Muslims in India form the largest religious minority in the country. To use the word ‘minority’ for them, therefore, is misleading: they are the third-largest Muslim population anywhere in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.

But just how oppressed are Muslims in India? For Pakistanis – and particularly for those whose families migrated from India – this question is a source of endless curiosity, not the least because the answer either justifies or undermines the very notion of the Pakistani nation-state. If Indian Muslims, in fact, are oppressed then – regardless of Pakistan’s countless internal troubles – the people of Pakistan can still breathe a sigh of relief that they live in a land of their own. On the flip side, if Indian Muslims are not oppressed, then what exactly was the Partition trauma about?

Saba Naqvi has documented the subcontinent’s syncretic traditions in her book In Good Faith: A Journey in Search of an Unknown India. She highlights many instances of boundary crossing that regularly take place across religious divides despite the best efforts of right-wing forces. For the most part, however, scholarship on religious communities in India has continued to repeat the notion that the most significant divide in that country – and the one that creates conflict most frequently – is the one between Hindus and Muslims. While this simplifies a much more complex reality, it subtly reinforces the logic of the two-nation theory.

Books such as “Hasan Suroor’s” India’s Muslim Spring: Why is Nobody Talking about It? Deny the vast diversity that exists among Indian Muslims in terms of region, class, sect, gender, and caste.

His work, instead, focuses largely on middle-class, urban, north Indian Muslims as he argues that there has been an “awakening” among India’s Muslims which is driving them away from their supposed historical insularity and conservatism. In order to underscore his argument, he implies that there are two categories dividing the Muslim population of India: “good Muslims”, who are liberal and moderate in their political and religious leanings, and “bad Muslims”, who are conservative and fundamentalist in their outlook. Such a division is not just without any scholarly basis, it is also troubling as it drastically reduces the myriad political and religious views prevalent among Muslims living in different parts of India.

Similarly, “Salman Khurshid”, a prominent Congress politician since the 1980s, has recently made his own attempt to diagnose the problems of Indian Muslims. His book At Home in India: A Restatement of Indian Muslims is more a memoir than an academic study, but it suffers from a similar malaise as some other books, in that it attempts to represent all Indian Muslims through the experience of a few members of the urban elite. Much of the book is dedicated to revisiting debates over Muslim personal law – which preoccupied many writers throughout the 1980s and the 1990s – along with recounting of the history of Aligarh Muslim University, the quintessential bastion of the north Indian Muslim elite.

Though both Suroor and Khurshid raise the issue of a growing sense of marginalization among Indian Muslims, neither is able to deal with this question in a meaningful way because their work is not sufficiently grounded in field research. Both are also, sadly, apologetic in tone, taking great pains to prove that Muslims are loyal subjects of the Indian state — a strategy used by minority elites to secure their position within the power structure since the colonial period.

Fortunately, such simplistic approaches to the study of Indian Muslims are waning. A new generation of scholars is emerging from different disciplines whose work is grounded in empirical research. Two recent books, for instance, shed light on the complexity and diversity among Muslims in India through the lens of political history.

The first, Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India: Monuments, Memory, Contestation by Hilal Ahmed takes an innovative approach to understanding the evolution of Muslim politics in north India. His approach is important in that it does not take the category of Muslims as a given; rather, it traces the construction of this political category as a process that is both contested and continuously evolving. The book also moves away from simplistic binaries such as communal/secular that have plagued many other discussions of Indian Muslims.

Though many Muslims in India occupy various important positions in the state and the society – which mostly depends on where they come from and what are their class, caste, and gender – a growing sense of marginalization among Muslims across India is hard to deny. This sense of marginalization has been steadily increasing since the rise to prominence of Hindu right-wing ideologies and organizations during the 1980s, when the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi issue was used to sharpen religious divides across India. While the occurrence of communal violence has declined since the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, the alienation felt by religious minorities – including Muslims and Christians – has continued to increase, particularly after the victory of Narendra Modi as prime minister in the 2014 election.

Finally, to return to the fraught question in the beginning: just how oppressed are Indian Muslims? Indian Muslims are undoubtedly facing increasing insecurity and marginalization – particularly as Hindu right-wing forces become more powerful – they are still in a more secure position than religious minorities in Pakistan.

While Hindu nationalist groups are waging a concerted campaign against all religious minorities in their efforts to Hinduism India, Islamist forces are doing the same and even worse to religious minorities on this side of the border.

Additionally, India is still officially a secular state where the rights of religious minorities are enshrined in the constitution, despite Modi government’s best efforts to the contrary. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Pakistan where the Objectives Resolution solidified a second-class constitutional status for non-Muslim Pakistanis and where the definition of ‘Muslim’ itself is continuously shrinking. Rightly or wrongly, for many secular-minded Indians who are concerned about the deteriorating situation of religious minorities in their country, Pakistan stands as a warning of what might be in store for them in the not-too-distant future if they fail to quickly correct their path.