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      Beef-related Violence in India: An Expression of Islamophobia



            India's largest minority group—the Muslims—have often found themselves excluded from the mainstream political power circles in India. The historical constructed “clash” between Muslims and Hindus has been used by members of the far right—such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal (BD)—to present the Muslim community as outsiders and evil others with sinister plans to subjugate the Hindu masses. This article explores the narratives offered by these Hindu right-wing groups to first isolate them as “Others” and subsequently justify violence against Muslims. We show how the anti-Muslim propaganda used to demonize this group has manifested itself in instances of mob violence against Muslims who have been accused of slaughtering cows. Radical Hindu nationalist groups have portrayed the act of killing Muslims for slaughtering cows as a sacred duty on multiple occasions. This act is supplemented by the political silence of the current leadership on these incidences. Thus, this article informs readers of a specific process of Islamophobic violence that exists in India, a largely understudied phenomenon.


            Author and article information

            Islamophobia Studies Journal
            Pluto Journals
            1 April 2018
            : 4
            : 2 ( doiID: 10.13169/islastudj.4.issue-2 )
            : 181-194
            International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nayang Technological University, Singapore
            Political and security risk consultant and independent researcher
            © Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, Center for Race and Gender, University of California, Berkeley

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            Custom metadata

            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            beef-related violence,India,Hindutva,Muslim minority


            1. The writers, however, caution readers against inferring to the present context as a “civilizational” fight between Hindus and Muslims. Hindu–Muslim relations in India have long been held up as a veritable model of interreligious harmony to all racially intolerant countries. While there have been many incidents of violence between these communities, across the length and breadth of history, the comparable quantum of members of both communities living in peace exponentially exceeds their more violent counterparts. This article makes no qualms about stating that the study is just one specific aspect of the present-day tensions and is not what dictates and defines the relations between Hindus and Muslims in India, either today or in the past and hopefully in the future.

            2. Farah Elahi and Omar Khan, “Introduction: What is Islamophobia?” in Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All, ed. Farah Elahi and Omar Khan (London: Runnymede, 2017) https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/Islamophobia%20Report%202018%20FINAL.pdf

            3. Mark Peters, “What Does It Mean to ‘Normalize,’ Exactly?” Boston Globe, November 17, 2016, accessed October 9, 2018, https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2016/11/17/what-does-mean-normalize-exactly/nsvIiXsSwh5aDDW3lsBnTO/story.html.

            4. For a complete breakdown of mob-related beef lynchings in India, look at the interactive database prepared by India Spend. “IndiaSpend – Hate Crime Checker” Updated as of October 2018. http://lynch.factchecker.in/.

            5. During the course of the anticolonial struggle numerous groups rose up against the British (and other dominant groups in the country) both independently and collectively. For example, the Champaran satyagraha (1917) saw tenant farmers revolting against both the landlords and the British.

            6. There were, of course, many other reasons why there was a demand for separation, however, the two above-held opinions were the easiest to accept. For more on this, see Nisid Hajari, Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition (New York: Harcourt, 2015), 23–69.

            7. The fact that Savarkar used the term pitrabhoomi (fatherland) as opposed to the common imagery of the motherland (matrabhoomi), according to many scholars, points toward exclusivist tendencies within Savarkar's ideology. This, however, is only one of the reasons why parallels have been drawn between the Hindu right-wing ideology and ideologues and fascists.

            8. Heather Selma Gregg, The Path to Salvation: Religious Violence from the Crusades to Jihad (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2014), 52–73.

            9. Gregg, The Path to Salvation. Savarkar was imprisoned for a long period of about 23 years due to his anti-British rhetoric.

            10. Saeed uses this analogy in the case of Islam as a Master discourse which was used by the Iranians to justify all anti-Western ideas and products. For more on this, see Bobby Saeed, A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism (New York: Zed Books, 1997), 45–50; 84–127.

            11. Furthermore, conflict in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley which was (and continues to be) primarily driven due to geopolitical reasons is another factor where Muslims often came into the limelight. This is so because both India and Pakistan lay claim to the valley, and the local militants who conducted guerrilla warfare-style attacks against the Indian government are primarily Muslims (but Kashmiris). Pakistan also tried to take advantage of this by sponsoring Kashmiri Muslim-led insurgencies and sending Pakistani terrorists. Much has been written about the Pakistani involvement in Indian Kashmir. See the following two publications for a quick read on the same: Vinay Kaura, “India's Challenge: Containing Kashmir's Insurgency,” The Diplomat, July 14, 2016, accessed December 15, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2016/07/indias-challenge-containing-kashmirs-insurgency/ and Peter Chalk, “Pakistan's Role in the Kashmir Insurgency,” Rand Commentary, September 1, 2001, accessed December 29, 2017, https://www.rand.org/blog/2001/09/pakistans-role-in-the-kashmir-insurgency.html.

