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August 21, 2017

Malegaon blast case: Supreme Court grants bail to Lt Colonel Purohit

The Times of India

Malegaon blast case: Supreme Court grants bail to Lt Colonel Purohit

| Updated: Aug 21, 2017


Highlights

  • Purohit had moved the apex court challenging the Bombay High Court's order dismissing his bail plea
  • His counsel said last week Purohit has been in jail for the past nine years but charges have still not been framed against him
  • Purohit told the SC that he was acting as army mole and was not involved in terrorist activity
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/malegaon-blasts-case-supreme-court-grants-bail-to-lt-colonel-purohit/articleshow/60153275.cms

August 20, 2017

Announced public discussion on Insecurity, Intolerance & Unscientific Approach of the State (New Delhi, 22 Aug 2017)



#JawabDo

August 22, 2017
3pm onwards
Deputy Speaker Hall, Constitution Club, Rafi marg, New Delhi

PUBLIC DISCUSSION
Insecurity, Intolerance & Unscientific Approach of the State

Speakers: 
Apoorvanand
Comrade D Raja
Comrade Sitaram Yechury
Gauhar Raza
Githa Hariharan
Manoj K Jha
Swami Agnivesh

Chair
Avinash Patil, Executive President MANS

maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti
& Delhi Andhaviswas Unmulan Samiti

Secular Action Netwwork- August 2017-link


Newsletter of All India Secular Forum Volume. 12 No.8 August 2017 C O N T E N T S Editorial 1. Forum News - Fact finding report on the desecrations of Holy Crosses and Graves in South Goa 2. CSSS Activities - Press Note on 9th Dr.Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Lecture - Report of meeting on diversity 3. Articles - Mobs are a weapon of violence, fake news a trigger by Ravish Kumar - Patriotism today by Vinay Kumaran 4. Campaign - Uniting communities: Uniting Nation 5. Peace Now - Call for partnership – Peace now campaign between India and Pakistan 6. Press Release - Amarnath Tragedy 7. Protest - Armed forces veterans write open letter to PM Modi: Condemn targeting of Muslims, Dalits - JNUTA statement on JNU VC’s ‘Tank” Talk 8. Hate Speech Hate speeches vitiating atmosphere against minorities: John Dayal 9. Cross Border Humanism. 10. Interview - Golwalkar’s Vision is terrifying because it has no place for modern democratic politics - Interview with the Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani 11. Resources ----- - -------------------------------- Ph. 022-26149668, 022-26135098 E-mail: csss2work@gmail.com Editor: Ram Puniyani, ram.puniyani@gmail.com, www.pluralindia.com Advisory Board: L.S. Hardenia, Irfan Engineer, Dhirendra Panda, Mohammad Arif. - From the Editor’s Desk Last few years the BJP has been marching from strength to strength in electoral arena. With this the wings of Hindu nationalist organizations get a sort of blanket support to impose the sectarian agenda to the hilt. Barring Delhi and Bihar, the opposition has bitten the dust. In states like Goa and Manipur, despite being the single largest party, close to half the mark, the power was usurped from the Congress right under their nose and BJP formed the Governments there too. In this context the Bihar experiment of Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) came up as a big ray of hope for 2019 General Elections. Nitish Kumar who had allied with Lalu Prasad and Congress had proclaimed that communalism of BJP RSS needs to be fought against. Now on the pretext of Lalu Prasad family is corrupt, he has already switched the horse, allied with BJP and has come back to power yet again. Same Nitish Kumar as such has been an ally of BJP for long years in the NDA Government. So what does the future hold for the possibility of united opposition? While BJP is going great guns in making alliances with some regional parties, other regional party and major parties like Samajvadi, BSP in UP are inclined to come together for a larger alliance. With JD (U) of Nitish, its leader Sharad Yadav is not happy with Nitish Kumar’s decision to ally with BJP. This gives the hope that a grand alliance without Nitish may emerge for 2019 elections. This alliance can focus on the values of pluralism and liberalism, which have come under threat in present times. Many leaders like, who switch their bandwagon for the sake of power, are better kept away from the alliance. Ram Puniyani (Editor) -- Link http://www.csss-isla.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SAN-August-2017-New1.pdf

August 19, 2017

India: Sabka Bharat - A National Campaign


Sabka Bharat
A National Campaign 

Today the threat to our Nation is clear and imminent. The enemy isn’t external but internal; It is physical with an abstract and powerful ideology. The enemy is about destroying everything that we hold dear about the idea of India, its diversity, it’s inclusiveness, big heartedness and its incredibleness. 

Today we are in danger of losing our freedom and sense of equality and belongingness of being one nation. There is hatred, discord and divisiveness, being spread like poison. The rule of Law has been overtaken by mob violence and the powerful have become indestructible.Today divisions within the country are being created which will haunt our children’s children for years to come.

Sabka Bharat is conceived as a campaign by ordinary people to stand against these forces, whose abstract ideas for a Hindu nation is being pushed through a political agenda as well as a social agenda. The BJP/RSS have a clear focus that this nation should become a Hindu nation founded on the principles of the Manusmriti. Though the reality is some distance off, the methods and focus is undeniably evident. If it’s not checked now, it is only a matter of time that this will be a reality.

Sabka Bharat aims at bringing people of India  to come together to safeguard this nation and the Indian Constitution that we all hold dear. The call is to every thinker, reformer, non-government organization and activist, who have over the years worked tirelessly to protect the ideals of the Constitution. 

This call is for ordinary citizens to take a stand. Fence sitting is not an option. Clear battle lines have been drawn between an India governed by the universal principles enshrined in the Constitution or a nation defined by the Manusmriti. We cannot afford not to choose. 

