By Zafarul-Islam Khan
Our long struggle and sacrifices for freedom which led to independence in 1947 and framing of a constitution three years later had dreams for the country. We wanted a society where interests of the poorest will be taken care of while framing and implementing policies. Where a level playing field will be afforded to all. Where there will be no hatred and discrimination.
Our Constitution guaranteed Right to equality in society and in front of law, right to freedom, right to personal safety, right to constitutional remedies, right to equal treatment by the State, right to believe or not to believe in any faith, right to marry whom one wants, right to live where one wants, right to personal safety, right to privacy, right to justice…
Over the years we toiled making much progress to achieve our ideals. We built strong institutions, we put in place mechanisms of checks and balances. Mistakes like Emergency were committed but were soon corrected either by the rulers or by the people of India.
Our journey on the way of equality, democracy, socialism and secularism was interrupted when Hindutva made a big entry into politics in mid-1980s and adopted an old dispute over the Babri Masjid, finally leading to its demolition at the hands of bigoted mobs in December 1992.
The dream of a secular and socialist India was dented with the demolition of the old mosque. Indian polity has not been the same ever since. A political party riding the Hindutva wave started winning elections on the basis of hate and othering a part of the country’s population. This party ruled India during 1999-2004 but since it was saddled at the time by a large coalition of small political parties, it was not free to realise its Hindutva dreams but helped spread the fiction of Muslim terror in India. Its Home Minister, L K Advani, used to repeat ad nauseum, “Not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim.”
Election results of 2014, with a larger majority and headed by a person who had overseen the Gujarat riots 2002, gave Hindutva a big push. The party came to power with big promises and claimed to work for progress of all but what slowly unfolded was a policy of hate against the two main minorities in the country, Muslims and Christians. Pressures on Christians eased within the next two years (apparently due to foreign pressure) but continued against Muslims. It took many forms and shapes like lynchings in the name of beef and cow slaughter or smuggling, so-called “Love Jihad,” and the so-called plan to convert Hindus to Islam, Muslim “conspiracy” to raise their numbers in India, etc. A section of media was reigned in to start periodic campaigns against Muslims using any stray or fake incident, like claiming that Muslims were on purpose spreading Corona in the country. Ruling party leaders, MPs and even ministers went around making inflammatory and irresponsible speeches. They were never even reprimanded for their incendiary statements.
Using this hate 24×7, the ruling party has kept Hindus busy and distracted from its colossal failures on every front, so much so that despite these failures it again won the general elections in 2019. This time it started implementing its long-term plans like depriving millions of Muslims of their Indian nationality in the name of implementing NRC/CAA leading to months-long huge Muslim protests all over the country, which could be curbed only using the COVID pandemic restrictions. Next came the unilateral abolition of the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and converting the huge Jammu & Kashmir state into a Union Territory and snatching away Ladakh from it.
India’s great institutions are being weakened, diluted and made subservient to the ruling Hindutva ideology. Lynching, open anti-Muslim propaganda and calls for murder of Muslims have become common. Indian government is not moved by widespread national and international condemnation of these policies so much so that when the visiting American Secretary of State raised the issue of human rights in India, his Indian counterpart shot back that we are correcting historical wrongs…!
A huge surveillance network has been installed keeping an eye what citizens say and think. Thousands of people have been arrested on “sedition,” conversion, beef, and fake terror charges. Recently the Pegasus scandal has exposed the huge surveillance network this government has built to tame India’s once vibrant civil society. This surveillance system and spying in various ways focuses not on criminals and terrorists but on secular critics and people perceived as political enemies by the rulers of the day.
Human and civil rights and India’s secular polity are in danger. An all-out effort is needed to redeem the dreams of the founders of independent India which is now being ruined by a retrograde fascist ideology. I have not lost hope but do realise that a long struggle awaits us to redeem our independence ideals.
Zafarul-Islam Khan is a leading writer and researcher based in Delhi. He is also the former Chairman of Minority Commission of Delhi. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.