Race Theory, here is a quick summary of a cross disciplinary perspective that is inspired by critical thinking.
· CRT (as per Wikipedia) is used in sociology to explain social, political, and legal structures and power distribution as through a “lens” focusing on the concept of race, and experiences of racism. For example, the CRT framework began with the examining of racial bias in laws and legal institutions, such as highly disparate rates of incarceration among racial groups in the United States. Another seed for CRT was the so called removal of segregation in schools and interesting consequences that rendered this movement quite ineffective.
· A key CRT concept is intersectionality — the way in which different forms of inequality and identity are affected by interconnections of race, class, gender, community and disability. Scholars of CRT view race as a social construct with no biological basis. One tenet of CRT is that racism and disparate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing, and often subtle social and institutional dynamics, rather than explicit and intentional prejudices of individuals. In fact if this phenomena is seen only at an individual level — the unconscious processes within the collectives and the systems are denied.
· CRT scholars argue that in the USA, the social and legal construction of race advances the interests of White People at the expense of people of color, and that the liberal notion of U.S. law as “neutral” plays a significant role in maintaining a racially unjust social order, where formally color-blind laws continue to have racially discriminatory outcomes.
Why is it important to explore CRT in the Indian Context
In the preamble, I found it intriguing how dismantling of ‘colonization and our colonized past would lead to our past glory’. Yes I do agree that colonization has brought immense suffering across generations in India, but today this has been erected as a façade for shielding even more concerning trends — for example promoting islamophobia within a majority of Indians whose voice supports the current political regime.
Indian population comprises of 14.5% Muslims — this is the third largest population of Muslims in the world, with more than 185 million people who identify with this religion. India is still a secular democracy while I write this blog.
However, there is a certain seeding of ‘institutionalization of islamophobia’ that one is witnessing in systems and narratives today. In the name of re-discovering India’s Hindu heritage, that by a small proportion of right wing narrow minded Hindus subscribe to, one is seeing the relegation of the Muslim community into a ‘second class citizen status’. I saw this phrase being used by Karan Thapar while interviewing N Ram over the BBC documentary in the news channel — The Wire, and I agree with him.
For example, let us look at the renaming of the Mughal Gardens into Amrit Udayan and then terming it as shedding off a colonized past — this process seems hypocritical to say the least and dangerous. It is true that the original Mughal gardens at the Presidential Palace were built by the British — but ‘Mughal Gardens’ is a design motif that was brought in by the Mughal kings who ruled India. The Kings conceptualized the design of the gardens as a manifestation of heaven (Jannat) and worked with designs that looked at an interplay of human context with four elements of nature. One has such gardens that has the same blueprint all over India including the famous gardens in Srinagar or in the Taj Mahal at Agra.
It is not the colonized artefact that is being dismantled but the decimation of a construct of beauty that was brought in by the Mughal emperors. It is difficult to understand the nature of fragility and egotism that some have demonstrated in embracing this legacy. And yet, the powers that are, do not wish to ostentatiously display their Islamophobia for there is a significant vote bank at stake.
Mr. Bagchi as a representative of the Ministry of External Affairs, criticizes the BBC documentary as “a propaganda energized by colonial mindset” but does not comment on the rise of Islamophobia that the documentary speaks of and refers to over the last 8 years. The documentary offers evidence of painful and yet objective data of lynching and slaughtering of Muslim men over ‘beef’, amongst other themes.
The fragmentation is not limited to Muslims alone as I watch news channels across languages speak of Hindu temples across the world (or at least a couple of temple in Australia) being attacked by Sikhs who are accused of wanting to create Khalistan — once again and how dare they? Sikhs are another community in India that are either confused as confused Hindus or seen as terrorists that need to be targeted with violence and lynching over the years.
Most of us as individuals in Indian society would find it difficult to acknowledge an essential intersectionality between communities that is under an attack today.
As individuals, many of us are open, benign, non-paranoid, gentile, and non-violent. However, CRT is an interesting lens to explore what is being seeded at the institutional level today. It is important to look at the collective unconscious at play today — it is the unconscious where such uncomfortable truths and narratives reside.
The glimmer of hope comes from another set of recent events.
Firstly, the BBC documentaries — part 1 and part 2 are being downloaded and seen by a lot of Indians who are not too thrilled by the ban on media — it is the young who seem to be leading the way, and discovering our fair share of shitty history. My mind boggles on why some people in power believe that they can subdue such narratives today given the extent and penetration of internet in India today.
Secondly, the film — Pathan — initially judged as anti-national by our ribald nationalists who sought to curtail its viewing as a part of their jingoistic fervor, has been seen and regaled by millions of Indians who have seen Shahrukh Khan as an icon of Indian Muslim. I am planning to see it tomorrow as well. The film seems to have broken all records as millions storm to watch it.
Lastly a large majority of Hindus are not rightwing fanatics — they are decent, generous, open and loving people who know how to live in peace and harmony with others. This is a collective ethos that I hope would overwhelm the attempts to seed fragmentation and paranoia.