Islamophobia in India





Anti-Muslim sentiment in the larger world is perhaps as old as the history of modern Islam itself. Attempts to pit Islam as a rival force to the dominant ideology of Christianity began in the medieval times, and gathered strength through historical episodes such as the Crusades. This distrust and hatred of Islam continue to linger in the modern times, although the forms and methodologies of targeting Islam and Muslims have changed, and continue to undergo changes. Muslims in the modern world present several “problems” to the anxious Islamophobe- among other things, they are perceived as threats to progress, their established lifestyles, societal harmony and demography.

To counter these perceptions, it is important to identify and define the problems that are associated with such ideas. A definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that is applicable universally is the first step towards this resistance. Although several definitions have been presented, particularly in the post-9/11 past when the term ‘Islamophobia’ began to be used more in popular parlance, the one given by The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims might be more acceptable for general purposes:

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

The equation of Islamophobia to racism is a subject that has raised several dilemmas, particularly for scholars and activists in Asian countries like India, where the problem of ‘racism’ is not widely acknowledged but the problem of Islamophobia is undeniably rampant. This is stressed more by the fact that the so-called “racial” roots of most people in these countries are more or less the same, while the topic of Islam and Muslims in the western world are largely associated with immigration and non-white populations.

However, Dr Salman Sayeed, who is one of the scholars who have worked on the drafting of the definition, clarifies that even if external appearances suggest some similarities, racism does operate deeply in societies where Islamophobia is a prevalent emotion. Here, instead of the color of the skin, certain other aspects get “racialized”. For example, in India, certain symbols such as clothing (skull cup, kurta and the Islamic headscarf), food (meat, particularly beef) and language  (Urdu or specific dialects of local languages) have acted as “markers” of Muslim identity for a long time, and continue to be so.

There is no denying that more than a natural feeling, Islamophobia is a “generated” feeling. It is a generated fear of Muslims and Islam deliberately propagated by agencies that stand to gain from a popular perception of a 'common enemy'. It is a phenomenon firmly rooted in majoritarianism, anti-pluralism and patriarchy and includes a fear of Muslims and Islamic values taking over the country and transforming its demographics and ethos.


Although communal sentiments were nothing new in India even in the pre-independence era, anti-Muslim sentiments heightened after the Partition of India and the birth of Pakistan. As the Congress party took on the reigns of post-independence India, it claimed to build a secular country where all religions were free to flourish, with no religion given a superior or inferior status by the state. Despite this, a kind of soft Hindutva flourished under the auspices of subsequent governments, particularly through the broadcasting of mythological series such as Ramayana and Mahabharata on the state TV channel Doordarshan, whose impact on the Indian audience was later harnessed by right-wing parties to garner support for communal agendas like the demolition of Babri Masjid.

Symbols of savarna religious practices, such as bhoomi pujas during the launch of government projects, have always stood in sharp contrast to the supposed “non-preferential” position of the State in the matters of religion.

Riots involving violence against Muslims have cropped up intermittently in many parts of the country, including the infamous Gujarat pogrom of 2002. The forced migration from these riots as well as other forms of discrimination, which includes unavailability of decent options for Muslim house-seekers, have left many Muslims ghettoized and deprived of proper infrastructure in many of India’s large cities. This has had an adverse effect on their social status, particularly in terms of quality education and access to good jobs and public facilities. The 2005 Sachar report, which pegged the condition of Indian Muslims as worse than that of institutionally and historically marginalized sections such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, was a testimony to this deprivation. Even then, special attempts by the State to uplift Muslim communities were seen by right-wing ideologists as examples of “Muslim appeasement” for vote gains.

The anti-Muslim sentiment accumulated over the years has reached a crescendo in the period after 2014, which has seen the victory of hard-line Hindutva ideologists in two consecutive national elections. In other words, Islamophobia has gone ‘mainstream’. Supporters of the regime openly speak and legislate against Muslims with little fear of repercussion. A fiercely servile media and what looks like an increasingly pliant judiciary act in their favour. In the last six years, anti-Muslim sentiments have taken many forms, from episodes of lynching arising from cow vigilantism and accusations of “love jihad” to selective police brutality and surveillance and laws proposing a citizenship test for Muslims.  

The average Indian citizen influenced by this rhetoric perceives Muslims as problematic beings out to create terror and mischief, while reproducing in hoards to bypass the Hindus as the country’s majority population. They allegedly target “gullible” Hindu women to convert them and implement this “population agenda”. Ridiculous as this may sound, such theories have a large number of takers. Even in supposedly progressive states like Kerala, prominent voices, including filmmakers and senior IPS officers, have been spewing communal vitriol along these lines on public platforms. Like hatemongers everywhere, they find support in fake news and skewed data, and try to formulate arguments by picking out lone incidents and blowing them out of proportion.


The objective of this project is to accumulate and analyze data regarding Islamophobic trends in India, in an attempt to gauge the breadth and depth of this phenomenon in the country. Unlike in the West, few attempts have been made within the country to tackle this subject in a comprehensive and academic manner. Such projects are crucial as the first step towards solving any problem is recognizing that there is one. Islamophobia in India needs to be understood and acknowledged, if any effort is to be made to eradicate it.

Anti-Muslim sentiments determine the quality of life of a vast section of the Muslim population, including the schools and colleges they go to, people they become friends with, the quality of jobs they can get and the kind of houses they can rent. Eradicating Islamophobia is essential if this country, in which 195 million Muslim lives intertwine with that of the rest of its 1 billion-strong population, is to retain its multicultural and tolerant credentials.

The primary weapon in the fight against any evil is data, and this project aims to gather as much data as possible by sorting through reliable news reports, studies and other printed and digital matter to arrive at a picture about Islamophobia that is as clear and concise as possible. It aims to document Islamophobia in its varied forms- discrimination, violence, deliberate marginalization and outright annihilation targeted at Muslims.


Define Islamophobia as a social and political phenomenon by keeping the distinct realities of the Indian subcontinent in mind.

Track all manners of Islamophobic incidents and trends under various sections such as hate violence (physical, verbal and digital attacks), discrimination, Islamophobic media reports and Islamophobic trends in popular culture.

Use graphic storytelling tools to visualize the lived daily experiences of Muslims from all walks of life- women, men, students, children, employees etc.

Track groups and individuals, both online and offline, deliberately spreading anti-Muslim content.

Compile a library on Islamophobia as a reference point for anyone wishing to study this subject. The library will include:

Islamophobic articles and books written with the intent to spread anti-Muslim sentiments

Ebooks and articles dealing with the topic of Islamophobia

A video library incorporating digital materials dealing with Islamophobia

A study of campaign materials such as posters and slogans