India needs to throw away its ‘chador’ of feigned innocence!
Most scholars believe that Hinduism started somewhere between 2300 BC and 1500 BC, in the Indus Valley, located in the region that is known as the modern-day Pakistan. Some have argued that the faith is timeless, and has always existed. Unlike other religions, Hinduism has no unitary founder--instead, it is a fusion of various beliefs. Historically speaking of course, the term Hindu was a geographical identifier.
In the first millennium BC, Greek and Persian texts had called everyone who lived in the land across the Sindhu (Indus) River. Today, this term Hindu solely identifies itself with religion and culture.
In the contemporary India, however, when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat says that 'everyone living in India is a Hindu', it is not only cultural and religious imposition, but also a step towards elevating India to the precipice of turning into another, faith oriented Saudi Arabia or Israel or Pakistan.
The centralization of power in India, in recent times, is obvious for all to see for themselves. Today, this nation of 1.3 billion people, is seemingly governed by, at best, two names--Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Everyone in the central cabinet must toe their line, to be relevant.
Remember, how clueless Modi's Ministers' within the government were, when it had come to a 'major' decision like the 'demonetization'. This revolutionary economic decision had impacted every Indian, without prejudice. The secret was only shared with a handful of people known to India's Prime Minister!
Centralization of power may at first make the leader like Narendra Modi seem strong, powerful and commanding. But it inevitably dilutes democracy and takes the nation towards autocracy. This has been one of the few lessons, many nations continue to learn and absorb, in the modern day contemporary world that we all share!
Nowhere is the impact of centralization of power more visible today, than in Pakistan. In spite of the fact that the country has struggled to lay down the foundations of democracy, a lot of power invariably and invisibly has remained in the hands of its army. This institution has led Pakistan through phases of dictatorships, be it under Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq or Pervez Musharraf.
A most certain feature of this centralisation of power, which almost always happens to fall into the hands of the majoritarian class, is the ongoing plight of the minorities. Like India, where minorities have remained under constant threat, Pakistan also has its issues with the Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians--who are reportedly being discriminated against, audaciously. The case of Asia Bibi, a farm labourer from Punjab's Ittanwala village, explains the point. She was forced to spend nine years of her life in confinement, on charges of blasphemy.
Reportedly, Asia's crime was that she, a member of the minority Christian community had drank a sip of water from a bowl, before passing it over to the Muslim women she worked with, in the farms Days later, Asia Bibi was dragged out of her house by a mob led by a cleric, accused of having insulted Prophet Muhammad, badly beaten up, and sentenced to death by a court. Her case made international headlines and Asia Bibi was finally freed--but she had to leave the country and seek asylum in Canada.
The stark similarity between India and Pakistan is too obvious for all. India's Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis are beaten, humiliated and punished the same way. Cases of mob lynching don't lead to convictions despite video evidence while victims, even dead ones, are charged with crimes like cow slaughter, or activists spend years in jail without bail.
Then there is the problem of overbearing ideologies that tend to lead the political narratives of countries like Saudi Arabia. Even though Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by a royal decree in 1992, the King must comply with Sharia (that is, Islamic law) and the Qur'an.
The Qur'an and the Sunnah are declared to be the country's constitution. Under the garb of the Sharia, draconian laws like the male guardianship system are passed, although it has no footing in Islam. The Saudi state essentially treats women as permanent legal minors. A man controls a Saudi woman's life from her birth until her death. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf.
There's also the dilution of human rights in countries that operate on the basis of religion. Three of Saudi's leading scholars are likely going to be executed for trying to bring reforms in the country. The scholars have been convicted under multiple charges of terrorism. UN experts condemned the kingdom's "continued use of counter-terrorism and security-related laws against human rights defenders".
In fact, India has also seen multiple arrests of intellectuals under the Unlawful Activities Prevention And now, Israel, a country for the 'Jews' much like India which is being pitched as the country for the 'Hindus', implemented a contentious nation-state law in July 2018, declaring itself the Jewish homeland and putting a priority on Jewish-only communities. Those who had drafted the law say it is aimed at boosting Israel's Jewish character. Parliamentarians from Israel's Arab sector, which makes up roughly one-fifth of the country's 8.5 million population, say that this law has effectively turned them into second-class citizens.
Israel has also introduced some of the most draconian anti-immigrant laws in an effort to stop mainly sub-Saharan Africans seeking refuge from conflict and poverty. The law allows the state to imprison illegal migrants for life, and detain them and their children for three-year terms if they are caught entering Israel. Of course, all this is coming from a community that has seen first-hand persecution of a demonic level in Europe and elsewhere.
India's political leadership needs to remove its camouflage, or throw away its 'chador' of feigned innocence. Transparency requires the popular leader to come out of his shell and lead his followers into the realm of the modern era--the twenty first century!
The writer is former educator based in Chicago