Young and fearless give hope for protecting rights in India
Until just a few days ago, it felt like a dark cloud had descended over India. Its secular past was a distant memory. A Hindu supremacist party, the BJP, led by Prime Minister Modi and his enforcer Amit Shah, was bulldozing toward its objective of creating a Hindu nation. The constitution was in shreds, law enforcement agencies were acting like BJP henchmen and the court system had lost the confidence of the minorities that it could be fair and impartial. The ordinary citizen was afraid to speak.
Then came a small peaceful protest at a university in Delhi against the Modi/Shah plan to destroy India's secularism. The brutal suppression by the Delhi police that included beating up students with batons and dragging them out of the college libraries led to widespread outrage. A video of college girls standing up to cops who were assaulting a young man mercilessly went viral. The pushback from the young and the fearless had started.
Universities across the country joined in protest. People from all walks of life found the courage to go out in the street and call out BJP's brazenly anti-secular policies.
The series of policies and laws put into place by the BJP government is confusing, but their intent is not. The aim of these policies is to snatch away citizenship for as many of the 200 million Indian Muslims as possible.
The first policy, National Register of Citizens (NRC), was implemented in the state of Assam to root out alleged infiltrators from neighboring Bangladesh. Residents needed to provide proof that they were in India before the formation of Bangladesh; an impossible task for hundreds of thousands of poor and illiterate. BJP thought they would be getting rid of a million or two of the Muslims in that area, but large numbers of poor Hindus were snared in this web. To fix this unexpected problem, BJP passed another bill, the Citizenship Amendment Act, that gave all non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan expedited citizenship. Muslims were explicitly excluded and would be sent back or placed in detention centers.
The next stage was to make the NRC nationwide and give even low-level officials the authority to decide who is a citizen and who is not. Shah promised to root out alleged illegal immigrants -- termites, as he calls them (read Muslims) -- from all of India.
This comes on the heels of revoking the special status of Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state, which is being pacified by a massive army and police presence. There is no accounting of how many are detained. There are rampant reports of disappearances and torture that can neither be verified nor refuted as no one can get in and internet service is still blocked.
BJP is pushing the extremist agenda of its ideological parent, the RSS, which dreams of a pure Hindu nation. Its ideologue, Golwalkar, admired Hitler and thought that minorities in India should be managed like Jews in Germany; hence the detention camps. The non-Hindus "must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race," wrote Golwalkar. He added that if they do not do so, non-Hindus may claim nothing, "not even citizen's rights." For RSS and BJP, the Muslim is Enemy No. 1 followed closely by the Christian.
The students realize that the Hindu supremacist onslaught will not stop at Muslims. The late journalist Khushwant Singh warned, "Those of us today who feel secure because we are not Muslims or Christians are living in a fool's paradise ... Tomorrow it (Hindu supremacy) will turn its hate on women who wear skirts, people who eat meat, drink liquor, watch foreign films (or) kiss or shake hands in greeting instead of shouting 'Jai Shri Ram.'"
Left-leaning intellectuals have been targeted and some have been murdered.
The ultimate dream of the Hindu supremacist is to recreate a mythical undivided India that would include all of Kashmir, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Myanmar. The idea of seizing the entire subcontinent is delusional, but high-ranking BJP officials talk about annexing all of Kashmir to create a potential nuclear nightmare with Pakistan
The secular forces in India have risen from the ashes and are carrying on a historical struggle. They are battling an existentialist threat posed by the Hindu supremacist forces. The law enforcement in BJP-ruled states continues to be a threat to dissenters.
We in the U.S. should not stand on the sidelines. BJP leaders must be sanctioned, and economic and military support to India should be made subject to good behavior. The BJP regime is backpedaling a bit but will do its best to stamp out the resurgent tide of secularism; we must stand shoulder to shoulder with the pro-secularist movement.
• Javeed Akhter is a physician and freelance writer from Oak Brook.