India is known all over the world for its centuries-old syncretic culture and ethos of assimilation. They define the essence of the idea of India. However, the recent incendiary outbursts at a Hindutva conclave in Haridwar, targeting minorities, come as an affront to these core values. The hate speech, calling for genocide against religious minorities, is against the country’s culture, heritage and the Constitution. It would be a grave mistake to let these purveyors of hate off the hook and dub them as fringe elements. Stringent action must be taken against all those who spewed venom against the Muslim community, calling for ‘genocide’. There is no place for peddlers of hatred in a secular India. It must be pointed out that every person has the right to practise and preach his or her faith freely in the country. All those who have faith in the Constitution must speak out strongly against the attempts to ridicule other religions and create dissensions in society. The Haridwar ‘Dharam Sansad’ came against the backdrop of a series of incidents targeting minorities and their places of worship across the country. It is shameful that a gathering of spiritual leaders provided a platform for extremist voices to call for violence in order to establish a ‘Hindu Rashtra.’ Sanatan Dharma and classical Hinduism, known to sages for centuries, was being pushed aside by a robust version of Hindutva by all standards, a political version similar to the jihadist Islam.
The line-up of belligerent speakers included Yati Narsinghanand, an extremist Hindutva activist reported to be associated with BJP leaders in Delhi, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. He held a similar event in the National Capital Region in January 2020, replete with genocidal calls, days before north-east Delhi was swept by ferocious communal violence. Another speaker was the audacious editor of a Hindi channel that continues to receive government advertising despite adverse comments about its programmes by the Supreme Court. The saffron-clad participants openly advocated violence against the Muslims as a cleansing exercise. In the face of public outcry, the Uttarakhand police registered an FIR under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code (the offence of promoting disharmony, enmity, or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion) against an individual — ironically a recent Muslim convert to Hinduism known for his provocative comments against Islam — and other unnamed persons. But, this is not enough. The perception that anti-Muslim, anti-Christian campaigns and vigilantism have the sanction of the powerful needs to be broken. Those in power and those who hold high office, need to speak out strongly and assure the nation that exemplary punishment will be given to those who call for violence against the minorities. The manufactured sense of fear about the future of Hindus and Hinduism in India has been the hallmark of right-wing politics.
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