We call upon you as fellow Indians, to stand and fight for the soul of this nation. The threat is clear and present. We need you to rally and stand for the Idea of India as birthed by the blood of our fathers. 

Sabka Bharat plans to mobilise people district wise  across India to go and submit memorandums to the district collectors, organise public meetings, distribute leaflets, perform, organise flash mobs and skits across cities taking a clear stand : 

1. To safeguard the Constitution of India 
2. To oppose the Hindu Rashtra 
3. To celebrate and safeguard diversity and pluralism. 

Sabka Bharat will begin its mobilisation beginning September 1 in 16 districts of UP with approx 1000 people in each district. A detailed plan will be discussed with you. 

Sabka Bharat is one of many campaigns that are being organised/ conceived and would work to compliment various ideas that are being developed by various groups. 

We are writing to request you to be part of the campaign. 

Kindly let us know if  you as an individual / your organisation is ready to endorse Sabka Bharat campaign. 

Endorsing Sabka Bharat means : 
1. Giving the name of your organisation or your name
2. Devoting as much time as possible for you and your group. 
3. Mobilising people to join the campaign where ever you have presence. 
4. Help in mobilising resources according to one's capacity
5.Help in spreading the word though media /social media. 
6. Attend the programmes as speakers/ participants/ organisers. 
7. Help in writing , developing content for the facebook page, leaflets
8. design- leaflets, posters, banners 
9. Please do let us know if you can organise Sabka Bharat programmes in your districts. 

if there are some friends who do not want to give their names but can help the campaign please do write to us. 

A small secretariat will start functioning from Anhad office , C 5 , basement, Nizamuddin West, New Delhi-110013 for coordinating the work from August 21, 2017. 

Sabka Bharat will soon announce a core coordinating team.

on behalf of 
Sabka Bharat

---------------

Note: Sabka Bharat has been initiated by a no of individuals who have been working on the ground in UP. They were referred to ANHAD by a fellow activist last month. 

India: Inventing history to inculcate hatred | Irfan Habib

Frontline - 1 September 2017

Inventing history to inculcate hatred

As secularism and reason are driven out, prejudice and ignorance extend their sway with disconcerting rapidity. A serious task awaits parties that are committed to a different future for the country, envisaging a truly secular democratic India, where reason and science might serve to sustain a welfare state. By IRFAN HABIB

When 70 years ago India obtained freedom it also got divided on religious grounds. It was a momentous decision on the part of the leadership of the major political party in India at that time—the Congress “High Command”—to keep the Indian Union free of any religious or sectarian colour. The phrase “democratic and secular” was commonly used for the state that was now envisaged. (I find it used, for example, in the Presidential Address at the Indian History Congress, Bombay, on December 26, 1947.) It is true that the word “secular” did not occur in connection with the nature of the prospective republic either in the Objectives Resolution passed by the Constituent Assembly in December 1946 or in the Constitution that came into effect on January 26, 1950. Yet, one finds Jawaharlal Nehru specifically saying in 1961 (and possibly also on earlier occasions) that “our Constitution lays down that we are a secular state”. It was, however, only in 1976 that the words “Socialist, Secular” were inserted in the Preamble to the Constitution so as to define India as a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic”. In formal terms, too, therefore, “secularism” obtained the status of a principle which should exercise a determining influence on interpretations of the detailed provisions of the Constitution. 
Now, the word “secular” has a specific meaning, which needs to be carefully preserved. The word comes from the Late Latin word speculum, meaning “world”; and so “secular” literally means “worldly”, and, therefore, something that is non-spiritual or non-religious. Its more specific sense of a system of ethics is due to the ideas of J. Holyoake (1817-1906), who is supposed to have brought the word into the English language in 1851. In the words of the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary, the word now referred to “the doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life to the exclusion of all consideration drawn from belief in God or in a future state”, the words “future state” here doing duty for “afterlife”. The total exclusion of religion—no particular religion, but all religions—was emphasised by Holyoake himself when, in 1854, he said that he had chosen the word “secularism” as “expressing a certain positive and ethical element which the terms ‘Infidel’, ‘Sceptic’, ‘Atheist’ do not express”. When the term “secular” began to be applied also to the mode of education and then to a particular form of the state, it carried the same strict sense of totally excluding the influence of any religious belief or ritual in determining the content of a state’s laws or the nature of its executive action. It may here be mentioned that much before the term “secularism” came into use, the United States Constitution of 1787 and, particularly, the French Revolution of 1789-94, by barring religious influences from all conduct of state affairs, had already produced fair models of a secular state, the French being clearly the more radical one than the American. 
Whenever the word “secular” is today used outside India in respect of the state it does not, therefore, mean just the pursuit of neutrality among religions, or dharm-nirpekshitaas secularism is officially rendered in Hindi, but invokes a more positive notion of rational conduct, uninfluenced by the requirements of any religion or set of religions. 
Yet, what is taken as the meaning of secularism worldwide was expressly rejected by Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, philosopher and India’s second President, in his book Recovery of Faith (1956), page 202, in a passage that is now apparently a standard quotation in Indian legal commentaries: 
“When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of an Unseen Spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion…. We hold that not one religion should be given preferential status or unique distinction.” 
It is clear that Radhakrishnan here offers a definition of secularism which has no sanction and divests it of all significance. As we have seen, secularism all over the world is invoked to ensure that religious beliefs are excluded from affecting the policies and laws of the state, while Radhakrishnan insists that “religion” still remains a “relevant” source. 
Supreme Court judgment on ‘religious instruction’

