God, the gods and democracy

It’s a plain truth that democracies everywhere are witnessing the resurgence of religious bigotry. There are moments when it feels even as if something like a new global religious war has begun, on several fronts.

Ignorant media hype, foul abuse of the faith or godlessness of others, ugly violence calculated to scare and kill: such practices are now familiar features of daily life in democratic polities where religion was once supposed to be a settled issue.

India is no exception to the troubling trend.

The democracy with the most innovative constitutional formula for handling tensions among multiple faiths – the Indian brand of secularism – is nowadays plagued by organised bigotry, often led by elected representatives bent on outfoxing their opponents and winning elections.

The thuggish tone is audible in the recent remarks of Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of the BJP-run state of Haryana. ‘Muslims can continue to live in this country but they will have to give up eating beef. The cow is an article of faith here’, he told The Indian Express.

‘Culturally, we are democratic’, he added. ‘Democracy has freedoms, but those freedoms have a limitation. Freedom of one person is only to the extent that it is not hurting another person.’

Khattar conveniently forgot to mention that growing numbers of India’s Muslim citizens (they’re one-seventh of the total population) feel deeply offended and threatened by such remarks, and by the rising numbers of murderous assaults they’re facing throughout the country.

Proud defender of his state’s strict ban on the killing of cows, in a country that is among the world’s largest beef exporters, Khattar instead went on to defend the mob that recently beat to death a Muslim farmer for allegedly eating beef at home.

It was the ‘result of a misunderstanding’, he said, and ‘both sides’ had committed wrongs. He claimed the victim had made a ‘halki tippani [loose comment]’ about cows which hurt the sentiments of the men who subsequently went on the rampage.

Khattar compared the incident with a man whose anger gets the best of him after seeing his mother being killed, or his sister molested. Continue reading


Additional reading

News category: Features.

Tags: , , , ,