India has an image of tolerance which is eroding in the West. A recent cricket loss proves why.


When India meets its rival Pakistan on the cricket pitch, even those who don’t follow the sport sit and watch. But in the opening match of the T20 World Cup at the end of last month, they experienced a rare disappointment when the Pakistani team beat India for the first time in almost 30 years – and by many.

In the aftermath of the crushing defeat, ethno-religious tensions erupted in India, a predominantly Hindu country bordering predominantly Muslim Pakistan. Cricket fans have hurled abuse online at Mohammed Shami, the only Muslim player on the Indian team, unfairly blaming him for the loss.

In Uttar Pradesh state, three students from Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory claimed by India and Pakistan, who celebrated the victory on social media, were suspended from their college, arrested and charged with sedition .

More than a dozen other Kashmiri students who cheered on Pakistan were assaulted on match night at two universities in Punjab state, said Nasir Khuehami, national spokesperson for the Jammu Students Association. and-Kashmir.

“This is nothing new,” Khuehami told NBC News. “Whenever politics is mixed with sport, these incidents happen. “

Protesters in the city of Srinagar are calling on authorities to drop the charges against students celebrating the victory of Pakistan’s cricket team in the Twenty20 World Cup.Tauseef Mustafa / AFP via Getty Images

Tensions between Indian Hindus, who make up about 80 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people, and Muslims, who make up 14 percent, date back hundreds of years and worsened during British colonial rule .

But under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who took office in 2014, experts say there has been a surge in discrimination and violence against Muslims which polarizes society and undermines the reputation of religious tolerance of India.

“India had a very good image internationally, as the world’s greatest democracy and country of tolerance,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, author of the 2021 book “Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy “.

“Now, gradually, that image is eroding in the United States and Europe.”

This poses a challenge for the United States, which is deepening its relationship with India as it seeks to counterbalance China. In September, President Joe Biden hosted the prime ministers of India, Australia and Japan at the first face-to-face meeting of the Quad, a strategic grouping of the four nations.

U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern over the rights of Indian Muslims and other religious minorities, and legislation before Congress would require the State Department to create a special envoy to address Islamophobia around the world, including in India. But on November 17, the State Department declined to add India to its list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, as recommended for the second year in a row by a U.S. federal commission. (India rejected the commission’s report in 2020, calling it biased.)

“The United States and Europe need India against China,” Jaffrelot said. “So for the moment the questioning of human rights in India is of no consequence.”

Unresolved tensions

Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, “is a very monolithic and exclusionary political ideology that is based on a vision of Hindu identity as a North Indian, upper caste and patriarchal,” said Nikhil Mandalaparthy, advocacy director of Hindus for Human Rights, an organization based in the United States. group.

Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militarist group that has long espoused Hindu nationalism, are known to march through the streets beating drums and blowing horns.AFP via Getty Images

In this version of India, he said, minorities “are sidelined and do not have the same status as citizens.”

Tensions between Hindus and Muslims were exploited by British colonial rulers to maintain their grip on power. But when India gained independence in 1947, the subcontinent was transformed by its violent partition into two states – predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan – sparking massive migration back and forth. .

At least 1 million people died and 18 million were uprooted during this period, according to the British Government’s National Archives.

This trauma was never fully addressed by Indian rulers, said Thomas Blom Hansen, author of the 1999 book “The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India”.

“The politicians have tried to put an end to all these tensions,” he said. “They wanted to create a multinational, multicultural and multireligious state that had room for everyone. ”

While India is officially a secular state that enshrines the right to religious freedom in its constitution, Hansen said the BJP has created a narrative of Hindu victimization that taps into a “deep reservoir of stereotypes and myths, of anxieties and anger towards Muslims that has always been there. ”

“They believe that Hindus are oppressed in India and that they are oppressed by minorities, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

As prime minister, Modi strengthened the economy, wooed foreign leaders, and initiated some popular reforms. But critics say that the Hindu nationalist policies of Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party have only intensified since he won a second term as prime minister in 2019.

A few months after this electoral victory, the government stripped Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, of its semi-autonomous status after more than 70 years, deploying thousands of soldiers and facilitating the installation of settlers. Hindus in what critics saw as an attempt to dilute the Muslim population.

Indian Army soldiers stand guard during an operation to search for suspected militants in Srinagar, Kashmir earlier this month.Tauseef Mustafa / AFP via Getty Images

In northeastern Assam state, nearly 2 million people have been banned from citizens’ list in crackdown on illegal immigration that critics say targeted Muslims , making them stateless.

Nationally, Muslims were also excluded from an amendment to Indian law that provided a pathway to citizenship for members of persecuted religious minorities who had illegally immigrated to India.

Bullying atmosphere

The tensions were underscored by a recent outbreak of violence that has spilled over into India’s borders. In October, at least six people were killed in neighboring Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country that gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, in its worst anti-Hindu violence in years, officials said.

Across the border in the Indian state of Tripura, a Hindu nationalist group responded to the dead in Bangladesh by organizing protest rallies that turned violent, with mosques, shops and homes in Muslim communities vandalized across the state.

Abdul Basit Khan, a Muslim lawyer from the town of Dharmanagar, said his house was ransacked.

“They destroyed everything in the house: my television, my wardrobe, my laptop and my sofa,” he said. “They threw my client files on the streets and down the sewers.”

Khan, who is also chairman of the Trinamool Congress regional political party in the North Tripura district, estimates that he suffered a loss of around Rs 8-10 lakh ($ 10,000-13,000).

There have been no arrests related to the violence in Tripura, which is governed by the BJP. But police arrested dozens of people who reported or commented on the anti-Muslim attacks, including journalists, lawyers and more than 100 social media account holders, accusing them of spreading community hatred.

Lawyers who led a fact-finding mission said the government had been warned of the violence and could have prevented it.

“This is the complete failure of the state government,” Supreme Court attorney Ehtesham Hashmi and attorneys Amit Srivastav and Ansar Indori said in a statement accompanying their report on November 1. “The political interests of the BJP and the ideology of violent patriotism have captured the state and have clear support among the public.

NBC News contacted three BJP spokespersons via email for comment on the incidents, but did not get a response.

Three Kashmiri students who were assaulted on the night of the cricket match declined to comment on NBC, saying they fear retaliation.

But Khan said the atmosphere of intimidation affected not only Muslims, but anyone who rejected BJP policies and rhetoric.

“Whether they’re Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians,” he said, “those who don’t believe in BJP, they all live in fear.


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