This week, an anonymously created open source website called S * lli Deals named for an insult against Muslims went live. It had the photographs, names and social networks of many Muslim women in India, and the obscene suggestion that these people could be bought off, as in any “Deal of the Day” promotion. It was an open invitation to harassment of all kinds.
Women have their photos stolen and abused all the time, especially online. I’ve written in this column in the past about discovering my own reposted images by shady accounts, among hundreds of others. But this latest cybercrime, the latest in a long line, should not be viewed solely in light of global societal misogyny, but should be specifically understood in the context of anti-Muslim hatred. Women have been targeted because of their religious background.
This too joins a long line of similar incidents of varying levels of brutality, ranging from prejudice to genocide. Anti-Muslim and anti-minority rhetoric in India is currently happening very openly and from very high platforms. It is part of the election campaign. Hate speech resonates at large gatherings, such as at the Hindu Mahasabha in Haryana a few days ago, where among other radicalized public speakers, a 17-year-old opened fire near Jamia Millia University during of an anti-CAA protest last year.
Those who openly incite violence against minorities enjoy impunity. Meanwhile, activists who work for equality and justice generally with political secularism, regardless of their personal feeling, as a fundamental value suffer and even die incarcerated (like Father Stan Swamy) or murdered (like Gauri Lankesh, or later, like Deputy Gandhi). The reprehensible term “love jihad” has been used for years to control and punish Hindu women (and now Sikh women too, as recent cases in Kashmir have shown). It is based on the idea of woman as property, an asset which cannot be allowed to exercise free will.
Abusive businesses like S * lli Deals also operate under the concept of ownership, and by extension trade or trafficking, but with two additional levels: inviting the public to participate in oppression and explicit religious discrimination. No religion is exempt from fundamentalists. Regardless of its principles. No matter how meaningful or uplifting a private spiritual life may be, to deny that some will always use religion to create violence of all kinds is to help perpetuate that violence.
People like me who technically belong to the Hindu religious majority are often dismissed in the conversation with versions of the statement: “You don’t know the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism.” I actually do. I have spent most of my life in a Muslim country, 17 years to be precise, with anti-minority decrees enshrined in its constitution.
I have personally experienced the daily discrimination of belonging to a minority and erasing my culture on a systemic scale, and I have raised my voice loud and clear against this abuse there too. None of this made me anti-Muslim. It made me anti-intolerance. I know the dangers of religious fundamentalism on a population in general, period. It does not matter which strains are all equally violent and must be rejected, for the good of all, of all faiths.
The columnist is a writer and illustrator