The Rising Religious Intolerance

Published : Jun 16, 2018 11:09 am | By: M D Sridharan

In the recent times there has been a spate of protests over religious intolerance and the country has been witnessing a tremendous rise in the violence over different faiths. There appears to be a concerted effort by a section of the religious heads as well as opposition parties to go after Hindutva?

“Bharat”- the nation was emanated from the philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”’ which in Sanskrit means “Whole world is one family”. The concept of “Universalism” is deep rooted in the ethos of Hinduism. 

The land of Bharat is a land of spirituality and philosophy and  was the birthplace of four of the world's religions:  Hinduism, Budhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

History shows that what was once a flourishing Hindu country was invaded and ruled  by the Mughals first and later by the  British. From the middle of the 16th century when the Mughal emperor conquered Delhi to the exit of the Britishers in the middle of 20th century, the country  was ruled by foreign invaders.

The rulers of Bharat spread their religion across the country by various means. Some rulers systematically practiced forcible conversion of Hindus as a result  thousands of Hindus were left with no option but to choose between death and conversion.  Thus, the country had a sizable population of both Muslims and Christians by the time we got independence in 1947. Also, the land of Hindus got anglicised to Indus and finally became India.  

The foreign rulers who ruled India for centuries were parochial in their approach and wanted to convert Hindus into their religion.  Though  the  rulers succeeded in making  both Islam and Christianity flourish in the land of Hinduism,  all faiths co-existed  by and large. Besides, Islam and Christianity,  different religions arrived at different times and the followers of   Zorastrianism, Bahaism and Judaism also lived in the country.

India is characterised by the diversity of religious beliefs and practices. The greatness of India lies in its diversity. India is a secular state by the 42nd amendment to the Constitution in 1976, meaning that all religions are treated equally by the state.

No doubt, in the evolution of any nation, the religion plays an important role. So does in India’s culture. Religious diversity and religious tolerance are both established in the country by the law and custom; the Constitution of Indiahas declared the right to freedom of religion to be a fundamental right.

India has been a country of religious pluralism. We take pride in being a multi religious, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic country in the world that has been home for more than a billion people who have successfully managed to coexist all these years.

The identity of India has emerged through a long drawn process of confluence and co-existence of multiplicity in culture, faith and language. Unity in diversity  is what makes India special.

Despite the majority population being Hindus, history clearly shows how for centuries the people have lived in harmony with people of other religious faiths. That is because Hindus not only traditionally practiced tolerance but also exhibited the same to people professing other faiths.

History also reveals that even, at a time when the country was ruled by the Mughal Kings and Britishers, by and large people lived in perfect harmony. Except, the widespread violence that erupted between the  Hindus and Muslims during the great migration that divided India and Pakistan, there have not been many incidents of communal clashes during the pre independence era.

But, in the recent times the country has been witnessing signs of religious intolerance. Now the kind of violence that keep erupting at a regular intervals, raises the fundamental question: Has India lost its  unique character of “tolerance”?  Or is it  a part of  planned instigation by political parties to create an atmosphere among the citizens of the country? Or is it a result of  people’s  growing hatred towards  the followers of different religions? Or is it due to the anti-Hindu bigotry?

Politics over Religion

Religion is relevant to life. Every religion guides people towards enlightenment. Every religion has certain rituals and practices to offer its followers and guide them. There is no religion in the world that advocates violence.

Today the upsurge in intolerance has reached an alarming proportion. Indeed it is fuelling greater divide among the communities as well as the society. Further, continuous hate speeches by leaders with vested interests acts as the fodder for the attacks against communities and religions. The religious intolerance instigated by few fringe groups have often resulted in widespread violence. Manifestations of such attacks have shaken the secular character of the country and threaten to disrupt peace on the whole. As such people do not want to be divided on the basis of religion, but politicians do it for their survival. A series of incident one after the other, raised the  question of  increasing intolerance across the country.

Cow Vigilantes

In 2015 the massacre of a  Muslim old  man in a village called Dadri in Uttar Pradesh by a mob for allegedly consuming beef has intensified the protest against BJP. The  cow vigilantes claimed it as part of “Gau Raksha” and  the right-wing Hindutva forces used it to consolidate their support. While the BJP used the incident to  unify Hindus, the opposition used it to expose the vulnerability of the minority community – which remains in the firing line of cow vigilantes came out with a new term “cow terror”. They blamed that the  gau rakshaks enjoyed the tacit support from the powerful ruling brigade.

