India is a vast country where language, culture, beliefs and way of life change with each mile. For hundreds of years, people with different belief systems reside here with peace and brotherhood. Equality, compassion and freedom of expression remain the basic cornerstone for such diversity. As our founding fathers and people in India have always believed in “equality in diversity”. Indians believe that they flourish, grow and sustain for ages due to their ability to trust in the diversity of thoughts, expression, and cultures.
But, the present socio-political scenario in India is depicting a different picture with incidents of attacks on minority groups, journalists, marginalized and those who have shown the courage to express themselves contrary to their power and muscles.
We are witnessing a time where the constitutional fundamental rights of people are constantly under attack by the people in power.
Unity in Diversity is in Danger
Many marginalized and minority groups, especially the Muslim minority are being constantly threatened with the introduction of derogatory Laws and insecurities like the National Register for Citizens (NRC), Cow Protection Act, Anti Conversion Law, Delhi riots, derogatory slogans, cow vigilante groups among others.
Established ministers in government positions of responsibility and accountability are openly giving slogans against minority groups that are creating rafts and hatred in society and promoting riots as we witnessed in Delhi riots in November 2020 with loss of precious lives and property.
Indian Constitution clearly states India as a secular nation with equal rights and duties for all citizens without any discrimination on the grounds of religion. But contrary to the protection and promotion of this right, the secular nature of the Indian State seems to be diluting with an open declaration to make India a “Hindu Rashtra” that is a nation of Hindu Citizens.
As a result of this melancholy, repressive force and unconstitutional laws and policies, many voices emerged for the equal protection of laws and rights for the safeguards of minorities and marginalized citizens of India.
But sadly and unbelievably these free expressions are also being tried to repress within the unlawful application of acts and actions.
Voices are being tried to suppress and the media as the fourth pillar of democracy is now no more a medium of free expression and a watchdog of Indian democracy.
Anti conversion laws are being introduced in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Jharkhand.
Arrests of Muslim men are taking place under this law as they are accused of luring Hindu women into marriage with the sole purpose of conversion to Islam. This whole propaganda is being coined as “Love Jihad“.
Such marriages can be nullified and men can be punished with a non-bailable jail term of up to ten years. This law is very subjective and targets only a particular minority group. It snatches the fundamental rights of citizens to live a life with dignity and choice.
Attacks on Christians
Besides the Muslim minority group, the Christian minority that makes up 2% of the Indian population is also under attack by people of extremist mindset.
These attacks on religious minority groups are validated by the far right group who claim that a string of forced conversions is taking place in the country and they are just protecting their culture and Hindu religion.
A joint report by United Christians Forum, Association for Protection of Civil Rights and United Against Hate revealed that more than 300 attacks took place against Christians in India in 2021 alone. These incidents of attacks are creating an atmosphere of religious intolerance in society and subjugating the rights of citizens.
Farmers are Labelled as “Khalistanis”- a Separatist Group
Another minority group that comes to the radar of Hindu extremists are Sikhs. During farmers’ protest against new farm law in November 2020, senior BJP leaders and their supporters blamed Sikh farmers for having a “Khalistani” agenda, a reference to a Sikh separatist insurgency that took place during the 1980s and 1990s in India. Moreover, these peaceful protestors were called “parasites” and also named international support of these farmers as a “foreign destructive ideology”. This is surely very unfortunate for the long-cherished Indian democracy.
Attack on Fourth Pillar of Democracy
An environment can be seen in India where every voice is now being crushed in the name of being separatist, traitor and anti-nationalist, if not supportive of the majority group or is critical of any government policy, law or views.
How can critics of the government be depicted as anti-nationals?
India dropped to 142 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2020 which shows the reality of a nation which always prides itself on its vibrant and competitive media.
The beauty of Indian democracy is in the existence of different views and thoughts but with one notion that the growth and development of India lie in its diversity.
Even journalists who were covering farmers’ protests and Delhi riots were charged with baseless criminal activities and framed for sedition, promotion of communal hatred, and threat to national integration.
These were the attempts to crush peaceful protests, threatening critics against the government and harassing those who were present at the protest spot. Journalists Association and opposition parties condemned these attacks on journalists.
Some citizens of India are being promoted as more Indian while some as less Indian with a particular ideology of tearing India apart on religious lines. Many now believe that Indian democracy is diminishing with attacks on freedom of speech and journalism.
A report by Freedom House said that the state of journalism in Indian democracy is sending signals to the world that making the government accountable is not the responsibility of the media. It is now believed that journalism is not safe in India where journalists are being threatened and trolled for any criticism against the government as reported in a study by Free Speech Collective.
Women journalists are even more in danger as they are heavily trolled on social media and receive rape threats, says a Delhi based freelance journalist.
India has been polarised into two categories of journalists. One group that is largely associated with mainstream media and supporting the Government unconditionally and hence reporting freely on television, newspaper, and social media. Another group is presenting its contradicting views without any regard to getting government support or praise. This second group is largely being targeted as traitors and anti-national.
No country can become a world leader when it can not guarantee the rights of its citizens. India is a huge country with more than 1.3 billion population. It’s always been fascinating for such a huge population to live in harmony. But the current situation of communal disharmony, hatred and insecurity can be detrimental for Indian people as it can deter international business sentiments against India and can hinder India’s aim of economic and sustainable development with social, health and mental well being for all.