Modi’s New India: A nightmare for minorities

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India ushered into another era of BJP-led government when Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister for his consecutive second term. While India has faced flak from numerous human rights organizations from around the world, the huge BJP mandate seems to have given a free hand to the communal elements in the majority community to unleash terror on the social and religious minorities.

The religious minority communities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution in India where hate crimes, social boycotts and forced conversion have escalated dramatically since 2014, an independent bipartisan American body has claimed, asking the US to put human rights at the heart of trade and diplomatic interactions with India.

“Under BJP-led governments, religious minority communities and Dalits, both have faced discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of jurisprudential consistency,” said a report released by US Commission for International Religious Freedom that monitors violation of religious freedom abroad.

 

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Hindu vigilante groups have killed dozens of people in recent years, many of them Muslims, for allegedly slaughtering or transporting cows — an animal that is considered sacred by many Hindus.

The attacks have sparked concern about the spread of violent Hindu nationalism since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.

Critics say the presence of a Hindu nationalist government in Delhi has encouraged vigilantism by their hard line supporters against cattle traders, especially Muslims, a minority in India. Even minority groups within the Hindu community, such as lower caste Hindus previously known as “untouchables,” have faced violence from hard line nationalists.

The BJP has long been associated with right-wing Hindu extremist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and involved with the exploitation of communal elements, contributing to its electoral victory in 2014. While as Prime Minister Modi himself has attempted to reorient his political image around business and economic development, critics have argued that extremist groups have been emboldened under BJP’s rule. Also highlighted has been his reluctance to condemn a spate of recent incidents targeting minorities, including hate speech, threats and a wave of attacks around cow slaughter that have particularly targeted Muslims as well as Hindus belonging to lower castes. This context has been further legitimized by policies and legislation introduced or strengthened at the state level in recent years, such as Gujarat’s announcement in March 2017 that cow slaughter would be punishable with a life sentence.

Recent violence is often led by vigilante groups affiliated with the Sangh Parivar, a broader group of organizations promoting an exclusionary form of Hindu nationalism, of which the ruling BJP is the political wing. These include, for example, those involved in ghar wapsi (‘homecoming’) campaigns engaging in mass conversions of religious minorities to Hinduism and so-called gau rakshaks (‘cow protectors’). The increasing presence of the latter, in particular, has seen the deliberate targeting of Muslim cattle traders, dairy farmers and others, with recent incidents including the lynching of 55-year old dairy farmer Pehlu Khan to death in Alwar, Rajasthan in April 2017. In other cases, accusations of cow slaughter or beef consumption have incited mob violence against Muslims and Dalits in a given locality, as was the case in Dadri (Uttar Pradesh) in 2015 and Una (Gujarat) in 2016.

The communal and divisive agenda proved fruitful in the favor of PM Modi and the polarization gave a mandate to the ruling BJP by a huge margin. A wave of fear and terror swept across the minority communities as there have already been half a dozen incidents of physical violence against the Muslim and Dalit minorities within a week of BJP winning the Lok Sabha Elections 2019.

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