by Gowtham Ashokan
India, a nation of 1.2 billion people with hundreds of faiths, thousands of languages, and hundreds of ethnicities is possibly one of the most diverse democracies in the 21st century (Morin). In many ways, India is a forced conglobation of an entire geographical region into a singular nation state.
Yet, one person believed in the great experiment that is Indian democracy; Mahatma Gandhi. He aspired for a state that would be completely self-sufficient and inclusive of all human beings regardless of faith, caste, ethnicity, and gender. With the help of B.R Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, they crafted a secular and democratic constitution with ideas borrowed from the Americans, the British and the French.
Today, the bedrock of democracy and secularism is being shaken in India, as tides of saffron-clad (saffron being a color widely associated with Hinduism) Hindu nationalists have channeled economic anxiety and disdain for corruption into hate towards the minority groups.
Hindus constitute 79.8% of the population while Muslims and Christians form 14.2% and 2.3% (“The World Factbook:INDIA”). These groups have coexisted for centuries through the Mughal dynasty, the Hindu kingdoms, and British rule.
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to power in 2014 promising economic reform, a corruption-free India, and a strong emphasis on Hindu pride. (“Promising the good times”) Mr. Modi’s ideological background is inspired by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization that upholds the values of Hinduism and a conservative agenda, mainly through the education of a young public and the training of a “moral police” within society. For example, the RSS often targets university campuses and separates couples on Valentine’s Day. (Mishra)
However, the RSS has tampered with the benevolent Hindu faith, one that is tolerant of all faiths and beliefs, and has transformed it into a vile, chauvinistic, and hateful political tool. This perversion of Hinduism started with Prime Minister Modi’s negligence of the massive Gujarat riots in 2002 (Timeline) that opposed Hindus and Muslims.
Nowadays, as cow protection squads routinely harass Muslims and Dalits (Alder)– people from India’s lowest caste— in the name of their beliefs, it seems like there is an even thinner separation of the state and the faiths.
Modi’s BJP passed an immigration bill (Garg) that allows only religious minorities from the neighboring South Asian countries to enter the country. This is eerily similar to Donald Trump’s first travel ban allowing only Christian minorities into the United States. While Modi may be more restrained with his rhetoric his use of dog whistle tactics and actions are similar to a demagogue like Trump.
Consequently, the government shut down a protest at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (“JNU..”), citing the protest to be ‘anti-Indian’ and arrested the leaders under colonial-era sedition charges.
These events are only a sample of all the religious hatred, suppression of dissent, and caste violence that have spawned since Narendra Modi took power. In fact, Modi and his party have readily started to downplay the role of Gandhi and have started to elate the role of more nationalistic leaders such as Subash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, as Gandhi directly contradicts their view of “Hindutva” – that India is a nation with Hindu spirit. (Venu)
Modi’s attacks on the freedom of the press, right to dissent, and minorities has been effective in his quest to consolidate power, whether it be the Jawaharlal Nehru University crackdown, or silence during the Gujarat riots. His party recently won the state legislature in the biggest Indian state, Uttar Pradesh, and appointed a Hindu extremist who has murder cases filed against him. (Singh)
The people of India and the media cannot permit Modi and the BJP to incite hatred and divisiveness for political gains. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enabled violence against Dalits and Muslims, cracked down on protests under the pretext of outdated sedition laws, and has emboldened the Hindu militants to gain power as seen in Uttar Pradesh. India can and must show the world that it is a transparent, secular, diverse, and free country for the better of its people and the example it sets to fellow developing countries.
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“What Hindu Nationalism Means.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 18 May 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.
Morin, Rich. “The Most (and Least) Culturally Diverse Countries in the World.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 18 July 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
“The World Factbook: INDIA.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
“Promising the Good times.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 22 May 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
Mishra, Akshaya. “Kiss of Love:.” Firstpost. N.p., 09 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2017. <http://www.firstpost.com/living/kiss-love-rss-better-watch-campuses-lead-charge-moral-policing-1794139.html>.
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Garg, Lovish. “If India Wants to Stay Secular, the New Citizenship Bill Isn’t the Way to Go.” The Wire. N.p., 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2017. <https://thewire.in/67272/citizenship-amendment-bill-2016/>.
“JNU Students Protest outside Home Ministry, Detained – Times of India.” The Times of India. India, 21 Oct. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/JNU-students-protest-outside-Home-Ministry-detained/articleshow/54979642.cms>.
Venu, MK. Firstpost. Firstpost, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017. <http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-rss-is-playing-with-fire-by-raking-up-mahatma-gandhi-1430385.html>.
Singh, Rajesh Kumar. “How Yogi Adityanath Overcame Political Ignominy to Win the UP Crown.” http://www.hindustantimes.com/. Hindustan Times, 18 Mar. 2017. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. <http://www.hindustantimes.com/assembly-elections/how-yogi-adityanath-overcame-political-ignominy-to-win-the-up-crown/story-DJCQmdCvfbVGi7ZQXu2tmK.html>.