The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) strongly condemns and vehemently refutes India’s Finance Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Nirmala Sitharaman’s claim that Muslims are not being subjected to violence and persecution because their population, “is only growing in numbers.”
Speaking at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), a Washington, D.C. based think tank, Sitharaman claimed that there was a “negative Western perception” regarding India after PIIE President Adam S. Posen asked her how foreign investors’ perception of the country is affected by Western reporting on India’s political climate, including on the persecution of Muslims.
In response, Sitharaman outrightly denied Muslim persecution while backing it with the Hindu far-right conspiracy theory of, “Muslim population growth. [This is] not to even imply that I accept the perception that you’re referring to – India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, and the population is only growing in numbers,” Sitharaman said.
According to the Census data from 2001-2011, the growth rate of the Muslim population decreased to 24.6% compared to 29.5% in the decade prior. Data from India’s National Family Health Survey shows that over the past 25 years, the total fertility rate among Muslims decreased the sharpest out of all religious groups, including Hindus, from 3.6 in 1998-99 to 2.36 in 2019-21.
Sitharaman’s statement echoes the popular Hindu supremacist propaganda claim that the Muslim population is increasing at a rate disproportionate to Hindus. The idea that Muslims are “overpopulating” and “overtaking” Hindus in India is then used by BJP leaders and Hindu militant groups to whip up Islamophobia and violence against Muslim minorities.
“Sitharaman’s use of ‘population growth’ myth to justify the systemic oppression of Indian Muslims is nothing more than a twisted propaganda tactic widely used by the Hindu far-right to mask the reality of Muslim persecution and discrimination in India,” said IAMC Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed.
“Her statement is not just a flagrant denial of human rights abuses but also a dangerous attempt to spread disinformation and gaslight the global community about the atrocities committed against Indian Muslims. Sitharaman’s rhetoric must be debunked and condemned to ensure that human rights violations do not go unnoticed or unchallenged,” Ahmed added.
This blatantly false notion is not only a testament to the Sitharaman’s deliberate ignorance but also a willful disregard for the overwhelming evidence presented by numerous authoritative sources, including United Nations Special Rapporteurs, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the US Department of State, the US Holocaust Memorial, and the world’s most prominent human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Most of these reports have noted that over the last nine years, the BJP government has openly promoted a divisive and discriminatory agenda that led to surge in the targeting of Muslims and other minorities.
The government has passed discriminatory laws like the Citizenship Amendment Act, which, combined with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), is designed to render Muslims stateless and has led to widespread protests and violence against the Muslim community throughout India. The beef ban laws, the anti-conversion laws, and the Hijab ban in Karnataka are only meant to marginalize Muslims further.
Hindu militant groups affiliated with the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), have been given a free hand to commit violence against Muslims, including pogroms, mob lynchings, and attacks on their homes, businesses, and places of worship.
In the past three months alone, at least 10 Muslims were lynched throughout India over the baseless accusations of transporting/ consuming beef or theft. In February, Bajrang Dal militants killed and burned the bodies of two Muslims over suspicion of transporting cattle in BJP-ruled Haryana State.
Furthermore, the government’s complicity in the horrific anti-Muslim pogroms in Delhi in 2020, which resulted in the death of over 50 people, mostly Muslims; the rampant bulldozing of Muslim homes, businesses, and mosques; the ongoing human rights violations in Kashmir and extreme surge in hate speeches calling for Muslim genocide are well-documented.
Two weeks back, the Supreme Court judges called the state “impotent” for failing to curb anti-Muslim hate speeches nationwide.
Just a week before Sitharaman spoke at the PIIE, Hindu extremist mobs during the Hindu festival of Ram Navami stormed Muslim localities in at least 6 Indian states, where they pelted stones, brutalized Muslim residents, torched vehicles, desecrated mosques, looted homes and businesses. These actions demonstrate a clear pattern of persecution and violence against Muslims in India, and Sitharaman’s comments only serve to minimize and trivialize the gravity of the situation.
In 2022, Genocide Watch, an NGO that monitors countries for signs of impending genocide, placed India at Stage 8 (persecution) of genocide on Dr. Gregory Stanton’s 10 Stages of Genocide. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said India was among the top ten likeliest places for new mass killings in the world. USCIRF, a bipartisan, independent commission in the US, has designated India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for three consecutive years over its egregious violations of human rights and religious freedoms of minorities.
IAMC calls on the Indian government to immediately retract Sitharaman’s insensitive and inaccurate comments and take concrete steps to stop Hindu extremist violence against its Muslim citizens. We also call on the international community to hold the Indian government accountable for its actions and to take steps to ensure the protection of the rights of all religious minorities in India.