The ruling Central Government of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) by its silence and even connivance seem to provide an aura of legitimacy to words and deeds of sadhus, sadhvis and their ilk, which systematically target the minorities of India today.
The fifth phase of General Elections 2019 is over. As one looks back to the run-up, the campaigns and the election days itself, one can safely categorise it as the season of hate and venom. For the votaries of the ‘Hindutva’ ideology, it has been ‘no holds barred’ as they spewed venom and falsehoods on the minorities, particularly the Muslims and Christians. This was their desperate attempt to seize power by hook or by crook and move towards their one ambition of establishing a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
They will certainly not succeed in their game-plan, but the damage has been done: they have polarised people on religious lines as never before. Minorities are being treated like second-class citizens and regarded as ‘unpatriotic’ because they apparently do not vote for the BJP. The party in power forgets, however, a significant fact – that it is many Indians do not vote for them and most of them are Hindus.
Just a few days ago, Sadhvi Deva Thakur categorically stated that Muslims and Christians should be forcibly sterilized. Earlier BJP MLA Prasanta Phukan who represents the Dibrugarh Assembly constituency said, “it is common knowledge that 90% of Muslims did not vote for us in the Lok Sabha election. There is no point in providing fodder to a cow that does not produce milk.” Just before that, Maneka Gandhi, a Union Minister said that she might not be inclined to work for Muslims who do not vote for her. Another venomous so-called Sadhvi, Pragya Thakur, an accused in the Malegaon blast case of September 2008, is a BJP candidate. That is despite spewing venom and being responsible for a terrorist act. Another BJP MLA from Karnataka Sanjay Patil said that the current elections were not about roads or water but about Hindus versus Muslims. The list is endless. A comprehensive report by the ‘Association for Democratic Reforms’(ADR) state that most of the hate speeches in the recent past were made by those belonging to BJP.
The attacks on minorities (both verbal and physical), have been taking place on an unprecedented scale ever since they came to power in May 2014. It is therefore logical that spewing venom is the core agenda of the ruling political dispensation (besides they have absolutely nothing to show the country for their five years of misrule).
India was shocked in October 2014 when a “purification” ceremony was conducted in Dadri village to apparently ‘atone’ for the slaughter of a cow by a Muslim named Mohammad Akhlaq a few weeks earlier. Media reports stated that “to atone for the cow slaughter and through an expression of collective regret, the residents of the village in Dadri will undertake “purification ritual” of the village by sprinkling gau mutra (cow urine) all over.”
The villagers believe that a cow was indeed killed by Akhlaq even though prima facie there was no evidence to back their claims. The first veterinary doctor’s report had declared that the meat seized from Akhlaq’s house by the police on the fateful night was mutton. Most of the villagers, however, alleged the connivance of the local administration in hiding the “fact” of cow slaughter. The ‘shuddhikaran’ ceremony will be performed by Sadhvi Harshita Giri, the new priest of the temple which was allegedly used by the BJP leader Sanjay Rana’s son Vishal Rana to announce and spread rumours about the alleged cow slaughter by Akhlaq, leading to his public lynching.
The District administration (where this village is situated) and the Government of the Uttar Pradesh State apparently took a stern view of the matter. That was good. However, the fact that a group in the country has the audacity to think on the lines of a “purification” ceremony for an animal, with total disregard for human life that was snatched away, speaks volumes for the ‘majoritarianism’ rhetoric and abuse of minorities that has gripped India.
If this was a one-off, whilst not condoning the seriousness of this act, one could have in some ways addressed it or put it in perspective of the ‘ignorance’ of a superstitious community. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the ruling Central Government of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) by its silence and even connivance seem to provide an aura of legitimacy to words and deeds of sadhus, sadhvis and their ilk, which systematically target the minorities of India today.
Fali Nariman, a Constitutional expert and one of India’s most eminent jurists delivered the 7th Annual Lecture of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) 12 September 2014. The lecture was presided over by the then Minister for Minority Affairs Najma Heptulla. Speaking on ‘Minorities at Crossroads: Comments on Judicial Pronouncements’, he lambasted the newly-elected NDA Government for doing nothing to stop the attacks and tirades by right-wing Hindu groups and individuals against minority communities in different parts of the country.
