Sun. Jan 17th, 2021
On Religion and Tolerance, the Modi Government Must Walk the Talk

Protests have been at center-stage since last year in India, be it the recent farmer protests or the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests last year, or student protests on a variety of issues criticizing the current government. Scrutinizing the responses of the Narendra Modi government and their allies towards them, one cannot miss how these reactions have a fundamental element of attacking religious identity.

While Indian farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan were protesting against the government at the borders of New Delhi, the United Nations General Assembly was discussing its Agenda Item 15 for the 75th session, on Culture of Peace. One of the highlights during the session’s discussion on the item was a speech made by the Indian representative, First Secretary Ashish Sharma. His speech was iconic as he targeted the U.N. and at the same time asked the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations to be vocal about and cognizant of the atrocities and violence committed against non-Abrahamic religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. He also mentioned how this disparity in treating violence against different religions will only go on to corroborate Samuel P. Huntington’s claims about a clash of civilizations.

The entire speech by Sharma was an eye opener as to how violence against religions in contemporary times also has an underlined connotation of global power politics. But if Sharma’s speech is closely looked at, and compared with what is happening in New Delhi, India’s words on a global platform do not seem to match its actions on domestic issues.

In New York, Sharma made several allegations against Pakistan, one of which involved the perilous state of minorities in that country. The situation of minorities in India, however, do not seem to be any better. A 22-year old Hindu man told The Caravan in an interview that he, along with other Hindu men, took part in communal violence against Muslims, destroying their belongings and beating them up. Something that was even more saddening from this interview was to know that the Delhi police were directly involved in such violence, telling these men that the police wouldn’t be present in Muslim areas where they can attack the minorities, unrestricted.

In another article by The New York Times, Kaushar Ali, one of the victims of the Delhi police’s violence, said that when he approached the police for help, he was thrown on the ground and beaten up along with other Muslim men. Among these men, one died due to internal injuries from the violence perpetrated by the police. Despite a video capturing the incident going viral no concrete action was taken by the Modi government to which the Delhi police report.

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Such instances only showcase that the treatment of minorities in India remains problematic, to put it mildly. The treatment of Muslims during the anti-CAA protests was so violent that it was termed a “pogrom” by Mira Kamdar in an article in The Atlantic due to the complicity of the authorities and the police while citizens were openly rioting against religious minorities.

Certain other elements in Sharma’s speech would make anyone point out the discrepancy between the current government’s global aspirations and its domestic actions. For example, the first secretary greatly emphasized how religion should not be misused to justify and propagate personal agendas. But recently, farmers who were protesting against legislation that seeks to reform the agricultural sector were termed as Sikh separatists by the chief minister of Haryana who belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. This was a clear indication that many close to the Modi government seek to portray these protestors as anti-national, based on their religious identity.

Another claim by Sharma in his speech at the Assembly was how intolerance has become the norm in the contemporary world. It is clear that New Delhi has not done much to push back against this norm at home; a crucial test ahead for world to gauge its commitment to tolerance will be to see how it handles the ongoing protests in the country. Will the current government be tolerant toward such protestors and try to match the words that New Delhi has spoken at global forums with its actions at home?

Arkoprabho Hazra is a Young India Fellow at Ashoka University who has completed his undergraduate studies in political science. He writes on Indian foreign policy, Rohingya refugee crisis and the Middle East. His writings have been published by South Asia Democratic Forum and South Asia Centre, London School of Economics. He tweets @ArkoprabhoH.

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