India is celebrating 75 years of freedom from British rule. The Indian flag, the tricolor, is fluttering from hundreds of thousands of houses and institutions across the country to mark the occasion.
Amid the jubilation and the fluttering tricolors, it’s time for introspection. Are all Indians truly free?
Father Cedric Prakash says the only question one needs to ask at this critical juncture of the country’s history is “Whose [email protected]?”
The rights of religious minorities are being crushed. Muslims and Christians are at the receiving end of venomous hate speeches, constant denigration and even attacks, says the Jesuit priest.
Professor Salim Engineer, vice president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an Islamic organization, says, “We are proud of the great strides India has taken in the scientific and technological fields and the economy.”
“We are a power which the world can’t ignore. But, we as a nation and society have fallen low in morality, individual and collective character,” adds the educator.
“We have not upheld our Constitutional values — Equality, Freedom, Liberty, Justice and Fraternity. We have not been able to preserve and protect.”
Discrimination against and atrocities on weaker sections, such as the Dalits, Tribals, Muslim and Christian minorities, and women have been on the increase,” he says.
The situation of religious freedom and safety of places of worship, particularly of Christians and Muslims, is worsening day by day, he adds.
It is sad that the genie of communal disharmony and superiority of one religion over another has been uncorked, says Michael Williams, president of the United Christian Forum.
Federal Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted on “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day” on August 14.
“The partition of the country in 1947 is that inhuman chapter of Indian history which can never be forgotten,” he says.
“The (Hindu-Muslim) communal violence and hatred claimed millions of lives and displaced innumerable people,” he adds.
Since the Bharatiya Janata Party began to rule the country, it has again witnessed increased religious polarization, says John Dayal, a veteran journalist and rights activist.
From the verdict on the Babri Masjid to the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A regarding Kashmir, the communal divide has become wider.
The “Love Jihad” law of northern Uttar Pradesh state is clearly focused on a Muslim boy marrying a Hindu girl, he says.
There has been a spate of unconstitutional anti-conversion laws in different states, clearly a bogey, and which certainly violates the fundamental rights of a citizen, says Dayal.
“There is a fear that India’s Muslim heritage might be expunged,” said Rajmohan Gandhi, historian and author, quoting his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.
Not only are Muslims underrepresented everywhere, including in the Parliament, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the police, and the army, their representation continues to shrink.
The view that within India Muslims and Christians must exist as second class citizens will have to yield when it clashes with the hunger to belong to the world as anyone’s equals, says Gandhi.
He says that massive propaganda against the “Other” may work for a while, but dislike of the “Other” will eventually be trumped by love of liberty.
In recent years, the Indian State has become far more ruthless in its suppression of dissent.
By the government’s own figures, between 2016 and 2020, more than 24,000 Indians were arrested under the draconian Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act, of which less than one percent were actually convicted, says historian and author Ramchandra Guha.
The BJP government’s decision to promote the Hindutva ideology in violation of the Constitution has spread fear among Muslims and Christians, says former Ambassador K P Fabian.
He says “the Muslims have, with a degree of success, demonstrated against the Citizenship Amendment Act while the Christians seem to be still trying to figure out a strategy.”
Striking a note of optimism, Williams says Minorities in India have always been a soft target, but the Constitution is still supreme and the judiciary is still alive and well.
Renowned Islamic scholar Akhtarul Wassey echoes the sentiments.
He says “Muslims have the support of a vast majority of right-thinking Hindus. There is also the Constitution that provides religious liberty and a judiciary is also by and large fair.”
Williams says people will see that the pursuit of happiness, fraternity and human dignity is paramount and independent of a person’s faith or absence of it.
They will see it hopefully when the rising unemployment, cost of fuel, cooking gas and continuing drop in the value of the Rupee hits home.
There has been little positive, nation-building governance and more power-building exercises. Even the powers-that-be must realize that more good governance and less rhetoric is the need of the hour.
Let the conversation be on removing poverty, narrowing the gap between the hyper rich and the barely middle class, and even the gap between castes and genders.
Those are measurable goals. Lets try to reach them in the next quarter of a century, says Dayal.