Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2020 > In Lieu of Five Acres: Being a Muslim in India

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 11, New Delhi February 29, 2020

In Lieu of Five Acres: Being a Muslim in India

Sunday 1 March 2020

by Navneet Sharma and Anamica

Gar galtiyaan Babar ki thi, toh Jumman ka ghar fir kyu jale?!
—Adam Gondvi

Jumman is the quintessential character portraying the typical imagery of an Indian Muslim; the one who is afraid of what he is by religion, of what he eats, what he wears, how he prays and where he prays. In India, the social identity of a Muslim is crafted as the ‘other’ to cater to the ‘us-them’ politics; and in daily discourse it is hammered into the people that Muslims are ‘they’ or the ‘other’. That is why it is stereotyped that each Muslim has four wives and at least a dozen of children; they marry their own brothers and sisters; they are ‘katua’ (referring to circumcision); and are fanatic about their religion and rituals. It is said that they keep beard without moustache; wear pajamas which end four inches above the ankle; wash their hands upside down; bathe only on Fridays and eat non-vegetarian food and beef daily.

It is also held that they stink or smell differently (itrwala), wear gaudy colours, use kohl (irrespective of gender), speak Urdu; all of them keep roza and above all celebrate when Pakistan wins a cricket match against India. It is also said that they are the reason for India’s poverty, backwardness and rising crime graph of rape, loot and murder; that is why, they prefer living in ghettos which are also the hideouts for terrorists.

Moreover, the catchy phrases like ‘Tel lagao Dabar ka, Maaro bachcha Babar ka’, ‘Hinduon ka Hindustan, Mulle jayein Pakistan’, ‘Gay humari mata hai, Gaffur usko khata hai’,‘Hindustaan me rehna hai to Jai Shree Ram Kehna hai’, ‘Hindu jan ka nara hai, Hindustan humara hai’ are used to alienate Muslims. The slangs like ‘Khangress for Congress’, ‘Khan Market Gang for allegedly anti-Hindu media’, ‘Paki, Jihadi for Muslims or Muslim supporters’, ‘Sickular or Pseudosickular for Seculars’, ‘Libtards for Liberals’ also help to harvest anti-Muslim attitude and manufacture Islamophobia. This vilification translates into religion-based communal politics and Hindu vote-bank with clarion calls such as ‘Hindus Unite’, ‘Hindu Ekta Zindabad’, ‘Hindus and Hinduism are in danger’, ‘Make India a Hindu Rashtra’,Har ghar bhagwa chhayega, Ram Rajya Kehlayega’, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and so on.

Besides, vitriolic statements by leaders, like ‘after elections, machines from China will be ordered, the beards of Muslims will be shaved off to turn them Hindus’ and ‘Muslims don’t like to live in coexistence with others, they spread their faith by threat and terror’ further establish communal atmosphere. After elections, machines from China will be ordered, the beards of Muslims will be shaved off to turn them Hindus. These hackneyed misconceptions, stereotypes, hateful narratives, provocative slogans escalate the divide and chasm between people of different religions and contribute in crafting a ‘us versus them’ situation successfully ‘After elections, machines from China will be ordered, the beards of Muslims will be shaved off to turn them Hindus’. They polarise the Hindu voters and consolidate the Hindu vote-bank. The Hindu population and Hindu vote-bank, which constitute nearly the eighty per cent of the total Indian population, is evidently triumphed by estranging, persecuting and demonising the Muslim minority of India.

Muslim Minority in India

In India, with 14.2 per cent of the total Indian population (2011 Census), Muslims form the second-largest religious group and the largest minority community of the country. The United Nations Minorities Declaration (1992) defines the term ‘minority’ as a group whose culture, religion, language or ethnicity is different from that of the majority group of a territory. They are often (not always) numerically less but always in a non-dominant position; and it is the prerogative of the state to protect them from hegemony and dominance of the majority group.

According to this Declaration, safeguarding minority groups, their existence and rights corroborate equitable enjoyment of human and fundamental rights by all the individuals. Also, ensuring rights of equality, dignity and liberty to minorities is important for promoting participatory socio-political development and maintaining stability in the country. However, for any democratic and diverse country, accommodating and preserving the identities, rights and interests of the minority communities is an onerous challenge. In a country like India, which is the land of diversities in terms of religion, culture and language, this challenge of protection and upliftment of minorities increases manifold.

