The politically right-wing associations in India have been pursuing an aggressively hard-line Hindu political agenda aimed at subverting the secular character of Indian society as enshrined in the constitution. The constitutional edifice of Independent India granted equal rights to all religions to practice, profess and preach their ideas and views to the public at large. Social legitimacy for this idea of secularism was largely derivate of Congress supremacy and dominance in the political sphere and its ensuing social clout. However, what remained simmering in the background was a vehement right-wing notion of a Hindu India since colonial times. This political dictate embodied in the philosophy of Hindutva which views India as Christophe Jaffrelot explains -an “ethno-democracy” has systematically attacked India’s minority population especially Muslims.
Right-Wing Vigilantism – Muslim Boy Killed in Karnataka
A larger structure of localised justice-based violent vigilantism promoted and endorsed openly by the present ruling party in India is running rampant and unchecked. The grotesque killing of a 25-year-old Muslim boy in Karnataka due to an affair with a Hindu girl is only one recent example of the violence that the minority community has been steadily facing. Murdered over having an affair with a Hindu girl by the alleged activists of a right-wing extremist group called Ram Sena – this instance is reflective of the non-acceptance of inter-faith couples in Indian society and the violent vigilantism it produces in the discourse of protecting the normative social order envisioned under Hindutva. The Karnataka police have arrested over 12 people with regards to the beheading of the boy.
Despite the gruesome nature of the killing, the murder of a Muslim boy over a partnership with a Hindu girl is not spectacular in India. It is the product of a larger tolerance towards instances of blatant disregard and disapproval of India’s Muslim minority population. With the electoral victory of the BJP in 2014 and consolidated in 2019 – India has largely been promoted as a Hindu nation despite its secular roots. The present political party through a series of events has steadily subverted the rights of Muslims in the country which has led to their social demonisation and ostracization in society. The silence of elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the instances of such violence has added to its legitimacy and the impunity that these extremist activists enjoy and rely on to carry out their moral policing and vigilantism.
India’s Right-wing Past and Present
The Muslim population in India stands at 14% compared to 80% of the Hindu population. Despite its numerical inferiority the community is presented as great source of danger and threat to the majority community in India. Appadurai attributed this to the ‘fear of small numbers’ where the minority community is used as a scapegoat to mobilize the majority community into protecting their communal and religious identities. The minority community is presented as threatening the majority community which needs to awaken and protect itself. This has historically been espoused in the works of Savarkar and Golwalkar and has been actively propagated by right-wing organisations in India. Majoritarianism and the conceptualisation of India in purely Hindu terms in increasing rapidly with a widespread acceptance and political legitimacy which lacked earlier.
Populism: Erasure of Minority Rights
The present political regime in power has seen the most systematic subversion of minority rights particularly against Muslims starting with the denial of minority status to the said community by the then Minister of Minority Affairs Ms. Najma Heptullah. This was followed by a series of events that aimed at the securitization of Muslims Immigrants from Bangladesh, and Indian Muslims in Kashmir. Following which the use of religion as a criteria for citizenship in the country resulted in the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act which was vehemently opposed by a diverse but unified civil society which saw it for the threat it posed to Indian Secularism. The assault continued with the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and an outright attack on the minority community when the Coronavirus pandemic broke out globally – going so far as to name it the Muslim virus. The country has seen a steady increase in lynching for consuming beef which again creates severe problems for beef consumers who are mostly minorities – Muslim and Dalits.
Extra-legal Measures of Violent Justice in India
The Indian constitution prevents judicial changes that would help Right-Wing populists in power to implement their vision of the social and moral order that should normatively prevail in India. True to right-wing politics, this leads to alternative means of justice and order being introduced especially at the grassroot level. The Rastriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the Ram Sena and other such extra-legal groups have come to enjoy state sanctioned impunity and help from local police forces in carrying out violence and correcting whatever is assumed to be averse to the Hindu social and moral code of conduct. This impunity resulted in the beheading of the 25-year-old boy in Modern India in the 21st century. The central aim of such violence meted out unlike that of communal riots is to produce a deterrence effect that undermines individuals from a minority community from going against the grain of the Hindutva social order.
Democracy and Its Decay: Worrying Symptoms
The profiling of minority communities in India with the singular focus displayed in the violent policing of Muslims can be seen as symptomatic of a graver crisis emerging in the country. It is not simply the fact that such violence exists but rather that it is aided by an existing network of political and executive actors that makes it dangerous. The decentralised police forces of most areas are complicit with the workings of such violent groups and are even egged on by political representatives – the most fiery personality being that of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The steady decline of a free press in India and no outlet for proper journalistic reporting of such events is seen to further threaten the pluralistic fabric of Indian secularism and democracy. Reporters without Borders ranks India 144/180 in terms of journalistic freedom. The expansion of Hindutva politics and the manufactured legitimacy that has come to be associated with the violence – in all its varied forms – imposed against Muslims in India does paint a worrying picture for the secular and democratic future of one of the largest democracies in the World.