Award Wapsi

Subsequently, scores of well known artists and writers, took the country by storm. One after the other, the distinguished personalities  returned the prestigious awards such as Sahitya Akademi and other highly reputed awards given by the Government of India in recognition of their contribution to the society.  As many as  40  eminent personalities that include  authors, poets, playwrights, filmmakers and scientists  returned their  prestigious awards to mark their protest against the rising intolerance in the country, sparking a debate on this issue.

In a democracy every one has a right to express their discontent and protest. Agreed.  But a closer look will reveal how can it be a mere coincidence that the conscience of all the distinguished personalities  will get an awakening  at a same time and all decide to return their hard earned awards bestowed upon them in honour of their work?  While the opposition parties stated that the acts of eminent persons reflect the true state of affairs of the government, the government hit back saying that is the handi-work of  some groups with  vested interests.

Not In My Name

Carrying placards saying 'Not In My Name', ' No place for Islamophobia' and 'Shed hate not blood', scores of people, the  newly formed group – “Not In My Name” came out on the horizon the country's activism. The group  staged protest against the spate of targeted lynching of Muslims in across India . “Not In My Name” group maintained that the attacks on Muslims are part of a pattern of systemic violence against Dalits, Adivasis, and other disadvantaged and minority groups across the country. The group held candle marches  for the victims of cow vigilantism and used pressure mounting tactics to embarrass the central government. Though the “Not In My Name” campaign was popular, rather than fighting as an unbiased secular group, the group acted clearly in favour of a minority section of the society and is tilted heavily against the mainstream population.

Kathua Rape

The chilling abduction, rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu shook the nation in January,2018. The investigations revealed that the girl, from the Muslim Bakarwal community, was abducted and kept in a 'devisthan', a small temple. The  girl was sedated, raped repeatedly, and then bludgeoned to death The aim of the kidnapping was to scare and drive away the nomadic Gujjar and Bakarwal communities from the Hindu dominated area. Unfortunately the  horrendous crime  also had the  political backing.  The arrests of the accused led to protests by the  local groups.  The protests in  support the accused was attended by two ministers from the BJP which sparked widespread outrage across the country finally forcing the legislatures to resign.   

Bhima Koregon

Indeed time and again, individuals and hate speech mongers who spew venom are backed by political parties for their electoral gains.  Recently, the Maharashtra police who were investigating the Bhima Koregaon violence since it erupted on the first day of 2018, found strong evidence against Elgaar Parishad which had links with Naxals and said to have orchestrated the Bhima Koregaon violence. Further investigation by the Police along with the Maharashtra Anti Terror Squad revealed the chilling evidence that  the grand old party has been supporting violence and Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid acted as conduits between Congress and Maoists. Now, BJP has accused that the national party has been  funding terror organisation and is inciting violence to break the country.

Church and Politics

The Gujarat assembly elections in December,2017,   saw the Congress fighting under Rahul Gandhi with renewed energy. The election campaign not only witnessed  a spirited Rahul Gandhi taking on Modi, but also underlined the importance of religion.

Rahul Gandhi took a leaf out of BJP’s “Hindutva’ agenda and visited as many as 20 temples and sent out the message that Congress is not against “Hindus”. At the same time  Christians did get a dictum from their religious masters.  The Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Gandhinagar, Thomas Macwan, appealed to all Christians in Gujarat  to save the country from “nationalist forces” as its “democratic fabric” was at stake, amidst a growing “sense of insecurity” among the minorities. Macwan had appealed to the Christians to organise prayer services at parishes and convents, “so that we may have such people elected to the Gujarat Assembly, who would remain faithful to the Indian Constitution and respect every human being without any sort of discrimination”. In Gujarat’s political circles, the appeal was seen as an indirect call to vote against the ruling BJP.

Several months after the Gujarat episode,  the archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto took the mantle and asked Christians to fast every before 2019 LS polls "for the nation".  The archbishop, in his letter, said, "We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere, which poses threat to democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation." 

Couto's comments were criticised by the BJP, with party president Amit Shah stressing that it was "not appropriate" to polarise people around religion. 

