By Antara Mukherjee:
Over the last few months, shocking cases of communal violence have emerged within our country. Incidents of forced religious conversions and destruction of religious architecture have now reached the capital city. Just last month, St. Sebastian’s church in Dilshad Garden was a victim of arson. Police suspect vandalism due to the traces of kerosene that were found on the premises. This is one of the four churches that have recently been vandalized in the city. Neither the police nor the Christian community is free of fear so as to be able to point fingers at the responsible parties. This tactic of creating fear in the hearts of the non-Hindu communities is obviously in preparation for the Delhi assembly elections.
This state of affairs has created an atmosphere that is damaging the secular social fabric we have tried to maintain in our society for long. Religious orthodox mobs are striking fear in the minds of those who are eligible to vote but may not do so anymore due to the present situation. Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto told The Hindu:
“We used to hear about such violence being perpetrated on the Christian community outside Delhi, but now it has come home — these attacks are happening in the Capital. What frightens us is that the Prime Minister has maintained silence on the issue and has made no public statement to reassure the Christian population.”
He has rightly pointed out the fact that our Prime Minister, who is known for his flamboyant oratory skills, has now suddenly chosen to remain silent over these activities. He has remained silent whenever these incidents have cropped up, leaving his other ministers to represent the Government’s cold but forcibly polite sympathy towards the victims.
What is even more outrageous is that this issue has been suppressed and is no longer an election issue. The dominant political parties are playing a different kind of vote-bank politics with religious identities; hence every discordant note in the socio-political fabric is masked by an agenda of development without addressing the question of “development, but for whom”? Ethnic and religious minorities continue to be targeted through terrible hate speeches, false propagandas such as “love jihad” or “ghar wapsi”; also the spate of caste/religion based sexual violence, fraudulent capitalistic “gurus” and a general hype of aggressive and intolerant religious majoritarianism.
With the following figures in mind, it is quite understandable why the state is currently being swayed in the desired direction.
“Hinduism is the religion of 81.8% of New Delhi’s population. There are also communities of Muslims (11.3%), Sikhs (5.4%), Jains (1.1%) and Christians (0.9%) in Delhi. Other religious groups (2.5%) include Parsis, Buddhists and Jews” (Wikipedia)
Let’s go back to the time of the electoral campaign of our Prime Minister. He promised economic development and further progress of resource management. What he didn’t talk about is Social Development and the fact that resource includes people. He went on and on about the necessity of bringing in more money for the country, but didn’t talk about encouraging peace between communities. His silence is a clear sign that his government did not include social development in its agenda and was successfully able to brush it under the carpet without raising any suspicion. The current government’s silence reeks of doubts and suspicions regarding their blindness towards social development.
Forced conversions are now becoming frighteningly rampant, with thousands being given monetary compensations and others being threatened. The repeated attacks on the churches are representative of an indifferent government which makes no effort to address this dangerous trend.
These incidents are creating fear even in the heart of the members of the majority religion. A friend of mine who is a practicing Hindu said, “I don’t feel comfortable to be proud about being a Hindu. Our hands are going to be tied to religious violence even though the ones doing it are far from being hindus.” It is quite interesting to think that this might be a serious backlash to the vociferous claims of the advocates of religious majoritarianism. With the fact that those representing Hinduism are only a handful of right wing parties, it is very dangerous to think that the reality and the genuine message of this age old religion will be lost. It is being shaped and manipulated to soothe the needs of a few and the rest of the followers have no say in how they are represented.
The Constitution holds up the people’s right to follow, profess and preach the religion of their choice as long as it doesn’t interfere with other religions and their attitudes. But in the present times, it is quite obvious that we as a nation are slipping away from that style of secularism. One can only hope that the upcoming Delhi government will uphold and protect the integrity of every religion that resides within our state boundaries and encourage other state institutions across the country to do the same. The thought of what will happen if this hope flickers is very dangerous – politically, socially and even economically.