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Why 2015 was incredibly intolerant for micro-minorities

Saif Ahmad Khan
Saif Ahmad KhanJan 01, 2016 | 13:56

Why 2015 was incredibly intolerant for micro-minorities

The year which just went by saw several incidents of communal violence. As per the Union home ministry, most communal incidents till June 2015 occurred in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar. These three states accounted for injuries to nearly 600 people due to communal violence. Some of the other worst affected states included Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The first two months alone saw a number of mysterious attacks on churches in New Delhi. The successive church attacks took place prior to the 2015 Delhi assembly elections with initial press reports describing them as cases of arson and desecration.

With investigations into church attacks far from being over even at this stage, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley proclaimed as early as April that "we have found all these incidents were law and order problems. Not a single case was carried out by the majority community, nor was it or political nature or communal."

The murky episode of attacks on churches across the national capital concluded with the assembly elections and so did the media coverage. However, the lynching of Muhammad Akhlaq on the suspicion of beef consumption in Dadri once again hogged media limelight.

As brickbats poured in, some political leaders chose to worsen things for themselves by making atrociously insensitive remarks.

Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma repeatedly made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He made an array of irresponsible statements, ranging from claims like the injuries on Danish's (Akhlaq's son) body indicated that there was no intention on the part of the mob to lynch.

He also said that the women in the house of Muhammad Akhlaq were not touched by the attackers. BJP MLA Sangeet Som went to Dadri and spoke of retaliation if Hindus were wrongfully framed in the case. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar also gave a statement that Muslims can live in India only if they give up eating beef.

But Christian and Muslim minorities were not the sole victims of intolerance. Jains, Bahai's and homosexuals were not spared either. Many viewed the banning of meat in Mumbai during the Jain fasting period of Paryushan as unreasonable and illiberal.

But Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) took the matter forward and turned the debate from being one on personal liberties into a full fledged confrontation with the Jain community.

What unfolded next was bigotry, hate and intimidation directed towards the Jains.

An editorial published in Shiv Sena's mouthpiece Saamna said, "Muslims, at least, have Pakistan for them. But if this fanaticism of Jains keeps on increasing, what land do you have to go to? If you mess with the sons of the soil, you will have to eat dirt. It will not take much time to burn down your financial empire."

The editorially clearly established that Sena saw Pakistan as the second (if not the first) home for Indian Muslims. It was also very clear as far as its approach towards the Jains was concerned. "It is either my way or the high way" and Jains better follow suit.

MNS Chief Raj Thackeray held Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah responsible for emboldening Jains and Gujarati speaking people. Being heirs to Bal Thackeray's politics of divide and hate, both Shiv Sena and MNS tried to portray vegetarian Jains as the rich outsider allied with Gujaratis.

Raj Thackeray gave it a communal colour by stating that "this issue is taken as Jains against Hindu."

In a provocative move, MNS men roasted chicken outside a community hall in Mumbai where the Jain community had gathered whereas Raj Thackeray himself said, "Digambar Jains roam naked showing their body, if that is okay, then why this meat ban."

Now it is one thing to stand for personal choice and liberty by emphasising on the right to have whatever kind of food one likes irrespective of religious taboos associated with it but what the Sena and MNS tried to do can be best described as racism.

They were bent on picking a fight with the Jain community. It's a matter of fact that they have previously indulged in a similar sort of hooliganism by attacking north and south Indians as well as Muslims. Sena and MNS's response to the meat ban controversy was condemnable as it exemplified verbal violence against a religious group which constitutes only 0.4 per cent of the country's population.

Thereafter, in October, it was the turn of Baha'i Faith people to be targeted. The Wire reported, "The 20,000 strong Baha'i community of Rajasthan is visibly in fear ever since the Jaipur burial ground - the only one they have in the state - was violently attacked and vandalised by a vigilante group allegedly led by the local BJP leader and sarpanch on October 30."

The report added that "the group of 50-60 miscreants not only beat up the chowkidar but broke parts of the under construction prayer hall."

The incident took place in Ram-ji-ki-Nangal village, located on the outskirts of Jaipur. Representatives from the Baha'i community alleged that BJP leader and village sarpanch Nathu Jangid ran an electoral campaign promising to demolish the Baha'i burial ground.

The sarpanch intends to replace the burial ground with a playground and maintains that the land for the burial ground was illegally allotted to the Baha'is.

Now we are all well aware of the history of the Bharatiya Janata Party. How can we forget the manner in which the entire Sangh Parivar machinery converged at Ayodhya? They gathered at Ayodhya only to supposedly lose control of the situation which resulted in the demolition of the Babri Mosque.

Nathu Jangid is after all a member of the BJP and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that he wishes to make a playground at a spot which happens to be the only burial ground for Baha'is in Rajasthan. One can expect this dispute to snowball as it would serve as an innovative experiment of Hindutva riot scientists in their quest for new enemies.

Finally in December the attention turned towards homosexuals. In 2009, Delhi High Court had decriminalised homosexuality by holding Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court overturned the Delhi HC judgement in 2013 and put the onus of decriminalising homosexuality on Parliament. So how did the government and parliament respond to the same?

The incumbent government did not seem to have a unanimous view on the subject. Even before coming to power, then BJP President and now Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in December 2013 that "gay sex is not natural and we cannot support something which is not natural."

But when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was recently asked to comment on the SC judgement on homosexuality, he said, "Jurisprudence world over is evolving, I think the judgement is not correct and, probably at some stage, they may have to reconsider."

Eventually Parliament had the last laugh on the subject during the winter session. Shashi Tharoor's private member's bill seeking to decriminalise homosexuality was smoothly defeated in the Lok Sabha thereby officially turning Indian Parliament into a homophobic one.

Unfortunately, India's history is scarred with communal incidents since its inception. In the first decade of the 21st century we saw violence against Muslims and Christians in Gujarat and Odisha, respectively. In the 1980s and 90s, we saw how Hindu minority in Punjab and Kashmir was bullied, harassed and murdered by Khalistani and Islamist terrorists. We also saw widespread looting and killing of Sikhs during the 1984 Sikhs riots.

But we never saw political parties or individuals associated with them openly target religious micro-minorities like Jains and Baha'is and vote against the rights of sexual minorities in Parliament at a time when the world is realising the need for granting them equality. It all happened in 2015 and that's why 2015 was incredibly intolerant for the micro-minorities of India.

Last updated: January 02, 2016 | 23:16
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