By Dhurjati Mukherjee
Religion-based crimes are disturbingly on the rise in the country. Whether this is result of Government policies and/or the party in power needs to be debated. More so, as social analysts generally believe that too much emphasis on religion and its assertive propagation is a factor which has triggered this increase.
According to statistics presented in Parliament, it was revealed that in 2017, 111 persons were killed and at least 2,384 injured in 822 cases of sectarian violence, the highest figure in the past three years. In 2016, 86 persons were killed and 2321 injured in 703 incidents of religion-based violence. While these are official figures, analysts feel the actual incidents may be much more as most incidents are either deliberately not recorded or are forced not to be recorded.
Apart from this growing violence over the past three years, the space for liberal discussion too is feared to have become narrower. This has resulted in repeated incidents of threats, assassinations, riots and lynching of individuals along with banning and burning of books. Even film releases have been caught in the crossfire and banned and liberals in different sectors, who do not see eye to eye with government policies, live under continuous threat over their works.
According to Supreme Court lawyer and Founder Director of ‘Human Rights Law Network’ Colin Gonsalves sectarian incidents in far-flung villages were part of a ‘national conspiracy’ and damaged the basic tenets of the Constitution. “Sectarian violence like terrorism should not be seen as just a law and order problem. Hate speech, like a terror incident, may happen in a village but the conspiracy has to be uncovered nationally”, he has rightly pointed out. This view has been echoed by scholars from different facets of life, deploring the tendency to divide the country on communal and religious lines.
It is no secret that Human Rights groups and civil society organisations have been accusing the ruling BJP and right wing parties of fanning the flames of ‘intolerance’. They also allege that the administration and authorities are quite naturally supportive of the party in power and tend not to interfere and act against Hindutva forces, which are increasingly becoming intolerant of Muslims and other minority communities, including dalits.
It is indeed tragic that the legitimising basis for such acts are portrayed as ‘nation saving’, by the forces. ‘Hindu nationalism’ that is being fanned across the country has obviously resulted in communal violence and torture of minorities according to a report by the Mumbai-based ‘Centre for Study of Society and Secularism’.
This apart, the US-based think tank, Pew Research Centre, in its 2017 analysis ranked India as among the worst in the world with regards to religious tolerance. The nation of around 1.25 billion people trailed only behind Syria, Nigeria and Iraq. Indeed, a great dishonour to our secular spirit that has prevailed over time immemorial.
The spate of religion-based violence is obviously a cause for concern. The interpretation of Hinduism, to invoke a nationalist spirit, is being distorted by the leaders of the ruling party as Swami Vivekananda and other liberal leaders of his school of thinking had never spoken of religious violence and force, rather had invoked religious, acclaimed by the western world.
The present situation in the country is indeed deplorable and mustn’t be allowed to continue. Whether educated Hindus support the government’s policies in defying the minorities and their contribution to the country’s life and society is not known but there is a nagging growing resentment at various levels. And, though it cannot be denied that the Congress had pampered Muslims as their ‘vote bank’, the present trend cannot be supported. The ruling party is now pampering the Hindus and trying to instigate them so as to give an impression that the country is a ‘Hindu State’ and the party stands for its ideals.
Besides, Muslims as a community have unfortunately been accused of indulging in terrorism, a stereotype which is unacceptable. As is well-documented, terrorism has no religion and a community cannot and must not be isolated. At the same time, it needs to be mentioned that there has been no initiative at the Government level to improve the condition of Muslims in the country, particularly in education, and bring them into the mainstream. Even now, after over 70 years of Independence, they have the lowest literacy rate and the rate of unemployment and underemployment among them is relatively high.
If the present trends continue, it is but obvious they would feel further alienated and there could be an upsurge. Not just them, but even Christians and Sikhs are disillusioned and upset with the present government’s attitude towards them and ponder whether the country remains truly secular. The so-called Hindu nationalists’ behaviour and approach is not at all a harbinger of Hindu philosophy and beliefs but a perverted reflection of this secular religious ideal.
A civilised society should know the basic principles of existence, i.e. live in peace and harmony, which involves appreciating and understanding others habits, manners and way of living. Whether it is religion, belief, food or any other habit, there should be no interference. Each community must be allowed to live according to its norms and values and only then can India uphold its reputation of reflecting ideal ‘unity in diversity’.
The need of the hour is to uphold secular tenets of the country and promote mutual love and respect of all sects and beliefs. It is necessary that religious leaders create such awareness amongst the people so that an orderly society exists. However, in recent times, religious leaders have become ‘narrow minded’ and this needs to change as all religions propagate unity and people’s welfare. The contrast between Vivekananda’s spirituality and the escapist theatre of today’s religious leaders must alter.
In a changing world, even religious organisations have a significant role to play in ensuring education and health facilities to the poor and economically weaker sections. The objective of achieving inclusive growth can only be attained if all these organisations come out of narrow obscurantist ideas and join hands with the government to achieve the welfare objectives aimed at uplifting the conditions of those at the bottom of the pyramid.
Religions should not instigate crimes but ensure the unification, love and respect of all people irrespective of religion, caste or creed. But to ensure the much-needed social transformation, an attitudinal change of the ruling party leaders as also those of various religious leaders is critical. Recall, father of nation Mahatma Gandhi propagated the ideal of ahimsa towards regeneration of society through communitarian bondage and fellow feeling.—INFA