Islamophobia in India: Stoking Bigotry

Published by the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at UC Berkeley

April 20, 2019
Editor: Dr. Hatem Bazian
Authors: Paula Thompson and Rhonda Itaoui

Forward by  Dr. Hatem Bazian

Islamaphobia in India: Modi, the BJP and the Rising Tide of Hindu Nationalism

Discussions in research and publications on India, on the one hand, have focused on the rapid economic growth, emerging and vibrant technology sector and the increasing level of affluence present in pockets across the country. On the other hand, an emerging group of scholars has examined the negative impacts of such economic success with a focus on the intensification of poverty, rural to urban migration, and the collapse of existing family and cultural norms. In both of these areas of research, very little is known about the rising tide of religious ultra-nationalism that utilizes violence and structural othering as a tool of gaining and expanding power.

The targets of religious ultra-nationalism in India have been Muslim, Christian, Sikh and ‘lower castes’ within India’s society. Within the past decade, the level of targeted violence against these religious minorities has intensified, with the arrival of the BJP into national office facilitating its deployment through all structures of the state against demonized and vulnerable groups. This strategy is familiar to observers of the political dynamics in the U.S. and Europe against the backdrop of the rising tide of Islamophobia that has been stoked and deployed by extreme right-wing groups to gain legitimacy and it has been monetized into votes at the ballot box.   

To date, there has been no reliable evidence, academic engagements or scholarly reports that documents this rising tide of Islamophobia in the Indian context. This lack of documentation both complicates and hinders the ability of those advocating against and countering Islamophobia. As a result, activists and advocates are often left to speak of individual incidents of violence that undermine the magnitude of the issue as seemingly isolated cases or use of “communal violence” to obfuscate the seriousness of the problem. This case-by-case approach is highly problematic, limiting the ability of advocates to assign responsibility to political elites and point to the deployment of coercive state power utilized against structurally-created marginalized and invisible populations. Ultra-nationalist political elites strategically select their targets and assess their chances of holding or expanding power on its basis. It is urgent that all cases of violence is documented, compiled and highlighted in scholarly research that is grounded in a systematic theoretical basis, ultimately allowing a critique of those responsible based on evidence rooted in a robust research methodology.

This first of its kind report on the status of Islamophobia in India is meant to provide a groundbreaking collection of evidence and provide a reference point for all future work on the subject.

The report was published through the Center for Race and Gender’s Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at the University of California, Berkeley.  Our hope at IRDP is that this report will serve as a springboard for sustained academic engagement and focus on the rise of Islamophobia in India.

The scope of the work involves the following:

  1. Development of a scholarly and academic case for examining Islamophobia within the Indian context
  2. Creation of a documentation strategy/method/theory for a country that lacks a centralized data collection system for religious-based hate crimes and violence
  3. Extraction of a wide and diverse sample of cases to illustrate the pervasive nature of the problem
  4. Documentation on political elites use of language or utilization of civil society setting to foment and stoke Islamophobia
  5. Examination and documentation of participation of state agencies in systematic otherization and Islamophobia
  6. Development of criteria for coding and reporting future cases into the database
  7. Undertaking a cursory survey of the media and how it reflects Islamophobic discourses of political elites
  8. Commencement of a literature review on existing surveys and what research and work exist presently on India and the rising tide of religious ultra-nationalism to form a bibliography and reading list.

Hatem Bazian
University of California, Berkeley & Co-Founder, Zaytuna College