It is not the international sense of secularism but the one asserted by Radhakrishnan that has been accepted by the Indian judiciary to the extent that even explicit provisions of the Constitution have been set aside in its light, while his warning that not one religion should be given a unique position has been increasingly overlooked. This is illustrated by the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2003 in respect of the imparting of “religious instruction”, on which the Constitution in its Article 28 imposes clear restrictions. Educational institutions maintained by state funds are, by this article, absolutely barred from providing any “religious instruction” and even state-recognised or aided institutions cannot make such instruction compulsory for students. Yet, despite the clear language of the constitutional provisions, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in 2003 claimed (quite unhistorically!) that most of our essential values have come from the mouths of “sanths and saints” and so held as if it was the duty of the state to provide “instruction in religion” in its schools. From the court’s own specific references it could be assumed that Hinduism was the main faith to turn to, with some space given half-heartedly to other religions. The judgment has sounded the death knell of secular education wherever the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come to hold the reins of power. 
Radhakrishnan’s redefinition of “secularism” thus opened the way to its increasing subversion which has taken place with the growth in the power of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its political front, the Jana Sangh, now renamed the BJP. From its foundation in 1925 until 1947, the RSS worked as a Hindu communal organisation with an openly fascist ideology, with no intention to take part in the national movement. Before and after Independence it conducted bitter propaganda against Muslims and against Gandhiji, with its slogans of “Hindu Rashtra” and “Hindutva”, the latter term borrowed from V.D. Savarkar. Its hand in the communal massacres of 1947-48 was officially recognised as well as the fact that its members celebrated Gandhiji’s murder on January 30, 1948. At the elections of 1952 and afterwards it bitterly opposed the proposal for the Hindu Code, which was finally legislated in 1955-56, giving women rights that had been denied to them for millennia. To this body Radhakrishnan’s definition of secularism is probably quite acceptable, and for the past 20 years, if not more, we have heard spokesmen of the RSS and the BJP loudly denouncing “pseudo-secularism” by which they obviously mean secularism in the proper sense of the word. 
It will, however, be inaccurate to attribute the growth of communalism in India solely to the work of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. After Independence there was much bitterness within Congress ranks (which by 1947 had few Muslims left in them) over Partition and the subsequent treatment of Hindus in Pakistan (especially East Pakistan, now Bangladesh). Not only were riots frequent, but there was much official discrimination practised against Muslims in recruitment and promotions to official posts. Nehru himself in a letter to the United Provinces Chief Minister, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, in April 1950 recognised the seriousness of the situation prevailing there, but his acute expression of distress had little immediate consequence. Credit should be given to the Communists, the main opposition party at the time, for their stout opposition to the communal forces. In actual fact, however, the bulk of the defenders, as well as opponents, of secularism were still to be found within the Congress itself. 
Winds of change

It has been argued by Professor Bipan Chandra and his colleagues that it was the Jayaprakash Narayan-led mass movement of 1975, the subsequent Emergency (1975-77) and the opposition it aroused that made the RSS a respectable part of India’s political establishment. The Congress, however, recovered, though the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 in Delhi under its stewardship greatly tarnished its own anti-communal image. It is yet possible that the real change in the RSS’s favour came still later. We ought to remind ourselves of the transformation that took place all over the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Congress had, since its Avadi resolution of 1955, adopted “socialism” as its ultimate objective, and the construction of the public sector and, later, the nationalisation of a large part of the financial sector (banks, insurance) and coal mines under Indira Gandhi were seen as measures leading to socialism. As we have seen, words expressing the aspiration to make India a socialist republic were inserted into the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976. In 1980, even the new incarnation of the RSS-led Jana Sangh, the BJP, declared its adherence to the cause of “Gandhian socialism”. But the wind sharply changed direction in the closing years of the ensuing decade. 
Around 1989-90, socialist regimes in Eastern Europe began to collapse, and in 1991 the Soviet Union itself was dissolved and the socialist system rapidly demolished there. The Indian economy received a great jolt through India’s loss of ties with the Soviet bloc, and there was therefore a total shift (“liberalisation”) in India’s economic policy. “Socialism”, of whatever kind, was now off the table for all parties, even those named “Samajvadi”, except for the two Communist parties. This sudden destruction of a widely held ideal provided rich ground for the spread of the RSS’s communal ideology posing as ultra-nationalism. The shift was marked by the destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in December 1992, loudly proclaimed as a great national achievement. The synchronisation of this event with the worldwide shift to the Right is surely remarkable. 
That event also established the sheer electoral value of communalism. Without any economic programme worth the name, except for the dismantling of the public sector and removal of constraints on Big Business, the BJP governed India from 1999 to 2004. The Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002 established Narendra Modi’s credentials as Chief Minister to govern Gujarat and then to become India’s Prime Minister 12 years later. Unburdened by the legacy of any ideological “socialist” baggage, the BJP can give all the possible concessions that Big Business may seek. The bland slogan “Make in India” is a happy replacement of the work of the Planning Commission whose demolition was one of the first acts of Modi’s government in 2014. In return, the BJP’s coffers, one supposes, are being duly filled. Devices such as “electoral bonds” are surely directed towards easing the process of corporate donations. The combination of communalism and collaboration from Big Business imparts to the present regime a seeming invincibility. 
Elimination of reasoned thought in education

