THE success of Hindutva’s long march to power depended on the creation of a new Hindu identity. Over the past six years, as Hindutva attained dominance, we saw the consolidation of identity and the emergence of a new ‘ethnic Hindu’, defined in opposition to Muslims. As political scientist Pradeep Chhibber wrote in ThePrint in December 2019, “The BJP is building a new India, an India in which the complexity and diversity of Hindu religion are being flattened into a Hindu ethnic identity.”
As a necessary by-product, a new Muslim identity is coalescing alongside. The last time the ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ identities underwent such a rapid transformation was during the late colonial period.
This novel Muslim identity is being driven by a consciousness of subjugation and despair. The experience of marginalisation is certainly not new to Muslims—the novel element is the loss of hope in recourse to the system. The CAA protests, an example of this new consciousness, were fundamentally a cry of despair, much like the George Floyd protests. It was not just the government that had driven the protesters to the streets, but also the craven abdication —and even collusion — of all independent institutions, particularly the media and judiciary. Similarly, the Black Lives Matter protesters view the police as the most violent manifestation of a political-legal system based on white superiority.
So what is this new Muslim identity and how did it form?
A middle-aged Muslim man at a tea-cigarette shop in Agra once told me, “We didn’t know our religion before Modi came to power. As they debated about Islam, we strove to learn more about it. Before triple talaq became an issue, I didn’t know what Islamic texts said about divorce. Muslims have also started going to mosques more often”.
This phenomenon of people getting more attached to their identity when they feel it is under attack is not new. In fact, the reformist and revivalist movements of the 19th century that shaped modern Indian Hindu and Muslim identities were essentially responses to widespread fears of these identities being threatened by imperialism. After the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, there were anecdotal reports of many irreligious Sikhs wearing the turban again as a symbol of cultural defiance.
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August 24, 2020