Colonial Europe’s Legacy – amidst uncertainty and instability, what does it mean to be Indian?

The history of modern India is closely related to the colonial period, with Great Britain governing the country from 1858 until India’s independence in 1947. There were also other territories that were interested in regaining power from the British, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Burma. Unfortunately, throughout history, many countries that have been subjected to foreign intervention and subsequent decolonisation have also experienced periods of violence, and sometimes even genocide.

By Giulia Barjona / 09.11.2021

When the British Crown set up its authority in India, different religions had already coexisted in the country for a long time. When Europeans came across religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism in India, they added Christianity to its list of religions. Currently one of the most densely populated countries in the world, India is home to a huge variety of cultures and religions. However, since 2019 the balance among India’s population has been destroyed.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is an Act from 2019, and is still in force today. It allows citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to seek asylum in India to avoid religious persecution. This new law has worried the people of India and their opinions regarding it are divided. On the one hand, this law makes it easier to acquire citizenship, but on the other, it applies to all religions exept Islam. This means that Indian citizenship will be granted to all religious minorities – Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, but not to Muslims, of which there are around 200 million.

The law allows those already living in India to finally become citizens. However, a long term stay in India, unfortunately, does not give any person the right to Indian citizenship. At the same time, the decision taken by the radical right-wing government has caused strong protests, which caused a polarisation in opinions and actions among Hindus and even Muslims themselves. There are three main points of disagreement.

Firstly, the government should remain neutral in religious matters, but the CAA ignores this principle. Yet, for Indians reading the news on their phones (the most popular way of receiving information today), stories on the infringement of Muslim rights are always top news stories. There have already been cases when Hindus have received incentives from the authorities to contribute to the destruction of Muslim culture. For example, permission to build a place of worship on the site of a mosque destroyed by Hindu extremists.

Secondly, the anti-Muslim wave comes not only from the Supreme Court, but also from below, so much so in fact that there are those who are offering Muslims who do not feel safe in India the chance to seek refuge in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The anti-Muslim hatred is growing alongside the growing influence of the most extreme of Muslim circles, which leaves some Hindus with the impression that Muslims are growing stronger than the locals due to their growing number.

Thirdly, there are those who generally oppose this law who believe that India is already overpopulated. If foreigners are allowed to gain a foothold in the territory, the population problem will only worsen and the situation will be impossible to adjust.

What is the opinion of those who are affected by this law? How are they reacting?

Despite the constant attacks and persecution promised by one Hindu leader, Muslims are not afraid. They have decided not to take a tough stance and to not unite to respond as one to this challenge. However, these are not the only reasons. The division caused by the existence of castes and pronounced regional characteristics should be also taken into account. Additionally, Muslims prefer to act calmly to cope with problems and to silently endure what is happening until there is no real threat to them. In this situation they believe in the supremacy of the Constitution and in their own documents to prove that they have been in India for a long time, even though they know that the police and the courts have turned against them.

In this case, it should be asked: Why did the current Modi government decide “only now” to expel Muslims from India or complicate their lives? Some believe that the reason should be sought in the huge economic debt and the lack of recovery after the presidential election.

As everyone knows, India is a very poor country where wealth is concentrated in the hands of certain sections of society. It is also worth considering that until the 1940s, India was under the control of Great Britain. Were those who arrived in India before decolonisation in 1947, also considered Indians? It is difficult to define and describe the identity of the country, especially when it was under colonial rule for two centuries. One thing is for sure, however: different religions have coexisted with each other in India for a long time. Despite any disagreements there have been between them, in the past their common enemy was always “Queen Victoria’s power.” Today there is no longer a clear culprit to blame, so instead a new culprit must be found and “defeated”  in order to put all the pieces of this collapsing country back together.

Overpopulation, the old power hierarchy, poverty, and a new form of industrial exploitation represent a precarious balance in a country that is just getting back on its feet. Meanwhile, India is abandoning the idea of opening up to the world outside its borders, a reluctance confirmed by its extreme right.

So how is it possible for India to balance such different histories?


Giulia Barjona (Italy)
Studies: Pedagogical Sciences
Languages: Italian, English, French
Europe is... an immense source of inspiration and discovery.


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