How systemic bias affects Indian society?
As India’s first Muslim woman to hold a public office, Rajkumar Khemka is a key figure in the country’s history.
But, in the wake of the recent wave of anti-Muslim violence in the western state of Uttar Pradesh, he’s also a victim of a culture of racial profiling.
In November, at the height of the anti-terrorism campaign, the state police posted an online map on social media, showing a large number of mosques and madrasas.
In one picture, the police claimed there were over 500 Muslim madrasahs in the state.
Khemka, a lawyer and former president of the Indian American Legal Association, said the maps were a deliberate effort to target Muslims in an attempt to curb anti-terror sentiment.
He also said the state government should have considered the possible consequences of making the map public.
“What is really worrying is the possibility that the maps are being used to target people,” he said.
“If a Muslim woman is targeted, it is a matter of fear and not a matter for discussion or investigation.”
The maps also show Muslim men with their heads uncovered, which Khemke said is common in the Indian subcontinent.
He said the Muslim community in India has experienced a huge increase in violence over the past decade.
“There is a clear and present problem in the Muslim population of India.
I mean, there are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and in India we have 1.2 billion Muslims.
And, we have more than 50 per cent of them being under the age of 20,” he told Al Jazeera.”
In fact, when we are looking at the data, there is no other country where that level of violence is so high.
There is a massive disparity between the level of terrorism and the level that Muslims face.
We have a large Muslim population in India and yet, we do not have a systematic approach to prevent this.”‘
It’s not just a Hindu problem’Khemkas experience of being targeted and attacked is a common one for many Muslims, who say that they have been subject to discrimination and violence in India.
In a country that is predominantly Hindu, he said it was especially difficult for Muslim women to be seen in public, especially when wearing headscarves or other religious garments.
“This is not just an Indian problem, it’s a Muslim problem, a Hindu Muslim problem,” he added.
“We need to have a holistic approach to tackling this problem.
This is a problem that is systemic across our society.”
According to a report by the Human Rights Commission of India (HRCI), there have been at least 13 attacks against Muslim women since October 2016, with some of them targeting mosques.
“The attacks are not isolated incidents.
They have a chilling effect on Muslims in India, as they see it as a sign of intolerance and racism,” said Khemkha, a member of the National Council of Bar Associations (NCBA) and president of India’s Muslim Women’s Federation.
“We are all targets.”
Khemke believes the lack of diversity in India’s police force, the lack and lack of awareness about the need for greater equality and inclusion in India are major reasons behind the lack in tolerance for Muslims in society.
“I believe that a lot of these incidents have to do with racism and discrimination.
There are not enough Muslims in law enforcement and that’s why there is not enough policing,” he noted.”
Even if a Muslim is harassed, if they do not act, we see incidents of anti Muslim violence, of violence against Muslim men.”‘
We need a holistic solution’The Indian Muslim community has also pointed out that the country has a long history of anti non-Muslim sentiment, especially during the time of British rule.
Khelan Bhatt, a Muslim-American activist and professor at the University of Southern California, said that India’s current anti-Islam sentiment has its roots in the colonial period, when the country was divided by two states.
“It’s no surprise that we have anti-Indian sentiments in Indian society today,” Bhatt said.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Bhatt described the current state of Indian society as a combination of two factors: the legacy of colonialism and a lack of tolerance for minorities, particularly Muslims.
“There is no doubt that there is racism and intolerance in India,” she said.
India’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has also been a major issue in the past, with the government recently banning Muslim-majority areas from forming new laws.
Bhatt believes the country is currently suffering from a systemic racism problem, which she believes is not addressed by any political party.
“What is needed is a holistic system of social inclusion,” she added.
Keshav Sharma, a professor at University of Delhi, believes the current Indian Muslim crisis stems from the way society views Muslims.
“People feel discriminated against, that Muslims are a minority and that Islam has to be the only religion,” he argued.