India is a land of contrasts. Given its size, this is understandable but the contrasts are not merely physical. The country suffers from deep socio-economic, structural and political problems borne of the ubiquitous caste system. With the rise to power of the Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014, India’s fault lines have deepened.
Narendra Modi, a low-caste Hindu who is now prime minister, is trying to ingratiate himself to upper-caste Hindus by promising to turn India into an economic superpower. He has adopted a strange strategy that harks back to a violent and backward-looking past rooted in the demeaning caste system. The very notion of “upper” and “lower” castes is anathema to human dignity but this is the ugly reality of India.
The victims of this policy are Dalits (aka “Untouchables” because they are considered to be unclean!), Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other religious minorities who do not fit into the rigid straitjacket of caste. Over the past few years, more than 200 churches have been destroyed in India but there is nary a whisper about such crimes in the Western media. It is not difficult to imagine what the reaction would be if this had happened in some Muslim country.
Many Westerners — and some naïve Muslims as well — are mesmerized by Karamchand Gandhi’s fraudulent claims to advocating nonviolence. There was nothing nonviolent about Gandhi’s call; this was meant to save the British colonialists from the oppressed people’s wrath while violence was directed against the hapless Muslims. Nearly a million perished during the partition of India that resulted in the creation of Pakistan.
In the past, India projected an image of secularism propounded by its first prime ministe,r Jawaharlal Nehru. It also claimed to be “nonaligned,” supposedly remaining neutral in the rivalry between the Western and eastern (Soviet) blocs (aka the Cold War). In practice, India was aligned with the Soviet Union but the myth of nonalignment was a convenient cover.
Today, India is firmly entrenched in the Western camp and has deep strategic and military ties with imperialism and Zionism. American officials have been making a beeline to Delhi, one of the dirtiest cities in the world, in hopes of striking some trade deals; so too, the war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu, who dropped by on January 14 for a six-day visit. He received Modi’s standard bearhug from the Muslim-hating Modi. Agreements in defence, cyber-security, aviation, technology, and agriculture were signed. A large delegation of businessmen accompanied Netan-yahu on his visit. A new axis of evil has emerged comprising the US, India, and Israel.
Modi cut his political teeth in the virulently racist and anti-Muslim organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose literature openly extols Nazism. The RSS is pushing for Hindutva — Hinduization of India. Muslims are told quite bluntly that they must become Hindus or quit India. Failing to do either means a certain death. Scores of Muslims have been killed for eating beef, for instance.
Hindus consider the cow to be their “mother”; they are welcome to believe whatever they want but why target Muslims when the biggest exporters of beef (cow meat) are Hindus themselves?
In the BJP-run Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, Muslims got a strange gift for New Year: the walls of the Hajj Committee Office in Lucknow were painted in saffron color. This is the Hindu Nazis’ preferred color in their drive to turn India into an exclusively Hindu state! Based on this demonic ideology, there is no place for Muslims in India. Prime Minister Modi has been strangely silent on crimes against Muslims. In fact, as chief minister of Gujarat, he presided over one of the worst massacres of Muslims in February 2002.
Muslims suffer discrimination in other ways as well. For instance, in the sprawling city of Mumbai that is home to Bollywood, there are also a large number of slums. Most slum dwellers are Muslims; they are denied water, electricity, and other amenities. Open sewers run everywhere.
Arun Kumar, who heads Apnalaya, a Mumbai charity, helps residents lobby officials for civic amenities such as water, toilets, and public health centres; he says the city’s M-East Ward has no amenities even after 25 years of lobbying with officials. Nearly three-quarters of the more than 600,000 slum dwellers live close to the city’s biggest landfill. They are mostly Muslim, according to city data.
“Is it a lack of development or a deliberate denial of development to a certain section of the population [Muslims]?” asked Kumar. “The ward gets the same allocation in the city’s budget as every other ward, but very little money is actually spent. There’s apathy, and a lack of political will to do anything.” People are discriminated against based on religion (Muslim) or caste (Dalit).
These are not the only crimes against Muslims. Scores of Muslim youth were accused of terrorist acts that occurred between 2006 and 2008. They languished in prison for years. Upon inquiry by an honest police officer in Maharashtra state, Hemant Karkare, the Muslim youth turned out to be completely innocent. The perpetrators were Hindu extremists who had also recruited some army personnel into their diabolical plots. When Karkare was about to expose the real perpetrators (Hindu extremists) of these terrorist acts he was murdered (for details, see S.M. Mushrif’s 2009 book, Who killed Karkare? The real face of terrorism in India; Mushrif is a former Inspector General of Police, Maharashtra).
Together with Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra is emerging as the leading centre of Hindu extremism. On January 1, when Dalits gathered at Bhima Koregaon to commemorate their victory over the Peshwa rulers two centuries earlier, Hindu extremists attacked them. The Dalits’ rally, held annually, commemorates their 1818 victory over the Peshwas, extremist Brahmins notorious for persecuting members of the lower castes, especially the Mahars who are a subgroup of Dalits. For once, the Dalits had something to celebrate in their long history of unending agony and oppression.
Emboldened by Modi’s rise to power, upper-caste Hindu extremists attacked the Dalits’ rally. Violence against Dalits has not only escalated, it has also become more frequent. Often, the Dalits are attacked and beaten up on mere allegation. In a country where upper-caste Hindus are considered above the law, they get away, literally, with murder. What are a few Dalits beaten up or even murdered?
While India harbors illusions of becoming a great power — even a superpower — and wants to put a satellite into space, there are much more mundane problems it faces on earth. Almost 67% of India’s 1.2 billion people live below the poverty line, accounting for one-third of the world’s poor.
The UN estimates that there are 100 million homeless children in the world. India accounts for 20 million, or one-fifth of all homeless children. They sleep on sidewalks and are often subjected to physical and sexual abuse, including by the police.
Infant mortality at 2 million children annually is also one of the highest in the world as are abortions of female fetuses. And then there are HIV/AIDS patients. The government says there are 5.7 million people affected but potentially 200 million people are at risk. Lack of information and proper medication are exacerbating the problem.
Instead of taking a flight of fancy into outer space, India should take care to look after the hundreds of millions of its poverty- and disease-stricken people.