India’s growing intolerance

India’s growing intolerance

By Shafkat Raina

In 1947, when India got its independence from British rule, the founding fathers of the nation adopted a secular constitution which guarantees every individual the right to profess and practice his or her own religion without any constraints from the state. The leaders of India, who at that time chose and adopted a secular constitution, knew that the Indian state is inhabited by a diverse section of people with different religions, cultures and ethnicities.  Another important reason for having a secular country was to provide safe space for those remaining Muslims of India who after partition did not migrate to Pakistan and preferred to stay back in India. By allowing a large Muslim population to stay back in India, India also wanted to counter Jinnah’s two nation’s theory as well. Unfortunately, the riots which took place in pre-partition India and during partition have had long term effects in both the countries, particularly in India where radical Hindus consider the Muslim faith as a foreign one which came from Arabian lands and also from central Asia.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the leading ideologue of hindutva, wrote a pamphlet in 1923 titled, ‘Who is a Hindu’/Essentials of hindutva’ where he defines what he refers to as citizenship for any Hindu or person who lives in the Indian sub-continent. Savarkar states that a Hindu is one who considers the land from Himalayas or the Indus to the Indian Ocean as his fatherland (Pitrubhumi) and Holy land (punyabhumi). This meant that only followers of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism can be ‘true citizens’. Since all the other faiths in India  – Zoroastrian, Christianity, Islam and Judaism — have their holy lands outside of the Indian sub-continent their  followers cannot be seen as true citizens.  The seeds of hatred which were sown in a few misguided Indian minds decades ago soon started showing its vicious effects.
MK Gandhi, who is also considered the father of the Indian nation, was among the first causalities of such a hatred-filled ideology. This ideology led to the unending cycle of violence which in India is still engulfing thousands of innocent lives on a regular basis. The 1992 Mumbai riots, 2002 Gujrat riots, 2013 muzaffarnagar riots and 2007 Khandhamal riots against Muslims and Christians are the reflection of this ideology, which considers others as second-class citizens.  Even today, there is no let down in the propagation of this ideology, Praveen Togadia, Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Prachi and Yogi Adityanath are the latest mouth pieces and exponents of this reprehensible thinking.
RSS, the right wing Hindu nationalist radical organization was founded in 1925 by KB Hegdewar. For its deviant teachings, it was first banned by the British government. In post-independence India it was banned in 1948 when Gandhi was assassinated by a former RSS member Nathuram Godse. The second time it was banned was during the 1975 emergency by the Indira Gandhi government. Then it was banned in 1992 after its volunteers in the guise of kaar sevaks demolished a 488 year old Babri Mosque at Ayodhya.  As a hardline radical Hindu organisation, the RSS did not directly participate in any elections either at the national level or at the state level. To make themselves presentable before the world community and before the secular sections of India and to reach the grassroot-level of Indian society, it adopted a multipronged strategy.  Hindu fundamentalism, also called as Hindutva, is driven by a group of organisations in India called the ‘Sang Parivar’ – the family. The RSS is an ultra-conservative group that demands unflinching patriotism and preservation of Hindu culture; the VHP is their religious arm; the BJP is the political arm and India’s main opposition party. There are smaller offshoots too, including a paramilitary wing called Bajrang Dal and the hardline Shiv Sena party in Mumbai, whose founder adored Hitler.
Till Nehru’s period, the role of RSS in Indian politics was negligible and even during Indira Gandhi’s time they were least active. To intermingle and to actively play its cards in Indian mainstream politics the RSS invested largely in BJP, the erstwhile Jan Sangh.  BJP professes the same ideology and thoughts as the RSS. In the 1984 general election, it only managed to win two seats in the Indian parliament. However, the movement mushroomed in 1984 when the VHP launched a campaign to reclaim a mosque it said was built on the birthplace of Lord Ram. In 1992, it incited activists to demolish the mosque, sparking off riots between Hindus and Muslims across India and propelling the BJP, which took advantage of the controversy, into the national consciousness and into government in 1998. After the demolition of the Babri mosque, the BJP got a political boost and it managed to form a government in 1998 which completed its full term. Again, in 2014, BJP won the elections with a full majority and thereby became the largest party in parliament.
Since the BJP assumed power at the centre, attacks on minorities and Dalits increased enormously. Although BJP itself has not taken any of the controversial issues like Ram Janam Bhumi, uniform civil code or abrogation of Article 370, which gives J&K a special status within the Indian constitution, but what is of great concern to the minorities and other civil rights groups in India is the criminal silence of the BJP government. It has failed to protect the minorities and is reluctant to take any action against rioters and hooligans. In India, the vicious environment of intolerance is making its way in almost every section of Indian society as the perpetrators took advantage of the inaction of the government machinery. And it is this frame of mind that has slipped into the Indian criminal justice system too. The police, investigating agencies, intelligence agencies and even the lower courts, under media and government pressure to show results after bomb blasts and killings, have found Muslim youths easy scapegoats. These young men are rounded up even if Muslim communities are themselves the targets of Hindu terror. They are put away in jails without evidence, tortured without regard to their rights and even convicted by courts on the basis of their so-called confessions. Their future is destroyed and their families are made destitute.
With this militant Hindutva on the rise, Indian secularism is clearly on the decline. In the near future, if the BJP government does not control such elements, then this wave of hatred will engulf the whole of Indian society and destroy its social fabric and composite culture.

—The writer is a research scholar

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