It is only in India that even train accidents are used as an opportunity to demonize Muslims.
Just after the recent horrific train accident near the Balasore station in the eastern state of Odisha that killed more than 280 people, posts started circulating on different social media platforms and WhatsApp groups blaming Muslims for the accident.
Could it be a coincidence that three trains collided in Odisha on Friday? As if the Friday angle wasn’t enough, someone made up a lie that the webmaster was Muslim. In an effort to appear more sinister, photos of a religious shrine near the tracks where the accident occurred circulated on social media, purporting to be a mosque, suggesting there must be some connection between the mosque and the accident.
It was immediately debunked as a lie. That’s a Hindu temple, not a mosque. But imagine if it really was a mosque – the baseless conspiracy theory gets new support.
Sadly, fact checking only reinforces the misgivings fake news creates in minds that are already biased against Muslims and are told day and night that Muslims are plotting against the state. These men are trained to see the need to keep an eye on Muslims and to subdue them using law and, if necessary, violence.
The railways minister ordered the investigation into the accident by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has long since abandoned its pretense of acting as an independent investigative agency, primarily targeting political opponents and investigating cases along the ideological lines laid down by the government. ruler of the country.
In such cases, referring the case to the CBI circumvents the normal procedure in such cases, which is the investigation by the Security Commissioner. The upshot: An investigation into the accident now won’t focus on flaws in safety measures that could raise troubling questions for the government, but instead perpetuates criminal conspiracy theories. This fits with rumors that circulated shortly after the accident.
Immediately after the accident, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma gave a speech discouraging the use of chemicals in agriculture. To give it an anti-Muslim twist, he vowed not to allow “fertilizer jihad”. He used the opportunity to target Bengali Muslims in his state, whose main occupation is farming. By suggesting they use chemicals to destroy the land, he offers another justification for deporting Muslims in Bengali and taking their land, the basis of a campaign he has relentlessly pursued in recent years.
Salma, who is recovering from the defeat of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in Karnataka state legislative elections, is the state’s star contender. He, along with other leaders of the BJP, turned the election into an anti-Muslim hate campaign, saying he had closed hundreds of madrasahs and would ensure they were all closed. He also repeated familiar tropes about Muslims in India, portraying them as opposed to family planning. Statistics show that polygamy rates are almost the same among Hindus and Muslims in India, and that Muslim fertility rates have dropped dramatically in recent decades. But the truth is inconvenient when the purpose is to spread lies about religious minorities.
Then the chief minister of Uttarakhand, also from the BJP, said that background checks would be done on all outsiders. The statement, apparently aimed at Muslims, came shortly after a Muslim boy was arrested for allegedly trying to kidnap an underage Hindu girl. Several towns across the state put up posters asking Muslims to leave the place and close their businesses, or to mark Muslim-owned shops with an “X” sign — reminiscent of Nazi Germany and the Jewish targets. Rallies are being held calling for the expulsion of Muslims, many of whom have fled. Instead of providing them with security, the chief minister promised identity checks, apparently to prevent Muslims from entering the state. Again, this is based on similar lies spread by the Chief Minister and his party, who claim that Muslims are involved in land grabs, in part to create religious structures. This was framed in the deliberately provocative language of the so-called “Jihad of the land” and “Jihad of the Magyars”.
In another bizarre incident, violence against Muslims in Maharashtra erupted over social media posts and rallies that allegedly glorified Mughal king Aurangzeb and the former ruler of Mysore Tipu Sultan. The BJP and its far-right allies have blamed these long-dead emperors as poster children for alleged violence against Hindus by former Muslim rulers, though history suggests their legacy is far more complex and nuanced.
Instead of ensuring the safety of Muslims and limiting violent mobs, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has threatened that “descendants of Aurangzeb” are not in the state gain a foothold. Thus, he justifies violence against Muslims. It is difficult for any outsider to understand why a social media post praising Aurangzeb would provoke such a reaction or be viewed as a crime. But in today’s India, all this is considered normal.
Horrible accidents like the recent train collision always take the lives of ordinary Muslims and their fellow Hindus. But an atmosphere of hatred and division has built up, making even collective mourning impossible. The nation is still asking how accidents like this happened when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government claims to have revolutionized the railways, and the response is unbridled Islamophobia.
This is no coincidence. This is to absolve the prime minister and his government of any responsibility in the accident. The country’s top auditor pointed out that the money earmarked for railway safety was not used by the Modi government but used for other purposes. The Prime Minister has been busy marking new trains while their safety remains neglected. The media, which should be busy asking questions, is hosting a “gaming jihad”, claiming that gullible Hindus are being lured to convert to Islam through online gaming platforms.
All of these are valid in India. An infallible prime minister, who must never be asked questions, is an expert at leading his people into a state of denial every time a mass tragedy strikes. A submissive and sycophantic media that actively incites violence against Muslims while supporting all the actions of the Prime Minister helps ensure that people forget their right to ask the government questions and hold it accountable.
In this narrative, even the message of support that India has received from around the world since the train crash is portrayed not as a symbol of fundamental humanity, but of the government’s achievement in getting the country’s relevance recognized by the international community.
All of this is happening while young Muslim scholars and activists such as Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Khalid Saifi and Gulfisha Fatima remain in prison, having their bail applications repeatedly rejected by Indian courts for more than three years. What crime did they commit? Peaceful agitation against the government’s discriminatory citizenship amendment law.
As I write this, a message alerts me that Javed Mohammad, a community leader and peacemaker, has been serving a year in prison in Uttar Pradesh.
This reminds me of the link between these arrests, the Islamophobic campaign launched by the supreme leader of the ruling BJP and the train accident.
The hard truth is: In India today, the law is no longer a tool aimed at delivering justice. Rather, it is a political sledgehammer, a tool often used to prosecute people based on their religious beliefs. Like a train in Odisha, India’s legal system is derailed. And those who are guilty will not be punished.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.