There have been serious questions raised about India’s secularism since its independence in 1947. Such questions have gained new urgency with the rapid rise of Hindu Nationalists and the election of BJP leader Narendra Modi in 2014.
Serious doubts about India’s claim of secularism were articulated well by Indian journalist Kapil Komireddy in an Op Ed piece he wrote for the UK’s Guardian newspaper a few years ago. Here’s an excerpt of it:
“Indian Muslims in particular have rarely known a life uninterrupted by communal conflict or unimpaired by poverty and prejudice. Their grievances are legion, and the list of atrocities committed against them by the Indian state is long. In 2002 at least 1,000 Muslims were slaughtered by Hindu mobs in the western state of Gujarat in what was the second state-sponsored pogrom in India (Sikhs were the object of the first, in 1984). Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, explained away the riots by quoting Newton’s third law. “Every action,” he said on television, “has an equal opposite reaction.” The “action” that invited the reaction of the mobs was the torching of a Gujarat-bound train in which 59 Hindus pilgrims, most of them saffron-clad bigots who were returning home from a trip to the site of the Babri Mosque that they had helped demolish a decade earlier, perished. The “equal and opposite reaction” was the slaughter of 1,000 innocent Muslims for the alleged crime of their coreligionists.”
Komireddy goes on to describe how India’s “liberal” elite rationalize sectarianism in “secular” India:
“The novelist Shashi Tharoor tried to burnish this certifiably sectarian phenomenon with a facile analogy: Indian Muslims, he wrote, accept Hindu rituals at state ceremonies in the same spirit as teetotallers accept champagne in western celebrations. This self-affirming explanation is characteristic of someone who belongs to the majority community. Muslims I interviewed took a different view, but understandably, they were unwilling to protest for the fear of being labelled as “angry Muslims” in a country famous for its tolerant Hindus.”
The Sangh Parivar’s project to Hinduize India has accelerated with the landslide victory of BJP leader Narendra Modi and his inauguration as Prime Minister of India in 2014. Some of the manifestations of this phenomenon as reported by the Washington Post are as as follows:
1.The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (or the World Hindu Council) launched a program called “Gharwapsi” (or Homecoming) to urge India’s Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism, which they said was the religion of their ancestors. It has resulted in many reported instances of forced mass conversions of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.
2. Beef sales have been banned in several Indian states. The most egregious of such laws is the Maharashtra state law that criminalizes possession or consumption of beef.
3. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has said the Hindu scripture Bhagwad Gita must be declared a “national scripture.” Another BJP politician, Manohar Lal Khattar, the chief minister of the northern Haryana state has said Bhagwad Gita is considered more important than India’s secular Constitution.
4. Poor school children are being denied eggs, a cheap protein needed by growing youngsters, in their school lunches by India’s vegetarian Hindu elite, according an NPR report.
The above changes are just the tip of a much larger iceberg of Hindu transformation of India with major appointments of Hindu ideologues by ruling party to key positions in education and media posts at the center and the provinces.
It’s not just in India that the Hindu Nationalists are gaining strength. Their programs receive significant funding and support from non-resident Indians (NRIs). A report entitled “Hindu Nationalism in the United States: A Report on Non-Profit Groups” makes the following assertions regarding the strength and nature of the Hindu nationalist movement in the United States:
a. Over the last three decades, a movement toward Hinduizing India–advancing the status of Hindus toward political and social primacy in India– has continued to gain ground in South Asia and diasporic communities. The Sangh Parivar (the Sangh “family”), the network of groups at the forefront of this Hindu nationalist movement, has an estimated membership numbering in the millions, making the Sangh one of the largest voluntary associations in India. The major organizations in the Sangh include the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
b. Hindu nationalism has intensified and multiplied forms of discrimination, exclusion, and gendered and sexualized violence against Muslims, Christians, other minorities, and those who oppose Sangh violations, as documented by Indian citizens and international tribunals, fact-finding groups, international human rights organizations, and U.S. governmental bodies.
c. India-based Sangh affiliates receive social and financial support from its U.S.-based wings, the latter of which exist largely as tax-exempt non-profit organizations in the United States: Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), Sewa International USA, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation-USA. The Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party – USA (OFBJP) is active as well, though it is not a tax-exempt group.
Acceleration of “secular” India’s total Hindu-ization under Prime Minister Modi represents a sea change for South Asia region and the world. It could prove to be very destabilizing for India, a much larger and far more diverse country than its neighboring Islamic Pakistan. Such instability could derail India’s economic rise unless its forced Hindu-ization is checked by the country’s leadership with external pressure from India’s friends. And its effects will be strongly felt far outside the borders of India. It is already causing serious issues between India and Pakistan that could lead a devastating war in South Asia with severe consequences for the entire world.