Modi’s New India: Shrinking space for Muslims, Dalits and other minorities

By Sitwat Waqar Bokhari

It is ironic that the secular republic of India that Nehru once established has experienced such a reverse revolution in terms of keeping up with the provision of fundamental human rights for Indian citizens as enshrined in the constitution, supposedly inclusive of all minorities. The nationalist agenda in line with the Hindutva ideology being pursued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party and their ally Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has evidently shrunk the breathing space for Muslims, Dalits – sometimes called “untouchables” in the Hindu caste system, and other minorities in India to an extreme in recent years.

The favorability of extreme nationalist sentiments has been overtly manifest in not only frequent violent incidents targeting Muslims and Dalits all across the country but even in the educated and professional spheres of everyday Indian life. A case in point is Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student, who after anxiously raising his voice against the practice of caste-based discrimination and abuse directed at the Dalit community in Indian institutes ended up committing suicide out of frustration in 2016. In the same vein, a conference on the theme, ‘Nationalist Journalism in Today’s Context’ held at the government-run Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi invited SRP Kalluri as its chief speaker, a police officer known for his blatant human rights violations in Chhattisgarh state. As the students responded with outrage to the invitation of the notorious speaker, the director general of the institute dismissed the crowd’s protests by saying, “If you can listen to Hurriyat (a Kashmir separatist agenda), why can’t we listen to Kalluri?”

Unfortunately, as Latha Jishnu, a journalist based in New Delhi, writes, the imposition of Hindu nationalist notions under the pretext of a “grand cultural revolution that the PM is working on” is becoming the norm in India. The sweeping ban on the commercial transportation of cattle for slaughter, imposed by Modi regime, sent the world’s largest supposed democracy into a frenzy when overnight, it destroyed the livelihood of millions of Muslims, Dalits and tribals who depend on cattle trade for survival and had already been faced with mounting violence by cow protection groups.

The ban has been seen by India’s meat and leather industries as an attempt to destroy businesses that clash with the beliefs of conservative Hindus. On the other hand, in terms of human rights violations against minorities, the ban has encouraged assertive cow vigilantes, termed as “cow-protection” groups which are often associated with the ruling party’s cultural wing, the RSS, to become bolder and more violent against minorities with almost total impunity. Attacks on cow traders and dairy farmers, mostly Muslim and the Dalit, have become a routine practice in India in recent years. According to a Human Rights Watch report, at least 10 Muslims have been killed in the state of Assam alone since May 2015 by India’s cow protection vigilantes over rumors that they sold, bought, or killed cows for beef. On May 19, three cattle traders were lynched in Jharkhand by a village mob while two months ago, five Muslim men were badly flogged by a mob of cow protection vigilantes on false accusation of taking cows for slaughter. A 55-year old among them was killed due to severe injuries. And the list goes on. On the other hand, the Dalits in Gujarat, and in several other parts, have also particularly become a target of upper caste mobs while one corner of Uttar Pradesh has completely turned into a bloody battlefield.

As if India had not reached its limits of intolerance already, PM Modi appointed Yogi Adityanath, the founder of the extremist outfit known as the Hindu Yuva Vahini, as the Chief Minister of the most vulnerable and backward state of Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath, a long BJP member of Parliament, has been accused of inciting riots and other criminal charges including attempt to murder. Following his appointment, while initially the media enthusiastically defended Modi’s choice, it soon began to express doubts due to drastic measures taken against minorities by the new chief minister, alarming even some members of the RSS and BJP. The Muslims no longer enjoy freedom of worship in various parts of UP, let alone maintain the right to eat what they want. In Amroha, Muslims are prevented from entering their mosques during the holy month of Ramazan as the local BJP leader as well as members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (SS) organization do not allow of it. The Dalits are deprived of the fundamental freedom to practice their traditional livelihoods or in most cases even marry the partners of their choosing.

Operations involving sudden outbursts of violence by lynch mobs for consuming beef or, in many cases killing couples in inter-communal marriages, in India remind one of the Klu Klu`x Klan in the 1950s that did the same to people for not attending church or for being involved in suspected immorality according to their books. Interestingly, increasing intolerant practices based on the Hindu-caste system defy the prevalently projected notion that India is a secular country. It is absurd that a country which touts itself as a secular democracy upholds such draconian laws which advocate that the life of a cow is more valuable than the life of a human being.

Unfortunately, in the face of all of this, PM Modi Narendra has never condemned any attack by a lynch mob, nor punished any party member that had crossed the line, hence giving official protection to lynch mobs as part of Hindutva politics despite it being an act of lawlessness. While Modi claims to be making every citizen “discharge his duties honestly” as part of his goal to make a “New India”, he is targeting India’s constitutional safeguards of the fundamental rights to equality, freedom from exploitation and the right to practice one’s religion.

It is not only the minorities but also the poor that have been affected under the Modi regime. The demonetization, reportedly aimed at “ushering in a behavioral change at all levels of society” by Prime Minister Modi last November, only hit the poor factions of India in the most adverse ways. Any opponents of the policy were branded by Modi to be lacking patriotism for daring to criticize.

If one goes by mainstream media reports, one cannot guess what a huge ferment India is in. The truth is that the rampant savagery being practiced and encouraged in Modi’s “New India” through BJP’s single-minded pursuit of its core Hindu-nationalist agenda is heading the country towards its own self-destruction by extreme economic mismanagement targeting the poor and the marginalized and institutionalizing class divisions of citizens in the Indian society.

Sitwat Waqar Bokhari is a Research Fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: