Freedom of Religion: Indian Scenario

Ram Puniyani

India is a plural country with many religions. While the majority religion is Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are the major religious minorities. While Freedom movement accorded them equal status as religions, the communal forces regard these as religions of alien religions. Lately there are various attempts to coopt them in the umbrella of Hinduism. The statements of communal forces are no uniform on this and starting from the second Sarsanghchalak M.S Golwalkar, who presented them as ‘internal threat’ to the Hindu nation, the later ideologues tried to use the geographical use of Hindu and even labelled them as Hindus. Murli Manohar Joshi of BJP used the term Ahmadiya Hindus for Muslims and Christi Hindu for Christians.  The current RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat at times has stated that since this is Hindustan, all those living here are Hindus.

These efforts are mere face savers, as at ground level the Muslims and Christians in particular are regarded as those belonging to alien religion, lot of Hate has been built up against them through spreading misconceptions against them and selectively picking up the incidents to show them in poor light.

Indian Constitution, outcome of freedom movement, foundation of our republic and protector of our democratic values in articles 25 to 28 gives the provisions of freedom of religion. We all are free to practice, propagate and preach our religions. Those who have faith in religions and those who are agnostics or atheists also have equal right to live with their values. While freedom of religion is basic to these articles of pure Constitution, last few decades in general and last few years in particular have witnessed decline in the degree of religious freedom. In India nine out of 28 states have brought in anti- conversion laws. The massive violence like major carnages in Mumbai, Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar are very fresh in our memory, the brutal murder of Pastor Graham Stains, the Kandhamal violence are a part of our painful memory.

We recently saw Delhi violence, which killed nearly 52 citizens, mostly innocent, over 2/3 of those killed were Muslims. The occasional and scattered anti-Christian violence has continued all through. More such incidents are coming to light lately. There are some organizations and individual who keep monitoring these incidents in India, there are many at global level, who are chronicling these. Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, comes out with annual report and analysis on the same. Few other organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom are also doing the invaluable work in brining to our notice the violations of Freedom of religion. Of course, these are few organizations and many more individuals and groups are doing the same. But these all are not too well known in the public domain.

What came forward prominently in recent times in public domain was the US state departments report on Human rights in India. Before mentioning the salient features of the report let me make it clear, that various US based organizations in particular come out with these reports but they are not binding on the policies of the state. While some US presidents have ineffectively talked about promotion of human rights globally, by and large US foreign policy is not guided by these considerations of human rights violation. Though of course in some very glaring cases they do take action, like denial of Visa to Narendra Modi in the wake of 2002 Gujarat carnage. These are few exceptions when Human rights status, religious freedom in other countries has guided their policy. One also knows that US itself indulges in various such violation, the Abu Graib prison and Guantanamo bay being the most glaring among them.

There are different opinions on how to assess these reports and the role of these monitoring groups. By and large these do show as a mirror of what is happening in particular countries. These reports guide the human rights defenders to give direction to their work.

The office of International Religious Freedom, United States Dept. of State, in its 2019 report released on June 10 highlights the violation of freedom of religion. It is comprehensive and systematic reporting on Indian minorities. The report is an in-depth coverage and analysis of challenges faced by religious minorities, especially Muslims, Christians and lower caste Hindus (Dalit) in India. The highlight of this is the religiously motivated killings, assaults, discrimination, and vandalism. It also refers to the Ministry of Home Affairs data, which reports 7,484 incidents of communal violence during 2008-2017 in which more than 1,100 people were killed.

The report cites specific examples of horrific lynching’s of Muslims, Christians and Dalits. "While the lynching’s are atrocious in and of themselves, what should alarm and galvanize the international community to action is the continuing incendiary rhetoric that is now part of mainstream discourse," There are other noted organizations like Open Doors, whose monitoring tells us the condition of safety of Christians. “Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences.”

The team of state department, which wanted to visit India for understanding the issue in depth has been denied visa on the ground that India is not guided by these external observations. It is a tough call, in the globalizing World. Can we hide our dirty linen under the carpet? If we have nothing to hide, we should welcome all the efforts of all organizations and learn from them.

And finally, the violation of freedom of religion is totally against the said articles of Indian Constitution, which tells us that it is the duty of state to protect this freedom of religion. The problem is with communalism on the rise those out to torment religious minorities and violate the ‘freedom of religion’ of others enjoy great deal of impunity. We need a humane India which not just tolerates but celebrates diversity, which at one time was the core strength of our freedom movement.


