The Indian subcontinent comprises the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka and is home to more than 1.8 billion people; people belonging to various faiths. India for instance, is home to all the major religions in the world. A country based on secular principles, where the constitution provides the citizens the right to practice (or not) and profess the religion of their choice. Article 29 of the constitution mandates prohibition of discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, language or any of them while also prohibiting mixing of religion and state-power. However, the practice on ground doesn’t seem to be in sync with constitution makers’ idea of India.
The precedents set in the previous few weeks and months sadly make us think in a way that is disappointing and dystopian. Starting with the Hindu right-wing groups and vigilante’s behaviour in the millennial city of Gurugram, where it began with the disruption of Friday prayers. As if disruption of prayers weren’t enough to be considered as acts of hooliganism, the administration seemed too weak to act against the vigilantes. To add to the list of fiasco, Christmas celebrations at a private school in Pataudi was disrupted, again by the group of certain Hindu vigilantes, who alleged that it was an attempt to brainwash the children and convert them to Christianity. The police, in a typical (and horrifying) manner decided not to take any actions as “no complaints were lodged”.
But these disruptions were rather small when compared to the “splendid” events that were organised in Delhi and Haridwar by the Hindu Yuva Vahini, another vigilante group founded by Yogi Adityanath, and others. Maybe just delivering hate speech was enough considering time’s demands but it must have not felt interactive. Hence the organisers, many of whom had registered criminal cases against them, took care of it and hence made sure that the audience takes a pledge to do anything and everything, even kill, and change India’s constitution to make it a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Not enough to be called a hate speech? The speakers made the work easier for the police to act against them when they openly called for genocide of India’s Muslims. Yet, the Uttarakhand Police didn’t make any arrests. Their defence? They were keeping a “close eye” on the matter and “probing” the videos being circulated online.
The founder and director of Genocide Watch, Gregory Stanton, spoke about the genocidal meet at Haridwar, and alerted the world of an impending genocide in India. Stanton had predicted the 1994 Rwandan Genocide years before it occurred. He spoke about governmental inaction and silence as well as the recently enacted divisive policies: the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, as well as the Citizenship Amendment Act—both which passed in the same year.
The purpose of mentioning the Indian subcontinent in the opening of the article was to shift the reader’s focus on two cases; one from Pakistan and the other from Bangladesh. In Pakistan’s Sialkot a man was lynched to death by a group of men, only because of his alleged attempts to blasphemy. In Bangladesh, several incidents of violence against the Hindu minority were reported during the festival of Navratri. In both of these countries, the crimes were followed by condemnation from the constitutional office holders and the accused were arrested and subjected to judicial trial. None of the above has happened in the largest democracy of the world, as of now.
While it is true that the entire subcontinent has always faced an eminent threat from communal politics, which has cost thousands of lives over the last several years; it is important for India to steer through the challenge of harbouring a safe environment for its citizens. The problem arises when violence in the name of religion is normalised. Passing it off because its pre-election period is not a justification. Police inaction and lack of any sorts of condemnation from the government (and the society) on the violence along with the partisan behaviour of the police and the administration is disturbing.
Calling the vigilantes “fringe” is not done because it is these “fringe” elements who now occupy central stage in the Indian polity. A norm has been established for them: the more hateful and vile one can become, the better are their chances of being elected to office. This is reinforced when you have people with serious charges on them, being elected and moreover, promoted in the office. All of this, coupled with the bleak memory of many of us, inhibits India from having a utopian future.
Aditya Jha is a student pursuing Psychology from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Zaina Shahid Khan