The Constitution of India is committed towards the cause of protecting and empowering minorities but many minority communities, like Muslims, are still in a vulnerable condition.

According to the Sachar Committee Report (2005), the Muslim community of India is lagging behind other communities on most of the indicators of the Human Development Index. The literacy rate among Muslims is approximately 60 per cent which is much below the national literacy rate of India (74.04 per cent) whereas the dropout rate among them is considerably higher. Muslims have a fairly high level of poverty rate and their access to infrastructures such as educational institutions, medical facilities, roads and bus stops is very limited. The participation of Muslims in formal and government sector employment is considerably lower than other socio-religious groups and they are more engaged in self-employment.

The Hindu First Agenda

The situation of the Muslim community has further deteriorated since the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is known for its pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim stance, has come to power in 2014. The Hindu hegemony over the Indian society and state was functional before 2014 but with this regime, systematic efforts have been made to turn this functional dominance into structural. In India, Hinduism being the predominant religion, the idea of India and being Indian has been functionally defined in terms of majoritarian Hindu faith and culture for long. With post-BJP’s landslide victory, it has been their goal to alter the structure of Indian-state and reshape the state and its policies in accordance with the ‘Hindu-First’ agenda. In order to realise its dream of an Akhand Hindu Rashtra, the BJP has given a boost to a militant Hindutva ideology and ultra-Hindu nationalism while excluding Muslims from the idea of India. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is the parent organisation of the BJP, has also claimed on multiple occasions that ‘Bharat is a HinduRashtra and all Bharatiyas are Hindus’.

Consequently, this regime has reduced Muslims to ‘second-class citizens’ and there have been multiple attempts to attack and bulldoze the political and social identities of the Muslim minority. Muslims have been termed as anti-nationals, terrorists, descendants of Aurangzeb and there is a dramatic escalation in discrimination, forced conversion and hate crimes against them. The BJP, through its majoritarian Hindu agendas, wishes to convey a message to the Muslims of India that they should accept their secondary and subservient status without any resistance.

This Islamophobic far-Right Hindutva ideology has been able to cast mass hypnosis on the general people as well and that is why we witness so many self-styled Hindu nationalists in action. These vigilantes are under the delusion that Hindus and their faith are in danger as Muslims will soon outnumber them and hence, it is their duty to save Hindus from Muslim tyranny. Inevitably, they have lynched many Muslim men like Junaid Khan, Tabrez Ansari or Mohd Akhlaq for hurting Hindu sentiments by slaughtering cow, eating beef or committing love-jihad.

BJP’S Anti-Muslim Policies

The BJP’s sinister ploy against Muslims is evident in nominating terror accused Pragya in elections, Adityanath labelling Muslims as ‘green virus’ and Maneka Gandhi threatening Muslims for vote. The anti-Muslim legislation of Modi has also adopted certain ground-breaking policies which evidently target, attack and further marginalise the Muslim community of India. Passing the Triple Talaq Bill, abrogation of Article 370, the Ayodhya Verdict and recently rolled out National Citizens Register along with Citizenship Amendment Act aim to persecute Muslims. The government proposed the Triple Talaq Bill with the rhetoric of gender justice and liberation of Muslim women but in actuality this Bill was politically motivated to target Muslims. This Bill is merely a means to further demonise and criminalise Muslim men while it fails to acknowledge the misogyny and injustice that are inherent in the personal laws of every religion. Moreover, the BJP, in its rule of six years, has done nothing substantial for the equality and security of women which proves that this Bill is only a deceitful means of assaulting the Muslim minority.

