The case of an interfaith couple who said they faced religious prejudice and harassment by an Indian passport official has spurred an outrage about growing religious hostility in India.
Tanvi Seth, a Hindu woman in the northern city of Lucknow, on Wednesday tweeted to Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj describing an episode of “humiliation” and “moral policing” at the passport office.
In a series of tweets, she said the officer “insulted” the couple for their inter-religious marriage.
The official, who denied them the passports, reportedly asked her Muslim husband, Anas Siddiqui, to convert for their marriage to be “accepted” and for her to change her Hindu surname.
Seth kept her maiden name after she married Siddiqui in 2007.
Following the furor created by Seth’s tweets, Lucknow’s regional passport officer Peeyush Verma on Thursday promised action against the official.
“A show cause notice has been issued to the officer Vikas Mishra who was accused of misbehaving with the couple … Religion of an applicant doesn’t matter while we’re processing passport applications,” Verma told reporters in Lucknow.
The couple were handed passports thereafter.
The passport officer, who was transferred to Gorakhpur, denied the couple’s claims.
“I myself have done an inter-caste marriage. I am not communal and respect and sit with people of all religions,” Mishra was quoted as saying by timesofIndia.com.
About 80 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people are Hindu and 14 percent Muslim, according to the latest census data.
Critics say the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Hindu nationalist agenda has polarised people.
In recent years, far-right Hindu groups with links to the ruling party have stepped up a campaign against so-called “Love Jihad” – a term for what they consider to be an alleged Islamist conspiracy to convert Hindu women through seduction, marriage and money.
The case of Hadiya, a woman from a Hindu family whose marriage to a Muslim man had been annulled by a lower court last year hogged headlines.
“This hasn’t happened in one day. Right-wing ideology has worked across India to spread this hate and their penetration is very deep now,” Shabnam Hashmi, founder of the non-profit group, Act Now For Harmony and Democracy, told Al Jazeera.
“With a right-wing government in power, the bigoted know they can get away with anything.
“This right-wing ideology aims total control over a woman’s life and her sexuality. The freedom of a woman to marry a man of her choice, an assertion of this kind by women, is not accepted by them,” she added.
On Thursday, Seth and Siddiqui addressed a press conference to thank the Indian foreign ministry while holding their new passports.
This is not an isolated incident. Social media sites in India are increasingly becoming home to bigotry and veiled threats against the country’s minorities.
This week, India’s largest telecom company, Airtel, faced an unusual request from a customer who said she did not want Muslims to handle her service requests.
“Dear Shohaib, as you’re a Muslim and I have no faith in your working ethics because Kuran may have different version for customer service, thus requesting you to assign a Hindu representative for my request,” an account handle called Pooja Singh tweeted.
The company seemingly obliged with her request assigning a non-Muslim to deal with her service request but put out a placating statement after a massive social media outrage.
“We never have and never will succumb to differentiating on the basis of religion, ethnicity or caste,” the company said.
Not everybody was convinced. Some like former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah said he was dumping the phone network that “condones such blatant bigotry”.
Dear @Airtel_Presence this conversation is genuine (I’ve seen the timeline myself). I refuse to pay another penny to a company that condones such blatant bigotry. I’m beginning the process of porting my number to another service provider & canceling my DTH & Broadband. pic.twitter.com/BZxJOaEsN6
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) June 18, 2018
Earlier in April, Indian ride-hailing firm Ola was forced to berate a man claiming to have cancelled his Ola cab because the driver was Muslim.
Abhishek Mishra, whose Twitter profile describes him as a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and a “Hindutva Thinker” tweeted on April 20: “Cancelled @Olacabs Booking because Driver was Muslim. I don’t want to give my money to Jihadi People.”
Ola, like our country, is a secular platform, and we don’t discriminate our driver partners or customers basis their caste, religion, gender or creed. We urge all our customers and driver partners to treat each other with respect at all times.
— Ola (@Olacabs) April 22, 2018
Mishra, whose followers on Twitter include several cabinet ministers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government, has not deleted the tweet.