Breaking Silence

His voice seems sonorous—Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warning against religious fanatics. Ironically this warning came from a man who was widely condemned as the architect of Ghodhra carnage in 2002. He has been getting flak for quite some time from the Opposition and some Christian Groups for turning a blind eye to a string of violent attacks on churches and a missionary school by the frontal outfits of his party—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—in Delhi. Maybe, it is a mere coincidence that his tough talk came in the wake of vandalising of a Hindu temple in the USA. The saffron brigade’s two-way strategy of neutralising the aggrieved communities by offering equal rights and opportunities as guaranteed under the Constitution while allowing the Sangh Parivar to go on the offensive against minorities seems to be facing a road-block because it now gets currency, both here and abroad. The die-hard followers of BJP look too impatient to assert themselves in a volatile political situation India has been in ever since Modi’s dramatic ascent to power. While addressing the national celebration function of the elevation of Sainthood of Kuriakose Eliam Chavara and mother Euphrasia at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on February 17, Modi said somewhat emphatically that his government won’t allow any religious group belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. But his foot-soldiers under the banner of this Sangh or that Sangh have been continuing their subtle business of communal polarisation through the dubious programme of reconversion (ghar wapsi) and re-writing, rather distorting history, for the last nine months.

They find a soft target in Christians, particularly tribal Christians. How much this will affect tribal resistance to forcible acquisition of land and forests for mining purposes is yet to be assessed but it will certainly impact on social movements against corporate onslaught. Bajrang Dal, the notorious frontal wing of BJP, was specifically organised to work among tribals with a view to propagating re-conversion—ghar wapsi. With their very own government at the centre it is now easy for them to pursue their agenda of aggression.

Tribals are under attack from different sides. Their livelihood is threatened. And now their religious faith is also under attack. What is shown as voluntary conversion is not that voluntary. Despite sporadic violence against christian community and attacks on churches here and there, communal polarisation between Hindus and Christians, unlike the one between Hindus and Muslims, is not that sharp. It had never been, for historical reasons. After all the Hindu ideologues don’t face any demographic challenge from the christian community.

The Modis look pragmatic enough not to destroy new political advantage they have gained even in Jammu and Kashmir. They want to keep their virulent opposition to article 370 in shelves, at least for the time being, to pave the way for a BJP-PDP government in Srinagar which was unthinkable even a few years back.

Given a prolonged communal tradition in India’s political arena, polarisation on communal lines, is the easiest way to win votes and it serves as a good public diversion as well. The real issues of survival get blurred at every communal turn and twist.

The rate of economic inequality is not only morally obscene, but an existential threat to a large number of ethnic and religious minorities and marginalised people, particularly tribals and dalits. Economic inequality is quite staggering and the gap between the richest and the rest is widening very fast. Indian national wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated among a small super rich elite. And periodic riots between communities just shift the focus of the toilers from the basic question of deprivation and dispossession. Reconversion cannot reverse the process of tribal land alienation, rather it will complicate it further, to the disadvantage of the tribal community as a whole. Issuing harmless press statements against reconversion and communal polarisation cannot stop the saffron brigade from going ahead with their majoriterian assertion in a number of ways. Only mass mobilisation against a common enemy—the corporate lobby and their political backers—can blunt the edge of communal polarisation and religious intolerance which is a time-tested device to keep the downtrodden divided perennially, somewhat antagonistically.

Secularists of all hues, never try to analyse why their anti-communal chorus is no answer to the continuing rise of communal forces. Now Modi’s pointmen are silently trying to capture educational space from schools to universities and national institutes with international repute, for changing historical outlook and redefining culture. As Pakistan has changed school text-books with communal version, the saffronities too are doing the same in reverse only to undermine the plural nature of Indian society. Secularists in India have no future unless they attack the economic base of communalists which is not on their agenda.

Some regions that witnessed massive mass movements on a number of survival issues in the yester years, continue to enjoy remarkable communal harmony and present exemplary instances of religious tolerance.

These days religious intolerance is a global phenomenon, albeit global players too are behind it. In truth religious intolerance has made this world a living hell. And it is nowhere so pervasive as in the Middle East. Only the other day the Islamic State (IS) released a grisly video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian coptic Christians in Libya which prompted Pope Francis to denounce it saying they were ‘‘assassinated just for being Christians’’. But coptic Christians have been facing legal discrimination in Egypt for long. Even before the fundamentalist take-over by Mursi they used to be discriminated against, constitutionally. And in India all are equal before law, constitutional safeguards are there but in practice the worst form of discrimination, bordering on racism, continues unabated. As long as a large number of Indian citizens are treated as ‘other’ and scapegoated for the economic crisis religious intolerance coupled with communal polarisation will remain a tool in the hands of right-wing forces. And the left’s approach to the problem is so naive that people have very little faith in their rhetoric as it is reflected in poll verdict even in areas, once considered as their citadels.

Vol. 47, No. 34, Mar 1 - 7, 2015