Majority wins. This concept has been etched into our thinking. Right vs wrong is too abstract, but majority vs minority is appropriate as it is quantifiable. Democracy, data analysis, judicial verdicts, and other forms of decision making all function using this concept. If there’s a majoritarian will, there is a way. This is the power we have assigned to majorities. However, they sometimes feel disempowered and alienated.
“The browning of America” is the phrase being used to describe the increasing non-white population in the USA, while the white population is decreasing. According to the 2020 census, the Whites still make up 59.7% of the population; however, this was the first time the White population, in absolute numbers, declined. The next largest group is the Hispanics (18.7%). Projections show that Whites will make up less than 50% of the population by 2045. In the same year, Hispanics will reach 24.6%, Blacks 13.1%, Asians 7.9%, and other multi-racial populations 3.8%. The perceived effacement of the Whites has had significant consequences. Feelings of insecurity and disempowerment have made the whites resent the non-whites and has led to an increase in racism and xenophobia. Other effects include voter suppression, limiting immigration, and mass incarceration. The most prominent effects can be seen in the rise of Donald Trump, the rightward shift of the Republican party, and pernicious white nationalism.
In a country that accepted white supremacism as the norm for decades, the effects of these drastic changes were predictable. But why does a country that shows no signs of a diminishing majority suffer through a similar predicament?
India is a diverse country. We are home to a multitude of cultures, languages, and religions. But, we do have a clear majority. According to the latest national census, Hindus make up 79.8% of India’s population. In comparison, Muslims make up 14.2%, Christians 2.3%, and the remaining is mostly comprised of Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains. This division is predicted to remain stable. The Pew Research Centre has projected that in 2050, Hindus will make up 77% of the population, Muslims 18% and Christians 2%. Despite this overwhelming majority, Hindus often feel threatened by minorities and this has had devastating effects on our country.
The perceived marginalisation of Hindus is not due to changing demographics, it stems from the fear of losing identity and power. In 1947, partition divided the subcontinent into Islamic Pakistan and secular India. Attempts to make India a theocratic state failed. While most Indians cherished secularism, certain right wing organisations hoped to accrue support for the creation of a “Hindu Rashtra”. Consecutive liberal and centrist governments ennobled this secularism that served athwart communal and divisive forces. Successive governments’ focus on welfare schemes and social justice and failure to implement a Uniform Civil Code were interpreted as minority appeasement. Coupled with propaganda created by right wing organisations, the feeling of neglect in the Hindu population led to an increase in animosity and a need to protect one’s Hindu identity at all costs. Hindus were seen as victims, not beneficiaries of secularism. The culmination of these feelings was the election of Narendra Modi and the BJP.
The BJP is an openly Hindu nationalist party. This can be adduced by public hate mongering by BJP members, lack of condemnation for hate crimes against minorities, and active association with right wing organisations. The Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and the Gujarat riots in 2002 were harbingers for the destructive communalism that would plague our country. Yet, Hindus felt that they needed to be protected from “the other” and elected Modi and the BJP. The ruling party has astonishingly managed to instil fear in the majority. The misrepresentation, even rewriting of history, is used to propound the need for revenge against Muslims and Christians for harm caused by the Mughal and British empires. Canards are used to arrogate that Hinduism could become a minority religion in the near future. The politics of polarisation is a tactic used by the BJP to evade responsibility for an economy that is in free fall, increasing unemployment rates, rising inflation, widespread income disparity, dismantling of democracy, and mismanagement of the COVID situation. “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” does not advocate for a society and economy that works for every Indian, but imbues a reassurance that Hindus will be empowered by the government.
Sadly, state supported Hindu extremism has sown seeds of intolerance in all parts of society. There is growing hate in this country. I am going to focus on three aspects of this hatred: violence against minorities, rise of Islamophobia and misuse of anti conversion laws.
