Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists wave an Indian national flag and shout pro-Indian slogans during a demonstration in Srinagar on Monday. (AFP)
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Updated 26 October 2020

Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

  • Several members detained on charges of inciting deadly religious riots in Delhi

NEW DELHI: A prominent group established three years ago to fight incidents of hate and prejudice against the Muslim minority community in India said on Monday that it is “gasping for breath” after officials detained some of its founding members under the country’s draconian terror law.

The authorities have accused the United Against Hate (UAH) group of inciting religious riots in New Delhi in February this year.

“The platform which has been fighting against religious and communal hate in society has become a victim of hate itself,” Nadeem Khan, 35, one of the founding members of UAH, told Arab News.

“With the detention of some of our founding members and the questioning of a large number of youths, there is a strong sense of fear among people who are part of such a platform,” he said.

Founded in 2017, when incidents of alleged hate crimes against Muslims – on the pretext of selling or consuming beef – were on the rise, the UAH was one of the few nonpolitical groups which played a significant role in mobilizing the masses against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which became law in December last year.

While the CAA guarantees citizenship for minority Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, and Buddhist communities from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, it excludes Muslims.

The CAA is part of the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise aimed at identifying “genuine citizens” of India.

However, many Indians, and not only Muslims, feel that the CAA is discriminatory as any non-Muslim who does not find a mention in the NRC can seek recourse under the citizenship law.

Muslims, on the other hand, would become stateless.

“People, mostly Muslims, across India came on the streets against the CAA, and the UAH was just an agency for creating awareness. But the Indian government did not like the political mobilization of Muslim masses,” Khan said.

Protests against the CAA, which began in late December, surged for months, resulting in the leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) launching a counter-campaign. 

The heightened communal tensions led to religious violence in the Indian capital toward the end of February, in which more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, died.

“It was a peaceful and democratic protest against the discriminatory policy of the government. This was our right to protest. But the government is now calling our protest sedition and arrested some of our founding members,” said Khan, who has been questioned by Delhi police in connection with the February riots after being named in the charge sheet.

Other UAH members who felt “the need to respond to such hate crimes through a social platform” include 28-year-old Umar Khalid and 36-year-old Khalid Saifi.

They have since been arrested.

“What was the crime of my husband? When has serving people and fighting for unity and secularism of the country become a crime in this nation?” said Khalid Saifi’s wife, Nargis.

Saifi was detained in February for “inciting religious violence” in New Delhi while Khalid was arrested on September 16 and faces multiple charges.

“This is nothing but an attempt to break the spirit of the people, particularly Muslims, and tell the community that they can live in India like ordinary citizens without raising their political voice,” said Nargis, a mother of three.

More than 600 people have been detained in the Delhi riots’ cases, the majority of them Muslims.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, have voiced concerns over the large-scale detentions of activists and students for protesting against the CAA and blamed the BJP government for “crushing democratic dissent.”

On Monday, the president of India’s main opposition Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, attacked the government for stifling protesting voices that it brands as “terrorism” and “anti-national activity.”

“The fundamental right to freedom of expression has been systematically suspended through suppression and intimidation. Dissent is deliberately stifled as terrorism or branded as an anti-national activity,” Gandhi said in an opinion piece published in the leading English daily, the Hindustan Times.

“The Narendra Modi government and the ruling BJP conjure up sinister conspiracies behind every political protest, indeed behind any and everything they see as opposition to them. India’s hard-won democracy is being hollowed out.”

Renowned author and activist Arundhati Roy agrees.

“It is really beyond humiliating to live in this atmosphere where people are funneled and marinated in this hatred. Today, you have a country whose economy is in shreds. People are hungry; people don’t have jobs. Everything is coming apart. But we are held together by a pipeline of hatred, which is funneled by the mainstream media,” she said during a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

The BJP denies promoting “hate.”

“We are fighting against hate. We don’t promote an ideology of hate. We can claim to represent India’s real intellectual legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family),” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said.

He described Gandhi’s article as a piece “written in pangs” as the Congress party’s “ecosystem is collapsing.”

“People are leaving the party. And there is no reprieve for the Gandhi family because the BJP is going to be in power for many more years. We can understand the pangs of the Congress chief,” he said.

Political experts, however, say that the broader aim of the governing party is to “disempower people and make them subjects,” who cannot act independently.

