The Thin Edge

The TM Krishna column: Why the Hindu majority must push back against the BJP’s politics of hate

The ruling party and the Sangh Parivar at large have launched an unrelenting blitz on minority identities, cultures and their rights as equal citizens of India.

The monsoon this year has been stuttering and stammering for attention. In comparison, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s outreach divisions have had no such trouble for three years. They have been consistent and unabated in giving us outbursts of divisiveness targeted at minorities. We have been participants and victims in this unrelenting blitz on people’s identities, cultures and their right to participate in India’s democracy as equal citizens.

The idea of citizenry has been eroded. The garb of democracy has allowed all this to pass, with many unable to take notice of the systematic numbing of our minds. A few bread crumbs of change are thrown in here and there, which are promptly broadcast by online foot soldiers to portray a new India even as our social weave is persistently torn apart. On the other side of the aisle is a totally inept Opposition that has no ethical standing to counter this onslaught. It has therefore been left to the larger society to remain steadfast in their opposition. This is much easier said than done.

The Hindu majority community is told by brash politicians, suave gurus and a tendentious media that their fear of Muslims and Islam is real and they should not shy away from expressing it. Hindus at large are under threat, is the underlying rhetoric. I sometimes hear upper-caste Hindus use the word persecution while referring to their own struggles. To my ears, the use of this word by people of social and cultural privilege is an act of violence.

The BJP makes sure these fears remain intact and has also been able to co-opt other caste groups into this imaginary cultural-economic-religious aspirational stairway. Their main targets to achieve this end are, naturally, Muslims and Dalits. Every few weeks, the Modi government or members of the Sangh Parivar launch a missile on contentious issues such as the demand for a Uniform Civil Code, the protection of the holy cow, imposition of Hindi, attacks on Dalits, the lynching of Muslims, instigation of violence in educational institutions or armed assaults on Kashmiri protestors.

The Right has successfully undermined the sense of security within the minority community, at the same time vilifying every aspect of their socio-religious life. They have been greatly aided by the Islamophobia that hangs over the entire globe. This is a two-pronged attack. Change rules in the name of regulation, use violence in the garb of internal security, allow members and non-governmental cultural allies to spout venom and let social media warriors permeate hate. While these actions are active, they use every opportunity to diminish Islam historically and in its contemporary form.

Islam in transition

Islam is not treated like any other religion and hence Muslims have to either reject it entirely or accept their Hindu-ness, implying that their humanity comes from this association. Otherwise they are depicted as rabid Islamists or sympathisers. The game of good Muslim vs bad Muslim is played ever so often. The Sangh Parivar conveniently exploits the words of Muslims who have moved away from Islam or are atheist for this propaganda. Their denouncement is used to affirm Islam’s inherent tyranny.

All this is happening at a time when Islam in India is going through a very critical phase. We have to face the reality that young Muslims in pockets across the country are being radicalised. They are being brain washed into endorsing parochial social practices and enforcing oppressive conservatism. A dangerous interpretation of the Quran and of social order is being accepted as god’s word. Integrated Islamic-Hindu practices are slowly but steadily vanishing. Orthodox and myopic religious leaders and their cohorts, with immense power to control their community, are changing the fabric of the Islamic faith. These religious leaders, like some of their counterparts, Hindu swamis, are just hate-mongers.

It is also true that some young men have left India to fight in Syria alongside the Islamic State. There are many Muslims from the older generation who are unable to understand this shift and do not have the energy to fight. Others are struggling to come to terms with this downward spiral. Devout Muslim men and women from within the community are afraid to speak up. They have immense faith in their religion and live in its splendour, desperate to retrieve its soul.

Islam is Indian. It is as Indian as Hinduism, Christianity or Buddhism. We must embrace its Catholic ideals and offer a helping hand to all those who are touched by its inherent sensitivity. We have to empathise and participate as fellow citizens in this struggle. How, when and in what form must be decided with their concurrence. But we need to be there as caring, dependable partners in safeguarding Islam and its people. Islam is under siege and we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all those brave Muslim women and men who raise their voice of protest.

Unfortunately, we have done exactly the opposite. We have been rabble-rousers, stereotyping and painting all Muslims with the same brush. We have insisted on framing discordant discourses that separate the Indic from the Abrahamic. In the name of scholarship, these pigeon holes have only stifled mutual understanding. We constantly point fingers and make them feel like undeserving, singularly evil, second-grade citizens.

Pushing away

Muslims in this country are told on a regular basis that they are lucky to be in India. Call for change and challenges emanating from Reformist Muslim movements are quoted only to further tarnish the religion. This unrelenting stigmatisation only perpetuates radicalisation.

Radicalisation comes from insecurity and a desperate need for validation. When young people from an already marginalised community are bombarded with fear, instigation, abuse, suspicion and malicious accusations, overtly and through innuendos, they become easy prey for barbaric mad-hatters who spread their message via deep sea fibre optic cables.

The Hindu majority needs to hold itself as responsible for the turn that Islam has taken in some parts of the country. Let us not bring this discussion down to Muslim appeasement, which is only another way to further weaken their spirit and keep them from being emboldened. They have been through that and now we have pushed them to the other end, the deep end.

For the BJP, it is simple math. The more that Muslims can be cornered, the greater the consolidation of the Hindus. It is up to us, the majority, to change the tone and course of this conversation. Our own backyard needs cleaning, but we also do have the cultural strength to participate actively in the Islamic discourse. And through this engagement we will learn and our own misconceptions will be addressed. We brandish a diverse India, but we are just a country of multiple entrapments. It is time these are brought down. That is the only way to change the course of our future.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.


During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.