Stark light

If there is light at the end of the tunnel, it is not yet visible - certainly not if the latest religious freedom report, brought out by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, is anything to go by. The commission's annual report for 2016 had highlighted how religious persecution of minority communities in India had been growing under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre. 

  • Published 4.06.18
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If there is light at the end of the tunnel, it is not yet visible - certainly not if the latest religious freedom report, brought out by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, is anything to go by. The commission's annual report for 2016 had highlighted how religious persecution of minority communities in India had been growing under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre. The report for 2017 paints an even bleaker picture. It points out that there has been no improvement in the condition of religious minorities and people belonging to lower castes in India - in fact, their vulnerability to majoritarian violence has increased. It is not difficult to see why the report has been making the Centre uncomfortable year after year. The latest findings, too, show, among other things, the authorities' repeated and mysterious failure to crack down on cow vigilantes, whose victims overwhelmingly belong to the Muslim community. It does not help the government's cause that the report was released soon after another Muslim citizen in Madhya Pradesh was allegedly beaten to death by a mob on the suspicion that he was slaughtering cattle. The frequency and brutality of such assaults, and the curious absence of punishment thereafter - in 2017, six attackers of the diary farmer, Pehlu Khan, were let off - have triggered outrage. But citizens who question the State's silence - perceived as tacit approval of the crimes - are swiftly labelled 'anti-national'. In this manner, criticism is conveniently stifled. Given that the government cannot place the 'anti-national' label on a foreign report, it tries to discredit it by claiming that they are either designed to impair India's growth or are conducted by people who have a "limited understanding of India, its Constitution and its society".

The moral authority of the United States of America to comment on religious intolerance in other countries must also be questioned, especially in the light of the hate crimes against minority communities on American soil. The actions of the president, Donald Trump, have been labelled by Amnesty International as having "violate[d] human rights at home and abroad". One of these is the travel ban he imposed on Muslims from a handful of countries soon after he took office. This, of course, is not to say that a light must not be shone on religious prejudice anywhere in the world; it is, in fact, imperative in the case of India, where spaces for dissent within the country are rapidly shrinking. However, if the US wishes to shine this light, it must clean its own stables as well.

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