Plight of minorities in India
S M Hali
Theoretically, the Indian Constitution safeguards the rights of minorities but the Hindu majority, led by the BJP, is oblivious to the rights of the minorities and has indulged in excesses against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Dalits with impunity
India has been a vocal promoter of secularism but, unfortunately, the plight of minorities there tells a different tale. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the strongest advocates of Hindu Muslim unity, once said, “I firmly hold that communal frenzy will disappear when India assumes the responsibility of her own destiny.” Regrettably, Azad’s hope was not only dashed on the altar of Hindu fanaticism but the predicament of minorities in India has worsened.
In 2005, the then Prime Minister (PM), Manmohan Singh, appointed the Rajinder Sachar Committee to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational conditions of minorities in India. Headed by the former Chief Justice (CJ) of the Delhi High Court (DHC), Rajinder Sachar, and six other members, the committee prepared a 403-page report and presented it in the lower house (Lok Sabha) of Indian parliament on November 30, 2006. The committee concluded that, “the status of Indian Muslims is below the conditions of scheduled castes while the overall percentage of Muslims in the bureaucracy and armed forces in India is just 2.5 percent whereas Muslims constitute above 14 percent of the Indian population.” To ensure equity and equality of opportunities to Indian Muslims in the residential, work and educational sectors, the committee proposed multiple measures to be adopted, with suitable mechanisms. Alas, the Sachar Committee’s findings and recommendations were buried in red tape.
The advent of the BJP government in mid-2014 has caused further concern since the BJP’s election manifesto was directed towards extremist Hindus, dropping the idea of secularism. Theoretically, the Indian Constitution safeguards the rights of minorities but the Hindu majority, led by the BJP, is oblivious to the rights of the minorities and has indulged in excesses against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Dalits with impunity. In recent weeks, a number of religious ceremonies have been organised in different parts of India by Hindu hardliner groups close to Mr Modi’s governing BJP and there have been allegations that they involved force, fraud or inducement. Extremist Hindu groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and others say that Indian Muslims and Christians were all Hindus who have converted to other faiths over the last few centuries. These groups regularly hold ceremonies that they call “ghar vapasi” (returning home) to allow Christians and Muslims to return to their ‘original’ religion.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Testimony by Human Rights Watch presented before the US Senate Committee the atrocious attitude of the Hindu majority and has highlighted the plight of minorities in India. It concluded that in the run-up to the 2014 elections in India, tensions have escalated between Hindu and Muslim communities, leading to a 30 percent increase in incidents of communal violence as compared to 2012. The central government’s ministry of home affairs reported 823 incidents of communal violence in 2013, in which 133 people died and over 2,000 were injured. Although the report was presented before the Indian general elections of 2014, it not only fell on deaf ears but, ironically, the US government, which had previously denied a visa to Mr Modi on the basis of his involvement in the Gujarat pogrom, is now bending over backwards to woo him after his election as the Indian PM because they find India a lucrative market for their goods and services.
Some fanatic Hindus do not support a distinct culture for Indian minorities. They are led by the Skardu-born Professor Balraj Madhok, the one time president of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, who unified Hindus to stand against the Pakistani forces and local separatists in 1948. He has been propagating that Indian minorities must adopt Hindu names.
There has been a deliberate endeavour to ‘Hinduise’ the syllabus of schools and other educational institutions by inserting references to Hindu gods and goddesses in the textbooks. Simultaneously, history books prescribed by the Indian Education Board contain lessons depicting false stories of Muslim atrocities on Hindu women, kidnapping and forced conversion to Islam.
One would like to have faith in the Indian judicial system being impartial and fair but the truth is to the contrary. In the alleged attack on the Indian parliament building in December 2001, one of the accused, Afzal Guru, was falsely implicated and hanged although the evidence against him was flimsy. Perversely, despite eyewitness testimony implicating the highest elected political officials, justice continues to evade the victims in the Gujarat massacre of 2002 where over 70 accused persons of the Gujarat pogrom, including then Chief Minister (CM) Narendra Modi, were acquitted by the court.
If India wants to be recognised as a champion of democracy and supporter of secularism, it will have to improve its track record of treatment of its minorities. Instead of persecuting or harassing them, it must treat them with dignity and grant them the human rights assured to them by the Indian Constitution.