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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 50 New Delhi December 5, 2015

Growing Intolerance

Sunday 6 December 2015

by Neha Dabhade and Irfan Engineer

Recently in an interview at an award function, Aamir Khan mentioned that his wife, Kiran, asked him whether they should leave the country. To Aamir Khan, the statement of his wife was disastrous and indicated growing intolerance in the country. Though we condemn any such sweeping statement coming from a celebrity idolised by millions in the country, one must, without politicising the statement, reflect over the context in which it was made. The Indian Prime Minister in London rightly pointed out: “India is full of diversity. This diversity is our pride and it is our strength. Diversity is the speciality of India.” (The Indian Express, November 14, 2015)

The lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri on mere rumours of consuming beef sent shock waves across the country. Along with this incident, the murders of prominent writers/rationalists and lack of thorough investigation in these cases are a cause of concern. These acts are a window to the growing intolerance in the country and shouldn’t be dismissed as stray incidents. Similarly, something that can’t be overlooked is the series of statements made by very highly placed personalities like Members of Parliament, MLAs, Governors and party chiefs; these are outrageously shocking and not in resonance with the values and principles enshrined in the Constitution. Such instances compel one to question if diversity in India can thrive in such vicious environment of hatred and intolerance.

Some of the statements made so far are the following:

“Woh log Narendra Modi ko rokna chahate hain, woh Pakistan dekh rahe hain. Aane wale dino mein aise logon ke liye jagah Hindustan mein nahi, Jharkhand mein nahi, parantu Pakistan mein hoga, Pakistan mein hoga (Those who want to stop Narendra Modi are looking to Pakistan for support. In the coming days, there won’t be place for such people in India, in Jharkhand because their place will be in Pakistan, Pakistan),” said Giriraj Singh during the general election campaign. He is now a Union Minister.

“Aapko tay karna hai ki Dilli mein sarkar Ramzadon ki banegi ya haramzadon ki. Yeh aapka faisla hai (You must decide whether you want a government of those born of Ram or of those born illegitimately),” Union Minister for State, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, said during campaigning in Delhi for the Delhi Assembly elections.

“We won’t remain silent if somebody tries to kill our mother. We are ready to kill and get killed.” This was a statement by Sakshi Maharaj post-the Dadri lynching.

“Hindustan is for Hindus”.... And, “They (Indian Muslims) are free to go anywhere. They can stay here (in India). If they want to go to Bangladesh or Pakistan, they are free to go.” Both the above statements were made by the Assam Governor, P.B. Acharya.

“Muslims should stay, but they will have to give up eating beef” because “the cow is an article of faith” for Hindus, while Muslims wouldn’t “be violating their religious beliefs by giving up beef,” said Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar while debating beef consumption.

“Balasaheb Thackeray had made a demand that Muslims should be stripped of their voting right. This is an appropriate demand,” said Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut.

Since May 2014, when the NDA Government was sworn in, such intolerant statements are touching new heights for four reasons. Firstly, the frequency of hate speeches has drastically increased; secondly, the sting and intensity of hatred are much more vicious without any fear of law; thirdly, persons making such statements full of hegemonic ideological assertions are highly placed constitutional authorities, who have taken oath to uphold the Constitution, including the Goveronors, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, MPs and MLAs—all belonging to the BJP or subscribing to the Hindu nationalist ideology; and the statements are accompanied by mob lynching and street violence in an unprecedented manner. Footloose hoodlums and goons, having no fear of law, are freely intimidating people critical of the NDA Government and their policies—on streets as well as in social media. The Prime Minister has not once publicly rebuked such elements, let alone taking any penal action as per law. These hate speeches are polarising the society and reducing religion to identity-marker and wholly determining the conduct of individuals.

The statement of the Prime Minister, taking pride in its diversity in India, then sounds utterly hollow and mere lip-service to please foreign governments. Diversity entails space for different cultures to co-exist. No one can be allowed to thrust their culture on others. Such statements full of hate create an intimidating environment wherein the culture of the dominant elite alone will prevail and the rest would have to perish. Expression of every dissent is tarnished as a political conspiracy and sought to be silenced by attributing political motives, howsoever highly respected, decorated and accomplished the dissenter may be. The writers, artists and scientists returning their awards have to face the same allegations. Dissent with the government is equated with being anti-nationalism and unpatriotic. Yogi Adityanath, a BJP MP, had the gumption and temerity to ask Shahrukh Khan, an accomplished actor, to settle in Pakistan where his soul lies and compared him to Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Arrogating to themselves the arbitrary right of determining which Indians have a right of residency in India, the Hindu nationalists have been ordering the Muslim community, who chose to be Indian citizens during partition, to now go to Pakistan, where, according to them, they belong. By repeatedly associating Indian Muslims with Pakistan, the Hindu nationalists want to fuel the myth that the loyalty and allegiance of India Muslims lie with Pakistan and thus they belong to Pakistan. Such orders are to intimidate and silence dissenters, so that voices for democracy are stifled and the way cleared for the creation of Hindu Rashtra.