“My understanding is that the criminalization of organizations like UAH is the first step towards disempowering all Indians and turning them into subjects who don’t have their agency of their own,” said analyst Professor Apoorvanand Jha, of Delhi University.


Marginalization blights lives of French people of Arab origin: Survey

Updated 22 min 57 sec ago

Marginalization blights lives of French people of Arab origin: Survey

  • An Arab News en Francais/YouGov poll suggests the largest minority group in France suffer from lack of acceptance, even stigmatization
  • More than half the respondents said they adhere to secularism and believe it could help alleviate problems in the Arab world 

DUBAI: As a wave of violence inspired by radical Islam shakes French cities and the culture at large, creating a sense of insecurity and fear, Islamophobia is on the rise. Islamism is not Islam, but for lack of knowledge, conflation of the two is easy.

It is through this wrong prism that French Muslims are viewed, as well as some Jews and Christians due to their Arab origins. INSEE, France’s national statistics bureau, said that by 2019, 55 percent of immigrants (both first and second generation) had come from Arab countries. They are the largest minority group in France and therefore it is not for an extremist minority to represent them.

For the first time in France, a survey was carried out among French people of Arab origin. Arab News en Francais commissioned leading online polling firm YouGov to conduct research on the perception of their life in France and their position in the face of secularism.

Arab News Research and Studies Unit partnered with YouGov for the survey which was carried out between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, and was based on a representative sample of 958 French people from Arab countries, living in France.

The survey confirms their desire to belong to a democratic and secular France. It emerges that all religions are not perceived in the same way by French society, as indicated by the feelings of the French of Arab origin, Muslims and Jews who were interviewed.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of those interviewed were found to be educated and employed, while French people of Arab origin are generally familiar with the French system and its history, and adhere to the fundamental values ​​of the French Republic.

The French of Arab origin have largely adapted to the way of life in France, but they do not feel accepted, with many citing a sense of stigmatization. Both religion and their national origin have no impact on their sense of belonging to French society. But the sounding of their name has an impact on their careers.

Half of the people questioned believe that neither their race, nor their origin and their religion had any impact on their feelings of belonging to French society and on their professional careers. Their responses, however, underline a feeling of exclusion which, for 51 percent is not linked to skin color, but rather to the ethnic origin of their name (36 percent), which, on the other hand, has a negative impact on their career prospects.

This feeling of exclusion is exacerbated among women who believe that their country of origin (46 percent against 33 percent of men) as well as their religion (66 percent against 52 percent of men) causes a negative perception among their compatriots.

French people of Arab origin clearly respect French values, such as secularism, and believe that a secular system would be beneficial for their country of origin. Many even claim to be ready to defend this model in their country of origin.

IN NUMBERS

55% French immigrants with roots in Arab countries.

51% Who did not link feeling of exclusion to skin color.

36% Who linked feeling of exclusion to ethnic origin of their name.

In fact, 54 percent of them advocate secularism, which would be, for them, a solution to the problems of the Arab world. The people questioned are reluctant to interfere with religion in politics and appreciate the secular system applied in France, which they even openly defend in their country of origin.

Moreover, the majority is not in favor of regulations on religious clothing, but 45 percent of men, 48 percent of respondents residing in rural France and 50 percent of those aged over 55 support regulatory laws and are in favor of such decisions, against 29 percent of the youngest (18-24 years) interviewees.

The oldest are better integrated than the youngest who were born in France. The younger generations are much less enthusiastic about state institutions and seem to be going back to their parents’ roots, thus reinforcing their sense of otherness.

The survey highlights the widening gap between the generations, insofar as young French people of Arab origin aged 18-24, for whom their religion is perceived positively (53 percent), seem less inclined to respect the regulations and join institutions like the national football team. Thus, 58 percent would support the football team of their country of origin against France, while 58 percent of men aged 35 to 44 and 72 percent of those over 55 would support the French team.

This last point reflects a generational gap and a generational conflict, which represents a major challenge for the future. A significant 49 percent of respondents and 52 percent of 18-34-year-olds believe that education levels are the most important factor in advancing their careers, but that their last name alone has a negative impact on their career, despite their ability to progress and the fact that they give themselves the means to do so.

A better knowledge of French people of Arab origin, peaceful and attached to the values ​​of freedom and secularism, is essential if the fight against extremism and Islamization in France is to be won.