Muslim livelihoods under attack by Hindu supremacists in India

Sept 27, 2021: Experts say rising attacks on Muslim vendors and businesses by Hindu supremacist groups in BJP ruled India all point to a worrying trend

As most of India gears up for the upcoming festive season during October and November, not everyone  is excited to welcome the coming days.

For most Muslim traders in the populous Uttar Pradesh state, this season will be a harbinger of ill will as they lose business for 10 days.

According to a mutton seller in Greater Noida, a suburb of New Delhi, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, “The Bajrang Dal [Hindu far-right group] in this area distributed pamphlets ordering the closure of shops during the festival period. They have become very active ever since Yogi Adityanath came to power,” he told Al Jazeera News.

Adityanath is the saffron-robed Uttar Pradesh chief minister, who belongs to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In a state of trepidation, he added, “We have nowhere to complain. The police and the municipality officials side with such groups.” He is one of the lucky ones he says, having as yet escaped significant physical or material harm.

On September 23, two Muslim men were severely beaten for carrying meat in the Uttar Pradesh temple town of Mathura. Earlier this month, the government decided to rid a large part of the city of alcohol and meat.

About a month ago, Taslim Ali, a Muslim bangle seller, was killed in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, a BJP-controlled city, for allegedly going by a Hindu by name in a “Hindu neighborhood” while selling wares.

Within the same week, in the city of Ujjain in the same state, a Muslim scrap dealer was forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”, a war cry used by Hindu extremist and supremacist groups.

In other parts of Uttar Preadesh also similar incidents were reported in the same month.

After a fake allegation saying he was hoisting the Pakistani flag on his carriage, the owner of a horse carriage in Lucknow was forced to chant “Death to Pakistan”.

While in another incident in Mathura, a Muslim eatery owner was forced to change its name from “Shrinath Dosa” to “American Dosa Corner” because right-wing groups objected to him using the name of a Hindu god.

All of these incidents were recorded in a series of disturbing videos that went viral.

The common thread in the videos is that they show Muslim shopkeepers and small traders being tortured because of their religious identity. In addition, in all such cases, the attackers are alleged members of Hindu right-wing groups, who are emboldened and employ these tactics with impunity because PM Modi is in power.

For Muslims who are already engaged in relatively lower paying jobs, such incidents are being seen as part of a larger attack on the livelihoods of Muslims.

Nearly 46 percent of Muslims are self-employed in urban India, the largest as compared with any other community, according to data from the government’s National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), 2013.

The report adds that Muslims are the poorest among all religious groups in India and are concentrated in low-paying jobs in the informal sector.

According to Abdul Waheed, professor of sociology at the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh State, “If these frequent incidents of attacks on Muslim livelihoods are seen in consonance with some policy measures which the BJP government has taken in different states in the last few years, then it is a worrying trend indeed.”

In 2017, when the BJP government came to power in the northern state, one of its first moves was to shut down slaughterhouses and meat shops. The ostensible reason was that such places were not following legal regulations.

In Haryana state this year, the city council in Gurugram also governed by the BJP – decided to close all meat shops and ban all restaurants from serving non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays to respect “Hindu sentiments”.

With an increasingly intolerant society being nurtured under the aegis of the BJP regime, it is well-documented that Muslim properties have been targeted during various communal riots in India. But focused attacks on small traders and hawkers seem to be a new trend.

Moreover, since the pandemic broke out in India last year, Muslim fruit-sellers were targeted and scapegoated for allegedly spreading the corona virus. Posters were put up in several villages announcing that Muslim vendors were not welcome in those areas.

It appears that such attacks are happening due to an ideological motivation to hit Muslims economically by driving them out of their professions, so that they are forced to convert eventually.

Earlier this year in Meerut, which is also in Uttar Pradesh state, during a Hindu panchayat, anti-Muslim preacher Swami Anand Swaroop said the Hindus “should decide that they will not buy anything from Muslims”.

Addressing a crowd of hundreds, he spewed and promoted anti Muslim polemic, “If you destroy them socially, politically and economically, they will begin converting to Hinduism from Islam.”

Some experts see the current spate of attacks against Muslims as relevant to the upcoming state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in which the BJP is seeking to retain power. Since just speaking against them is not enough to win the hearts of their Hindu supporters in the politically vital state.

Acording to UP based journalist, Manoj Singh, “The Muslim community has to be brought to its knees by economically marginalising them even further. This is being done in order to send a signal to the Hindu electorate that Muslims are being shown their place.”

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