A similar attempt of institutionally cornering the Muslim community was made by repealing Article 370 and the special status that was accorded to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 expresses the unique identity of Kashmir and Kashmiri people as Kashmir was added to India under special circumstances in order to protect Kashmiriyat and plurality of its people. The abrogation of this Article by the BJP is a direct attack not only on the Kashmiri Muslim identity but also on the identity of Muslims across India with the aim of ethnic cleansing of Muslims. Many North-Eastern States like Assam and Nagaland also enjoy special privileges but revoking the special status of Kashmir exclusively sends a cryptic message of the BJP’s anti-Muslim bigotry. By scrapping this Article and allowing Hindus to buy land in Kashmir, the BJP seeks to change the identity and demographic character of the only Muslim-majority area of India.

For the BJP, Kashmir has been biggest impediment to Gowalkar, Savarkar and Modi’s dream of a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus and especially the Muslim minority people have no place. The Ayodhya verdict has also drawn certain criticisms for offering the disputed land to the Hindus for the construction of the Ram Mandir without any substantial and legitimate rationale. In its verdict, the Supreme Court has acknowledged the infringement perpetrated by hooligans of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and accepted that the demolition of the mosque was an unlawful act. However, instead of according justice, the Court has offered five acres of alternate consolatory land to Muslims in lieu of the 2.77 acres of the disputed site given to Hindu groups. The judgment exhibits the extent to which the state is committed to accomplish its saffron agenda; and how the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is diluted for this purpose. In the guise of reaching consensual resolution to maintain peace and concord, this illogical judgment along with the obligatory silence has been imposed upon the Muslims of India. With this verdict, the BJP has managed to reach the Apex of Hindu nationalism which positions itself against the Muslim community and exclude them from ‘new India’ fantasized by BJP.

Road to Hindu Rashtra

Ayodhya pronouncement violently confines the Muslim community’s rights of equality, dignity, and justice just to five acres; and along with it, the NRC and CAA confine their right of citizenship as well. Both the NRC and CAA were proposed before the BJP Government; however, it is for the first time that a religious angle is added to it in order to target a particular minority religion group. NRC or National Register of Citizens is a pan-India register of citizens of India which the BJP Government aims to maintain in order to root out the ‘infiltrators’ from the country. The President of the BJP and the Home Minister of India, Mr Amit Shah, through the NRC, also pledge to remove every single infiltrator from the country except Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs. Thus, for the BJP, the tag of ‘infiltrator’ applies only to the illegal Muslim immigrants whereas non-Muslim illegal Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain immigrants are termed as refugees seeking shelter. According to the BJP, the infiltrators, who are Muslims, are thriving on the resources of ‘indigenous’ Hindu inhabitants and are responsible for most of the terrorist activities of the country. Hence, the NRC is projected as a tool which can safeguard the identity, rights and resources of the Hindu population of India while excluding the outsiders, specifically Muslim, from the country.

An NRC has already been conducted in Assam where in order to gain citizenship, people were supposed to present documents proving that their ancestors were living in India before 1971. In this exercise, nineteen lakh residents of Assam have been excluded from the final list of the NRC, wherein many of them belong to the minority groups, especially the Muslim community.

However, among these nineteen lakh people who are left out by the final NRC list, over five lakh are Bengali Hindus which is a major bombshell for the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda. To retrieve its pro-Hindu image and Hindu vote-bank post-Assam NRC debacle, CAA or Citizenship Amendment Act has been implemented by the BJP government alongside NRC. This act grants Indian citizenship to persecuted Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Paris, Buddhist and Christian communities of the Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. However, countries like Myanmar or Pakistan, where Rohingya and Ahmedia Muslims face persecution for being minority, are not included in this provision of citizenship by the Indian state.

Thus, the NRC is an instrument of the state to exclude Muslim minorities and render them stateless while the other non-Muslim illegal immigrants are protected through the Citizenship Act. NRC and CAA are discriminatory towards Muslims; and through these the government seeks to alter the status of the Muslim minority of India by labelling them as illegal immigrants or infiltrators. It leaves millions of Muslims at the mercy of the state which wants them to learn to behave like a minority by violating their fundamental right to equality guaranteed in the Constitution. The eventual aim is to divide the country along communal lines and render Muslims and their vote bank as irrelevant and undesirable in the ‘Hindu Kingdom’ intended by the BJP. Through this division the party wishes to change the secular democratic republic of India into de-facto majoritarian state which is against the secular nature of Indian Constitution.