            12. India was divided into a Muslim-majority Pakistan and a Hindu-majority India on the basis of the two-nation theory. As a result, Muslims who stayed back in India have been viewed with an eye of suspicion.

            13. Yoginder Sikand, “Sayyed Abul Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi and Contemporary Islamic Thought in India,” in The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, ed. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2006), 88.

            14. For more on this, see Akshay Mukul, Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India (New Delhi: Harper Collins Publishers India, 2015). 8–24.

            15. According to Van der Veer, Hindu right-wing animosity additionally increased post the 1973 oil shock in the Gulf when Indian Muslims from the southern states began to seek better economic opportunities in the Gulf regions. The remittance money sent back home to families was conspiratorially painted by right-wing ideologues as money used for conversions, M. G. Chitkara, Converts Do Not Make a Nation (New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House), 318. For a prominent instance of blowback against the Muslim community in India, read the case of the Dalits of Meenakshipuram where 800 Dalits converted to Islam, “Flashback: How 800 Dalit Hindus in Meenakshipuram Were Converted to Islam 33 Years Ago,” India TV, December 12, 2014, accessed October 1, 2017, http://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/flashback-how-800-dalit-hindus-were-converted-to-islam-33-years-45123.html.

            16. In the 1981 census, the Muslim growth rate was estimated at 4.1 to that of Hindus at 3.6 which perpetuated the myth that Muslim growth rates were much higher due to their allowance to marry four women. In recent times, some politicians have termed this phenomenon as “Population Jihad”; further mystifying and demonizing the Muslim community that engages in it. Kanchan Srivastav, “Muslims Pursuing Population and Land Jihad: Pramod Mutalik,” DNA India, August 29, 2015, accessed October 9, 2017, http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/interview-muslims-pursuing-population-and-land-jihad-pramod-mutalik-2119612.

            17. Nathuram Godse, Why I Killed Gandhi (New Delhi: Farsight Publishers, 2015), published by his younger brother much after his death.

            18. For a detailed account of the destruction of the Babri Masjid and its repercussions across the nations, see A. G. Noorani, Destruction of the Babri Masjid—A National Dishonour (New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2017).

            19. Doniger, On Hinduism, 502.

            20. One does note that it is not just Hindus adhering to the right-wing ideology who consider the cow as a sacred animal.

            21. Wendy Doniger, in On Hinduism 502.

            22. Utpal Kumar, “Why Right Is Not Right: Historian Romila Thapar Talks about the Outburst against Intolerance by the Intellectuals,” India Today, November 2, 2015, accessed January 13, 2018, https://www.indiatoday.in/lifestyle/culture/story/why-right-is-not-right-historian-romila-thapar-talks-about-the-outburst-against-intolerance-by-the-intellectuals-271020–2015-11–02.

            23. Dwijendra Narayan Jha, The Myth of the Holy Cow (London: Verso, 2004).

            24. Therese O'Toole, “Secularising the Sacred Cow: The Relationship between Religious Reform and Hindu Nationalism,” in Hinduism in Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender and Sampraday, ed. A. Copley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 84–109.

            25. Ibid.

            26. Ibid.

            27. Ibid.

            28. Mahisha = buffalo, asura = demon.

            29. Delna Abraham and Ojaswi Rao, “86% Dead in Cow-Related Violence since 2010 Are Muslim; 97% Attacks after 2014,” Indiaspend, June 28, 2017, accessed October 9, 2018, http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/86-dead-in-cow-related-violence-since-2010-are-muslim-97-attacks-after-2014–2014.

            30. John R. McLane, Indian Nationalism and the Early Congress (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 219–51.

            31. Ibid.

            32. India has a rich history of communal violence and riots. An important resource to refer to for communal violence is the book Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), written by Ashutosh Varshney.

            33. In some cases, it is also important to note that out of the recorded 65 incidents, 23 incidents of mob violence were not random and were perpetrated by members of groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal (BD) and local Gau Rakshak Samitis. See the following for more information on this: Abraham and Rao, “86% Dead in Cow-Related Violence since 2010 Are Muslim.”

