Interview with identity politics expert Mujibur Rehman

"Muslims feel deeply unsafe in present-day India"

Known for his work on identity politics and political economy, Mujibur Rehman most recently published 'Communalism in postcolonial India′, which addresses the rise of religious fundamentalism in India. In Bonn to lecture on cow vigilantism, he spoke to Roma Rajpal Weiss about the situation of the sub-continent's Muslim minority

Dr. Rehman, what is cow vigilantism and how is it taking over India?

Mujibur Rehman: Cow vigilantism has become a menace in India. Unfortunately however, that is not how the government sees it. Cow vigilante groups are people who randomly target those they suspect of owning cows for the purpose of slaughter and beef consumption. They claim that their purpose is to rescue cows, but all the indications – not to mention incidents – suggest that they are vigilante bands of robbers whose sole purpose is to target Muslims, with the aim of unleashing violence.

What has led to the growth in violence towards Muslims over the last couple of years?

Rehman: Violence against Muslims in India is not a recent development. It is something they have been putting up with for years. Research suggests that since the 1940s the loss of life and property among Muslims has been disproportionately high. The emergence of the Ayodhya movement in the 1980s, however, saw societal antagonism towards Muslims mushroom. Hate campaigns conducted by various right-wing organisations have consistently presented Muslims as an existential threat to Hindu identity. Moreover, under the BJP government, these groups now feel emboldened. That′s not to say, of course, that previous governments were particularly efficient at protecting Muslim lives or property.

What is behind the lynching of Muslims?

Demonstrators protest the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq, a Muslim suspected of slaughtering a cow; Bombay, October 2015 (photo: Reuters/Shailesh Andrade)
Advocating the constitution: it is clear that the government under Narendra Modi needs to ensure that the judicial system adopts a tough stance towards all fundamentalist groups – whatever their religious affiliation – and anyone engaged in hate campaigns. Whether this will play out, given the prevalent atmosphere of Hindu nationalism in India at the moment, is anyone′s guess

Rehman: Lynching is mainly being used to create a climate of fear among Muslims, with the expectation that they will eventually stop slaughtering cows and consuming beef. But it′s not going to work. Eating beef has been turned into a Hindu-Muslim issue. The fact is, however, that dalits (the lowest Hindu caste) also eat beef, so it is actually an upper caste issue. Cow vigilantism is a reflection of the muscle power of majoritarian politics – the message being: you live and die at our mercy.

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