I’m an Indian Muslim, and I’m Scared to Say So

I used to answer the phone with “Salam.” Not anymore. I don’t want people to know I’m a Muslim.

There is little that would identify me as Muslim to begin with, aside from my name. I don’t wear a skullcap, and in public I avoid wearing the loosefitting Pathani kurta and peppering my speech with Urdu words, all of which are identity markers for Indian Muslims. But in the India of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, you can’t take any chances.

For 10 years, Mr. Modi’s Hindu-chauvinist government has vilified the nation’s 200 million Muslims as dangerous undesirables. Recently, he took that rhetoric to a new low during the six weeks of voting in India’s national elections — which are widely expected to win him a third consecutive five-year term — directly referring to Muslims as “infiltrators” in a country that he and his followers seek to turn into a pure Hindu state.

As offensive as that was, it is sadly familiar to Indian Muslims like me who — after a decade of denigration, violence and murder — live in daily fear of being identified and attacked, forcing us into self-denial to protect ourselves.

India is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. Islam came here around 1,300 years ago, and Indian Muslims descend from natives of this land who converted to Islam centuries ago. Many Indian Muslims fought against British colonization, and millions rejected the 1947 partition of the country into a predominantly Hindu India and a mostly Muslim Pakistan. India is our home, and people like me are proud patriots.

But Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalism has made us the targets in what might be the largest radicalization of people on the planet. Its seeds were planted with the founding in 1925 of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization that sought the establishment of a fully Hindu state in India and was inspired by the European fascism of that era. When Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party — a political offshoot of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — won elections in 2014 and he became prime minister, he and his followers saw it as the civilizational moment that Hindus had been waiting for. Mr. Modi was the god-king who would free Hindu civilization from centuries of domination, first by a series of Muslim rulers culminating with the Mughal empire that ruled India for around three centuries and then by the British colonizers who followed.

Islamophobia isn’t new to India, and Muslims also faced prejudice and recurring violence during the generations in which the liberal upper-caste Hindu elite dominated the nation’s secular democratic politics. But under Mr. Modi’s right-wing leadership, hatred of Muslims has effectively become state policy. India is now a country where police have been accused of standing by as Hindus attack Muslims, where the killers of religious minorities go unpunished and where Hindu extremists openly call for the genocide of Muslims.

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