That invincibility is being further strengthened by the steady elimination of secular and reasoned thought in our educational system. The Prime Minister’s seat was once occupied by Jawaharlal Nehru, who argued constantly in favour of science and the scientific spirit and who laid the foundations of India’s large apparatus of scientific research. Modi, who has occupied Nehru’s seat fully 50 years after Nehru passed away, invokes the god Ganesha to sustain a claim of ancient Indians’ knowledge of plastic surgery and puts forth Karna as proof of Indians’ knowledge of genetic engineering in some distant age! To the shame of this country not a single eminent scientist in India took him to task for such claims, which may now well enter our textbooks in Central schools and the schools in most States. Already schemes are afoot to invent a new kind of mythical history to inculcate hatred of Muslims along with a virulent form of racial chauvinism. 
Needless to say, India, except in some corners here and there, can now hardly be called a secular state. As I pick up the Sunday edition of a leading newspaper, I read in a piece by a supporter of the regime that there are leaders who look forward to the next lynching of Muslims after the hue and cry on the present one dies down. Perhaps, such acts will soon turn into cold statistics, so frequent that details would hardly bear reporting. All possible positions in governmental organisations and all the administrative and academic posts that the Central government can fill are being occupied by the RSS’s nominees, often with laughable qualifications. Even right-wing professionals and academics are not considered reliable enough (though an element of personal favouritism may also be involved here). By controlling grants and favours the BJP regime is manifestly enforcing silence and consent to a degree undreamt of under previous regimes, including even the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-I. 
As secularism and reason are driven out, prejudice and ignorance extend their sway with disconcerting rapidity. At one level, we appear to be following in Pakistan’s footsteps, what we had refused to do in 1947. But we are not simply a country of four provinces like Pakistan, we are the second most populous country in the world. What happens here will be a disaster on a corresponding scale. One cannot help thinking of Germany, a country with such advanced culture, at the time the Nazis took possession of it 84 years ago. The same claims for the “Aryan” race, the same bitter prejudice against a minority (in Germany, the Jews), and the same collaboration with Big Business. The Nazis were successful not because they ever obtained support from the majority of the German people in elections, but because their opponents were divided, with some being won over by the Nazis, to be suppressed later. That process, too, we can now see coming to pass in India, the Bihar example being the latest instance, immediately celebrated by the beating up of three men because they were allegedly transporting meat: “We are in power now,” the mobsters are reported to have said. 
A serious task awaits parties that are committed to a different future for the country, envisaging a truly secular democratic India, where reason and science might serve to sustain a welfare state. Perhaps the conflict over whether such a state would be socialist or a free market one can be postponed until the present crisis is over. Those in the Congress and other liberal parties may remember how Gandhiji, a firm opponent of socialism, could combine with Nehru, an avowed socialist, to fight British imperialism. The Left parties may recall how Popular Fronts were formed in Europe in the mid-1930s to block the path of Fascism. Surely, anyone with any foresight can see that unless a broad unity of all secular forces is now forged in India, the country’s present slide into darkness will doubtless continue.

August 17, 2017

India: In the past, Supreme Court had stood up for inter-faith and inter-caste marriages

 Hindustan Times

Before Kerala ‘love jihad’ case, SC upheld inter-faith, inter-caste marriages in ‘free and democratic’ India

In the past, Supreme Court had stood up for inter-faith and inter-caste marriages but ordered the NIA to probe the marriage between a Hindu man and Muslim woman from Kerala.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2017 12:46 IST
Ashok Bagriya

A few years back, the Supreme Court came to the rescue of a sitting Rajasthan High court judge’s daughter, allowing her to go with a man she wanted to marry.
The girl was kept under house arrest by her father, justice RS Rathore, because the man she intended to marry was outside her caste.
The top court, however, ascertained the wishes of the woman and let her go with the person.
A similar incident played out in the Supreme Court more than 20 years ago.
Two Delhi-based advocates, Vipin and Jaspreet Gogia, approached the top court seeking protection from the woman’s father, a civil servant in Punjab. Jaspreet’s father was opposed to the marriage as she was a Jat Sikh and Vipin a Khatri Hindu.
Despite the court’s intervention, the couple were allegedly abducted by a team of Punjab Police from outside the court premises.
The then chief justice of India, MN Venkatachaliah, threatened the Punjab Police chief and Delhi Police of consequences unless the couple returned safely. Days later, the couple returned and Supreme Court blessed the union.
In a recent landmark judgment, the Supreme Court stood up for inter-caste and inter- religion marriages.
“This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter,” court said.
“Inter-caste marriages are, in fact, in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system,” it added.
Read more
But a recent interfaith marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man in Kerala has become a matter of national security, with the top court asking the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the marriage between Shafin Jahan and Akhila.
The woman’s father claims the marriage was forced and was a case of love jihad, a term right-wing groups use to allege an Islamist strategy of converting Hindu women through seduction, marriage or money.
He has sought custody of his daughter saying his daughter’s conversion to Islam was an instance of love jihad and that efforts are underway to send her to Syria to join the international terror outfit, Islamic State. The man denies the allegations.
Investigations into the allegations are ongoing .
However, a preliminary probe suggest that the Muslim man and people who helped him get married are under the scanner in a separate case of forced conversion.
A trial in the case is yet to take place.
While all of this plays out in this Kerala case -- legal experts have called the Supreme Court ordering a NIA probe “absolutely horrific”.
“I am horrified. In every case of inter-caste or inter-religion marriage, the first instinct of the court is to ascertain the wishes of the girl and protect her from any influence. But here, the court has decided to first let police investigate the matter and in the end speak to the girl,” said Sanjay Hegde, a senior advocate.
Anand Grover, another senior advocate, too felt the court order was not correct.
“Why do you need the investigation? In this case, the girl and her marriage is the core issue and not something else. Ultimately, it is about the wishes of the girl, she is an adult and she can take decisions for herself,” he added.
In May, the Kerala high court – responding to a plea by Akihila’s father– declared the marriage invalid.
The verdict had sparked a wave of protests across Kerala, with rights groups criticising the court for curtailing the rights of an adult woman.

