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Prejudice, Discrimination, Hatred and Violence: New India

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
08 Apr 2024

The BJP, under PM Narendra Modi, has coined many populist slogans to unite India: One Country - One Tax, One Nation - One Ration Card, One Nation - One Election, One Nation - One Language, etc. Vigorous efforts are being made by the Sangh Parivar and the BJP governments at the centre and in the states to impose uniformity on the whole country per their majoritarian ideology. In this process, Unity in Diversity, the millennial heritage of India, is being destroyed ruthlessly. The result is evident for all: escalation of prejudice and discrimination against minorities, division of people in the name of religion, hatred and violence on the minorities and the marginalised sections of society.

Referring to the current socio-political scenario of India, Avay Shukla, in his latest book, "Disappearing Democracy and Dismantling of a Nation", has written the following. "But what is perhaps the deepest cut of all is the manner in which our society has been brutalised in the past ten years; it has become insensitive, intolerant, prejudiced against minorities and the disadvantaged; it has lost its voice and conscience; it no longer protests against excesses and injustice but applauds them".

Against this backdrop, three incidents during February-March 2024 are relevant. They are very much related to prejudice, division, and hatred that are assiduously promoted by the Hindutva forces. The first relates to naming two lions in a zoo in North Bengal Wild Animals Park in Siliguri district. Two big cats brought from Tripura to West Bengal were already named Akbar and Sita. According to the officials in West Bengal, these names were given by the forest department of Tripura, from where they were brought to West Bengal.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of the RSS, filed a case in the Calcutta High Court, saying that naming a lioness after a Hindu goddess is blasphemous. The court, instead of dismissing the case as frivolous, took it seriously and said that animals should not be named after "Hindu Gods, Muslim Prophet, revered Christian figures, Nobel Laureates and freedom fighters. "Why give names such as Akbar and Sita" Justice Saugata Bhattacharya asked. The court asked the West Bengal government to give the two big cats new names.

The impact of the case was felt in Tripura too. The Tripura government suspended a senior forest officer, IFS Pravin Lal Agrawal, over naming a lion 'Akbar' and a lioness 'Sita' by zoo authorities in Tripura. Agrawal is the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) and Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW).

This incident shows how hate against a particular community has gone deep into society and the system of governance. Even High Court judges are not free from prejudice and hatred. "This absurdity in the form of a protest against the cohabitation of the two animals is yet another example of the dangerous level to which the BJP and its affiliates can go to create and widen divides in the society," said Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, as quoted in Voice Of America, an online news portal.

According to Zafarul-Islam Khan, former chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, naming an animal after a Hindu deity is an "age-old" practice among Hindu followers in India. "In the Delhi Zoo, there has been, for decades, an African elephant named Shankar (the other name of the Hindu god Shiva). In the same zoo, there lives a white tigress who is called Sita. No group protested against these names or called them 'sacrilegious,'" Khan said.

Several analysts say that by picking up the lion-lioness issue, Hindu right-wing groups are seeking to widen the communal divide in Indian society. Human rights activist Angana Chatterji, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, told Voice Of America that "Hindu nationalists invent and weaponise Hindu and Muslim differences."

The second incident is the attack on foreign Muslim students in a hostel of Gujarat University for doing namaz in the university premises during the holy month of Ramadan, as there is no mosque in the vicinity of their hostel. As reported in the media, a mob armed with sticks and knives stormed the hostel, attacked the students and vandalised their rooms. A student from Afghanistan told the local NDTV network: "They attacked us inside the rooms too. They broke laptops, phones and damaged bikes," adding that the AC and sound system were destroyed as well. As per the media reports, four students were injured in the attack.

Instead of condemning the incident and recommending the government take strict action against the vandals, the university's Vice-Chancellor, Dr Neerja A Gupta, told local media that the international students need to be trained in "cultural sensitivity". "These are foreign students and when you go abroad, you must learn cultural sensitivity. These students need an orientation. We will sit with them, provide cultural orientation, and discuss how to strengthen their security," NDTV quoted Gupta.