India under the BJP has witnessed a rise in threats, harassment, harm, and murders of minorities. Events that have taken place recently are paragons. In Gurgaon (Haryana), Muslims are prevented from publicly praying on Fridays by right wing organisations. The way this is done is truly abhorrent — cow dung is spread throughout the prayer ground and chants of “Jai Sri Ram” are used to disrupt prayers. Muslims who wish to pray are continuously intimidated and those who wish to help are threatened. In Haridwar (Uttarakhand), Hindutva leaders called for a Muslim Genocide. Members of the BJP were present. The speeches made were disturbing, but the applause and cheering after each speech were sickening. India’s police have had no qualms in misusing anti terrorism and sedition laws to arrest minorities — often with no proof. However, no arrests of these chauvinists have been made yet. This inaction valorises the reprehensible hate spewed by these individuals. There was no condemnation or calls for arrest from the powers that be. Complete silence while real threats are made to Muslims proves, beyond doubt, who the BJP really serves — Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan.
Violent right wing organisations — such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHS), and Bajrang Dal — are not treated as national security threats, but are seen as nationalists. Lynching of Muslims occur in broad daylight and with complete impunity. Muslims are underrepresented in our government, but overrepresented in our jails. They are also disproportionately affected by police brutality. This behaviour has infected the youth as well, as seen by the attacks on JNU conducted by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) — a right wing student organization affiliated with the RSS — in January 2020. Our cricket team members and TV advertisements aren’t safe from this Islamophobia either. Another concern is mainstream media’s deliberate ignorance of Islamophobia. Violence against Muslims is usually reported by a handful of investigative journalists and independent media houses. Reports by the mainstream media use euphemisms to avoid reporting the truth; for instance: the word “right wing activists” is used instead of violent right wing organisations or domestic terrorists. Labelling of protesting farmers as “Khalistanis”, the Citizenship Amendment Act, cow vigilantism, reprisals for violence against Hindus in other countries, the baseless arrest of Muslim journalist Siddique Kappan and Muslim comedian Munawar Faruqui are few other examples of state supported discrimination against minorities.
Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand are states that have laws restricting religious conversion. This article will focus on the irrationality and effects of the anti-conversion law proposed in Karnataka, my home state. The proposed bill, ironically called the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, passed the Legislative Assembly (lower house) by voice vote on 23rd December. The bill is expected to pass the Legislative Council (upper house) in January 2022.
Under the ostensibly innocuous guise of protecting vulnerable Hindus, the provisions of the bill blatantly attack religious freedom. The vagueness of the bill will make it prone to radical interpretations and loopholes: Should charity be considered goodwill or allurement? Will children from marginalised sections of society be denied opportunities to create a better life for themselves at Christian educational institutions? What specific criteria must be satisfied to determine if a conversion is legal or illegal? The bill also entices public vigilantism as it allows “…any other person who is related to him [the converted] by blood, marriage or adoption or in any form associated or colleague…” to lodge complaints of such conversions. The bill oddly does not criminalize re-conversion — a provision that codifies the wishes of right wing organisations. According to section 12 of the bill, the burden of proof is on the accused, and not the prosecution — this violates traditional judicial norms. The entire bill violates the right to profess one’s chosen religion as enshrined in the constitution. The notion that the poor and marginalised sections of society convert only due to force — and not because they find the message of a different religion more meaningful — is demeaning.
Even though the implementation of this bill has not started, its devastating effects are conspicuous. A report by the United Christian Forum (UCF), Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), and United Against Hate notes that there have been 32 incidents targeting Christians and their places of worship in Karnataka this year. Karnataka ranks third among the states, after only Chhattisgarh (47) and Uttar Pradesh (66). There is a high possibility that the actual number is much higher than these reports. Since the government announced its intention to pass an anti conversion law, 5 attacks against Christians have occurred in quick succession. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has also documented 39 attacks on churches in Karnataka between January and November 2021. Disruption of worship, burning of the Bible, vandalisation of worship places, threatening of priests, prevention of Christmas celebrations in schools by right wing Hindu organizations have taken place recently.