August 16, 2017

The Rising Tide of Intolerance in Narendra Modi’s India | Shanoor Seervai (July 27, 2016)

 

The Rising Tide of Intolerance in Narendra Modi’s India

BY SHANOOR SEERVAI
 
The resounding victory of Hindu nationalists at India’s federal polls in May 2014 is attributed to one man: Narendra Modi. Fed up with the corruption and complacency of the Congress—the party that led India’s anti-colonial struggle and governed for much of its independent history—the world’s largest democracy voted for a leader who promised an era of growth.[i]
The Modi “wave” that swept India cannot be chalked up to his political platform alone. It was the result of artful public relations and dogged hard work, which gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the biggest majority for any single party in thirty years.[ii] One of the advertising gurus who played an instrumental part in the BJP’s media strategy told me in an interview in July 2014 that Prime Minister Modi’s election campaign was modeled along the lines of a US presidential one.[iii] “This was a situation where Narendra Modi equaled the BJP,” he said.
Modi’s first post-victory speech to a sea of adulating supporters included a declaration that “to run the country, we need to take everyone with us.”[iv] But his past casts a shadow over his will to quell religious violence. Over one thousand people (mostly Muslims) were killed in religious riots in 2002 during his tenure as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.[v]
Some critics say he did not do enough to stop the violence; others believe he strategically engineered the massacre of Muslims. While a Supreme-Court-appointed investigation did not find sufficient evidence to convict Modi of wrongdoing, [vi] many senior officials of the Gujarat government were convicted of crimes including murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy.[vii] Modi, in a New York Times interview he gave in 2002—his last one—offered no consolation to the state’s Muslims and expressed satisfaction with his government’s performance. The only regret he voiced about the carnage was that he did not handle the news media well.[viii]
Two years after Modi’s triumph, it remains unclear whether he has any intention of fostering tolerance, religious or otherwise, in India. While Hindus are the majority, almost 250 million people—more than 20 percent of India’s 1.21 billion-strong population—belong to religious minorities. Muslims are the largest minority, at 14.23 percent.[ix] India is one of the globe’s most diverse countries, with a historical commitment to secularism tracing as far back as 270 BC, when Buddhist emperor Ashoka ruled a largely Hindu country.[x]
The Hindu right in more recent times has worked to thwart this history of plurality, but the tenuous nature of its political power (until 2014, the BJP had never held a majority in Parliament) always curtailed its opportunities for unfettered sectarianism. With Modi at the helm today, however, senior politicians make bigoted remarks with distressing frequency, stoking perpetually simmering embers of a fear that India’s government prescribes to a bigoted brand of Hindu nationalism.[xi]
Religious Intolerance
When Muslim computer engineer Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh was killed in western India a week after Modi took office, I interviewed the head of an umbrella organization for Muslim groups in New Delhi. “I’m glad you are talking about this case,” Zafarul Islam Khan told me. “But this is only one of several other, silent, undocumented acts targeting Muslims across North India.”[xii] Modi never publicly acknowledged Shaikh’s murder.
Emboldened by the Hindu government at the center, local BJP leaders have preyed on Muslims with a systematic attempt to prevent consumption of beef. Hindus believe the cow is sacred, and in its 2014 election manifesto the BJP pledged to increase “protection and promotion of cow and its progeny.”[xiii] Expanding a 1976 law that prohibited the slaughter of cows, a law passed in 2015 bans the slaughter and possession of bull and bullock meat in the western state of Maharashtra. Other states are following suit with similar laws.[xiv] Such bans on beef hurt not only religious minorities like Muslims and Christians, but also lower-caste Hindus, who eat beef and work in industries related to cattle slaughter.[xv] More worrying than exercising legal muscle or illegal vigilantism over what people eat, is the violent manifestation of intolerance.
Hindu mobs beat to death a Muslim man in September 2015 for allegedly eating and storing beef, which was later discovered to be goat meat.[xvi] Modi was studiedly silent as national outrage erupted; he did, however, find time to tweet a famous singer to condole her son’s death.[xvii] He waited more than two weeks to acknowledge the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq—and when he did, he called it “sad” and “unfortunate,” but implied the federal government is unable to do anything to prevent such violence.[xviii] 
No Room for Dissidents
In the weeks after Akhlaq was murdered, writers started to revolt. Indian authors and poets returned prestigious awards from Sahitya Akademi, the National Academy of Letters, to speak out against the “violent retrogressive forces dictating terms in the field of literature and culture.”[xix] The protest was also inspired by a series of endeavors to silence writers with alternative interpretations of religion. One writer posted on his Facebook page in early 2015 that he would stop writing after facing harassment from right-wing Hindu groups for his book depicting an ancient ritual.[xx]
