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The unabated march of religious intolerance in India

By Zaboor Ahmad

The word ‘intolerance’ is insufficient to capture the emerging situation in India as it excludes the psychological distress it causes and the threat it poses. The distressing and burgeoning signs of intolerance were seen much earlier. However, the alarm bells were ignored. The independent India witnessed its first act of intolerance when a fanatical zealot, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. Godse later confessed in the courtroom that he killed Gandhi because of his sympathetic proclivity towards Muslims. While secularism was made a core value in the constitution, it was left undefined allowing room for every party to interpret the way it likes. Godse’s blatant violence was a harbinger of what was going to visit Muslims, if ever Gandhi’s assassins were to taste power.

The soft-Hindutva project was launched with the serialization of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata on the national media, Doordarshan.  It was part of the same growing drama executed from top at the cost of tax payer’s money. It resulted in the marshalling of fanatical zealots who found their nationalism embedded in cow and other Hindu symbols. Religious values of a particular religion were promoted while making other religious values appear as foreign. The serialization of these programs has been central to the evolution of Hindu fundamentalism, a cannon-fodder to be used for political mileage from where to execute its untenable intolerant project.

The TV serial Chanakya set in the Mauryan Empire and aired on Doordarshan in 1991 is a good case in point. It didn’t fix its spotlight on Ashoka, who showered patronage on and embraced Buddhism and used to eat meat, but depicted his advisor, Chanakya, as a messiah of the Mauryan Empire. A similar case was Tipu sultan, who did not fit in the nationalist paradigm. The Sangh Parivar recently disrupted his celebration in Karnataka because the fanatical historians have judged him as a tyrant. However, the fact remains he was the lone progressive force in India while the Hindu Rajas elsewhere were celebrating honeymoon with queens in harems. If we follow the logic of the Sangh Parivar, which Hindu king has not been a tyrant? The current intolerance in India is the result of such subtle indoctrination over a long period of time.

As the late eighties set the stage for the Hindutva movement, the BJP went out to capture power by marshalling religious fundamental lunatic elements with the start of a Rayth Yatra from Somnath in Gujarat, which culminated with the unruly vandalism of the Babri Masjid. Both the central as well as the state governments were put on a mute button. It was the tipping point in the breakdown of social and cultural contacts between the two communities. In a white paper issued after the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the demolition was described as the most ‘reprehensible’ act.

Since then the NDA, led by the BJP, has come of age. It knew that until it obtained a brutal majority, the project of Hindu Rashtra would remain a pipedream. Having exhausted its use of religion for political mileage, it decided to wear the fictitious mask of political economy of “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” (development for all) during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It allowed the BJP not to appear as biased. However, as is now evident, it was merely a ploy to garner enough votes to relaunch its fundamentalist ideology called, Hinduvta. Behind the scenes, the Sangh Parivar is pulling the strings of the government as is reflected in its decision to allow the RSS chief ideologue, Mohan Bhagwat, to speak on national television, Doordarshan. To make the speech reach a larger audience, it was simultaneously translated into various vernacular languages.

It begets a question: Why is only the RSS allowed to use the national television to propagate its message? It shows who holds the reign of power in the current government. With the BJP in power, it has given autonomy to their lunatic fringe element to challenge everyone who does not concur with them and bring them in line even with force. All this is happening in an environment in which the state apparatus has been not only polarized but also communalized. On a gigantic scale, the government has used its authority to pack the social and cultural institutions with its own followers to further its ideology. This resembles a spoils system in a democracy like it happens in the USA.

In a Brahminical interpretation of Hinduvta tradition that the BJP and RSS propagate, he who holds temporal power remains subjected to the spiritual authority represented by the RSS. This explains why Narendra Modi, who the Supreme Court once described as a modern day Nero, remained silent as the communal carnage unfolded in Gujarat in 2002. Since then at the behest of the RSS, the BJP-led government has been trying to transfer cow protection to the federal list, rewrite the textbooks (recent example of Nehru being removed from Rajasthan school texts), demonize Muslims and remove them from the psychological space.

The discourse that emanates from all this is that the state has started interfering to coerce the minorities pay respect to Hindu traditions and culture (read, cow) and assimilate into them by showing their loyalty to its symbols (again read, cow). The brutal apparatus of the state is being fine-tuned on fascist lines – the beating of a Muslim man for talking and travelling in an auto with a Hindu girl, or the Dadri lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq for alleged possession of beef.

The latest example is that of Aamir Khan, who is now suffering from what is called the paradox of intolerance. The paradox arises when a tolerant person holds antagonistic views towards intolerance and hence is intolerant of it. The tolerant individual would then be by definition intolerant of intolerance.

Zaboor Ahmad
is lecturer in political science and can be reached at He is from Jammu and Kashmir.


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2 Responses to “The unabated march of religious intolerance in India”

  1. healthyindiankitchen

    Very well written! That was intense but so true! I would say the current situation in India is being influenced by the political parties. People who follow them are fanatics. Somehow such people don’t want to use logic or reasoning but blindly follow their influencers. This kind of paranoidal behavior has popped up in the Indian society mainly because of lack of proper education. Nothing much can be done unless the politicians themselves stop ranting on religious issues and rather take up an initiative in educating the population.

  2. Prateek Wangnoo

    Funny how in these scenarios the murder of people in Kerala for being RSS members and sometimes even merely being Hindus is never talked about. Intolerence when talked about should be talked about as an actual issue rather than a targeted one, then it just feels like another one of the “propaganda” articles.Also, many of the points mentioned in the article are historically wrong, for example the mention of “Harems” the concept of which was traditionally brought in India by invading forces, and like how the issue of Babri Masjid is highlighted but not how in your own district people protested for the removal of a temple, and also how “Hindutva” is shown as anti to other religions, the meaning of Hindutva is “all paths lead to one” also historically all people living around the river Sindh were called Hindus a trend started by the Persians, so even the non Hindu community in the country is Hindu by definition. Also the demonisation of Narendra Modi on the 2002 Gujrat riots in which he was exempted from all charges multiple times by even the apex court means either he is innocent and being framed for the fun of it or the Indian judiciary supported the genocide (highly unlikely). The list goes on and on and on.


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