Intolerance is an outcome of extremism. Whether it is religious extremism, ultra-nationalism, extremist views about an ideology or about the superiority of the race — all encourage intolerance towards the others. The rise of intolerance in India these days is not surprising. During Modi’s election campaign it was evident that the extremist views and communal politics will give space to BJP Parivar’s intolerant followers. To whip up the support from the religious ultra-nationalist, Modi unnecessarily dragged Pakistan in his speeches.
I had three opportunities to speak at various forums in India in the last 12 months, where I had to emphasise that in all post 1970 elections no major leader in Pakistan tried to create hatred against India. I also stressed that Pakistan blundered to mix religion with politics from the very beginning and is now paying a heavy price in blood for making this lethal political formulation. India, I observed should learn from our mistakes as bringing religion in politics would breed intolerance in the society. But I have been always optimist that there is a secular India beyond Modi’s Hindutva, as there is a peace-loving Pakistan beyond Hafiz Saeed’s Jihad.
Today Secular forces around the world are worryingly looking at the rising tide of intolerance in India. Within India the secular forces are joining hands and are fighting against the intolerance unleashed by the RSS and BJP extremists who want to further the Hindutva values. Which are contrary to the secular values needed to take India forward as a 21st century democracy.
Leading intellectuals like Romila Thapar, Arundhati Roy and many artists have openly condemned the government for promoting intolerance in the society. The success of the secular forces in Bihar is also the rejection of Modi’s Hindutva and ultranationalist speeches during the election, besides the good performance of the incumbent Nitish Kumar and Lallu’s MY (Muslim-Yadav) policies.
What Modi’s ideologues undermine is that secularism is India’s need and not a political luxury, as it is not a monolithic society.
Let’s take a look at India’s religion-wise demography. According to the census 2001, out of 1028 million population, 80.5% are of Hindu religion, 13.4% are Muslim (latest survey shows Muslims sharing population has risen to around 14.6%), 2.3% are Christian, 1.9% Sikh, 0.80% Buddhist and 0.4% Jain. In addition, over 6 million have reported professing other religions and faiths including tribal religions, different from six main religions. True, Hinduism is professed by a majority of the population in India.
Although Muslims are over 14% in the total population of India, their percentage in many states is higher than the national share. The percentage of Muslims is sizeable in Assam 30.9%, West Bengal 25.2%, Kerala 24.7%, Uttar Pradesh 18.5% and Bihar 16.5% and Jammu & Kashmir over 64%. So from the tiny Indian Union territory island Lakshadweep where Muslims are 90% to Kashmir there are large pockets of Muslims presence cannot be undermined.
At the same time Christianity has emerged as the major religion in three North-eastern states, namely, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya. Among other states and union territories such as Manipur 34.0%, Goa 26.7%, Andaman & Nicobar Islands 21.7%, Kerala 19.0%, and Arunachal Pradesh 18.7% have considerable percentage of Christian population to the total. Similarly, Punjab is the stronghold of Sikhism. The Sikh population of Punjab accounts for more than 75 % of the total Sikh population in the country.
This is not all. Indian Dalits (oppressed the name adopted for schedule caste by Dalit leader) are a mixed population consisting of groups who speak different languages and practice different religions. Officially defined as schedule caste in India, they are are 16.6% and together with 8% schedule tribes they form 25% of India’s population. Though Dalit or schedule caste are classified as Hindus in the Indian official documents, the Dalit intellectuals from the architect of the Indian Constitution Dr. B. R. Ambekar to Kancha Ilaiah, the writer of ‘Why I am not a Hindu,’ have clearly maintained that Dalits are not Hindus, even the gods they pray to are not those of Brahmanism. “I was not born a Hindu for the single reason that my parents did not know that they were Hindus. This does not mean that I was born as a Muslim, Buddhist, a Sikh or a Parsee… My parents had only one identity that was their caste, they were Kurumass. Their festivals were local, their God and goddesses were local and sometimes they were even specific to one village.” (Kancha 2006).
Now if we segregate 20% non-Hindu population and 25% of the Dalit and others, almost 45% of India’s population cannot be subjected to the Brahmanism/ Hindutva. Thus RSS, VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal all ‘legacy’ of Hindu Jihad is not a popular narrative. In spite of all the lavish spending BJP mustered only 31% of the votes in the last elections. All BJP voters did not support its anti-secular agenda but what voted for its economic program, Also BJP won the elections thanks to the Congress default and poor performance in last five years.
India’s visionary leader Jawahar Lal Nehru had travelled to over 300 cities and towns of the country to draw the consensus that India should have a secular constitution. “Nehru: [secularism] means freedom of religion and conscience, including the freedom of those who may have no religion. It means free play of all religions subject only to their not interfering with each other or with basic conception of our state.”
Secular fundamentalist Mani Shankar Aiyar maintained in his book that…” Indian secularism cannot be anti-religious or irreligious, for the bulk of our people are deeply religious. … unlike in Christendom, where the word originated, secularism in India is not about pitting the state against the religious authority but about keeping matters of faith in the personal realm and matters of the state in the public realm.” (Aiyar 2004: Confessions of a secular fundamentalist).
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is author of What’s Wrong with Pakistan?