The BJP government’s willingness to clamp down on dissent is perhaps most insidious in the case of Teesta Setalvad. One of India’s best-known human rights activists, Setalvad has tirelessly worked to bring justice to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots; her network of organizations is widely credited with helping prosecutors win more than one hundred convictions against those responsible for inciting the violence.[xxi]
Setalvad has been the subject of a string of investigations since she began her work, including allegations of tampering with witnesses, and a more recent federal investigation into alleged financial irregularities of her organizations. One reason India’s Central Bureau of Investigation is persecuting Setalvad is that her organizations spent funds from the Ford Foundation to create “communal disharmony,” tantamount to threatening national security.[xxii] Setalvad told me in an interview in December 2015 that these funds, a tiny fraction of what she has received from donors over the years, were used to build a human rights archive. “It has been very difficult to continue with our justice work… their intention is to get us bogged down,” Setalvad said, referring to the time she spends defending herself against criminal charges.[xxiii]
The trend of rolling out criminal charges against dissenters resurfaced with teeth as this piece went to press. Protests broke out across India in mid-February 2016 over the arrest of a student at a prestigious university in New Delhi on charges of sedition. Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the student union, was arrested after a discussion about capital punishment to mark the anniversary of the execution of a Kashmiri man convicted of a 2001 attack on India’s Parliament.[xxiv] The BJP government justified the arrest with allegations that in speaking about the hanging, and the expressed desire of some Kashmiris to secede from India, Kumar and other students were making anti-national claims that were seditious and could not be allowed. Clamping down on the freedom of students to demonstrate at an institution of learning strikes at the very core of democracy. In his column about the arrest, political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote, “Nothing that the students did poses nearly as much threat to India, as the subversion of freedom and judgement this government represents.”[xxv] As of two weeks after the arrest, Modi had nothing to say to the public.
 Modi’s ties to the Hindu right
What’s frightening about Modi’s silence is that it could be read as tacit approval of the mobs leading the charge against minorities, writers, and activists. It is no secret that Modi relies heavily upon the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization, for ideological support and manpower during elections. The RSS is a grassroots movement with thousands of local branches. Millions of volunteers across India serve its mission to create a militant Hindu state.[xxvi]
Hindutva, the incarnation of Hinduism as national identity, got a boost when in 1992 BJP leader and former RSS member Lal Krishna Advani led the charge for mobs to demolish a mosque in North India. They claimed it had been built on the same land where a temple to the Hindu god Ram once stood. The Congress government in power did nothing to prevent the destruction or stem the nationwide religious riots that followed.[xxvii] Hindutva dates back further; even as the country celebrated its independence, RSS activist Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. In 2014, less than a year after Modi had been in power, there were murmurings of RSS-affiliated parties building a temple in honor of the assassin.[xxviii]
Modi began his political career as part of the student wing of the RSS, and rose rapidly through its ranks.[xxix] Many believe he does not oppose the RSS’s blatant attempts to drive its agenda because he subscribes to it. As rationality and secularism are slowly being bled out of Indian education, he has endorsed the views of those rewriting textbooks to depict science and history as a glorified Hindu past.[xxx] He has also given his minister of human resource development free rein to appoint (often unqualified) RSS ideologues at key institutions of academic research.[xxxi]
A Brief History of Intolerance in India
Regardless of whether Modi is too secure in his power to care about the handful of voices raising concerns about intolerance, or fully endorses the censorship, witch-hunts, and cultural appropriation, it is too convenient and simplistic to exclusively blame him. India is no stranger to sectarian tension. When the subcontinent divided into India and Pakistan in August 1947, more than a million people were killed.[xxxii] The Congress leaders of independent India built secular principles into the Constitution, but friction between religious groups has diluted these in practice.
Supporters of the BJP are quick to point out that Congress’ record on minority rights is hardly pristine. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi responded to the anti-Sikh pogroms after his mother Indira Gandhi was killed in 1984 with the words: “Once a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it shakes.”[xxxiii] More than thirty years later, perpetrators of the violence have not been prosecuted.[xxxiv] Congress remained in power and won subsequent elections.
It is no wonder, then, that even those Indians opposed to communalism were able to forget or intentionally ignore the accusations against Modi for the 2002 riots. Many believed that in the decade that followed, he turned his attention to economic development in Gujarat, evidenced in the state’s rapid GDP growth and relative ease of doing business. In the process, Modi forged close relationships with Indian industrialists, opening doors to oil-refining and auto companies while other Indian states remained mired in red tape.[xxxv]

