On Monday, the food products company ID Fresh released an unusual statement denying that its dosa batter contained animal extracts. Only “100% natural and vegetarian agri-commodities” was used to make the product, insisted the company.
The message came in response to a large-scale misinformation campaign on social media claiming that the company “mixes cow bones and calf rennet” in its products. The WhatsApp forwards also claimed that the company hires only Muslims and is “halal certified”.
Anyone with a passing acquaintance with the dietary taboos of a large number of Indians would recognise how damaging these allegations could be for a food products company.
A wave of bigotry
It wasn’t difficult to see why these messages were being spread: ID Fresh was founded by PC Musthafa and his four cousins Abdul Nazer, Shamsudeen TK, Jafar TK and Noushad TA. It was the latest attack on the livelihoods of India’s Muslims, a trend now so far-reaching that even industrialists are not immune to it.
Before this, a series of shocking videos had gone viral showing Hindutva supporters attacking working-class Muslims as they went about doing their jobs. In Madhya Pradesh, a Muslim bangle seller was beaten up for doing business in a “Hindu area”. In Uttar Pradesh, a dosa vendor’s stall was vandalised simply because he had, as a Muslim, named his shop after a Hindu god. In Madhya Pradesh, a Muslim scrap dealer was surrounded by a gang of men and forced to chant the Hindu religious slogan “Jai Shri Ram”. In Lucknow, a horse carriage owner was hounded to chant “death to Pakistan” because of the fake claim that he had painted that country’s flag on his cart.
This is just the latest wave of such violence aimed at attacking Muslims for simply doing their jobs.
Attacking jobs and businesses
The last few years have seen extremist politics around the issue of beef and even meat itself. Just after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, it launched a thinly veiled communal campaign against the informal meat industry, shutting down slaughter houses and shops that, it alleged, did not conform to laws and regulations. Given that a major part of Uttar Pradesh’s economy is informal, the reason for singling out meat was not difficult to miss: it was dominated by Muslims.
Even five years later, the Uttar Pradesh government is continuing along the same lines. On August 30, Chief Minister Adityanath announced that meat would be banned completely from Mathura given the town was holy for Hindus. In one stroke, the BJP had ended the livelihoods of thousands of people associated with the meat industry in Mathura, most of them Muslim.
Even worse, officials across North India have winked at mob violence against Muslims involved in the cattle and dairy trade. In 2017, a diary farmer named Pehlu Khan was lynched in Rajasthan with all accused walking free in 2019. In fact, the lynching of Muslims transporting cattle is almost a routine occurrence in India now.
So entrenched is communal sentiment in India that even the Covid-19 pandemic was weaponised to attack Muslim livelihoods. The first wave of Covid-19 in India saw vituperative, bigoted campaigns absurdly blaming Muslim fruit vendors for spreading the disease. In Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh, for example, this led to mob action against Muslim vegetable vendors, preventing them from selling their goods.
Pushing Muslims down
The economic marginalisation of Muslims in India is not new. In 2005, the Sachar committee report pointed out that the economic conditions of Muslims lagged even those of Dalits on key parameters. A 2018 study showed that Muslims were the only group in India with lower social mobility than even their parents.
As a religious group, Muslims rank last when it comes to holding jobs which provide regular wages and salaries as per data from the National Sample Survey 2009-’10. Most Muslims are involved in low paying, irregular jobs.
Incredibly, rather than lending the community a helping hand, many Indian politicians have concentrated on trying to push down Muslims even further. The past few decades have seen a rise in allegations of Muslims being “appeased”. The charge is absurd given the community’s dismal socioeconomic indicators but serves to further marginalise them.
To all of this is now added the fact that violent attacks on Muslims doing their jobs is now being normalised.
At the start of its second term, the BJP had promised a Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens “chronology” that would subject Muslims to a communal citizenship test, thus reducing the community to second-class citizens. While that project has faced several obstacles, another equally insidious form of marginalisation is taking place in the economic sphere, with Muslims being pushed to the wall by being denied a chance to making a living.
Indian democracy has faced a number of challenges since it was instituted 70 years ago. But attempts to reduce its massive population of 200 million Muslims to a life without hope and the prospect, at best, of second-class citizenship, is the gravest danger it has faced till now.