Karnataka is the only southern state where the BJP is in power; it therefore experiences the domineering tactic of divide and rule. It should be noted that the government did not wait for the report of the Legislative Committee to survey all Christian churches in preparation for an anti-conversion law. Moreover, a Pew Research Centre survey found that “religious switching has a minimal impact on the size of religious groups”. With a population that comprises only 1.87% of the state’s population, claims that Christians engage in “mass conversions” that threaten the Hindus, who make up 84% of the state population are inane. The lack of data on these “mass conversions” should have halted the government’s plans to pass such a dangerous bill. The government chooses to deny Christians their fundamental right to worship just to appease right wing organisations. This divisive agenda will damage the state’s progressive reputation and enmesh the citizens in a cycle of hate. Forceful conversions are wrong, but they need to be solved through education and socio-economic empowerment, not violent mobs.
Can we reverse the damage done? Considering recent events, it’s easy to believe that we’ve crossed the point of no return, but we must not give up. We must acknowledge that bigotry is no longer individual action, but is a part of the structural systems of our country. We must focus less on isolating and containing a few “bad apples” and more on reducing the fertile ground in which intolerant and hateful ideologies thrive. As an Op-ed argued, we are entering the Jim Crow era of Hindutva, as seen by lynchings and the notion that minorities are second class citizens. Our complicity will lead to the Nazi era of Hindutva, in other words, the fruition of the plans discussed in Haridwar. Waiting for legislative action to counter intolerance is infructuous. There is also the possibility that this hatred does not stop with the Prime Minister — as seen by the backlash he received for his Eid greetings on Twitter. Opposition parties are also unlikely to fight for the protection of minorities in fear of alienating the majority. Only joint action by ordinary citizens of India can bring real change.
Sadly, we’ve been desensitized and have accepted this changing social fabric as normal. The government may have legalised mob violence against minorities, but we cannot afford to remain indifferent to the current and potential sufferings that India’s minorities face. This need to establish supremacy, at all costs, does not reflect the aspirations of the Indian Hindu. However, their silence only fuels the hatred espoused by these domestic terrorists. Denying the existence of this problem is a privilege that many can ill-afford. As Martin Luther King Jr said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. In the name of “protecting Hinduism”, right wing organisations propagate their vile agenda that repudiates the true values of Hinduism. Insecurity and fear — sustained by constant propaganda — must be fought with fact and reason. We must actively speak out against hate, while overcoming the prejudices we may hold ourselves. The belief that we’re too far gone must be countervailed with hope. The fragility and impermanence of our secularism have never been this exposed. We must resist divisive powers by building a resilient unity that does not depend on the government in power.
As a society, we must introspect and combat bigotry from the grassroot level. It is becoming increasingly difficult to live in India as a minority; the constant fear of violence and threats causes harmful emotional distress and fatigue. This new normal of division, intolerance, and hate must be replaced with a better normal of empathy, compassion and love. These may seem like naive emotions, but they are the only solutions to hate that have ever worked.
We must realise that anti nationals are not those who oppose the policies of a temporary government, but those that threaten the very idea of India that has thrived for more than 70 years. An egalitarian society protects democracy and the rule of law; a majoritarian one produces authoritarianism and violence. The survival of our country needs every Indian. Belonging to a minority religion does not make anyone less Indian. We must not confuse chauvinism with patriotism. Our constitutionally protected diversity will help us move forward as a country, homogeneity is nothing but regressive. The government must stop focusing on the othering of Muslims and Christians and instead focus on the achievements in education, healthcare and social welfare of institutions run by minorities. Us vs them is nothing but a distraction and an attempt to paint a narrative in which minorities are disloyal to India. We must work together to save India, so that future generations can witness the plurality that we took for granted. The vestige of inclusivity we enjoy must be preserved by all of us.
The majority is winning. The cost of this victory? The very idea of India.
“Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.”Desmond Tutu