Narendra Modi at the Republic Day celebrations in Himatnagar. (Source: Narendra Modi, Flickr)
The BJP’s 2014 watershed election victory was in large measure because many Indians want to see across the country the economic success Modi rolled out in Gujarat. With a majority in Parliament, the BJP is not beholden to a coalition partner and can push its sociocultural agenda. “What were fantasies in Vajpayee’s day can become a reality in Modi’s day,” explained writer Salil Tripathi, referring to the prime minister under India’s only other long-standing BJP government.[xxxvi] Both Tripathi and activist Teesta Setalvad were quick to point out the fallacy in arguing that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Home Minister L.K. Advani were more moderate than Modi and his top officials. They attribute any restraint the previous BJP government displayed to its political inefficacy.
Despite being ostensibly inclusive, India’s track record on freedom of expression has always been poor, Tripathi told me in an interview in December 2015. “Indians are very tolerant of intolerance,” he said.[xxxvii] The “right to freedom of speech and expression” is a fundamental right under the Constitution. But due to fears of the recurrence of religious violence India witnessed at partition, its criminal law includes several provisions, including ones on obscenity and religious offense, which restrict this freedom. India was the first country in 1988 to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, under a government led by the professedly secular Congress. Almost three decades later, Rushdie has voiced concern about the “real grave danger” to discuss ideas freely in India under Modi’s leadership.[xxxviii]
Where the right to express oneself ends and the right to practice one’s religion begins is an enduring question facing most modern societies. In January 2015, after murders at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the magazine returned to publication a week later with its iconic “Je Suis Charlie” cover.[xxxix] News outlets across the world carried the cartoon to show solidarity, but an Urdu newspaper in India was forced to shut shop after it published the image. One of its editors lost her job, and has since been unable to find work as a journalist.[xl]
India’s poor record on tolerance notwithstanding, the long list of encroachments on freedom of expression, the climate of fear, and the systematic targeting of dissenters under Modi are alarming. But is this reading too much into the hate speech and stray acts of a handful? Politicians everywhere, after all, say outrageous things to attract and retain public attention.
But in India, the hot air is accompanied with poison gas. Senior political leaders not only say that Indian Muslims should go to Pakistan, they also have been known to compel Muslims to renounce Islam through conversions, thereby violating their constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion.[xli] With public encouragement from the RSS chief, mobs of Hindu nationalists in North India forced hundreds of Muslims to “reconvert” to Hinduism in late 2014. These Muslims, the hardline Hindu groups argue, have strayed from their path and are returning home to the Hindu fold.[xlii] True to form, Modi had nothing to say about these forced reconversions. Months after they began, he paid lip service to “complete freedom of faith” in India.[xliii]
Looking Ahead
Throughout repeated assaults on freedom of expression, Modi has remained stoic and stony-faced. When he does address the public, he uses banal phrases instead of taking a stance against bigotry. He cannot be held accountable for every instance of intolerance; undoubtedly, many take place out of his purview. But his typical, ostrich-like response, of saying nothing or tweeting platitudes when something serious or disturbing happens, is inadequate. It raises the question: what stake does Modi have in an intolerant India?           
Modi is a master politician—his public appearances are a performance of thundering oration and rainbow-colored garb. But beneath the sweeping statements about India’s bright future lurks his unresolved past. Perhaps ambiguity is part of his master strategy—his critics are right to read into his track record in Gujarat, muteness on growing intolerance, and alignment with the Hindu doctrine of the RSS. His moderate supporters can seek solace in his silence, and pin their hopes on his assurance of rapid economic growth—although he has yet to deliver his avowed miracles.
In the interim, Modi must confront the impatient churn of Indian democracy. The Congress is currently in disarray, but the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP), founded in 2012 on anti-corruption principles, trounced the BJP in local elections in the capital, New Delhi, in February 2015.[xliv] The AAP’s leader has his eyes set on the next federal polls, and while it is too early to gauge the party’s national appeal, it may give the political establishment a run for its money.
In November 2015, the BJP also lost state elections in the poor, densely populated eastern state of Bihar, in spite of Modi’s vigorous campaigning across the state.[xlv] The defeat was more likely the result of an unexpected but effective alliance of rival political parties that contested the BJP rather than the rising tide of intolerance in India, but it implies that Modi is not invincible. State elections in crucial states in East and South India in 2016 may indicate growing discomfort with his brand of politics.
Modi may continue to enjoy his power as prime minister even if he ignores threats to freedom of expression, but in the long run may lose some of his shiny popularity and perhaps even a second term in office. He may not care about convincing his detractors that he is not spearheading a movement to turn India into the unified Hindu nation his supporters want to create. But he should care about respecting and preserving the religious tolerance to which India has always aspired in spite of its unmanageable diversity. At the very least, he should be concerned about his legacy—not only of leading India into an era of economic growth, but also of deepening openness and tolerance.

