By Dhurjati Mukherjee
Recent developments in the country have generated a lot of controversy abroad and dented India’s secular credentials. A prominent section within the BJP is raking up the controversy of temples destroyed during the Mughal regime and both sides have gone to court in this matter, specially relating to two mosques in Mathura and Kashi.
The vilification of Muslims at home under Modi regime may have been glossed over in Islamic capitals, seen as being driven by domestic compulsions. But the crass invective by BJP spokespersons against Islam’s most revered figure, Prophet Muhammad, has sparked Muslim outrage. Not just the Muslim world, but even the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has strongly condemned and denounced the recent denigration of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) by an official of India’s ruling party.”These cases of defamation are part of a growing spate of hatred and defamation of Islam in India and systematic practices against Indian Muslims,” the OIC General Secretariat stated in a statement.
In view of this, there is need to go a little further than the trite line trotted out by India’s diplomatic missions that it accords the highest respect to all religions. Far more imperative is the need for the Prime Minister to realise that the risks not just jeopardising the carefully crafted relationship he has built with leaders across West Asia but also putting India’s vast diaspora in peril, both politically and economically. One is reminded here that West Asia is home to about nine million Indian expatriates, who account for 55 per cent of India’s remittances from abroad. The controversy is likely to impact India’s strategic goals, including its oil supplies and the free trade agreement.
Delving into the issue a little further, it may be stated that hate speeches by elected representatives, political and religious leaders, based on religion and caste bulldoze the constitutional ethos and violate constitutional provisions and, therefore, warrant peremptory action on the part of central and state governments, the Delhi High Court stated a few days back. Justice Chandra Dhari Singh made these observations while dismissing a petition challenging the trial court’s refusal to direct the registration of an FIR against Union Minister, Anurag Thakur and his BJP colleague and MP Pravesh Varma for their alleged hate speeches concerning the anti-CAA protest at Shaheen Bagh at Delhi.
The High Court clearly pointed out that there had been instances of hate speeches which led to demographic shifts in the country in their aftermath and observed that mass leaders and those occupying high offices must conduct themselves with utmost integrity and responsibility. It further stated that it does not befit or behove the leaders to indulge in acts or speeches that cause rifts among communities, create tensions and disrupt the social fabric. The judge said elected leaders in a democracy owe their responsibility not only to their electorate but also towards society & nation as a whole.
It may be mentioned here that the most oft-used sections of the IPC frame ‘hate speech’ as a solitary act of deliberate outrage, or provocation, which might result in hurt sentiments, or cause feelings of distrust amongst communities, or disrupt public order and cause immediate violence. They do not regard ‘hate speech’ as systemic; a concerted effort at blocking an entire people from social, economic and political spaces that were earlier available to them so that it’s possible for a people to find that not only are calls for their physical extermination being made, but also that such calls are being intellectually justified as a ‘discourse’ with political and institutional acceptance, whether active or by silent acquiescence.
Several international treaties, namely the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), prohibit the advocacy of hate, discrimination, hostility or violence. This is also reflected in the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). Advocacy, or promotion, implies the speaker intends to encourage these ideas. Crucially, this means that a speaker who uses offensive language with other intentions, for example, for satire, would not be recognised as advocating hate. A speaker that is merely offensive without seeking to encourage hate in others is also not generally recognised as a human rights violation without other aggravating factors.
In a country as vast and populous as India, whose population is 1.3 billion, the targeting of minorities has reached alarming proportions. The actual numbers may seem small, as they are confined to double digits per year. However, they still have a chilling effect. Each incident forces the minority to further cower in fear while the perpetrators are emboldened ever more. Taken together, these violent acts bolster an agenda of majoritarianism that the ruling BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the RSS, are pushing to impose on a country founded on the principle of unity in diversity.
In recent years, the fundamentalist Hindutva forces that believe in the primacy of Hindus in a nation with no less than 14 percent Muslim population are enjoying free reign and resorting to unsocial behaviour. At the receiving end are not just Muslims, but anyone whose language they deem does not have a place in the majority. Essentially, what is under attack is anything Islamic. The targeting of racial minorities has reached an undesirable level that no civil society can imagine and is now taking more ominous tones, both physical and psychological.
One may refer to a recent book titled, Born A Muslim: Some Truths About Islam in India by Ghazala Wahab, a journalist, who pointed out that India has been generally suspicious of the minority community for many years. That suspicion has pushed members of this community deeper into ghettos where they can fall under the influence of conservative clerics who prey on their vulnerabilities. Without much hope for education, prosperity and assimilation, the community drifts farther away from the mainstream with the cultural divide widening and this has exactly that has happened in the country.
The backwardness of Muslims resulted in their conservatism growing while the Hindutva forces, aided by the party in power, has been denigrating and vilifying the minority community only for electoral gains. And with elections due again in several States next year, there is a madness of vilifying Muslims. The so-called Hindu nationalism is just a ploy to attract half educated Hindus, who believe more in superstition and religion than getting economic benefits. In the present situation, the government is banking on playing with religious sentiments to win majority votes as it has failed miserably in the economic front as also provided poor governance to the suffering masses. — INFA