The values of equality, liberty, fraternity and the idea of modern welfare state that evolved from Enlightenment and French Revolution is sustained by democracy as a system of rule. Alongside, modern secularism as a value or ethos also developed with the establishment of science and reason over religious faith during Renaissance and Enlightenment period. The principle of secularism is absolutely necessary for the existence of modern nation-state so that citizenship is not divided on any discriminatory ground of race, religion or creed.

However, with secularism, an anti-thesis of modernity and capitalism, called communalism, developed alongside; communalism refers to organization based on religion and ethnicity. As capitalism promotes private ownership and intends to keep people away from social collectives, it utilises an institutionalised structure like religion as a handy tool to divide people. For capitalism, religion is a necessary evil; and through religion, it injects this notion in people that people are rich and poor because of some kind of divine dispensation of resources.

Indian Muslims have different dilemmas. They have to remain conscious how by exhibiting their choices, they can be labelled as outsiders. A Muslim may feel empathetic to the case of Iran or Rohingyas or fellow Bangladeshi Muslims but there is a sense of fear that the moment s/he will share her/his own ideas, she will be labelled as an outsider, pro-Pakistani or pro-Islamic. A Muslim person suffers Islamophobia that is generally prevalent across the world. Their religion, identity, culture is seen as distinct from rest of the people.

These cultural differences can be determined geographically, politically or linguistically but why are they always associated with the religion. Why we believe that Bhopal and Hyderabad loves Biryani because there is a Muslim majority in these States? Why do we always associate the fooding, clothing and a way of living life with a peculiar religion?

A Muslim might want to cheer any cricket team because that team is playing with true sportsman spirit but he has to remain conscious that it is not Pakistan. Even if he cheers England, it is said that since he could not support Pakistan, he is favouring England. He has to wear his nationalism on his sleeves. He has to wear his idea of being human in a manner which is not challenging the idea of majoritarianism. He has to claim and reclaim every time that he belongs to the mainstream but others are not ready to accept him in the mainstream and keep on pushing him to the periphery or margin, whether it is about citizenship or right to worship or following personal laws which are guided by religion.

It gives a feeling to the people that being Muslim is something that is not good or acceptable, whether it is in the milieu of India, America or Europe. The problem is that we see Islam and Muslims as monoliths but even within Islam there are concerns of hierarchy, discrimination and patriarchy. We don’t see them as human issues but the issues of Islam. The whole life of a Muslim in India is like keeping on striving incessantly for acceptance by the majority. A Muslim spends his whole life erasing the mistrust which is posited upon him only because he is a Muslim. He keeps on walking the last mile but is never able to do that. It is a never-ending story of being a Muslim in India where he is either an outsider or invader or pro-Pakistani. In this age, even who is anti-Modi is also labeled as Muslim.

The Indian subcontinent picked up secularism from colonial occupation. This subcontinent had peculiar ways of segregation, classification and categorisation of people. Prior to the coming of Islam and European imperialism, there was caste, which did not lose its potency with other religions but became stronger despite theoretically these Semitic religions derided caste. The Indian subcontinent always practised communalism and it influenced the praxis of religious identity formulation and discrimination. Being a Muslim in India has its trajectory of social perception as being an outsider, invader, anti-national, pro-Pakistan, and cruel rulers who committed atrocities on ‘Hindu natives’ of India. Muslims can see India as their motherland but Hindu Indians could never see them as children of India. Faiz Ahmed Faiz succinctly pens it:

Maqam Faiz koi raah mein jancha hi nahi, 

Jo ku-e-yar se nikle su-e-dar chale.


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Singh, R. S. (2019, November 9), Muslim board, other bodies dissatisfied with Ayodhya verdict. The Tribune.Retrieved from

Varadarajan, S. (2018, December 27). Triple Talaq: Why Just Muslims, Let’s Criminalise the Abandonment of All Wives, The Wire. Retrieved from

Navneet Sharma, PhD, is an Assistant Professor, Department of Teacher Education, School of Education, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala. He can be contacted at navneetsharma29[a]

Anamica is presently pursuing Master of Arts in Philosophy from University of Delhi, Delhi. She has completed her graduation and post-graduation in Education from University of Delhi.

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