Shanoor Seervai is a Master in Public Policy student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is a Freedman/Martin journalism scholar and the Editor-in-Chief of the Kennedy School Review. She previously reported for The Wall Street Journal’s South Asia Bureau, where she covered India’s 2014 federal election, gender-based violence, urban development and rural health care. Her writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Guernica Magazine, The Caravan and The Indian Express. She is also the author of ‘Daughters of the Red Light,’ a Kindle Single about the women and girls of Mumbai’s brothels.

Cover Photo via Al Jazeera English, Flickr.

[i] Niharika Mandhana, “Narendra Modi’s Election Win Heralds New Era in India,” The Wall Street Journal, 17 May 2014. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304908304579564810455296606?cb=logged0.4667692347429693
[ii] Soutik Biswas, “India’s BJP scores a historic win,” BBC World News, 16 May 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-27435647
[iii] Shanoor Seervai, “Lessons From Narendra Modi’s Media Campaign,” The Wall Street Journal, 11 June 2014. http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/06/11/lessons-from-narendra-modis-media-campaign/
[iv] Jason Burke, “Narendra Modi’s landslide victory shatters Congress’s grip on India,” The Guardian, 16 May 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/16/narendra-modi-victory-congress-india-election
[v] Celia W. Duger, “Religious Riots Loom Over Indian Politics,” New York Times, 27 July 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/27/international/asia/27INDI.html
[vi] Manas Dasgupta, “SIT finds no proof against Modi, says court,” The Hindu, 11 April 2012. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sit-finds-no-proof-against-modi-says-court/article3300175.ece
[vii] “Naroda Patiya riots: BJP MLA Maya Kodnani sentenced to 28 yrs in jail, Babu Bajragi life,” The Indian Express, 16 September 2013. http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/naroda-patiya-riots-bjp-mla-maya-kodnani-sentenced-to-28-yrs-in-jail-babu-bajrangi-life/995802/0
[viii] Duger, “Religious Riots Loom Over Indian Politics.” http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/27/international/asia/27INDI.html
[ix] These figures are based on the Government of India’s 2011 Census; more recent estimates place India’s population around 1.3 billion.
[x] Samnath Subramanian, “Ashoka: The Search for India’s Lost Emperor by Charles Allen – review,” The Guardian, 16 March 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/mar/16/ashoka-india-emperor-charles-allen-review
[xi] “Is Modi’s India flirting with fascism?” Al Jazeera Head to Head Interview with Ram Madhav, 25 December 2015, accessed 1 January 2016. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/headtohead/2015/12/modis-india-flirting-fascism-151201114124802.html
[xii] Khan, Zafarul Islam. Interview by Shanoor Seervai. Phone Interview. Mumbai, 5 June 2014.
[xiii] “Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat: Election Manifesto 2014,” The Bharatiya Janata Party, accessed 2 January 2016. http://www.bjp.org/images/pdf_2014/full_manifesto_english_07.04.2014.pdf
[xiv] Shanoor Seervai, “Nothing’s Secular in Modi’s India,” The Daily Beast, 3 August 2015. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/03/nothing-s-secular-in-modi-s-india.html
[xvi] Mohammad Ali and Vijaita Singh, “It was mutton, not beef: Dadri probe report,” The Hindu, 29 December 2015. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dadri-lynching-incident-meat-turns-out-to-be-mutton/article8037029.ece
[xvii] “Why is PM Modi silent on Dadri lynching? asks Opposition,” The Indian Express, 2 October 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/why-is-pm-silent-on-dadri-lynching-asks-opposition/
[xviii] Abantika Ghosh, “Sad, not desirable, but what is Centre’s role: PM Modi on Dadri, Ghulam Ali,” The Indian Express, 15 October 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/dadri-lynching-episode-ghulam-ali-row-is-sad-says-pm-modi/
[xix] David Barstow and Suhasini Raj, “Indian Writers Return Awards to Protest Government Silence on Violence,” New York Times, 17 October 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/world/asia/india-writers-return-awards-to-protest-government-silence-on-violence.html
[xx] Shanoor Seervai and R. Jai Krishna, “Indian Author Lays Down Pen After Protests Against His Work,” The Wall Street Journal, 14 January 2015. http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2015/01/14/indian-author-lays-down-his-pen-after-protests-against-his-work/
[xxi] David Barstow, “Longtime Critic of Modi Is Now a Target,” New York Times, 19 August 2015. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/world/asia/teesta-setalvad-modi-india.html
[xxii] Victor Mallet, “India targets Ford Foundation as national security risk,” The Financial Times, 23 April 2015. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8bf1eb8e-e9f1-11e4-a687-00144feab7de.html#axzz3yyyHcGtb
[xxiii] Setalvad, Teesta. Interview by Shanoor Seervai. Personal Interview. Mumbai, 29 December 2015.
[xxiv] Jason Burke, “Protests to continue at Indian university after student leader’s arrest,” The Guardian, 15 February 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/15/jawaharlal-nehru-university-kanhaiya-kumar-student-arrest-india
[xxv] Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “An act of tyranny,” The Indian Express, 16 February 2016. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/jnu-sedition-case-kanhaiya-kumar-arrest-afzal-guru-event/
[xxvi] A. G. Noorani, The RSS and the BJP: A Division of Labor (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2000).
[xxvii] Shanoor Seervai, “Razed To The Ground,” Brown Journal of History (Spring 2009): 38. https://www.brown.edu/academics/history/sites/brown.edu.academics.history/files/uploads/spring2009.part1__0.pdf
[xxviii] Rajiv Srivastava, “Hindu Mahasabha to build Godse’s Temple,” The Times of India, 23 December 2014. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/Hindu-Mahasabha-to-build-Godses-temple/articleshow/45610617.cms
[xxix] “Narendra Modi: Biography: Dedicated Life,” accessed 1 January 2016. http://www.narendramodi.in/the-activist-3129
[xxx] Raksha Kumar, “Hindu right rewriting Indian textbooks,” Al Jazeera, 4 November 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/11/hindu-right-ideology-indian-textbooks-gujarat-20141147028501733.html
[xxxi] Ramachandra Guha, “Death by a thousand cuts,” The Indian Express, 21 May 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/death-by-a-thousand-cuts/
[xxxii] William Dalrymple, “The Great Divide,” The New Yorker, 29 June 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/29/the-great-divide-books-dalrymple
[xxxiii] Rahul Bedi, “Indira Gandhi’s death remembered,” BBC World News, 1 November 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8306420.stm
[xxxiv] “India: No Justice for 1984 Anti-Sikh Bloodshed,” Human Rights Watch, 29 October 2014. https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/10/29/india-no-justice-1984-anti-sikh-bloodshed
[xxxv] Tom Lasseter and Kartikay Mehrotra, “Narendra Modi: A Man Apart,” Bloomberg, 4 August 2015. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-04/narendra-modi-has-enormous-ambitions-for-india-and-himself
[xxxvi] Tripathi, Salil. Interview by Shanoor Seervai. Personal Interview. Mumbai, 31 December 2015.
[xxxvii] Tripathi, Interview by Shanoor Seervai.
[xxxviii] Barkha Dutt, “Exclusive: PM Narendra Modi’s Silence Emboldening ‘Thuggish Violence,’ Says Salman Rushdie,” NDTV, 13 October 2015. http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/exclusive-pm-narendra-modis-silence-emboldening-thuggish-violence-says-salman-rushdie-1231426?pfrom=video-read
[xxxix] “Defiant Charlie Hebdo depicts Prophet Muhammad on cover,” BBC World News, 13 January 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30790409
[xl] Supriya Nair, “An Unclean Chit,” The Caravan, 1 December 2015. http://www.caravanmagazine.in/perspectives/an-unclean-chit-media-freedom-india
[xli] “Those who want beef should go to Pak: Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi,” The Hindustan Times, 22 May 2015. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/those-who-want-to-eat-beef-should-go-to-pak-mukhtar-abbas-naqvi/story-kTyciMp58MrUhrWJfp5kFK.html
[xlii] “RSS chief Bhagwat says conversions will continue,” The Hindustan Times, 21 December 2014. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/rss-chief-bhagwat-says-conversions-will-continue/story-6OWItkUyzprKIT1fZbGbDL.html
[xliii] “PM Narendra Modi breaks silence on attacks on Christians, ghar wapsi, threatens crackdown against extremists,” The Financial Express, 17 February 2015. http://www.financialexpress.com/article/india-news/in-wake-of-attacks-on-christians-ghar-wapsi-pm-narendra-modi-breaks-silence-threatens-crackdown/43933/
[xliv] “Delhi Election Result: Dream Victory for Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, BJP Flattened,” NDTV, 10 February 2015. http://www.ndtv.com/delhi-news/delhi-election-result-sirf-aap-delhi-picks-arvind-kejriwal-again-738364
[xlv] Jason Burke, “Narendra Modi’s party concedes defeat in Bihar election,” The Guardian, 8 November 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/08/narendra-modis-party-concedes-defeat-in-bihar-election