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The Slow Dying of Secularism in India

By       Message Arshad M Khan       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Gauri Lankesh was shot to death on September 5, 2017. A consistent critic of Hindutva politics and right-wing Hindu extremism, the journalist-activist edited Gauri Lankesh Patrike her own weekly. She was not the first. In August 2015, Malleshappo M. Kalburgi, a noted scholar who was opposed to superstition in Hinduism, was assassinated. Both Lankesh and Kalburgi were staunch proponents of th e theory that their Lingayat religion was distinct from Hinduism.

Also in 2015, in February, it w as Govind Pansare, a left-wing politician who also opposed religious superstitions (like, for example, the ritual to ensure a male child), and also lobbied vocally for the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Act. Then there was rationalist Narendra Achyut Dabholkar, who made debunking religious superstition and mysticism his life's work. In August 2013, he was shot and killed as he took his morning walk. Following his death, the Anti-superstition act he had worked so hard without success to get through the Maharashtra state government was finally enacted.

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Last month on August 25th, following the rape conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh -- a former Sikh, styled the guru of bling for his flamboyant lifestyle -- thousands of his Dera religious supporters ran amuck burning buildings, vehicles, railway stations and bringing life to a halt in the states of Haryana and Punjab, and even in parts of Delhi. More than 30 people died and a curfew was imposed.

Indeed gurus are popular: Mr. Modi has appointed a saffron-robed, Hindutva firebrand religious leader, Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state. This was aft er local elections there in which communalism was an essential ingredient of his party's victory.

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Also on August 25th , activists across the country observed Kandhmal day in memory of the victims of an anti-Christian pogrom in 2008. Kandhmal is in the state of Orissa just southwest of Bengal and over a thousand miles east from Punjab.

A 2016 documentary directed by K. P. Sasi vividly illustrates this notorious incident. Titled Voices from the Ruins: Kandhmal in Search of Justice, it relates the story simply and without resort to emotion. The effect is devastating as the horror of pitiless violence unfolds. In this orgy of arson and bloodshed, the victims were Adivasi and Dalit Christians -- converts continue to be remembered as Dalits in their communities. Dalits are the lowest caste of Hindus formerly known as untouchables. The Hindutva perpetrators destroyed over 350 churches and 6500 dwellings. Eight years later fear and intimidation still rule, and the more than 56,000 people who were displaced have not returned. Churches and homes remain the ruins they were after the pogrom.

Devastating as it was, it is an event not as well known as the 2002 Gujarat riots directed against another minority group, the Muslims, in which at least 1000 were killed. Gujarat is a 1000 miles south of Punjab. The geography of the three incidents is an indicator of how communal hatred has infected people across the nation.

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Rana Ayyub, (author of Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up and a friend of Gauri Lankesh) is the journalist who, at tremendous personal risk, exposed administrative and police complicity through a sting operation sponsored by Tehelka magazine. She has just been honored in Vancouver with a Courage in Journalism Award. On her heels, the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has secured the convictions of 119 individuals including a minister (Indira Jaising , Outlook magazine, March 2015). The founders of CJP are paying for their success: Several cases have been filed against them, including criminal charges for such transgressions as accepting about $290,000 over a ten year period from the Ford Foundation. Some use these cases to question their veracity; others say they are being subjected to a campaign of harassment in the courts.

The last twenty-five years have seen the delicate fabric of communal amity rent repeatedly for political gain by upper caste Hindu nationalist parties. For instance, Prime Minister Modi's new laws against cattle slaughter not only affect a $10 billion industry employing mostly Dalits and Muslims, but added to the incendiary rhetoric his ruling party have fostered a climate of hate leading to tragic events. Attacks against Muslims and Dalits have intensified. People are afraid of ordering beef in cafes and owners afraid to serve it.

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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
 

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