THE RISE OF COMMUNAL INTOLERANCE
Author: Amanatbir Kaur, V year of B.A.,LL.B. from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab
India has had a glorious past which is very well known for its rich culture and diversity. Every child in an essay about India proudly refers to it as a nation with unity in diversity, but with the increasing communal tension in the country, is the nation worthy of these golden words? February 2020 witnessed the most recent major communal riots in the country leaving more than 53 people dead. The whole event started with protests against the amendments to India’s citizenship law in December 2019, which were potentially anti-Muslim.
India (particularly after independence) has witnessed repeated instances of communal violence, majority of them involving Hindus and Muslims. To understand the nature of communal violence in India one must understand the historical background of the country’s largest and oldest religious community that is Hinduism. Hindus comprise of 80% population of the country and it has been a caste-based religion since its inception. This caste system given by the religion is water-tight and has led to further fragmentation of the society on not only on religion, region or class basis but also on a caste basis. It was under the Mughal rulers that the aggrieved lower-class Hindus started converting to Islam and the Muslims were also given many a benefit over the Hindus. The existing differences were made more rigid under British rule. The bruisers preyed on the existing rivalry between the religious groups to implement their policy of ‘Divide and Rule’.
In 1947 India witnessed the most barbaric and large-scale communal violence of all times. The event scarred the two nations and brought great bitterness in the relationship shared by India and Pakistan. It was the outcome of threat called Hindutva, that the Muslim League could foresee for the Muslim community after independence.
Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar were the personalities who introduced and popularised the concept of Hindutva in India in the 1920s. Hindutva was introduced as a political ideology which represented the people of India but it gained a religious profile when popularised Savarkar in his text ‘Hindutva: Who is Hindu?’ in which he referred to the concept of 'Punyabhoomi’, according to which all the religions, which had their sacred lands/sites in India, were regarded as legitimate. In a way, he directed that the Islamic and Christian presence in India is foreign and illegal and also expressed that Hindus are the rightful owners of Indian land. Thus, began the religious cum political battle which intensified soon after.
Keshav Hegdewar in 1925 founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the aim and purpose of the association was to build a Hindu Rashtra. Over the years the RSS established itself and propagated the idea of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism). In the following years, Islam was seen as the biggest threat while ignoring the existing evils existing in Hinduism itself like the Caste System or the suppression of women, etc. Hindutva is indeed a secular concept while limiting membership based on religion at the same time. With the growing ideology of a Hindu Rashtra, the Muslims feared their political banishment from independent India. Even Indian nationalism (organised in 1885 as the Indian National Congress), from the very beginning, had Hindu religious traits.[i]
The Muslim League presented their demand for autonomous representation within India. However, the result of the partition was more painful than it sounds and cost countless innocent lives. And till date, it brings a feeling of horror and anger amongst the people of both the nations who were part of the partition.
While the partition is one reason but we can’t overlook the political factors, which incite violence and enmity. The political parties feed on the existing discord between the two major religious communities to gain the vote of the majority in the region the party leaders often tend to deliver hate speeches about the other religion which turns violent in no time. Several political leaders are infamous for their hate speeches.
The NDA government professes Hindutva which has been made clear by the conduct and speeches of party leaders time and again. Hindutva, however, has been alleged to be a way of life rather than having anything to do with religion but sadly that is now how Hindutva is perceived by all. The promotion of Hindutva, which recognizes Muslims as foreigners, is bound to make the Muslim community feel threatened and question the objective of the government for promoting such a concept which fails the secular structure of the country. When a majority favoured ideology which prima facie threatens the others is followed, it is the end of hope for the minority which is given second-grade treatment and threatened. At this point, it would be justified to say that the government should act more wisely and should adopt ideas which are universal concerning religious interests.
Usually, the political factors have a greater role to play in these situations as the general public is prone to follow their political leaders, if they prevent the idea of communal hatred and violence, it is less likely to take place. The hate in us is so deeply ingrained that we often want to discourage and condemn the actions of Muslims by calling them to be anti-national or have the view that supporting Muslims means supporting terrorism. One of the reasons for the 1993 Mumbai riots was the fact that Hindus felt economically threatened by a few Muslims traders who were establishing themselves in the market. The minority groups consider themselves equally nationalist as anyone else. It is us who make the atmosphere hostile for them. It is the responsibility of all the citizens to live in harmony and make each other feel safe. How can we expect a person to treat us nicely when all we give them is hate? No one becomes less human or less Indian because of their religious beliefs.
The Minister of External Affairs (MEA), on 3rd August 2020 announced its decision to provide shelter to Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan and labelled them as threatened minorities.[ii] One might argue that if Muslim dominated nations mistreat Hindu minorities why should India not do the same to Muslims? Because, firstly, Gandhi Ji said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. India condemns such acts of other nations and if one is following the same path while criticising others for it would be called hypocrisy. Secondly, revenge is not the answer because Gandhi also said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”. It is time we accept our religious differences and work on other concerns to develop India and make it a safe place for all who reside here.
The judiciary has also played a vital role in controlling the environment and providing hope to the people that there is an authority to check the actions of the government. It is no secret that democracies tend to favour the majority but a balance must be maintained to protect minorities. Good governance and legislative steps are necessary for situations when the rule of the majority starts governing democracy.[iii] In such situations the judiciary is expected to act in the spirit of democracy as it has done over the years in cases like Kesavananda Bharati, where the basic structure doctrine was laid down. Kesavananda was the beginning, followed by other landmark judgments like Maneka Gandhi, Frances Coralie Mullin and many others demonstrating what the judiciary is capable of.
But sadly, in the recent past the judiciary has been a silent spectator. The judiciary seems to have been rendered powerless in front of the executive. The executive is on the way to achieving absolute power and yet is not held liable for any of its actions, even the unconstitutional ones. Justice A.P. Shah in his speech on ‘Supreme Court in Decline: Forgotten Freedoms and Eroded Rights’, at the Justice Suresh Memorial Lecture, on September 18, 2020, said, “We were recently told in Puttaswamy case that the ghosts of ADM Jabalpur had been buried deep, but I fear that these ghosts may have returned to haunt us once again.”[iv]
In the ADM Jabalpur case (aka the Habeas Corpus case) the court disappointingly held that no person can file a writ in the court against detention during the emergency in 1975. The Supreme Court approved the suspension of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This is the decision which stained the reputation of the Supreme Court and it took decades to recover but once again the court seems to have failed to perform its role in deciding against the majority and the executive.
In the February 2020 Delhi riots also, the court seemed to avoid the issue of the constitutionality of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the atrocities committed against the Muslims in Delhi. Unarmed students were attacked and charged for harsh criminal offences but again the court stayed silent and refused to interfere. Such matters of urgency are usually adjourned but trivial matters regarding defamation are considered critical and disposed of without any delay. The situation in Kashmir issue was also critical as the area was completely cut off for almost a year and many political leaders were under house arrest but there seemed to be no hurry to lift the confinement from the liberty of those persons. Also, the court failed to apply the principles laid down in the Anuradha Basin case in Kashmir issue, where communications were suspended for a very long time without any justification and reasonable cause given by the government. India has earned criticism from all over the world for the sudden revocation of Article 370 but the Indian Judiciary.
More than 70 years ago, in the Constituent Assembly, Nehru had said that we needed judges of the “highest integrity”, who would be “[persons] who can stand up against the executive government and whoever might come in their way.”[v] It is time the Also, judiciary stops playing puppet of the executive and take an independent stand which serves the principles of the constitution and the public welfare (not only the majoritarian interest).
However, religious harmony cannot be achieved or broken by the actions of a single unit. It is a collective effort. The political representative specifically plays an important role in inciting hatred or acceptance. They should work to induce harmony among the opposing religious groups. There is also a dire need of sensitisation towards the Muslim community in India. because these issues have a great impact on societal discord. The executive must act in the welfare of all and the judiciary should also act promptly to any unacceptable actions which can lead to chaos. Hence, the problem of communal violence can be tackled to a great extent if the laws are followed and implemented properly in the national spirit and without any biases towards the minorities.
1. Ketan Alder, The Origins of Hindu Nationalism, MADRAS COURIER, (Oct. 24, 2020, 10:09 AM), https://madrascourier.com/opinion/the-origins-of-hindu-nationalism/.
2. Samira Shackle, What is Hindu Nationalism?, NEW HUMANIST, (Oct. 25,2020, 11:35 PM), https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/4663/what-is-hindu-nationalism.
3. Violette Graff Juliette Galonnier, Hindu-Muslim Communal Riots in India (1947-1986), SCIENCESPO, (Oct. 23,2020, 5:00 PM), https://www.sciencespo.fr/mass-violence-war-massacre-resistance/en/document/hindu-muslim-communal-riots-india-i-1947-1986.html.
4. Samudranil, Deadliest Riots in India, MY INDIA, (Oct. 29,2020, 12:47 PM), https://www.mapsofindia.com/my-india/india/deadliest-riots-in-india.