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Growing Intolerance In India Is Reaching A Very Dangerous Level

By Dr. Bikkar Singh Lalli

“One of the most difficult and urgent global problems is how to develop societies where people of different cultures can live together and build common ground,” Justin Trudeau.

In India that task, of building bridges between diverse cultures, falls on the shoulders of  PM Narendra Modi. The big question is, has he got the will, tenacity and  courage to silence some wildly roaming, out of control vigilante groups who are disturbing the peace and tranquility of the largest democracy in the world?

A gang of thugs ambushed a Mumbai book launch by dousing the master of ceremony in ink. A leading rationalist author, in the southern state of Karnataka in August, was killed.  Recently a Muslim, accused of eating beef,  was lynched.

In Haryana, where BJP is ruling, a dalit family was burnt alive. A minister compared a Dalit family with stray dog. In Mumbai, a policemen thrashes some Muslim youths, and tells them to ‘go back to Pakistan’.

All such “horrendous crimes”, have created fear and a sense of insecurity among the minorities, and have sent a shiver down  some prominent writers’ spines.  Over 41 writers  relinquished awards from one of the country’s top literary institutions, in a symbolic show of protest against what they say is a growing disregard for freedom of speech under the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dr. Dalip Kaur Tiwan, a renowned Punjabi novelist, a former colleague of mine at Ripudaman College Nabha (1955-1960), has returned  her Padma Shri award to protest against what she calls attacks on freedom of speech in the country. “India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault,” says  Nayantara Sahgal, a recipient of the Sahitya Akademy. “Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism … are being marginalized, persecuted, or murdered,” wrote Sahgal in an open letter to the government

What a shame- a young Dalit writer was attacked by a group of hoodlums for his writings against the caste system perceived to be “anti-Hindu” at Davanagere in Central Karnataka on Oct. 23. The attack comes just  three months after the shooting of writer M.M. Kalburgi – barely 100 km away and at a time when numerous writers across the country have raised their voice against rising intolerance. Attack has only strengthened his resolve’, says the young dalit victim. An atmosphere of communalism created by right-wing hardliners is spreading to more parts of the country with intended or unintended consequences.

Unfortunately, the ideology of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party is the anti-thesis of pluralism. The party believes in polarization. Take the case of Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s recent comments. His reported remarks to a national newspaper were that “Muslins can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef” because “cow is an article of faith here.”. He expects the 172 million strong Muslim citizens of India to live under  his dictates  and respect his “article of faith” or else.  From now on Mr. Khattar will decide qualifications for Indian citizenship. One wonders how the other minorities, Christians, Sikhs–, in India,  are feeling. Let us recall what 75 academics of Indian decent in UK, in April 2014, wrote  in an open letter: “We are deeply concerned at the implications of a Narendra Modi-led BJP government for democracy, pluralism and human rights in India,” The group contended that a Modi-led BJP government would lead to greater moral policing, especially of women, increased censorship and vigilantism, and more tensions with India’s neighbours. How right those academics  were.

There is fear to express a different point of view. One feels that the fanatic fringe in the Hindu community has become bold and has been indulging in acts which are opposed to secularism and which instill fear in the minds of minorities An atmosphere of communal polarization, hate crimes, insecurity and violence is getting denser in the country. Political leaders seem to be promoting or patronizing it. The Modi government is creating a climate of fear in which opportunists and Parivar ideologues revel and those who want to get ahead look over their shoulders before expressing a viewpoint. The root cause of the problem is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not fully realised that he is more than the leader of the BJP. He is the conscience keeper of the nation It is his solemn duty to safeguard the basic tenets of democracy, and .freedom of expression is the foundation on which the structure of democracy has been built..The entire structure will come down crashing if it is harmed. Unfortunately, this is what is happening.

There is no doubt that Mr. Modi’s very rise to power is based on communally divisive agendas.  Mr Modi’s had his upbringing in the Sangh Parivar. The PM who should be at the forefront of making strategies to face looming crises cannot even dare to speak a single word against Parivar and vigilante groups.What is this Indian culture that feels threatened and slighted by a visiting Australian man sporting a tattoo of a Hindu goddess? What is this Indian culture that is so intolerant of people from other faiths, especially Muslims and Christians, who do not worship the same gods and who do not have similar food habits and tastes? And who exactly are the self-styled proponents, upholders and protectors of Indian culture?. “Hinduism has thrived over the centuries because of its larger-than-life philosophy of accommodation and tolerance. Let not Indian culture be shackled — unless this country wishes to go down the path of Saudi Arabia where women have hardly any rights; unless it wishes to take the road travelled by the IS or the Taliban; and unless it wishes to shut off all discourse”(Editorial-Hindu) . By quashing the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, in an unanimous verdict, the apex court may have saved the Indian democracy from some possible far reaching and dangerous consequences.

Projecting his party as more radical than the BJP on its Hindutva agenda, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Oct. 23, demanded that the Centre declare India a Hindu Rashtra and implement the Uniform Civil Code. The Constitution of India did not declare any religion to be the state religion or an otherwise privileged faith tradition. It declared liberty of belief, faith and worship and equality of status and opportunity to be the basic ideals of future polity, and non-discrimination on religious grounds to be one of the people’s Fundamental Rights.

The whole world is laughing at how the  largest democracy’s ruling establishment has let loose Hindutva goons to carry on with their nefarious “purification” agenda. India’s founding fathers had an idea of a secular country which would never allow any enmity between communities and people who have been living together since centuries. Unfortunately, that dream seems to have been shattered. Never thought a person’s religion would be asked before his name, says a noted: Lyricist Gulzar.

Let us pray and hope  that Mr. Modi starts acting in a decisive manner  to create a sense of tranquility and peace in the country. “We as a nation should be thankful to those writers and intellectuals who have returned the Sahitya Akademy awards as a mark of protest.There is a need for this country to act against the so called ‘fringe’ elements before it’s too late and they start taking centre stage”, (Syes Hassan Kazim)..Prime Minister Modi  is not, as Dr. Manmohan Singh was, cursed with so-called ‘coalition compulsions.’ He has the necessary power and muscle to stem the tide of rising intolerance, and rein in radical elements of the Sangh Parivar.

We are now a society that openly displays its prejudices. What frightens me the most is the thought of what will happen to the generation growing up,”(Ziya US Salam).

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