India’s Religious Tensions Prompt Calls for Boycotts

Religious tensions in India have prompted some activists, both inside and outside the world’s second most populous country, to call for a boycott of Indian products and of Qatar Airways.

On Friday, thousands of Muslims marched in Bangladesh and Pakistan chanting slogans, among other things, to boycott all Indian products in Muslim countries.

“The global Muslim community has been united. We ask the whole world to boycott Indian products,” Moulana Imtiaz Alam, leader of a Bangladeshi Islamist party, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

Separately, some Hindu activists have used the hashtag #boycottqatarairways to voice anger against Qatar’s strong diplomatic protest recently of allegedly Islamophobic remarks by members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Inside India, police arrested hundreds on Saturday after two Muslim teenagers died from gunshots and several others were injured in the weeks-long protests by Muslims in different parts of the country.

Since his ascent to power, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP’s leader, has been accused of stoking Hindu-Muslim tensions, a charge he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected.

About 14.2% of India’s 1.3 billion population are Muslim.

Strong ties

Experts say calls for boycotts and the strong reaction by Muslim nations to India’s latest religious tensions are unlikely to affect New Delhi’s trade and economic relations with the Muslim world.

India has maintained strong economic ties with Muslim countries, particularly the oil-rich nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Despite a major slump in India-GCC trade volume in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, GCC exports to India quickly jumped to $98 billion and imports hit $40 billion in 2021, according to the International Institute of Finance (IIF).

More than 8 million Indian laborers and expatriates work in the GCC region, accounting for upwards of $26 billion in annual remittances.

“Expats account for more than half of the total foreign workers in the GCC,” Garbis Iradian, an economist at IIF, told VOA. “The rapid development of the GCC countries in the past two decades, including infrastructures, owes to foreign workers, particularly from India.”

Strong economic ties will likely weather the current religious and political tensions between India and GCC nations, experts say.

“Going forward there will likely be a new framework for relations focusing on investment, political dynamics, and defense and security as growing areas of India-Gulf relations, working to enhance the levels of trust between the two sides,” Viraj Solanki, a South-Asia expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told VOA.

Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, two GCC members, have pledged to invest about $200 billion in India in the coming years.

India also maintains robust trade and economic ties with Turkey, Indonesia and majority Muslim countries elsewhere in Asia as well as in Africa.

Homes razed

On Sunday, local authorities in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh reportedly demolished the homes of several Muslim activists who were allegedly behind the recent protests.

One of homes belonged to the parents of Afreen Fatima, a Muslim rights activist and university student.

Fatima has blamed local authorities for razing the house in retaliation for her father’s alleged involvement in recent protests by Muslims.

While some local officials were quoted in the media saying Fatima’s house was bulldozed because it was built illegally, an adviser to Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister tweeted a photo of the house saying, “Unruly elements remember, every Friday is followed by a Saturday.”

Human rights groups and Indian Muslims say Islamophobia has reached dangerous levels in the world’s largest democracy.

Earlier this year, BJP political rallies included threats of mass violence against Muslims, and some party leaders labeled Muslims as terrorists.

Last week, a report from the U.S. State Department named India, among countries like China, Russia, Myanmar and Pakistan, a violator of religious freedoms and cited numerous reports of attacks on and discrimination against Indian Muslims.

The Indian government condemned the U.S. report calling it “ill-informed and biased.”

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