Act against the virus of religious polarisation

Jul 05, 2022 08:26 PM IST

While the Udaipur incident is investigated by the National Investigation Agency, reform is needed in several other areas: In Muslim communities, political discourse, and State machinery

The murder of Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur by two Muslim men is a terrorist act, and must be treated as one. The planned manner, the brutal execution, the video, and the warning issued, indicate that it was premeditated. This killing, perhaps the first of its kind in India, is a new low. While we are now familiar with lynchings, mob violence, hate speeches, and genocide calls, this surpasses all previous brutalities. And, it cannot be overlooked that this act of terror has taken place at a time of unchecked hate and polarisation.

The sad reality is that no single individual can be blamed for the social crisis that has engulfed our Republic. Sharma’s remarks were merely a trigger. (HT/Representative Image) PREMIUM
The sad reality is that no single individual can be blamed for the social crisis that has engulfed our Republic. Sharma’s remarks were merely a trigger. (HT/Representative Image)

The Supreme Court has observed that suspended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma ignited emotions across India and is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that no single individual can be blamed for the social crisis that has engulfed our Republic. Sharma’s remarks were merely a trigger. In the last few months, there have been a series of hate speeches and crimes that have largely gone unpunished. The police and state machinery have turned a blind eye to them, while at the same time, acted promptly against dissenters and Muslims through action and arrests despite a lack of evidence.

While the Udaipur incident is investigated by the National Investigation Agency, reform is needed in several other areas.

One, in Muslim communities. There is a misplaced understanding of Islam and religious tenets among some radicalised sections. Ideas such as blasphemy can have no place in a civilised society and a modern secular democracy. The two fanatics in Udaipur were trying to save the Prophet’s honour. What they don’t realise is that the Prophet does not need to be saved by them. More importantly, they have no business taking the law into their own hands. Ideas such as blasphemy and apostasy must be revisited in religious communities. Notions such as kafir are outdated and must be discarded.

To be sure, Indian Muslims have been moderates. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) have not found support among Indian Muslims. The IS-style beheadings seen in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are alien to India. The terrorism sponsored from across the border has remained confined to a volatile Kashmir. Innocents held under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) have been acquitted by the courts after being wrongly incarcerated for years. The radicals who abide by a fundamentalist version of Islam have remained obscure and in a minority. The Udaipur murder is a dangerous development in this light.

Two, in State machinery. Many Muslims have accepted the apology given by Sharma, who along with Naveen Kumar Jindal, was labelled as a fringe element and suspended by the BJP. However, because this was done belatedly and under immense foreign pressure, it was considered too late to be meaningful. Moreover, hateful remarks about the Prophet continued on social media. There were protests by Muslims, with some turning violent, leading to several Muslims being arrested. However, there was no action against the hate-mongers who sparked the protests.

Last, in political discourse. The BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, must address the flaws in their politics concerning citizens belonging to religious minorities in our democracy. The Constitution guarantees equality to all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, and creed. Hinduism is admired globally for its eclecticism and universalism. There can be no place for a majoritarian and anti-minority political agenda in our pluralistic society. Action against those indulging in spreading hate is imperative. Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys tremendous popularity. His silence on hate speeches and hate crimes does not help resolve the polarisation. It could be interpreted as encouragement by radicals. There must be immediate action against hate emanating from all ends. India needs political will and action to curb hate and restore social harmony. The government must come out with a vision plan to restore peace and harmony in our beleaguered society.

The time has come for the government to take serious cognisance of the threat posed by the virus of religious polarisation, for the aim of good governance, or of a $5-trillion economy, becomes meaningless without the fundamentals of peace and harmony in society.

Zakia Soman is co-founder, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, and a women’s rights activist

The views expressed are personal

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