Viewpoint – What would Mr. Ghandi say?
by Varun Deepak
“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.”
In these opening words of the Preamble to the Constitution of India, lies the hope for a modern civilized society. Today India is regarded as the world’s largest democracy with about 1.26 billion people, where 80 percent of the population is Hindu, more than 14 percent is Muslim, 2.3 percent is Christian, 1.7 percent is Sikh, and the remainder Buddhist, Jain, and other faiths or no religion. A home for one-sixth of the total world population, India is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country and a secular democracy.
Despite its strong constitutional foundation, the Indian government struggles to maintain religious harmony. With all its scientific and technological advancement and its global outlook as a strategic partner for the future, at home India has been spiralling down since 2014 as cracks emerged to its secular fabric like never before, causing disrepute, dishonour and discredit globally.
With the formation of the BJP (Bharatiya Janatha Party) government in 2014, the Hindu nationalist groups and their sympathizers unleashed large scale activities to implement the ideology of Hindutva (Hinduness), to make India a Hindu state. The enforcement of anti-conversion laws, currently functional in six Indian states, with an intention to go nationwide, was the primary move.
These laws restrict and pose a threat to the freedom of a citizen to practise and propagate their faith. Recently at Chhattisgarh, one of the six states, a radical group broke into a church one Sunday, beat the pastor and his pregnant wife, assaulted their children and attempted to set them and the church on fire for failing to sing “Jai Sri Ram”, a Hindu devotional song to Lord Ram.
In addition, the sympathizers of ideology reportedly placed signs in railway stations across India saying, “Christians have to leave India or convert to Hinduism or else will be killed by 2021”. These inhuman acts and derogatory comments have created fear and uncertainty amongst the minorities.
Christianity made its presence in India with the arrival of Thomas the Apostle in Kerala in AD 52. Since then, its role in nation building has been very significant, highly remarkable and undeniable as witnessed by Indian history. Modern India owes much to Christianity. Instead, the infliction of violence is like wounding the nourishing breast of a mother.
Further, Hindu agents have initiated a project “Ghar Wapsi” (returning home): a program to reconvert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. Reports of forced reconversions are aired time and again. While assaulting Christians and depriving them of the constitutional right to live their faith, Mr. Modi and his cabinet are busy enforcing laws to protect and promote the worship of cows.
The fundamental groups, in the name of “cow protectors” are inflicting brutal violence and torture on Dalits and Muslims for allegedly slaughtering, selling and consuming cow products. Currently, 24 out of 29 Indian states have passed laws on banning cow slaughter. The application of these laws has economically marginalized Dalits and others who work in the beef or leather industries. Is Mr. Modi elected by the cattle or by the citizens of the country? Cows are more protected than citizens of the nation. It is a clear sign of disaster to human dignity and deterioration of religious freedom and tolerance, a disgrace to the nation and a suicide of the secular pillar of India.
Where is the nation after 70 years on its independent journey? Has the constitution nurtured civility among the citizens? Does the constitution mean anything to the current politicians? Mr. Gandhi foresaw religious polarization as a malignancy to the progress of India. He formulated an inspired visual message to the nation and to the world in the form of the flag. Observing the proposed design of the flag with red and green representing Hindus and Muslims, Mr. Gandhi insisted on inserting the white stripe, to represent Christians and others. The flag flames the spirit of unity over diversity, harmony over hatred and cohere over coerce. The flag is the constant reminder of the order to civic life undergirded by the constitutional rights where religious freedom, the beacon to all other rights, would prevail. If the constitution means nothing, does the flag mean anything to the current government and its sympathizers? I wonder if Hinduism is the real issue, or is this worldview being used as a wedge in a massive deceit of identity politics?
Seventy years ago, the intention was to create a flourishing society which reflected the varied makeup of the peoples of India. Similar to creating a great curry, bringing together a wide variety of ingredients creates a dish which is truly unique.The curry that has conquered continents has yet to conquer the divisions at home as it fails to recognize, celebrate and safeguard the differences of its citizens. Thus, religious freedom in India is a fading illusion.
Varun Deepak holds his Masters Degree in Theology (MTh) in Religion & Philosophy, and Masters in Divinity. In India, he serves as a theological lecturer, teaching World Religions and Greek. He frequently speaks on All India Radio, discussing various social issues and leading devotions. He has also served as Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Vizag. He is Executive Director of Mummy’s Village, Spreading Health in India.