In 1950, India’s founding fathers made sure that secularism lay at the heart of the new Constitution that the country was adopting. It was a critical step in leaving behind the mass violence that had accompanied Partition to forge a new, modern India.
Seven decades later, this political compact is in grave danger as violent religious majoritarianism threatens to overwhelm India. The most brazen example of this is the fact that threats of violence, murder and even genocide against Muslims are now common enough in India to seem almost banal.
‘Finish off their population’
On Wednesday, we saw the latest interaction of this as multiple videos of Hindutva leaders emerged calling for violence against Muslims during a “dharam sansad” or religious parliament held in Haridwar city between December 17 and December 19. “Just like Myanmar, the police, the army and every Hindu must pick up arms and organise a cleansing [of Muslims],” said one of the organisers, Swami Prabodhanand from the Hindu Raksha Sena. “We have no other choice.”
Another speaker, Sadhvi Annapurna or Pooja Shakun Pandey repeated the call for genocide: “If you want to finish off their population then we are ready to kill them. Even if 100 of us are ready to kill 20 lakh of them, then we will be victorious”
Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, an extremist priest now infamous for his constant and as-yet unpunished hate speech, argued that an “economic boycott” of Muslims was not enough: “No community can survive without picking up weapons...And swords won’t work, they look good only on stages.”
Another priest named Dharamdas even called for an assisination of former prime minister Manmohan Singh “following in the footsteps of Nathuram Godse [Gandhi’s assassin]”.
At the same time, while addressing an event of Hindutva group Hindu Yuva Vahini in Delhi on December 19, Suresh Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News, can be seen administering an oath to a group of people to “die for and kill” to make India a “Hindu rashtra” or a Hindu nation.
Banality of evil
This is both shocking – as well as quite common now in India. Hate speech against Muslims is now heard regularly. Much of it is online at events like the Dharam Sansad in Haridwar. This is, quite naturally, accompanied by violence. Over the past few years, a spate of lynchings have swept India. Just on December 14, a young Muslim man was beaten to death in Haryana with the attackers shooting a video that showed them referring to his Muslim faith.
Mob violence and hate speech are not new to India. What is new, however, is the brazen, open support these crimes now get from the state. In 2017, for example, a Union minister garlanded the men accused of lynching a Muslim cattle trader in Jharkhand. In 2020, another Union minister led calls to “shoot the bloody traitors” at an election rally in Delhi. On Thursday, Karnataka passed a law practically prohibiting conversions away from Hinduism, thus backing the actions of anti-Christian mobs.
Unsurprisingly, one of the chief organisers of the Haridwar event, Prabodhanand, has uploaded photos of him meeting the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and one in which the Uttarakhand chief minister is touching his feet.
Given this brazen support for communal violence by politicians in power, unsurprisingly much of the criminal justice system performs just as badly. After the 2020 Delhi riots, the Delhi police ignored on-record calls to violence by Bharatiya Janata Party politicians and instead targeted protestors who were calling for the Modi government’s religion-based Citizenship Amendment Act to be repealed.
Siddique Kappan, a Muslim journalist reporting on an alleged gangrape and murder of a young Dalit woman in a village called Hathras in Uttar Pradesh has been in prison for more than year now on flimsy charges of terror. Even the Supreme Court has looked away from the brazenly unfair targeting of this young man.
This stands in sharp contrast to the soft action against hate crimes by Hindutva workers. In August, people associated with a rally in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar which, like Haridwar, saw calls to kill Muslims, received bail the very next month. Earlier in 2020, even 17 people convicted for mass murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots managed to received bail.
Seven decades after Independence, it is clear that the greatest threat to India’s constitutional order comes not from outside, but from those with power who have chosen to disregard and even sometimes encourage the overturning of the country’s secular edifice. If allowed to continue, this will lead to dark times for India’s minorities as well as its democracy.