The statement of five-time BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, threatening to kill humans to protect cows, was not a stray response to the Dadri lynching incident. The Sangh Parivar has always sought to whip up emotions over cow slaughter. Narendra Modi, the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, had hit out against the Congress for promoting a “pink revolution”—export of beef from India to other countries. Further, Maneka Gandhi, the Union Cabinet Minister, stated, without substantiating, that the money received from the pink revolution was used to fund terrorism in the country. Interestingly, people consuming beef or protesting against the beef ban are derided and asked to go to Pakistan as suggested by Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

The PM’s exhortation after a long painful silence after the Dadri killing—“Some politicians are making irresponsible statements for political interests... Such statements should end... Do not pay attention to such statements, even if Modi himself makes any such statement. India is the land of Buddha and in our society, we don’t accept unconstitutional things. The law will deal with these severely”—did not spell out whose and which statements he was referring to. Those who were making such hate speeches, which are an offence as per the Indian Penal Code, were rewarded by the PM in various ways. India sold meat and meat products worth $ 3.3 billion during April-November 2014 compared to $ 2.8 billion in the same period the previous year, registering a 16.74 per cent jump. Buffalo meat constituted about 97 per cent of the total livestock products exported from the country. One can hope that pragmatism got the better of the PM and thus the volte face and no change was made in the export policy. It is only very well documented how beef formed a part of the diet of 120 million Hindus and none other than the Hindutva icon, Savarkar, endorsed the consumption of beef.

Hate-speeches made by constitutional authorities, are dismissed by the BJP as those made by fringe elements. The elected representatives are morally and legally bound to protect the people they represent which include marginalised constituencies like women, Dalits, religious minorities, the socially and economically disadvantaged. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens and one of the pillars of the Constitution is equality before law. These statements essentialise religious identity of the citizens and pit religions as irreconcilable binaries leading to increasing intolerance for any pluralism or dissent from the mega-narratives designed by Hindu nationalists. All acts, phenomena and institutions are looked at from the lens of religion. “Hate speeches made by the political and religious leaders destroy the social fabric of the society. That is why we need to take steps so that in some way these things can be checked," the Supreme Court had observed. (The Indian Express, April 29, 2013) What is perhaps the most disturbing is the silence of the PM and complete inaction to bring those spreading enmity and hatred to justice in spite of laws in place to punish the guilty. Sections 153- A, 295 and 295 A are in place to punish hate speech.

While Section 153-A deals with promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, Section 295 A penalises deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.

By not invoking such laws to punish those promoting communal hatred, there is a measure of impunity and emboldening afforded to state and non-state actors. The argument of the BJP for not taking punitive action is that some party members make “irresponsible” statements and they have been warned. Law casts duty on the government of the day to bring the hate-mongers to justice.

Sadhvi Prachi, a BJP MP, went to the extent of calling some non-NDA MPs as terrorists! This is a new low in parliamentary democracy where one representative of the people can’t respect the views of another. The trend of claiming and labelling only one party and one ideology to be nationalist while the others are termed as terrorists is producing narratives of divisiveness and iron-clad homogenisation of thought and ideology. Parties and individuals speaking in favour of the legitimate rights of minorities are accused of “appeasing the minorities”. But this systematic targeting of some vulnerable community is going unquestioned and few who protest are called agents of the Opposition undermining their credibility and concern as free-thinking citizens of the country.

The government is duty-bound to uphold the law of the land and the Constitution, particularly the right to life with dignity of every citizen. The PM’s deafening silence and inaction, and even the encouragement of motor-mouths has compelled many to suspect his determination to uphold diversity and the Constitution. He rightly pointed out that diversity is the strength of the country. Many communities have coexisted in peace in India and together contributed to the culture, economy and polity. This was firmly at the back of the mind of the visionaries who drafted our Constitution, guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their gender, religion, caste, place of birth. Any individual working outside the framework of the Constitution should be brought to justice and moreover if it is those who have been vested with constitutional responsibility.

No person or organisation can be dismissed as a fringe element and their actions pardoned or worse, justified. Their actions have reper-cussion in shaping the socio-political discourse and influencing a Rightward shift in the social common sense. These conflict entrepreneurs must not be allowed to violate the fundamental rights of citizens. The Prime Minister must take action to restore the faith of the citizens in the rule of law and plural nature of our society and polity.

Neha Dabhade is the Deputy Director, and Irfan Engineer is the Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.