Is India secular?

There is always a big gap between theory and practice; same is the case with Indian Constitution and governance. Indian Constitution is secular in spirit and if implemented truly, India would be an ideal country to live in especially for minorities both religious as well as linguistic. However, in reality this ideal situation is lacking in India and all the successive governments of India hardly paid any attention to minority rights and issues.

This situation has led to the suppression of minorities in almost all walks of life in addition to majority violence against them. In India, everyone accord priority to their caste, communal and religious identity over the national one. National rhetoric seemed to have disappeared. Hindutva forces talk more of Hindu religion than of nationalism and this trend is weakening the fiber of secularism and creating irritants among Indian people of different religious and linguistic identities.

Being in majority the Hindus are pursuing convergence of India into a Hindu state by submerging minority identities as their moral and social obligation. For this they are employing different techniques such as converting minority identities into Hindu mainstream, killing minorities and damaging their properties and trying to throw all minorities out of India.

The communal violence in India traces back its history to the riots in Ahmadabad in 1969 in which more than 1000 people were killed and Bhivandi in 1970 in which 400 people lost their lives. Somehow, the Indian government managed to control communal violence up till 1977. In 1977 major riots broke in several places in Jamshedpur, Aligarh and Varanasi between Hindus and Muslims. The year 1984 marked the operation blue star and killing of thousands of Sikhs. Apart from Muslims this was a major blow to another minority community. In 1992 Muslims once again became the victim of majority violence. After the demolition of Babri mosque riots erupted not only in Ayodhya but also in Mumbai killing thousands of Muslims. The tragedy of Gujarat pogrom 2002 has no precedent in Indian history. In these riots Hindus killed and looted Muslims with complete impunity and support from police and government.

Recently, communal riots rocked the Maharashtra state of India. The riots started in Miraj, Sangli district on 2 September 2009 when the Hindu extremist organizations such as ShivSena put up a structure depicting Maratha warrior Shivaji slaying Mughal General Afzal Khan. This hurt the emotions of the Muslim population of the area and they protested against this. As a result, Hindus started riots against Muslims. A Hindu Mob forced entry into a Muslim house and assaulted people, terrorizing the entire area. Hindu mobs also indulged in stone pelting and arson in Tasgaon, Ashta and took out a protest rally in Kadgaon area. The Hindus also threw a dead pig in a mosque area in Gawli.

The whole situation was created by the Hindu extremist organizations to create division between the communities ahead of the forthcoming legislative polls in the state. Muslims were protesting for the past one month against the structure erected for the Ganesh festival. This is not the first time that such an activity is done by extremist Hindus before elections. This technique of them is quite old. They firstly demolished Babri mosque and when Muslims protested against this they started full fledged riots in Ayodhya. Similar is the case in Gujarat, Hindu extremist parties killed their own people in order to get an excuse to start a backlash against Muslims.

They used the same technique in Miraj, a Muslim majority town of Sangli district of Maharashtra. They hurt the sentiments of Muslims by erecting an objectionable structure and when Muslims protested they started riots. In order to pacify the Muslim population the government removed the controversial structure in Miraj. At this BJP and Shiv Sena activists protested and demanded the reinstatement of the structure for the Ganesh festival threatening that festival will not resume until its reinstatement. Police arrested 200 Shiv Sena and BJP activists on the pretext on fueling the already fragile situation.

The BJP’s politics is driven by the principle of “majority is authority.” Power is to be derived through majority and can be used to redefine and legitimize anything and everything. Hence, India witnessed more communal riots during BJP rule. BJP provided full support to other Hindu extremist organizations such as Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Praishad authorizing all these organizations to unleash their own terror on minority communities.

The Christians who hardly face any violence against them witnessed severe riots during BJP rule. The Anti-Christian violence in India has increased in recent years and is often perpetrated by Hindu extremists. There have been multiple incidents of such violence since the BJP began its rule at the center in March 1998. From 1964 to 1996, 38 incidents of violence against Christians were reported.

In 1997, 24 such incidents were reported. Since 1998, Christians in India have faced a wave of violence. In 1998 alone, 90 incidents were reported. In June 2000, four churches around India were bombed. In Andhra Pradesh, church graves were desecrated. A church in Maharashtra was ransacked. In September 2008, two churches were partly damaged in Kerala. The Times of London called September 2008 violence as the worst anti-Christian violence in India since independence (in 1947). Under Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Indian Constitution, discrimination on the grounds of religion is prohibited. Article 25 guarantees the right to freely practice and propagate religion while Articles 26, 28 and 30 ensure the freedom to manage religious affairs, to attend religious instruction or religious worship. Despite the presence of such detailed and comprehensive legislation the government has allowed organisations like the Bajrang Dal to conduct training camps, and issue harassing statements without the fear of retribution.

The need of the hour is to have an absolute and appropriate response from the government side. India preaches democracy and rule of law but does not practice it. The image of India abroad is of a tolerant country but the reality is otherwise as democracy notion include protection of minorities. The Hindu fundamentalists must be forced to end the persecution of the poor and hapless minorities in India. India’s political system based on democratic pluralism theoretically provides space for all ethnic groups and sub-nationalities.

But, in actuality, there have been severe deficiencies in the way it functions. Suffice it to say, political empowerment of the people is still far from complete, even after six decades of independence. Despite an overarching commitment to respecting citizens’ freedom to express their views, peacefully protest, and form their own organizations, the Indian government lacks the will and capacity to implement many laws and policies designed to ensure the protection of rights. There is a pattern of denial of justice and impunity, whether it is in cases of human rights violations by security forces, or the failure to protect women, children, and marginalized groups such Dalits, tribal groups, and religious minorities. The failure to properly investigate and prosecute those responsible leads to continuing abuses. The government has failed to protect vulnerable communities including Dalits, tribal groups, and religious minorities such as Sikhs, Muslims and Christians.Mamoona Ali Kazmi

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