India professes its distinct cultural plurality in terms of “unity in diversity” while being home to multiple ethnic and religious groups. It has time and again used the precursor of secularism to celebrate this diversity. The multiculturalism in Indian society is reflected by its variety of cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. Though predominantly Hindu, the Indian society can be divided into six main ethnic groups, six major religions, 52 major tribes, 6400 major casts and 18 major languages. While this secularism remained integral to India’s political and social fabric, its transforming interpretations in the light of country’s contemporary politics has created a conflict between secular ideology and minority rights. The association of the political parties with extremist groups; the support of these extremist elements for Hindu chauvinism under the Hindutva philosophy; and the persecution of religious minorities under Prime Minister Modi’s administration reflects the fault lines between state, society and religion of India. A dissection of these swerving ideas is necessary in the backdrop of India’s aspirations for regional and global leadership.
India today is being governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party based on the ideals of “Hindutva” aimed to promote “Hinduness” in the country, notwithstanding the reality of its religious diversity. At the time of Modi’s election, concerns were leveled regarding the threat to the rights of non-Hindu minorities in India, particularly the 172 million Indian Muslims, but ever since Prime Minister Modi has come into power, the news out of India has focused mainly on India’s efforts to open up its economy and attract foreign investment which has been heartening for both India and its partners abroad. However, Modi himself remained associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of BJP. He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat during deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002. While PM Modi asserts that he tried everything that he could to quell the violence, but numerous reports and witnesses accounts highlight that the violence was coordinated by the Hindu extremists, and the state authorities led by Modi supplemented the riots.
There has been an impetus for the Hindutva ideology under Modi’s regime which precisely highlights overwhelming support for him by the RSS chauvinists and the fears of India’s Muslims. It seems that the state has an unwritten decree to push the minorities against the wall which is apparent through the policy measures of the pro government politicians. A senior BJP leader from the southern state of Tamil Nadu declared that mosques unlike temples are not holy places, and therefore could be demolished. Moreover, in the state of Haryana, the Chief Minister declared the teachings of Bhagawad Gita to be made mandatory throughout the state, even to non Hindus. Recently in the elections of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state and the heartland of nation’s Hindu population where the BJP failed to capitalize on nearly 18% of its Muslim population, the politician cum priest Yogi Adityanath got appointed as the Chief Minister. Adityanath has multiple criminal cases against him, and is openly hostile towards Muslims as embodied in his infamous hate diatribes. Apart from this, there have been repeated occurrences of mounting attacks on Muslims by Hindu vigilantes. The Human Rights Watch reports that there has been an increase in the attacks against Muslims and Dalits on the rumors that they have sold, purchased, or consumed beef. Many states in India are now actively enforcing ban on cow slaughter. The state of Gujarat passed a law making cow slaughter a punishable offense. The beef ban movement is spreading to different states.
The starkest example of India’s obstinacy towards Muslims is the ill-treatment of the Muslims of the Indian-held Kashmir. The 700,000 plus troops stationed in the valley have been empowered with draconian laws which have been condemned by various human rights organizations and rights activists. India’s central government has done little to stop the BJP peripheral governments from pursuing right wing agenda. According to the Human Rights Watch, Muslims are repeatedly subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention, interrogation, and torture. Authorities have been using draconian laws such as the Sedition Law and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which are nebulously worded, broad, prone to misuse, and have been used to target Muslim monitories at national and state level. State-sponsored initiative “Purkhon ki Ghar Wapsi” directed against state’s minorities is a campaign of mass conversion planned by offshoot organizations of RSS, Dharma Jagran Samanavay Vibhag, and Bajrang Dal. Rape assaults are now being directed against all minority groups, including Christian Nuns. On the other hand, the caste-based segregation and attacks, in particular the ill-treatment of Dalits and Adivasis in India which has been referred to as the “Hidden Apartheid” by Human Rights Watch in its reports are some of the examples of anti-minority fervor and increasing communal polarization in India.
India’s global profile is embellished by the ideals such as world’s largest democracy and a thriving international market. But its dismal human rights record is an ugly blot on its touted credentials. While on one hand, it aspires to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the fact of the matter is that India has repeatedly failed to uphold its international commitments and legal obligations to ensure protection of fundamental human rights. The criteria based approach to be the permanent member of UNSC requires the aspiring state to be well-qualified on factors such as: economic size, population, military capacity, commitment to democracy, human rights, financial contribution to the UN and military contribution to UN peacekeeping, record on counter-terrorism and non-proliferation. However, the unenviable and despicable human rights record of India; its hawkish attitude towards the regional countries; and the stain of defying 23 UN resolutions on the issue of Kashmir calling for peaceful settlement of the dispute certainly does not make its profile strong enough to be the permanent member of the Council having the prime responsibility of the promotion of global peace.
A secular state ensures non-interference in the religious affairs of other groups. The assertions of world’s largest democracy and secular state are shunned aside when the ultra-nationalists of that state reject such claims through their actions and highlight its shift from secularism to religious extremism. India today is a chauvinistic and unbearable country for religious minorities. The transforming India is shedding the values of tolerance, while its social equations, religious identities and nationalism seem irreconcilable.