On 8 February, a video clip surfaced of a lone girl in a burqa surrounded by boys in saffron shawls. As they heckled her, she raised a hand to say "Allahu Akbar!"
A testament of India's religious identity crisis.
Just last month, the Government Women's Pre-University College in Karnataka, banned the hijab for its students. If you trace back another month, there was the "Bulli Bai" incident where Muslim women found themselves being auctioned on an app. In fact, the longer you look, the more you will find incidents attesting to the phenomenon of the growing anti-Muslim narrative in India.
Earlier, on 6 February, social media was taken up by storm when a footage from Lata Mangeshkar's funeral was released. It showed Shahrukh Khan praying.
It was a seemingly innocuous gesture that spiralled things out of control. In a matter of hours, he was accused of spitting at her remains. In truth, he was simply praying for the departed soul as per the Islamic faith.
Even for the mobs on the internet, this kind of outpour of outrage seems like a stretch, perhaps. However, and unfortunately, just a glance at the general trend in India makes this sort of reaction unsurprising.
As clear as day, all these incidents in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "secular" India amount to one thing: islamophobia. For the Muslims of India, it is an inescapable reality that has pervaded their every waking hour.
It doesn't matter if it seems like things are improving in India, the wheels of hate are constantly turning and now it is impossible to control it. The seeds of Islamophobia have been painstakingly planted since 2014 when Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.
While Modi plays a more dual role, the BJP is used as his instrument to carry on his ideology of hate.
Modi likes to play the part of the secular leader praising Indian Muslims or claiming that terrorism has no religion. But, at the same time, his party politics, that of Hindu Nationalism, Hindutva, is founded on the othering of Muslims.
In its essence, Hindutva equates "Indianness" with Hinduism. A common tactic is to make comparisons between the revered ancient figures in Indian history with contemporary leaders, all the while uniting them under the same Hindu banner. Of late, this definition of Hindutva has extended to include Buddhism and Sikhism as part of the Indian identity, but with the pointed exclusion of Islam.
One of the most striking portrayals of Modi's ideology was the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019, where the BJP offered to fast track citizenship for religious minorities in neighbouring countries, but not for Muslims. It had sparked the deadly Delhi riots in 2019-2020.
So, in 2022, when a college in Karnataka bans the hijab, there isn't as much moral outrage amongst the public in India. This is exactly the ideology that the public has been consuming en masse since 2014 - it started in subtle, gradual portions but within a few short years, Hindutva's impact became loud, clear and deadly.
Priyanka Gandhi tweeted, "Whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat, a pair of jeans or a hijab, it is a woman's right to decide what she wants to wear," in regards to the ban.
Priyanka's tweet exposes the biases in Indian society. Because, while the bikini (a common sight in Bollywood films) does not seem to threaten the Indian identity as much as the hijab, Christians wearing crosses and Sikhs wearing their turbans, do not pose any threat to the Indian identity.
The hijab or dua (a form of private prayer) should also be commonplace, given that Muslims constitute approximately 204 million citizens of India's 1.3 billion total population.
Islam has existed in India since the 7th century. But it is now considered offensive to the Indian sentiment. What has changed?
Hindutva has been around for more than a 100 years. Followers of Hindutva were on the fringes for most of it; Jawaharlal Nehru had even banned the group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who were disciples of Hindutva. Since the late 1970s, they gained prominence but it was with BJP that this form of nationalism gained a strong footing in Indian society.
What has changed is that hate is no longer a secret.
India (and Bangladesh) has long existed under the pretence of secularism and, barring a few cases, it was possible for all religions to coexist. But now religious fundamentalism has eroded all sense of our regional identity, one that we have shared since the dawn of time.
Religious fundamentalism is, now, the law of our lands and co-existence may be a thing of the past. At least, that is what has been constantly preached to us for the past decade or so.
The Karnataka hijab ban may be against the religious freedom granted in the Indian Constitution under Article 25 but the lines are allowed to be muddied when it comes to Islam, it seems. BJP's Amit Malviya on Wednesday tweeted on the topic, "Is the right to wear a hijab a Constitutional right? Religious freedom under Art 25 is subject to Constitutional morality and the State can legitimately restrict it on grounds of public order and morality. What if women in uniformed services start demanding the right to wear hijab?"
The girls of Karnataka are embroiled in a fight with the college authorities. Not only has this matter been taken to court but the girls themselves have had confrontations with the staff and some other Hindu students.
The issue is still tangled up in court and how it plays out is anyone's guess. Will these girls be forgotten, ironically like the countless perpetrators of hate crimes in India? Or for once, will the hijab become recognised as part of the Indian identity?
The recent past does not inspire much hope.