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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Rising Tide of Hindu Extremism in India: A Threat to Minority Rights and Democracy

This article examines the implications of Hindu extremism for minority rights, democracy, , regional stability and put forth recommendations.

In the contemporary global landscape, marked by dynamic geopolitical shifts and transformative economic paradigms, nations are actively realigning their diplomatic strategies, placing strategic goals on par with economic advancements. However, amidst these pursuits, there is a concerning tendency among states to overlook critical moral imperatives. This oversight is particularly evident in the context of Hindu nationalism in India, where the prioritization of political and economic objectives often eclipses the essential considerations of moral standards and human rights. The rise of majoritarian politics in India under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—a political wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has significant implications for minority rights, democracy, and regional stability. BJP—an electoral front of the ‘Sangh Parivar (a consortium of Hindu Nationalist outfits who firmly believe in their religion based political ideology or ‘Hindutva’).  As per this ideology, India is a homeland exclusively for Hindus wherein other religious communities can only have second class citizenship

Hindu nationalists advocate for a homogenized Hindu identity, excluding Muslims and other minorities like Christians, Sikhs and scheduled castes, while minorities resist assimilation and assert their distinct identities. This dynamic fuels tensions and impedes efforts towards peaceful coexistence. This article examines the implications of Hindu extremism for minority rights, democracy, and regional stability and put forth recommendations for American policymakers to exercise caution and vigilance while engaging with India’s majoritarian Hindu nationalist government.

The influence of RSS on Indian political spectrum poses a significant challenge to India’s democratic ideals and secular values. It is evident from the fact that BJP came to power with its election manifesto to construct Hindu temple in the northern city of Ayodhya and create a uniform civil code so all citizens would have the same personal laws in accordance with Hindu religious interpretation, (which would remove the personal laws of Muslims and Christians relating to marriage and inheritance). The dominance of Hindu nationalist approach and majoritarian politics undermines minority rights and threatens the pluralistic fabric of Indian society and its secular norms. With growing popularity of Hindu nationalist approach, it is predicted that Narendra Modi will likely be winning the elections third time however, continued success has instilled authoritarianism in Indian democratic norms. Amnesty International has termed the recent arrest of opposition leaders like Arvind Kajriwal and ceasing bank accounts of opposition parties as crisis point ahead of national elections. The space for minorities in this authoritarian regime is shrinking further. Hindu nationalists view Muslims and Christians as foreign elements, internal threats, and traitors due to their historical rule over India and colonial legacy and therefore they do not belong to the land called India.

More to read:India’s Naxalite Movement: how did it begin, and will it ever end?

Muslims, comprising 15% of India’s population are the first target of RSS sevaks (volunteers) and facing systematic discrimination, violence, and hate speech. The BJP’s legislative agenda, including the Citizenship Amendment Act and revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir has further marginalized Muslims eroding secular values. Mob violence by vigilante groups targeting Muslims, coupled with their insistence on chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or facing dire consequences, has become the new normal in Shining India under BJP’s rule. The phrase ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is a Hindu religious chant meaning ‘Victory to Lord Rama.’ It is frequently employed by Hindu nationalists and has evolved into a rallying cry for cow vigilantes in India. Christians on the contrary are linked with colonial past and hatred towards is a sign of their despise against colonisers. RSS activists also accuse Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity and attack and demolish their churches. According to a report by International Christian Concern (ICC) in 2022, 200 Hindu radicals (RSS members) attacked and damaged a church in Chhattisgarh leaving two Christians injured. ‘During the attack, the mob cursed the Christians and accused them of illegally converting Hindus to Christianity.’ The securitization of minorities by the Indian state, under the guise of countering perceived threats, negates the equality of religious minorities and impedes political dialogue and reconciliation. The state’s partisan approach fuels inter-group conflict and undermines efforts towards inclusive nation-building.

More to read: Religious fanaticism: a nail in the coffin of India’s secular status

The BJP’s ascent to power keeping religious nationalism as an election manifesto reducing the space for democracy and secular norms in India. Additionally, institutional bias against minorities and the implications of Hindu extremism extends beyond India’s borders, with potential ramifications for regional stability and peace. It is imperative for Indian society to confront and challenge this extremist ideology, uphold secular values, and protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation. International stakeholders must also engage with India to promote religious tolerance and pluralism, ensuring a peaceful and inclusive future for all communities. While maintaining diplomatic relations, the international community including the U.S. should not hesitate to voice concerns over the erosion of secularism, freedom of expression, and minority rights under the BJP-led government. This includes advocating for the protection of religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians, and condemning any form of discrimination or violence against them.

More to read:Hindu Rashtra and its impact on India

As the world’s liberal democracies: Europe, Canada, and the United States share common values of pluralism, tolerance, and respect for human rights. On the contrary, the rise of Hindu nationalism in the world’s largest democracy India poses a significant challenge to these shared values and requires careful consideration and proactive engagement from these liberal democracies’ policymakers. By upholding democratic principles, monitoring legislative developments, exercising caution in economic engagement, supporting civil society, and engaging in diplomatic dialogue, they can play a crucial role in addressing the threat of Hindu nationalism and promoting a more inclusive and democratic future for India.

Dr. Seema Khan is a freelance writer and holds a Ph.D. from Deakin University in International Relations. Her core areas of interest are power politics, strategic studies, center-periphery relationships, and identity politics.

The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.