AsiaMiddle East

What Indian Muslims Can Do To Help Support Palestine

There is a significant chunk of people in India who are unhappy with the government’s ever-growing pro-Israeli stance: it is the 200 million Indian Muslims who form nearly 15% of the total population.

Advertise on TMV

There is a significant chunk of people in India who are unhappy with the government’s ever-growing pro-Israeli stance: it is the 200 million Indian Muslims who form nearly 15% of the total population.

Image Credit: ToPalestine

NEW DELHI — India officially supports Palestine’s right to self-determination, with the relationship between the two countries dating back to the late 1940s. Indian leaders have traditionally backed Palestine, given that both countries have had a common struggle of decolonisation against Britain. Moreover, India’s pro-Palestine stance helped it to forge a relationship with Muslim countries in the wake of the partition of South Asia on religious lines.

In the early decades, the relationship fostered as India was upfront in supporting Palestine’s right to self-determination. It continues to maintain the line: support the people of Palestine to establish an independent state coexisting peacefully with Israel.

However, over the years India’s show of solidarity towards Palestine has waned even as the government continues to reiterate the traditional and official line, albeit less frequently; when the leaders of two nations meet or whenever there is a special occasion, say Nakba Day. Now it has, in the words of one expert, reduced to “lip service”.

India’s Growing Relationship with Israel

The tilt towards Israel, which continues to expand its military strength, has become more pronounced. Even though this relationship extends to the fields of economy and culture, the heart of the relationship is militaristic: India imports sophisticated arms, surveillance technology, and more importantly expertise on suppressing protests in Kashmir where India’s actions mirror that of Israel. It suppresses the protests in Kashmir largely the same way Israel responds to Palestinian resistance.

It is arguably for this reason that under the rightwing nationalist leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two countries of India and Israel have gelled along well. In the last few years at the United Nations, several times India chose to prefer Israel by abstaining from voting on issues concerning Palestine. Indian premiers’ Tel Aviv visit and vice versa have now become a regular affair. Modi welcomed his “friend” Netanyahu with open arms when in January 2018 he arrived at the airport in New Delhi.

Modi’s supporters who run in the hundreds of millions rejoice the bonhomie of the two countries. They want the government to repeat the Israeli playbook in dealing with the resistance in Kashmir. The malice runs deep and even diplomats succumb to it – following the Kashmir annexation last year, a video of the Indian ambassador to the US went viral in which he was addressing a group of Indians in Washington talking exactly in terms like demographic change and land grab to deal with Kashmir.

But there is a significant chunk of people in India who are unhappy with the government’s ever-growing pro-Israeli stance: it is the 200 million Indian Muslims who form nearly 15% of the total population. Their opposition naturally emanates from the idea of Muslim solidarity. They exhibit their sentiments about the holy mosque of Al Aqsa and feel the pain of Palestinians braving the occupation and daily military oppression.

But what can they do about Palestine when their own existence and identity are under threat as India continues to slide towards Hindu rightwing majoritarianism?

Indian Muslims and Palestine

“Palestine gets empathetic support among Muslims [in India] due to discriminations they themselves face,” Mohammad Riyaz, a professor who lives in the city of Kolkata, says, “however, except for symbolic protests, I do not see Muslims in the country really influencing policies vis-a-vis Israel-Palestine conflict in the present scenario for the simple reason that they are themselves in very marginalized situations and need to fight their own battles.”

It is perhaps for this reason that India, unlike Europe or the US, has not seen robust activism and campaigns around Palestine. Most of the Muslims in India might not even have heard of what the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) is. It is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice, and equality, that actively promotes various forms of boycott against Israel until it complies with international laws.

But the new generation of Muslim youth beam with hope. They have been leading the protests against the controversial citizenship act (The CAA) brought in by the Modi government in December last year that discriminates against Muslim migrants.

The students and women who have been at the forefront of the protest movement against the law say that protests have been a great experience for them to learn and unlearn about politics of protests and solidarity.

“The movement helped us recognise true allies, opportunists, and hidden enemies,” says Sharjeel Usmani, a student activist at Aligharh Muslim University. “The idea of ‘unity of the oppressed’ which was being experimented inside campuses by Dalit, Muslim, and Adivasi student bodies was manifested in the anti CAA movement. It is a very positive development.”

The protests sit-ins emerged as spaces where people met primarily for the common cause of opposing the citizenship law. Moreover, it also became a place for them to engage in conversations over rights movements within and outside the country.

Usmani says, unlike previous generations, they are committed to not just raise voice about our own rights but also talk about the conduct of the state in Kashmir and Palestine: “We can not look the other way.”

In fact, student activists like Usmani have already started educating our people about the BDS movement. Community organizations such as IndoPal (India-Palestine) Foundation work towards BDS. The activists say their role is to strengthen such organisations and build a support group around it.

He explains: “In 2018, we hosted Emad Burnet (the only Palestinian to win an Oscar) and Anas Al Karmi (a known Palestinian filmmaker based in London) in India and travelled with them to almost all major Indian campuses, screened their films, interacted with people on the issue, and distributed free books and pamphlets to educate the students”.

What More Can Indian Muslims Do?

Muslim activists within India and human rights organisations should establish communication with local governments, corporations, and NGOs vis a vis the BDS movement. But more importantly, there is a need to do homework, educate, and build support networks within the community at a bigger level.

Engage with political/social groups who harbor Muslim support in terms of votes and finance, to compel them to talk about Palestine.

Student groups need to hold seminars, protests, and academic activities at university campuses over Palestine and discourage institutions from engaging with academics who justify Israel’s actions.

Make effective use of social media to build campaigns around Palestine, and educate people to understand the nuances of the politics of occupation. Students well versed with the issue should write blogs and articles in local newspapers about it to build a narrative that educates and appeals to the rationale of non-Muslims and eventually help build the support that cuts across the communities.

As an immensely powerful and influential country, Muslims in India can harness their strength and solidarity to make real change for the Palestinian cause the world so desperately needs.

Advertise on TMV