Religious freedom continues to shrink in India, says US | Pakistan Today

Religious freedom continues to shrink in India, says US

ISLAMABAD: The United States (US) State Department’s annual report on religious freedom has noted that religious freedom conditions continue to shrink in India and the country’s history as a multicultural and multi-religious society remains threatened by Hindutva forces.

According to the report released by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, various nationalist groups in India have adopted the ideology of Hindutva, or “Hindu-ness”, which has three pillars – common nation, race, and culture – and forms the basis of an exclusionary national narrative focused exclusively on the rights of Hindus, KMS reported.

“During the year, Hindu-nationalist groups sought to ‘Saffronise’ India through violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindus and Hindu Dalits. Both public and private actors pursued this effort. Approximately one-third of state governments enforced anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws against non-Hindus, and mobs engaged in violence against Muslims or Dalits whose families have been engaged in the dairy, leather, or beef trades for generations, and against Christians for proselytising.”

“Members of the BJP have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups, and many have used discriminatory language about religious minorities. For example, in early 2018, just after the reporting period, BJP parliamentarian Vinay Katiyar stated that ‘Muslims have been given their share (of land). They should go to Bangladesh or Pakistan.’ The influence of these groups is evident across a range of areas,” the report states.

The RSS and other Hindutva extremist groups have expanded the scope and size of the religious schools — which teach their intolerant ideology — in their Vidya Bharti system to nearly four million students, and have tried to distribute their own books in the public schools.

Their youth wings have used intimidation and violence in colleges to silence their secular or non-Hindu classmates and shut down events that challenge their viewpoints. Hindutva extremist groups rioted and burned down cinemas in response to allegations that the 2017 movie Padmaavat depicted a Hindu queen having a romantic daydream about a Muslim king.

“The director of the film rejected these accusations, saying no such scene was in the film. The public response, inflamed by Hindutva groups, caused some state legislatures and courts to temporarily ban the film’s showings. Hindutva-nationalists also have attempted to erase or downplay the influence of non-Hindus in Indian history. For example, the central government omitted the Taj Mahal, which was built by a Muslim ruler, from its “cultural site” list in 2017.”

The victims of this campaign include Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains, as well as Dalit Hindus, who belong to the lowest rung in the Hindu caste system. These groups face challenges ranging from acts of violence or intimidation to the loss of political power, to increasing feelings of disenfranchisement and “otherness”, the report says.

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