Secularism Challenged

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Secularism in India means equal treatment of all religions by the state. The 42nd Amendment of Constitution of India said that India is a secular nation. The laws require the state and its institutions to recognise and accept all religions, enforce parliamentary laws instead of religious laws, and respect pluralism.

On March 31st, Pehlu Kan, a 55-year-old resident of Haryana, left his village for Jaipur to purchase dairy cattle. On April 1st while returning to his village carrying cows and calves, Pehlu Khan was attacked and murdered. This is referred to as the 2017 Alwar Mob Lynching. He was attacked by a group of 200 cow vigilantes affiliated with right-wing Hindutva groups in Alwar, Rajasthan, India. He was accompanied by 6 others, who were all stopped by the mob. Khan showed a Jaipur civic document as proof the cows had been bought for milk. His son Irshad, who was with him says that they showed them the papers but they were in no mood to listen, and they tore documents and attacked Pehlu in front of him. Despite the papers, the mob dragged all of them out of their vehicles and beat them with rods and sticks. While Khan later died from his injuries, others though seriously injured, survived.

The perpetrators also reportedly robbed the victims of their cell phones and wallets.
The police have arrested 3 people, and the Home Minister has assured justice for the lynching incident. The mob claimed that the Muslims were carrying cattle for slaughter. This incident shows anti-secularism in hearts of the people. Soon after this, on 26th May, the Government imposed a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter across India. Cows are sacred to Hindus but are commonly consumed by the other religious communities. The Government’s decision of imposing a beef ban shows a pro-Hindutva behaviour and goes against the secularity of India.

In March, another event was witnessed which was extremely unexpected and also unprecedented. For the first time, the head of a religious institution was appointed the chief minister of a state in the secular Union of India. Apart from Iran, nowhere else does this situation prevail. Yogi Adityanath who was appointed as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is openly hostile towards Muslims. He has said “If the other side does not stay in peace, we will teach them how to stay in peace…in the language that they understand.” Moreover, on Aap Ki Adaalat he said, “In a place where there are 10 to 20% minorities, stray communal incidents take place. Where there are 20 to 35% of them, serious communal riots take place and where they are more than 35%, there is no place for non-Muslims” and also “ If they kill one Hindu, then we will kill 100 Muslims.” He is a staunch Hinduism supporter, and by appointing him, the BJP has made development in the state has taken a backseat. A majority of Muslims are feeling insecure today and will remain worried as he continues to rule over the state for five years. To add to it, Adityanath in 2005 was said to have led a purification drive involving the conversion of Christians to Hinduism.

Shadab Chouhan of AIMIM had tweeted that if he becomes the CM of Uttar Pradesh then secularism, pluralism and diversity is under threat. Appointing of such an anti-secular person hence indeed came as a shock. His staunch beliefs have made the minorities fear for their lives. With him being in office and also the religious head, keeping in mind all his anti- Christian and anti- Muslim statements, there is no doubt that secularism in India has suffered a major setback.

Since the new BJP government under Narendra Modi has come to power, there has been an increase in incidents of violence against Christians. In December 2014, St. Sebastian’s Church which was burned. St. Mary’s Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and Infant Jesus were damaged. The persecution of Christians in India increased sharply in the year 2016. India was ranked 15th in the world for danger to Christians.

In 2016, Hindu villagers in Uttar Pradesh beat 3 Christian couples with sticks. The mob forced them to drink gangajal, eat tulsi leaves and asked them to deny Christ. When they resisted the mean and women of the village beat them even more severely. A total of 13 other younger Christians felt compelled to participate in the Hindu ritual and deny Christ. According to Pushpa Kumari, another victim of this attack said that “ The village president instigates the mob to attack whoever converts to Christianity.” Following a police complaint, the villagers refused to sell water to the Christians. When they approached the village multiple times they were to get down from their high horse, stop the worship services in the village, stop following Christ and only then will they supply water to their fields. Village President Santosh Kumar Gupta said he is unable to do anything if the Hindus are not willing to supply water to the Christians, and that it’s personal and beyond his jurisdiction.

Such has been some of the incidents that have threatened Secularism in India. There is a need for a genuinely secular space in which informed decisions can take place on complex issues; a space in which an individual has the right to exit his/ her religious community if they wish to and is assured the protection of the state. A place where all religions are considered equal and there are no special preferences given to anyone.

It is this space that is under serious threat today.

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