WhatsApp Forward: How Some of My Educated and Successful Indian Friends Succumbed to Anti-Muslim Bigotry

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“This is very false!” I replied to a post that was forwarded to one of my WhatsApp groups. Once again, the entire blame for a particular individual is placed on the entire community. Behind the anonymity of the news outlets, another misinformation article entered the family conversations about mundane issues. Now imagine this happening regularly – every day, constantly.

Oftentimes, people will stop following such stories to reliable sources – especially if the person sending them is highly reputable and well-educated. Suddenly this beast of lies and deception will have a life of its own and will continue to move forward. Every time a new follower identifies with his own misery, which is still inflatable, this beast adds one more feather to his hat.

Years ago, in August 1992, I was transferred from my Delhi office to the Mumbai headquarters as it was then known. I was both excited and worried about my new arrival in the city, but soon after I moved I found a place to stay with a mutual friend I met.

Then the Babri Masjid was demolished. It was one of the scariest events I’ve ever experienced. Our area was close to Muhammad Ali Road. Hindus and Muslims coexist peacefully here for years, with minor flashpoints occasionally interrupting daily lives. Yet Mumbai became the rallying point for the local government, and then suddenly I found that a lot of people I thought I knew had a deep prejudice against Muslims – things like “they don’t believe in birth control”. I insist on converting when marrying Hindus” added color to my speech.

When I tried to include logic in my arguments, I was labeled a ‘Muslim sympathizer’ – “Do you personally know if there are any Muslims who have more than 2 or 3 children?” (No) or “Do you know a Hindu Muslim married couple forced into restraint?” (Number). In fact, the fertility rate of Muslims has seen the sharpest decline among all religious communities in the past two decades. Data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) is run by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

I was warned that Sharia law would pass the US. When I tried to put logic into my arguments, I was labeled as a ‘Muslim sympathizer’ – “Do you personally know any Muslims who have more than 2 or 3 children?” (No) or “Do you know a Hindu Muslim married couple forced into restraint?” (Number).

As a child I was often told that I could marry anyone but a Muslim and I called it “I do what I want!” I’ve never paid much attention. But over the years these deep-rooted prejudices have grown – I’ve found that most people I’ve grown up with take the more radical path. They like to call themselves conservatives, but I don’t think conservatism is compatible with the idea that you treat your fellow men like pariahs.

Having experienced the 1992 Mumbai riots, when I first heard about the 2002 Godhra riots, I knew it was politically incited. I had concerns when Narendra Modi came to power and quickly moved away from him after the enactment of the CAA, which mostly excluded Muslim countries. And after that, the barrage of WhatsApp from family and friends began – how Sharia law infiltrates common law, how Muslims are patriotic and ‘jihadists’ and how eating beef is an insult to our culture. My rational explanations were denied.

I was warned that Sharia law would overtake the US legal system – they belittled my faith in our constitution. “Look what’s happening in India!” I’ve been told. “Why? Did you face any problems after your religious activities, or did someone stop or harass you?” I asked but didn’t get logical answers.

The misinformation started to pile up, and my every reaction caused more insults, including doubts about my mental state. Yet I did not back down. These educated people – engineers, doctors, armed forces personnel – somehow put aside their rational thinking and logic and embraced the idea that some of India’s citizens were being attacked. It has not even been accepted that Muslims have been a part of our history for nearly 1000 years. They made India their home and adapted its culture while giving it back to it. They fought the British to protect the only place they called home – but still fell short.

And these people keep silent about how the British systematically plundered India and never settled in India and passed their wealth back to the king. About 15-20 million Indians starved to death in 1943, as tons of wheat were exported to England during severe famine in India. In Jallianwala Bagh, 1000 protesters were killed by the British army within 10 minutes. None of these facts mattered.

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Not only that, but slowly I see history and fiction mingling – it becomes impossible to understand where facts end and fiction begins. As one prominent historian recently put it, “attempts are being made to justify the now popular, distorted history in defense of political ideology.” A mix of history and mythology became commonplace, and our epic poems, particularly the Ramayana, were touted as an accurate reflection of historical reality. According to The Indian Express, 1,334 changes were made between 2014 and 2018 in 182 textbooks published by NCERT between 2005 and 2009. Suddenly Aryans “originally from the Indian subcontinent”

In Rajasthan, school textbooks changed the outcome of the Battle of Haldighati, fought between Maharana Pratap and Akbar, from the historical record of a stalemate to depicting a victory for Pratap. It seeks to destroy the contributions and legacies of the Mughal Empire.

“A section of the right wing has given up on fake news, false history, and Hindu sense of loss and victimization,” says Delhi-based historian Rana Safvi. The dominant, political ideology of Hindutva is used as a tool to access power by producing a politically appropriate version of history and aims to unify Hindu votes.

George Orwell in his book “1984” “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It seems that we are rapidly moving towards this truth.


Shamita Tripathy is working as a part-time financial analyst after leaving her full-time corporate finance job. Particularly when it comes to women, children and marginalized people, she speaks out on social issues close to her heart and sometimes volunteers for local and political organizations. She likes to travel and she likes to paint with oil paints.