There are about 1.4 billion people living in India with a population of 80% Hindus, 14% are Muslims, 2% are Christians, and 4% are either followers of other religions, or have no religion. Though, early India had strong traditions of cultic and religious syncretism yet, the religious freedom was auspiciously tolerated by the dissuasion of religion or nationalism from the politics of secular India till the rise of Hindutva. Since then, it has been experiencing serious “egregious religious violations” particularly, after 2002, Gujrat genocide.
Theoretically, the perception of unresponsive entities in the entity implicit theory of sociology (which in case of India is non-Hindu), endorses the stereo-types and narrow nationalism residing in the history of 19th century. Some Indians also began to speak of the tolerance of Hindus, but this also clearly privileged Hinduism over other religions. Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883), who founded the Arya Samaj in 1875, claimed to believe “in a religion based on universal values… above the hostility of all creeds…” However, as a champion of the Vedic religion, he sharply opposed all other religions. Similarly, his contemporary Ramakrishna (1836-1886) spoke of the equality of religions, but in his view “the Hindu religion alone is the Sanatana Dharma”.
Today, based on misguided and perpetual xenophobia, the heterogeneous power components of India are exponentially religion centric. Tagging particularly Muslims responsible for spreading Covid 19 pandemic in India and calling those “human bombs” are some of the unfortunate myopic rhetoric of an unsafe and intolerant India much contrary to their claims of 19th century. This has made India’s international relations detrimental. For instance, in the Middle Eastern countries, there are about 8.5 million Indians living, contributing around $55 billion annually as remittance to the economy of India from the Gulf countries alone. Moreover, the Indians serving in the Muslim countries are sending back around $120 billion to beef up the economy of India. Could the Hindutva regime sustain an economic and social backlash in this age of interdependence when the Arab public is voicing against such piercing strategies? The OIC has also already demanded from the Indian government to take an action on the intolerance towards the Muslims in India.
According to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), the religious freedom conditions are already experiencing a further downward swing since 2019, with religious minorities under continuous assault by the institutionalized national level politics by center to right Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) in India. Living in continuous fear, the enactment of Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and implementation of National Population Register (NPR), 1.9 million residents, both Muslims and Hindus, have been excluded, as illegal, particularly in the border regions of Assam.
Similarly, highlighting religious intolerance in India, the three United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs have already warned that exclusion from the NRC could result in “statelessness, deportation, or pro-longed detention. These migrants have been referred as “termites” to be eradicated, in the deplorable remarks of Home Minister Amit Shah. To perpetuate this discrimination and in order to protect Hindus, the BJP officials instrumentalised the corrective measure through CAA throughout the country. CAA would have the consequences of statelessness mainly on the Muslims reacted stridently by the Muslims of India in widespread protests even during President Trump’s visit in February 2020.
Notwithstanding the secular values or democratic stature, the BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath pledged “revenge” against anti-CAA protestors and stated they should be fed “bullets not biryani.” Earlier in December 2019, almost 25 people died in attacks against protestors and universities in UP alone, contesting CAA. According to reports, police action specifically targeted Muslims.
In fact, throughout 2019, the BJP’s discriminatory and violently demonizing enforcement of cow slaughter and anti-conversion laws had been humiliating for the Muslims living in India. The last nail was perhaps the November Supreme Court ruling on the Babri Masjid site. It created a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities. Mob lynchings of persons suspected of cow slaughter or consuming beef continued, with most attacks occurring within BJP-ruled states. Lynch mobs often took on overtly Hindu nationalist tones despite warnings given by the Indian Supreme Court.
What more could have been mortifying for the Muslims of India? The BJP government in its revocation of Article 370, which had granted the autonomous status to the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, stripped the Muslims off their rights. Strict security measures by the installation of more than 7 lac Indian armed forces, imposition of unbridled black laws, change of demography, longest information blackout in the human history, restricting the freedom of movement and assembly, cutting Internet and phone access, and arresting Kashmiri leaders, including religious leaders, have been a continuous feature of BJP’s non-democratic and non-secular nationalist governance.
USCIRF in its latest report has been able to finally highlight the unlawful restrictions on attending prayers and religious ceremonies as components of progrom. USCIRF is a Commission of the state of the United States, a close political, economic and strategic ally of India since the recent past. It enjoys a bi-partisan support of both the Democrats and the Republicans. The Report regards the intolerance, extremism and Islamophobia in India as a major threat to the Indian Constitution, violation of international norms and the international system. It also suggests implying restrictions on Indians vitiating extremism and non-plural society in India much to the dismay of India.
Impacting human rights, peaceful co-existence, inferiorizing and marginalizing minorities by a religiously racist government of India, with a hand on a nuclear button and third largest arms importing status, how would Prime Minister Modi offset the growing extremist and insane perception? Muslims in India are facing multi-dimensional threats; of terror attacks, humiliation and responses to the attacks, the economic deprivation and bracing with the Covid 19 pandemic. On the other hand, Islamophobia, talked about by Imran Khan in his speech at the UN General Assembly session in 2019, portraying the most dangerously spread out phenomenon of malignant racism, inflicting a dense impact on the socio-cultural and politico-legal harmony between the nations, communities and ethnic groups has gained recognition.
Modi needs to realize that, seizing power by instilling hatred with the use of institutions, ethnic, political or religious groups has a potential to transmigrate and adds to the destabilization and human security deficit, not welcomed in a world of interdependency and co-existence. The space created for a plural and secular India in the international system is already fast shrinking with even more bigoted ingress in the nation building to no fault of Indians. Pakistan has won the diplomatic and political front though after protracted failures of making the world realize. Its falsely portrayed perception of a ‘terrorist state’ (desired to be declared for long by India itself) is naturally diluted by RSS extremist phenomenon. Not to forget, the opening of Kartarpur Rahdari, to provide unhindered access to the Sikh community in India by Pakistan adds to its diplomatic might. Hence, the world has recognized and Modi must also surrender to Gandhian derivative of an inter-faith dialogue to offer panacea for the people of South Asia. The post-Covid 19 is certainly an era of soft power where dialogue and cooperation will have more fruits to bear.
*Shamsa Nawaz is working as a Senior Research Associate/ Editor at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad.