The weaponization of information against India’s religious minorities

Media disinformation as a political tool is no new phenomenon. Rather than bring citizens together in times of grief, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a myriad of perplexities to this notion of misconstrued information, especially as societies scramble to navigate these unchartered waters.

Indian Muslims constitute 15% of the Indian population – around 200 million people – effectively making up India’s largest minority group. Yet, for decades they have faced discriminatory socio-economic barriers hindering their ability to reap the benefits of a thriving Indian society, and most recently amplified by an increasingly politicised media.

As India grapples with the virus, Indian Muslims have consequentially borne the brunt of misleading content being diffused at an alarming rate, accusing them of being supposed “super-spreaders”, notably following a three-day Islamic Tablighi Jamaat missionary group gathering in March this year, when the virus was first taking hold in India.

Very quickly, rumors were spewing that Indian Muslims were intentionally infecting Hindus, from spitting in their food to infiltrating their places of work. By April, a BBC analysis found that misinformation targeting Indian Muslims had spiked.

Yet, the shameful spreading of such information is not strictly confined to Indian Muslims, but Muslims worldwide, as many in India were quick to wrongfully link them to the spread of COVID-19, all the while churning an anti-Muslim narrative on social media.

Now more than ever, the quality of the information we process has never been more critical. The spiralling of false information is a threat to an inclusive democracy, one that Indians of all confessions have worked so hard to achieve.

Indian Muslims are no strangers to the weaponization of information – if anything, they have become used to it. Fake news and misinformation surrounding Indian Muslims have been around for generations, fuelled by an ever-growing sense of disdain towards this community.

Naturally, the information age has allowed for such warmongering to gain considerable ground and traction – communal tensions now know no borders. Sadly, anyone who wishes to partake in the peddling of misinformation can do so in the confines of their own home.

This explains why the pandemic has simply renewed long-standing stigmas against Indian Muslims, intensified by social media platforms and a growing sense of Hindu nationalism across India.

There is no denying the detrimental impact false information has on those at the receiving end. Stoking hostility and hatred against Indian Muslims can no longer go unchecked. India’s largest minority community must come together and fight for those too commonly demonised by the media.

This is one of the reasons behind the formation of Indian Muslims for Progress and Reforms (IMPAR) earlier this year, precisely at the height of the pandemic. By shifting perceptions and addressing the challenges faced by a majority of Indian Muslims, this organization hopes to bring about a lasting change whereby the image of Indian Muslims, at home and abroad, can improve.

IMPAR, like many other organisations of its kind, has set out to brand a message of hope and unity – one that can only be achieved by working as members of a single, collective entity – this means cross-cutting collaboration between thought-leaders, civil society, non-profit organisations as well as policymakers, irrespective of the political party.


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