While Union Home minister Rajnath Singh said India did not discriminate on the basis of religion or sect, Minority Affairs  minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi asked the archbishop to come out of his "prejudiced" mindset and asserted that minorities had progressed at a fast pace under the current government.  But, promptly opposition leaders Sitaram Yechury,  N Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata Banerjee supporting Couto.

Days after Delhi archbishop, Goa-Daman top priest declared 'our Constitution is  in danger'. Father Filipe Neri Ferrao has said  "Our Constitution is in danger, it's a reason why most of people live in insecurity. Having this concern in mind, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has recently declared in its Plenary Assembly that the Church in India should diligently promote and stand by values like secularism, freedom of speech and freedom to practice one's religion enshrined in Indian Constitution," it read. In a letter addressed to Christians, he said the constitution should be understood better as general elections are drawing closer.

Is India becoming intolerant?

Despite the fact that the religious customs and practices represents  a distinctively Indian culture, what every Indian proudly claims as “ unity in diversity”,  political parties in the country act otherwise. As minorities play a decisive role in deciding the electoral fortunes of any political party, the political parties often indulge in appeasement tactics. Appeasement guides intolerance. Instigating people on the basis of religion leads to law and order problem.

The political stakes over repeated violence and in certain places resulted in  mob lynching have acted as the perfect fodder for the opposition parties and they saw  in them an opportunity to tarnish both Modi’s and BJP’s image. No doubt, the ruling BJP  is facing increased scrutiny on the rising religious intolerance over the past months.   Consequently many reports emerged that the entire episode was a propaganda created by Congress and its allies to  project the ruling BJP as a communal party, and instigate people using the religious cord.

Infact  intolerance for Modi started before 2014 elections. It was pathetic to see that even educational institutions are not beyond politics. JNU is the perfect example as result of which the country has witnessed the rise of  the likes of  Omar Khalid and Khaniya Kumar. It is highly  debilitating enough that certain religious violence become  national issues overnight.

While the opposition parties accuse BJP of demonising minorities, BJP cites several incidents of anti Hindu bigotry. Congress cashed in on the opportunity by alleging that the Indian  Muslims and Christians  feel more insecure,  under BJP rule. But, when Churches and Mosques openly issues dictums against the nation ,  why do the opportunity parties , who claim to be thoroughly secular,  refrain from condemning  such prejudices? Because, firstly they immensely  stand to gain and secondly  the fear of the minorities galvanising against them is huge.

Opposition parties are increasingly using religion for settling scores to suit their political agenda. Just because, our constitution provides a vibrant democracy they conveniently push their narratives and are toeing a negative line and that results in brewing violence. Individuals who spew venom and hates perches are promptly backed without giving a thought that such acts not only bring disrepute to the religion but also to the nation as well. It looks like that there is no political will to curb this menace but to continue to instigate and instil fear in the minds of the people.

On the whole they leave the core issues untouched like education, employment, water, electricity, roads and improving the overall quality of life, untouched.  Rather, they use religion to divide people . Is it a true spirit of secularism? Or is it fear mongering? Is mixing religion with politics new trend? Why do the minorities feel insecure? Where is it coming from? At the same time, despite the majority population being Hindus, still there are states in which Hindu population is in minority.  While, the Muslims and Christians  enjoy the minority status  in other places, the respective state governments are not willing to provide the benefits to  Hindu minorities.

Of course, many critics would say that religious intolerance is not only confined to India. Countries like the US, France, UK, Canada are grappling with this phenomenon. But, the fact remains that most of  these countries by and large practice one faith unlike India. But, we have proved to the world that we have continuously exhibited tolerance towards other faiths for centuries. We really boast of our rich culture and tradition and religious diversities.

It seems barely a day goes by without one politician or the other  putting a foot in his mouth with bizarre public pronouncements that inflame an already volatile state of affairs. It is time to shun those politicians who don't practice or encourage divisive politics.

It is time that both the government of India and the people need to be rid of their religious prejudices and must condemn the leaders as well as the fringe groups that militates against the united India.

If India wants to preserve its secular fabric, incidents of religious intolerance should be nipped in the bud.  In order to make India a truly secular country, it should treat all citizens equally irrespective of their religious beliefs without any preferential treatment. True secularism lies in the spirit of love and tolerance which can effectively  trump hate and violence. 

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