The last week of 2020 ended on a bitter note for the minorities of South Asia. In Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a Hindu temple was attacked by a mob and set on fire. Videos of the act resounded on social media, underlining the shaky position of Hindus in the Islamic republic.
At around the same time, videos of mosques under attack in India also started to circulate. In two places in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Madhya Pradesh, mobs surrounded mosques, vandalised them and in one case, used the location to conduct Hindu religious rituals – acts aimed at reiterating the shaky position of Muslims in a purportedly secular republic.
Outrage in Pakistan
However, here is where events start to diverge in the South Asian twins. In Pakistan, there was widespread outrage about the temple attack. Responding to a plea by a Hindu legislator, the Chief Justice of Pakistan took cognisance of the matter the day after the incident. Expressing “grave concern”, the Supreme Court decided that it would hear the matter within a week.
The court also issued directions to a one-person commission on minorities rights, the provincial chief secretary and provincial inspector general of police to visit the site and submit a report, the Indian Express said.
The day after the temple was attacked, 30 people belonging to an Islamist party were arrested, including the leaders who had incited the mob. A further FIR was filed against 350 others under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, reported the Times of India. By Saturday, the number of people arrested had risen to 55, reported NDTV.
There was also condemnation on the political front. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan called the attack on the temple “an unfortunate incident” and warned that no one would be allowed to take the law into their own hands. He also announced that the provincial government will rebuild the temple.
Divergence in India
The reaction over in Madhya Pradesh, however, was starkly different. Far from any strict police action, at least in once attack, the police tamely accompanied the Hindutva mob – a lack of action admitted to by the police themselves since they thought it “not advisable to use force to control the situation”. A member of the Waqf board in Mandsaur, the site of one attack, termed the police “mute spectators”.
Minor penal action was taken days after the attacks, with less than ten arrests of people who attacked the mosques. Ironically, far more Muslims have been arrested, many under the draconian Nation Security Act, for allegedly reacting with violence when armed Hindutva mobs entered Muslim localities and villages.
In one egregious case, the house of a Muslim daily wage earner was razed to the ground summarily – something that former Supreme Court judge Deepak Gupta called “absolutely illegal and an act of a police state”.
In sharp contrast, no action has been taken against cleric Acharya Shekhar who, according to Clarion India, had threatened mass violence: “We will create so many graveyards in Madhya Pradesh that you will struggle for space to bury your dead.”
Unlike in Pakistan, there has been no suo moto judicial action in India, even though Indian courts have extensive powers to direct criminal investigation – and have often used them in the past.
Along with a collapse of the justice system, the political situation in Madhya Pradesh is also dire. Home Minister Narottam Mishra backed the summary demolition with this statement, “They will have to be removed from where the stones came.”
A similar act of majoritarian partisanship was witnessed as Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, skipped any comment on the armed rallies by Hindutva mobs and instead blamed Muslims for “creating disturbance” and warned that they would be “dealt with strictly”.
India has in recent years embarked on the road to Hindutva authoritarianism. Research by the Sweden-based Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute showed that India’s ruling BJP scored highly on its “party illiberalism index” – so much so that it is “close to the typical governing party in autocracies in terms of illiberalism”. Political scientist Vinay Sitapati has warned that India is already a “Hindu state”.
The difference in how Pakistan, an officially Islamic state, and India handled attacks on these minority places of worship demonstrates just how far the latter has fallen below its stated ideals of building a secular nation.