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Opinion – Hajj house protests prove Indian Islamophobia is growing

In New Delhi, the capital of India, protests threaten the establishment of a centre meant for sheltering Muslim pilgrims. Indian Muslims are calling this an Islamophobic attack.

I’m sure you’ve vaguely heard the terms ‘Hajj’ or ‘Mecca’ before. Hajj refers to an annual pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that all Muslims observe at least once in their lifetime.

Nearly 15,000-20,000 Muslims from North India leave for Mecca from Delhi every year; they stay in transit camps before leaving. But these camps are neither able to accommodate them or provide adequate facilities.

Despite Delhi being the nation’s largest embarkment point for Muslims, they do not have a Hajj house.

This is why in 2008, then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit laid the foundation stone for the first Hajj House in Dwarka, Delhi. This would be able to shelter at least 350 pilgrims at once.

It’s meant to provide all the facilities that they would need before flying out, including immigration assistance, accommodation, prayer rooms, dining spaces – you name it!

The project took a backseat for a while, and actually gained momentum in 2018. That year, the Delhi government, led by AAP (a Centrist party focused on infrastructural development), allocated INR 94 crores (£9 million) for it.

Just this allocation earned them accusations of trying to ‘appease minorities’. Now, to understand why they were accused of such a thing, you’ll have to know about how the conservative culture infiltrated Indian politics; it goes something like this…

In 2014, the country saw a massive shift in political opinions from leftism to rightism during the Prime Ministerial elections.

Minorities, especially Muslims, watched in horror as their worst nightmare came true: a rightist Prime Minister would mean rampant islamophobia and majoritarianism.

Prime Minister Modi actually belongs to a party called BJP, which is a right-wing Hindu nationalist political party. It’s infamous for spreading hatred against the Islamic community as well as promoting jingoism, which is aggressive patriotism.

The protest against this Hajj house is just one of the many examples of the discriminatory movements that BJP leads. So, why is there so much outrage surrounding this- and what is their hidden agenda?

Why are people protesting?

At 10 am on Friday, hundreds of people gathered at an empty ground in Dwarka, New Delhi. The gathering included members of a residents’ federation, BJP leaders, and right wing outfits.

Also present were heads of several villages who said that they did not want the government to construct a Hajj house with taxpayers’ money. They said that it wouldn’t be of any use to them.

As a matter of fact, the All Dwarka Residents’ Federation has written to Lt Governor Anil Baijal urging him to cancel the land allotted for this construction.

A village leader who was part of the protest said, ‘when a masjid came up, we did not say anything because it was not constructed by the government. These are Hindu-majority areas. We strongly oppose the construction of the Hajj House. Our cultures do not match with theirs.’

Okay, I’ll be the first to say that this is absolutely atrocious. Gee, thanks for not meddling in the internal affairs of another religious group that do no concern you at all. What can I say? We’re truly indebted to you.

Along the same lines, AAP politician Abdul Rehman said, ‘why should anyone have a problem if a few people come together for a short stay before embarking on a pilgrimage? The land where the house is being built does not belong to any private person, nor has it been usurped or encroached by anyone.’

Yet, in addition to being intrusive, this demonstration has also come under scrutiny for being ironic in nature.

The blatant hypocrisy

Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta says that there are many plots in Delhi belonging to the Islamic Waqf board, so a Hajj House can be built there. He added that there is a shortage of schools, colleges, and hospitals in the city.

Protesters carried placards reading: ‘Hajj House hi kyun? School, college, hospital kyun nahi?’ (Why a Hajj house? Why not a school, college, or hospital?)

Now, if you’re from a developed country, this might seem like a fair logic to you. However, in India, religion has always been mixed with politics.

If truth be told, this slogan is only being raised because the land in question is being used for Islamic purposes, and the community is a minority in India.

In fact, a similar debate was going on a few years ago as part of the Ayodhya dispute. There is a plot of land in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, which both the Hindu and Muslim community claim as a sacred site.

Since this was a sensitive topic, some were demanding that a school or hospital be built on the land. In the end, Hindu organisations won the disputed plot, and guess what’s being built there now?

That’s right: a temple.

If they didn’t build a school on the land that was allotted to them, (which they were even advised to do by many) what gives them the right to demand that the Islamic community build a school on their land?

They’re disguising their hatred as a movement for infrastructural development, and that is absolutely unfair. Heck, even I’m in support of building more schools, colleges, and hospitals in India. But not like this, no.

Where is this protest headed?

AAP politician Abdul Rehman said, ‘Our country is a land of many religions. People want to live peacefully. Some are out to divide the country on religious lines and we request the government to act against such motivated protests.’

That very day, the Delhi Police registered an FIR against several protestors for violating COVID guidelines.

A senior police official said that a case under appropriate sections of the law has been registered and further investigation is under way

To me, the most disheartening thing about all this is not just the islamophobia; these protestors are able-bodied individuals who are out fighting for something that is completely unnecessary.

In a country where people die of starvation and poverty every day, these self-proclaimed nationalists choose to fight for a cause as trivial as supremacy? What a shame.

At the end of the day, it’s not just about this one incident; it’s about many such incidents that shall follow if this mentality persists. So, what can we do about it?

It’s simple: question everything.

Question your friends, question your politicians, question the news you’re reading. You know what? Question this article even.

And, if at any point, you feel like some political groups are trying to pit you against your fellow citizens, ask yourself this:

‘What rights do you lose when they gain their rights?’


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