The country where heterodoxy and pluralism were its integral part has again started feeling uneasy with a surge in communal fight among different religious communities and growing religious fundamentalism among the people. Even some mainstream media and right-wing political groups left no stone unturned to give the Coronavirus crisis a communal color when they found that a congregation of Tablighi Jamaat took place on March 13-14 amid the spread of Coronavirus. The communal furore with religious fundamentalism time and again strikes the political currents disturbing the social harmony and when people start safeguarding their religious interests.
However Fundamentalism and Communalism connotes different meanings there usage is often associated with tension between two or more religious communities. ‘Fundamentalism’ primarily means the revival of traditional and orthodox believes pertaining to any religion the influence of which has diminished in the modern world. ‘Communalism’ on the other hand is the consolidation of the people belonging to a particular faith or religion and putting them under the umbrella of common identity. ‘Religious Fundamentalism’ aims to revive the age old orthodox and conservative beliefs written in scriptures where questioning them is termed as a violation of religion itself. Religious fundamentalism becomes communal when members of a particular religion ordain their own beliefs and ideas as superior over the other one. This results in communal hatred between people of different faiths leading to violence and bloodshed that we recently witnessed in the North-East Delhi Riots.
India has always been a land of pluralism and heterodoxy with the echoing ethos of ‘unity in diversity’. Here the emperor Ashoka preached Buddhism, persecuted Jews, Baha’is and Parsis were given refuge, AlBeruni’s (an ancient Iranian Scholars) translation of Sanskrit scriptures into Persian propagated the idea of religious pluralism around the world, Akbar’s ‘Din-ilahi’ (God’s religion) sought to adapt good points from all different religions. In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we are told that Yajnavalkya (scholar and teacher) faces tough question from a woman scholar Gargi in front of many pundits to which Yajnavalkya politely answers. Such a legacy of multi-culturalism and debate has been distorted by fundamentalist thoughts in modern day India. Although these communal seeds were sown by Britishers to rule over us but our politicians used this method to remain in power and spread communal hatred among people.
According to a study of Pew Research Centre, India experienced high levels of religion related social hostilities in the past decade with much of the attacks targeted against religious minorities and Dalits. In recent years there has been a surge in mob attacks by Hindu vigilante groups against Dalit and Muslim consumers and traders in the beef, dairy and leather industries.
Communal disturbance between different religions is not a new phenomenon, it is present from the days of national struggle for independence. Communal Riots after Independence, Genocide of Sikhs in 1984, from the Exodus of Kashmiri Pundits due to Islamic Fundamentalism to the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 there have always been incidents which gave the spark to the rise of religious fundamentalism in India. Fundamentalism could be seen as a reaction of a religious community due to suppression of their political, social or economic voice. The world saw the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism due to the suppression of their powers and views in middle-east by the west. Muslim extremist groups use Islamic Jihad as a weapon to brainwash young Muslims for their political gains which has become a menace for the humanity. The incident of 9/11 by an Islamist Fundamentalist Bin Laden influenced the rise of Hindu Right Wing in India with more vigor. According to an article written by Sunil Raman ‘The New Threat to Islam in India’ in The Diplomat, he says that there is a surge in the converts of Indian Muslims by hard-line Wahabis and Salafis of Saudi Arabia. To quote him, “The growing pressure being applied by Wahabis and Salafis, pushing their ultra-conservative ideology, has disturbed sections of Sunnis (in a majority among the Muslims) in India. A few months ago some of its leaders sought government intervention to check its spread”. The number of Salafis mosque increased in the IT capital Bangalore in recent years which preach ideas repugnant to age old Islamic traditions of India.
This fundamentalism of Islam in recent years has instilled fear in the minds of Hindu right-wing groups. They blame the previous governments for not interfering in the funding of such fundamentalist groups. Their reaction is accompanied by communal ideology with the use of violence and hatred against Muslim community. Right-wing Hindu militant groups gets the support of the government in power many a times getting away with after committing heinous crimes. Mob-lynching of Pehlu Khan always finds a mention as a gruesome attack on a man by the people of a right-wing militant group promoting cow-vigilantism. The killing of M. M. Kalburgi (a Secularist, scholar of Vachana Literature) is not to forget, after his death member of a militant Hindu group tweeted: “Mock Hinduism and die a dog’s death.” There have been many such incidents of murder of secularists and those who criticized the Modi regime or Hindutva (an ideology promoting Hindu Nationalism). According to Factchecker.in, there have been 168 attacks by Hindu extremists in the name of cow-vigilantism against minorities.
In 2018 the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom found a continuing downward trend in religious freedom in India. The mainstream media news channels are often seen praising the current regime without any criticism. Media is used as a tool to propagate communal agenda to disturb the religious harmony. The recent incident of congregation of ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ amid the Corona emergency made us look like that the entire Muslim community is responsible for the spread of the virus in India and was termed as ‘Corona Jihad’ by certain media channels. This represents the highest levels of religious intolerance in India. The fundamentalists may at a certain time seem invincible but they must realize that their motives may soon fade with the passage of time. Fundamentalism has always resulted in bloodshed destroying liberal humanism. The democratic nature of India has never been distorted by the cruelest of rulers. India represents a culture of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and has preached the values of unity in diversity since ancient civilizations. There have been many attempts to distort its culture but it has always emerged victorious preserving its values and heritage. In current scenario there may be suppression of religious freedoms but the distortion of ‘Indianness‘ is far from the reach of fundamentalists.
Aman Sharma is a student pursuing Public Administration from Jamia Millia Islamia.