This incident clearly indicates that the minorities in India are not safe, even if they are foreign students or foreign nationals. They don't have the freedom to practice their religion as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. In the past also, Muslims offering prayers in public places in Gurugram were attacked. The BJP governments, both at the centre and in the states, have given a free hand to specific groups to take the law into their hands and attack the minorities and anyone who is opposed to their ideology. The police often remain mute spectators, and in some cases, they also become abettors.

The main character in the third incident is the food delivery company Zomato. The company decided to have a separate group of food delivery personnel with green uniforms as a "pure veg fleet" to deliver vegetarian food items. A red uniform is currently used by the Zomato personnel delivering food. The smell of non-vegetarian food might taint a vegetarian customer's package in the delivery person's cargo. Hence, the pure veg fleet would go solely to those restaurants where no meat or fish is served. This would satisfy the vegetarians who do not eat at the hotel where non-veg items are served. Because of the intense criticism, the company's CEO was forced to give up the new plan.

According to an editorial published in The Telegraph on March 24, 2024, the CEO decided, based on his impression, that India has the largest number of vegetarians in the world. Hence, people's desire for "purity" should be met. The editorial has pointed out that as per the National Family Health Survey (5), 80% of men and 70% of women between 15 and 49 years of age eat meat, fish and eggs daily, weekly or occasionally. In fact, their numbers have increased substantially during the last six years, including in the Hindutva laboratory states like Gujarat and UP. The BJP governments in many states have taken away eggs from the midday meals served in schools, thus depriving the poor children of an essential source of nutrients.

Imposing the food habits of a minority on the people under the guise of hurting Hindu religious sentiments is a denial of the fundamental rights of citizens. The UP government has declared November 25 "no non-veg day" to mark the occasion of the birth anniversary of Sadhu T L Vaswani and ordered that all slaughterhouses and meat shops should be closed down on that day. The municipal bodies in various cities of UP impose a ban on the sale of meat, fish and eggs during the Navratri festival, even without an order from the government.

From October 2023 onwards, the administration of Bombay IIT has earmarked certain tables only for vegetarians. Before 2023, there was no division of vegetarian and non-vegetarian tables. Ordinary Hindus have no problem sitting near a person who eats non-veg food. One can notice that vegetarians and non-vegetarians mix with each other and eat their respective food items in the Indian Coffee House, Vijayanagar, Indore. The problem is for the Hindutva-vadees who want to divide people.

These are subtle attempts to project that eating non-veg is something polluting and inferior and thereby divides people. Another hidden agenda of imposing vegetarianism could be to deprive people involved in the meat, fish and egg trade of their livelihood, as a marked number of them belong to the Muslim community.

International organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation of Human Rights, UN Watch, etc., have often expressed concern about discrimination and violence based on religion in India. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2024, says that the "Indian government undermined its aspirations for global leadership as rights-respecting democracy during 2023 with its persistent policies and practices that discriminate and stigmatise religious and other minorities". "The BJP government's discriminatory and divisive policies have led to increased violence against minorities, creating a pervasive environment of fear and a chilling effect on government's critics", said Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of holding those responsible for abuses to account, the authorities chose to punish the victims, and persecuted anyone who questioned these actions," she added.

In an atmosphere of discrimination, hatred and violence against certain communities in Indian society, the citizens of India have a great responsibility to safeguard the millennial heritage of India- unity in diversity, pluralism and fraternity, two core values enshrined in the preamble of the Indian Constitution. Educational institutions have a greater responsibility to inculcate in the students the core values of the Indian Constitution, especially inter-religious harmony and respecting all religions.

Discrimination, hatred, and violence are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus and the vision of Jesus-Reign of God. The followers of Jesus can never compromise with any ideology that promotes hatred and violence. If they support any party that promotes division, hatred and violence, they are betraying Jesus.

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