Nariman said, “Hinduism is losing its traditional tolerance because some Hindus have started believing that it is their faith that has brought them political power - and because this belief is not being challenged by those at the top”. Hinduism, he felt that over the years has been fairly tolerant of the other faiths in the country; “but - recurrent instances of religious tension fanned by fanaticism and hate speech have shown that the Hindu tradition of tolerance is showing signs of strain. And let me say this frankly - my apprehension is that Hinduism is somehow changing its benign face because, and only because it is believed and proudly proclaimed by a few (and not contradicted by those at the top): that it is because of their faith and belief that HINDUS have been now put in the driving seat of governance”. He further maintained that “we have been hearing on television and reading in newspapers almost on a daily basis a tirade by one or more individuals or groups against one or another section of citizens who belong to a religious minority and the criticism has been that the majority government at the Centre has done nothing to stop this tirade.”
Even after this warning, there was no let-up on the hate speeches and attacks on the minorities in several parts of the country. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Chief calls for the establishment of a Hindu ‘Rashtra’ (nation); a Union Minister, Niranjan Jyoti turns abusive saying that in India, one is either ‘ramzadon’ (those born of Ram) or ‘haramzadon’ (illegitimately born). On 14 September 2014, a BJP Parliamentarian Sakshi Maharaj made a strong allegation that “the Madrasas of the Muslims were teaching terror”. On 5 January 2015, addressing a gathering in Meerut, he boldly proclaimed, “the concept of four wives and 40 children will not work in India and the time has come when a Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect Hindu religion.” The same news report goes on to add, ‘Sakshi Maharaj went further to add that those involved in conversion must be punished with death, though ‘ghar wapsi’ (reconversion) is not equivalent to conversion. “Wait for some time,” he thundered, “a law will be passed in Parliament in which anyone indulging in cow slaughter and conversion will be punished with the death sentence”.
The Dadri lynching of 28 September 2015 (when Akhlaq was killed because of a rumour that ‘he ate beef’) was not a spontaneous act of violence by a mob but a well thought of barbaric act by people who knew that they could do things with impunity, because they are vested with immunity. In Gujarat, several Muslim youths were killed by the police in what is infamously known as “encounters.” The youth were apparently innocent and those responsible for their deaths got away with murder. Just last week on 2 May, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court dropped all charges against former police officers D.G. Vanzara and N.K. Amin in the sensational fake encounter case of Ishrat Jahan and three others in Ahmedabad.
As if on cue, the recently released Annual Report 2019 of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its Chapter on India very strongly stated, “Over the last decade, conditions for religious minorities in India have deteriorated. A multifaceted campaign by Hindu nationalist groups like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS), Sangh Parivar, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to alienate non-Hindus or lower-caste Hindus is a significant contributor to the rise of religious violence and persecution. Those targeted by this campaign—including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and lower-caste Hindus—face challenges ranging from acts of violence or intimidation, to the loss of political power, increasing feelings of disenfranchisement, and limits on access to education, housing and employment. While there is a system of affirmative action for education, housing, and employment that is constitutionally mandated to assist historically disenfranchised groups, especially lower-caste Hindus, some have called its efficacy and fairness of implementation into question”.
The report further stated, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi seldom made statements decrying mob violence, and certain members of his political party have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and used inflammatory language about religious minorities publicly. Victims of large-scale attacks in recent years have not been granted justice, and reports of new crimes committed against religious minorities were not adequately accounted for or prosecuted. India’s substantial population both complicates and limits the ability of national and state institutions to address these issues. Based on these concerns, in 2019 USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA)”. A strong indictment on a Prime Minister and the government which has become extremely communalized.
Ten years ago, in 2009, a massive rally organized by the Bharat Jagruti Morcha, brought together Hindu Sadhus and Sadhvis from all over India including Asaram Bapu and Morari Bapu of Gujarat; the gathering loudly proclaimed:
“BHARAT VISHWA GURU ABHIYAN (Movement of India’s World Gurus)
Sant hamare desh ki shaan (The saints are the country’s pride)
Yahi banate desh mahan (they make the country great)
Vishwa Guru ho bharat pyara (The world gurus are beloved of India)
Aisa hein sankalp hamara (this is our resolve that)
Hindu dharma hee vishwa ko vinash se bachaa sakta hai
(Only Hindu religion can save the world from eternal damnation)
Bharat Jagruti Morcha avaan karta hai
Samasth Hindu ekjut hokar desh, dharma vah sanskruti ki raksha kare
(Bharat Jagruti Morcha calls upon Hindus to unite to save religion and culture.)
That which was perhaps just sloganeering ten years ago, is slowly becoming a reality as several of them are desperately trying to destroy the pluralism of India, in their attempt to create their “Hindu Rashtra”. The juggernaut of hate and venom, divisiveness and violence are personified today by the likes of Sadhvi Deva Thakur, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and their ilk. With two phases of elections still to go, it is not too late to stop their chariot of destruction and to achieve that, we the people of India must wake up and act cohesively immediately.
Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights activist and writer.