            34. Brundage analyzed mob violence in the context of White on Black violence in the US during the 19th and 20th century. For the quote, see Supriya Nair, “The Meaning of India's ‘Beef Lynchings’,” The Atlantic, July 24, 2017, accessed October 9, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/india-modi-beef-lynching-muslim-partition/533739/. For more on mob lynching as a phenomenon, see W. Fritzhugh Brundage, Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930 (Blacks in the New World) (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1993).

            35. Candace Alcorta and Richard Sosis, “Ritual, Religion, and Violence: An Evolutionary Perspective,” in Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, ed. Mark Jurgensmeyer, Margo Kitts, and Michael Jerryson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 571–93.

            36. Ibid.

            37. Ibid.

            38. “RSS Weekly Keeps up Beef Rant,” The Telegraph, October 20, 2015, accessed October 15, 2017, https://www.telegraphindia.com/1151020/jsp/nation/story_49058.jsp.

            39. Shashi Tharoor, “India's Sacred Cows and Unholy Politics,” Gulf News, November 12, 2015, accessed October 19, 2017, https://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/india-s-sacred-cows-and-unholy-politics-1.1618956.

            40. Apoorv Anand, “What Is behind India's Epidemic of ‘Mob Lynching’?” Al Jazeera, July 6, 2017, accessed October 15, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/07/india-epidemic-moblynching-170706113733914.html.

            41. Elizabeth Thomas, “Communities in Conflict: Fighting for the ‘Sacred Cow’,” International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 2, no. 1 (2013): 130–47.

            42. For a concise understanding of deontological reasoning and how it has been used to justify various types of violence such as violence in the Crusades or that justified on grounds of spreading democracy, refer to Irm Haleem, The Essence of Islamist Extremism: Recognition through Violence, Freedom through Death (New York: Routledge Press, 2012), 32–3.

            43. Partha S. Ghosh, BJP and the Evolution of Hindu Nationalism (New Delhi: Manohar Publications & Distributors), 15.

            44. “India: Hate Crimes against Muslims and Rising Islamophobia Must Be Condemned,” Amnesty International, June 28, 2017, accessed December 29, 2017, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/06/india-hate-crimes-against-muslims-and-rising-islamophobia-must-be-condemned/.

            45. Cow, buffalo and ox meat is collectively referred to as beef in India. Given the federal structure of the country, every state has different rules pertaining to the slaughter, consumption and possession of their meat.

            46. Rajendra Sharma and Ashish Mehtal, “51 Cows of Muslim Family ‘Snatched by Alwar Cops’,” The Times of India, October 15, 2017, accessed October 15, 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/51-cows-of-muslim-family-snatched-by-alwar-cops/articleshow/61086561.cms.

            47. Guy Elcheroth and Stephen Reicher, Identity, Violence and Power: Mobilising Hatred, Demobilising Dissent (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 132–55.

            48. Tanima Biswas, “Vishal Rana, Main Accused In Mohammad Akhlaq's Murder, Gets Bail,” NDTV, August 1, 2017, accessed December 25, 2017, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/vishal-rana-main-accused-in-mohammad-akhlaqs-murder-gets-bail-1731774.

            49. “India: Hate Crimes against Muslims.”

            50. Sandip Roy, “With Each Lynching, The Pradhan Sevak's Silence Rings Out Louder,” Huffington Post, June 26, 2017, accessed January 15, 2018, http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/06/26/with-each-lynching-the-pradhan-sevaks-silence-rings-out-louder_a_23001659/.

            51. “India BJP Leader Says Muslims Should Stop Eating Beef,” BBC, October 15, 2015, accessed December 28, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34546960.

            52. Asit Jolly, “Why Three Innocent Men Had to Die to Save the Cows,” DailyO, October 19, 2015, https://www.dailyo.in/politics/dadri-lynching-hp-udhampur-akhlaq-noman-zahid-beef-cow-slaughter-bjp-ml-khattar-sakshi-maharaj-amit-shah/story/1/6859.html.

            53. Dennis Kurzon, “Thematic Silence as a Speech Act: From Lexis to Discourse,” in Implicitness: From Lexis to Discourse, ed. Piotr Cap and Marta Dynel (The Netherlands: Benjamin Publishing, 2017), 217–32.

            54. Though one must note that this othering did not commence with the establishment of the abovementioned organizations.


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