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Modi’s War on Muslim Women

Since the election of Narendra Modi's Hindu supremacist government, Muslims in India have faced an escalating campaign of persecution – with women at the frontline of the violence.

Activists shout slogans during a protest against hate speech in New Delhi, December 2021. (Credit: AP / Getty Images)

While the brutal invasion of Ukraine has swept everything else off the pages of the global media, Muslims in India are facing the possibility of an impending genocide—central to which is profound violence against Muslim women.

Though vicious hate-speech and attacks against Muslim women in Britain are now commonplace, what is happening in India has a different character and purpose. In India, as the prominent Muslim activist Safoora Zargar says, violence against Muslim women is being ‘used as a tool to humiliate a community’ and ‘a foreboding of the genocide’ that Indian Muslims might face.

In this deeply disturbing situation, eight Labour women MPs, alongside Lord Sheikh, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Preventing Genocide, together with more than twenty f Britain’s major women’s organisations and thirty eminent academics working on South Asia, have written to the United Nations to urgently institute an investigation into the hounding of Muslim women in India which is ‘characteristic of a prelude to a genocide’.

In their letter to the Special Rapporteurs on Violence Against Women and on Minority Issues, they note that it has been twenty years since the pogroms on Muslims in Gujarat, which left 2,000 dead and 200,000 displaced—and involved horrific sexual violence against Muslim women.

As historian Tanika Sarkar wrote, the woman’s body was ‘a site of almost inexhaustible violence,’ with ‘infinitely plural and innovative forms of torture’ being used against Muslim women by pogromists. The sexual and reproductive organs of women were attacked, Sarkar says, with a ‘special savagery,’ and children—both born and unborn—were killed as women watched.

During these genocidal attacks, Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat; the letter claims that today, with his far-right regime in power, India is ‘on the brink of repeating the Gujarat ‘experiment’ on a much bigger scale.’

Today, in mass gatherings, many Hindu-supremacists allied to the BJP are making open calls for a genocide of Muslims with impunity, and Muslim women are being targeted in ways which display the characteristics of imminent genocide seen elsewhere in the world.

This is occurring against a background of misogynistic and Islamophobic new laws passed by the Modi government. These laws, such as a Population Control Bill, which specifically targets Muslim women’s bodies as being excessively fertile, have been likened to the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany.

This law will lead to families being penalised for having more than two children, despite population growth in India falling below replacement levels and declining fastest in the Muslim communities. It is also likely to legitimise the ongoing stream of false claims and hate speech about Muslims in India being set to ‘outnumber’ Hindus.

The letter to the UN gives examples of the deeply sinister hounding of Muslim women in recent weeks, which have been either sponsored or tacitly endorsed by Modi and his party. For example, at a gathering of Hindu supremacist activists in Chhattisgarh, a woman leader called for the mass enslavement and rape of Muslim women, to force them to ‘breed’ for Hindus. Her speech was recorded and went viral.

In Karnataka, Muslim women students who wear the Hijab were banned from attending colleges in a violation of their constitutional rights, while BJP foot soldiers mobilised Hindu students into frenzied mobs ready to attack them. One recent video showed a large mob of young men pursuing a lone Muslim student while shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’—the religious greeting which has become a battle cry of Hindu-supremacists, used during lynchings and murders of Muslims.

The state has intervened—but not on the young hijab-wearing students’ behalf. Instead, it has decided to criminalise them and brand them ‘terrorists’, with the Karnataka Home Minister ordering an investigation to ‘probe their links’ with ‘terror groups’. At the same time, emboldened by this state intervention, some colleges are humiliating women teachers by forcing them to remove their hijabs in public before entering college premises to work.

Meanwhile, Muslim women online who have been publicly critical of the government or the Hindu supremacist ideology—including journalists, students, and political activists—are facing vile orchestrated attacks from Hindu supremacist groups seeking to humiliate and silence them. These attacks include the Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai apps which ‘auctioned’ outspoken Muslim women online.

Urging the UN Rapporteurs to act immediately, the signatories emphasise the need for international attention. ‘The world,’ they say, ‘must not look away’. And nor should socialists and feminists in Britain—on International Women’s Day and on every other day.

About the Author

Amrit Wilson is a writer and activist with a focus on race and gender in British and South Asian politics, and a member of South Asia Solidarity Group. Her 1978 book Finding a Voice: Asian Women in Britain won the Martin Luther King Award.