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

This 28th May 2020, Savarkar was in the news yet again. While the opposition parties in Karnatka opposed the naming of Yelahanka flyover in the name of Savarkar, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi while paying tribute to him said that Savarkar inspired many to join freedom struggle. The opposition to Just close to an year before, the Maharashtra BJP, while seeking votes had in its manifesto the point that Bharat Ratna be awarded to Savakar. Those opposing such moves see Savarakar as the communalist, who as the ideologue of Hindi nationalism had brought to fore the word Hindutva, defined Hindus and as also laid the theoretical formulation of two nation theory, which gave the ideological justification to Muslim League for demanding separate Pakistan.

While Savarkar had a communal mindset, as exemplified by his attack on a mosque as a boy, he is praised for two things. One is his book on 1857, calling it irst war of Independence. And second his opposition to British rule in the pre-Andman days. During this time he even refused to take the Bar-At-Law degree, as it required one to take oath of loyalty to the British Empire. Also he was part of anti British activities, as a part of which he was imprisoned for 50 years in Andman’s cellular jail. Quite a hardship. Of course he was not the lone prisoner there, most of the prisoners there bore the cruel atrocities of the jail. IT was Savarkar, who chose to send mercy petitions to the British Authorities. In these petitions he not only apologised his past actions, but also promised to support the empire inwhat ever way British think it fit.

Sarakar followers justify this act of apologising by comparing it to shrewdness of Shivaji. The fact is that after release from Andman jail, he remained totally loyal to British, getting a hefty pension of Rs 60 per month from tham. Savarkar had already sown the seeds of weakening the freedom struggle by putting forward his ideology of Hindu nationalism. As per him India has two nations, a Hindu and Muslim. He went on to define Hindu as one who regards this land as his fatherland and holy land. He brought to fore the word Hindutva. This word today is used as synonym to Hinduism, the religion. As per Savarkar Hindutva is whole Hinduness and the emphasis is on Aryan race and Brahmanical culture.

His followers forget that Savarkar never participated in the major anti British movments. Contrary to what Modi says that he  inspired people to participate in freedom struggle, in 1942, he issued instructions to Hindu Mahsabha followers to stick to their jobs-work and not do anything which will put British into inconvienence. He was instrumental in getting lakhs of Hindus into British army, in helping British war efforts. The interesting contrast with Subhash Bose is so obvious here. While their are also claims that it was Savarkat who adviced Bose to go and fomr army! The fact is that while Subhash Bose  fighting British by forming INA (Azad Hindu Fauz) Savarkar got people recruited for British army.

The contrast with Bhagat Singh is another noticeable point. Savarkar in his mercy petition asks for pardon and offers to collaborate with British. Bhagat Singh writes to British that since he is opposed to British rule, a rebel, he should be killed by a firing squad, not hung!

Today there are Hindu nationalists who blame Muslims and  Gandhi for the partition of India. The fact is Hindu Mahasabha collaborated with Muslim League in forming ministeries in Bengal, Sindh and NWFP, when Congress was leading Quit India movement. Interstingly when HMS was part of coalition ministry with Muslim League in Singh, they passed a resolution supporting the formation of Pakistan. British could not have better collabotators in diving the country than Muslim League and Hindu Mahasab

Those eulogising him focus on the first part of his life, pre-Andman. Partly that is true but he was communal even at that time as he saw the 1857 as collaobration of Hindus and Muslims against Christians and not an anti colonial revolt based on peasants. While RSS takes off its Nationalism from Savarkar and regards him as the father of Hindu nationalism, there are some differences between Savarkar and RSS. Savarkar was an atheist and rationalist, and was opposed to regarding Cow as Holy animal, he called it as useful animal. Also he was more focussed on political instance.

While he upheld the Hindu scriptures which are based on caste and gender hierarchy, he was very critical of Buddhism and non violence. As per him this creed of non violence made India week. In his writing he gives a clear patriarchal view which is the foundation of communal politics. While discussing Shivaji’s returning of the daughter in law of Kalyanm brought to him as a gift by his army, Savarkar is critical of Shivaji’s policy. As per him the revenge of Hindu women being dishonoured by Muslims was needed.

His role in Gandhi murder has been studied from various angels. He was tried for this and was exonerated for the lack of corroborative evidence. Sardar Ptel was clear that the murder has been done by the radical wing of Hindu Mahasabha.

Since last couple of decades the effort is on to glorify Savarkar. His portrait adorns the Parliament. Whether India needs such icons is the question. For Hindu nationalist, he is the icon. For Indian nationalists, his pre Andman life were anti British, and he never identified with the Indian nationalism or the struggle for secular, democratic India. Hindu nationalists highlight his anti British role of that phase and want to give him different credits, which he does not deserve. He was communal to the core, he did collaborate with British for most parts of his life and along with the Muslim League’s poltics, provided the logic of partion of India, which was the goal and objective of British, who were pursuing the policy of divde and rule.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED