By Durdana Najam
Taking exception to his statement about rising religious extremism in India, the Yuva Morcha – youth wing of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) – prevented actor Naseeruddin Shah from attending the fifth Ajmer Literature Festival. The mob vandalized the festival venue besides burning posters carrying Shah’s picture. He was called a “traitor”, with demands being made of expelling him to Pakistan. The organizers had initially arranged for his security, however, seeing “wild” opposition, Shah was asked to cancel the visit.
Earlier in an interview with an NGO, named Karwan-e-Mohabbat, for their YouTube channel, Shah had expressed concerns about the survival of his children in “today’s India”. He termed the religious bigotry a “poison that had spread in the Indian society”.
Undeterred by the frenzy, Shah stood his ground, and, later in an interview to India’s leading English Newspaper The Hindu, said, “The vicious jingoism masquerading as love for the country has reached truly scary proportions and so has the constant whataboutery in response to almost everything.”
The fundamentalists are on a path of revamping India as a Hindu nationalist state. Unconcerned with the secular image, for which India had won accolades from the Western democracies, the Hindutva brigade is now on the move to undo the good. They are taking India back to its so-called “Hindu identity”, which they think was eroded by the Mughals and other non-Hindu dynasties during their reigns in the subcontinent. From killing Muslims for “beef eating” to forcing them to convert to Hinduism, life for many minorities has become a constant struggle in modern day India.
Beneath the tip of this iceberg of bigotry is running a sustained “Hindutva project”. What used to be isolated events of attacks and vandalism – against minorities and dissenters – have now become a routine. Like any well-organized extremist movement, the Hindutva project has also been used to silence sane voices in the country.
The latest investigation into the murder of Journalist Gauri Lankesh, on September 5, 2017, has led to the revelation that a criminal syndicate, mostly made up of people with links to Sanatan Sanstha, was developed to kill “Hindus’’ who are anti-Hindu. A link was also found between the killing and the hate-literature published in Kshatra Dharma Sadhana, a Sanatan Sanstha publication. A Pune-based ET surgeon, Dr Veerendra Tawade, was spearheading the syndicate and had also steered the murders of rationalists and writers; namely Dr Narendra Dabholkar (2013), Govind Pansare and M.M and Kalburgi (2015). In December 2017, the Supreme Court of India had asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to club the investigation of these murders with that of Lankesh’s, since multiple investigations had established a single conspiracy behind these four murders in Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The spotlight of these investigation is now on the Sanatan Sanstha, whose ban has been requested consistently by India’s law enforcement agencies. But almost on every occasion, the Union Government dismisses the ban appeal on grounds of insufficient evidence.
Previously, Amartya Sen, a Nobel Laureate of India, was trolled and jibed for his criticism of Modi’s government. Sen had condemned India’s economic growth model for producing “unaimed opulence,” In his book, An Uncertain Glory co-written with his colleague Jean Dreze, Sen has argued that despite making considerable economic progress, India has been unable to match even Bangladesh, let alone China, in providing adequate education and health facilities to it citizens.
Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, according to Sen, have better social indicators compared to India. China, from which India borrows inspiration to lead the region, has invested massively in health and education, along with lifting millions out of poverty.
In addition to that, many regional leaders in the country have also contributed towards the shrinking of space for minorities. In one such instance of intolerance towards religious diversity, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been criticised for passing two controversial orders. In one order, passed on December 24, 2018, the UP Chief Secretary Anup Chandra has been instructed to set up a committee to provide better shelter facilities to stray cows. In the second order, issued on December 25, the UP government has asked the companies and offices of Sector 58 in Noida’s industrial hub, to stop their employees from offering Friday and other prayers in open areas such as parks. There is widespread fear that this ban on prayers in open will be extended to other areas in the region and will therefore further shrink space for Muslims in the country.
In the current situation, the way forward for India is not comparing its handling of minorities with that of China or Pakistan. The way forward is to understand that communal mishandling had previously led to the country’s breakup in 1947, and further mishandling could lead ideological divisions in India’s communal harmony.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore (firstname.lastname@example.org)