India is an interesting country! Let’s have a look at how it is developing and progressing recently.
A report compiled by Center for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) in 2017 stated that India has experienced many instances of communal violence since 1947, and which increased in frequency and intensity in the 1980s and 1990s. These peaked more in a number of major incidents, such as in Gujarat in 2002, Orissa in 2008 and Muzaffarnagar in 2013, leaving thousands dead and much more injured and displaced, and many others that are not reported in the media.
On August 5, 2019, the President of India issued an order under the power of Article 370 and 35A, and the subsequent bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, overriding the prevailing 1954 Presidential Order and nullifying all the provisions of autonomy granted to the state of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after, the already bleeding Kashmir saw more unrest, protests and subsequent violence. The Indian government cut landline, mobile and internet communication and arrested political leaders and activists.
The year 2020 also had been crucially testing for minority faith followers, media, academics, civil society groups, and various protesters’ group. In February 2020, more than 50 people including Muslims were killed in the middle of communal and protest-related violence in Delhi following weeks of demonstrations against discriminatory changes to the country’s Citizen (Amendment) Act. The critics say the Act is part of a BJP agenda to marginalise the Indian Muslims. Furthermore, the authorities filed criminal charges against journalists, students, and private citizens under colonial-era sedition laws as well as the 2000 Information Technology (IT) Act in response to speech that was criticizing the government, particularly including expressions of opposition to the new citizenship act and debate regarding the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
India’s internal migrant population endured significant hardships as a result of the government’s pandemic-related lockdown, which was imposed in March and gradually eased beginning in May. Many migrant laborers were unable to access basic supplies and services in the cities, forcing millions to travel hundreds of miles — often on foot — to their home villages. Harsh restrictions on movement were violently enforced by police and citizen vigilantes, with Muslims often scapegoated as potential spreaders of the virus.
In September, several BJP leaders who were credibly accused of orchestrating the demolition of a historic mosque in 1992 were acquitted by a special court. Modi had signaled his support for the construction of a Hindu temple on the contested site.
India, considered as the world’s largest democracy, slid down the democracy scale, with Freedom House classifying it as “partly free”, and the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute, an independent research institute based in the University of Gothenburg, calling it an “electoral autocracy” under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its 2021 report titled Autocratization Turns Viral.
The BJP is a right-wing political party that was an offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a violent right-wing organization that promotes Hindu supremacy. Members of the Bajrang Dal are the movement’s foot soldiers, deployed in instances of mob violence or for targeted attacks against Muslims and other religious groups. The CIA in its “World Factbook” named Bajrang Dal and other likeminded organizations such as Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) as “terrorist organizations”. The ideology of these organizations is based on Hindutva. Such organizations’ use of violent intimidation played a key role in Modi’s rise to power.
The New Yorker in March 2019 in one of its article “The Violent Toll of the Hindu Nationalism in India” mentioned that Bajrang Dal has around twenty-five hundred cells across India. These are called akhadas, situated in Dharavi, Mumbai, which is Asia’s largest slum. For protecting cows, these militants recruited poverty stricken Hindu youth to their violent cause. Paul Richard Brass, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Washington, called the Bajrang Dal “a somewhat pathetic but nevertheless dangerous version of the Nazi S.A.”—or the Brownshirts, the Nazi Party’s first paramilitary organization.
Yet India is a largest democracy! Democracies do not fight democracies and a democratic state ensures equal rights to its citizens irrespective of their caste, color or creed. Does India exhibit the traits of a democratic state or is this another kind of democracy that it is promoting and the international community is in slumber to warn against it?
It is said that democracy and development are compatible and complementary. According to Britannica, democracy guarantees and helps people to protect their fundamental interests; fundamental rights and it ensures its citizens a broader range of personal freedoms than other forms of government do. An effective democratic setup tends to allow a broader range of interests to be considered on a regular basis. This leads to more nuanced and moderate policies and reduces the risk for ineffective leaders to prolong their stay in power.1
While India is a multiparty democracy, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has presided over discriminatory policies and increased violence affecting the minorities. India’s status under Modi and its allies has declined from Free to Partly Free due to continued multiyear pattern in which the Hindu nationalist government has authorized the increasing violence and discrimination which has affected all minority faith followers and particularly the Muslim population.
The Indian constitution guarantees civil liberties including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, nonetheless, the harassment of journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other government critics has multiplied significantly under Modi. Muslims, scheduled castes and tribes remain economically and socially marginalized. The government pursues a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.
So, what happened to the so called “Free and Largest Democracy”?
The nascent communal violence disproportionately affects the country’s religious minorities, not only Muslims, but also Christians and Sikhs. This communal violence is frequently organized for political gains, and it draws on and exacerbates a climate of entrenched discrimination against its religious minorities. Such violence is met with impunity all the time and in many cases direct complicity from state actors, ranging from inciting violence through hate speech to refusing to properly investigate communal incidents after they have occurred.2 This includes a significant number of state officials affiliated with the ruling BJP, and also other actors across the political spectrum.
“Muslims in India have also been the target of state violence, in particular in Jammu and Kashmir, where civil society groups have documented systematic and widespread human rights abuses by police, including arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings. It is within this broader context that Muslims in India have been subjected to the most serious manifestations of communal riots since Partition: in many cases, violence has been actively enabled by the failure (such as lack of protection or access to justice) or even complicity (for example, through hate speech) of public officials”.3
The changes in India since Modi took charge in 2014 “form part of a broader shift in the international balance between democracy and authoritarianism, with authoritarians generally enjoying impunity for their abuses and seizing new opportunities to consolidate power or crush dissent.”
This is a wakeup call for international community, if it is not addressed now, the fire of hate towards others will engulf the globe.
The writer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations at University of Peshawar, Pakistan.
E-mail: [email protected]
1. “The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace,” GSDRC, accessed on March 11, 2021, https://gsdrc.org/document-library/the-democracy-advantage-how-democracies-promote-prosperity-and-peace/.
2. For details, see: https://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/MRG_Rep_India_Jun17-2.pdf
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