India has since antiquity held a unique identity. But today, it wants to identify itself with one culture, one nation, one law.
Historically, the term Hindu was a geographical identifier. In the 1st millennium BC, Greek and Persian texts called everyone who lived in the land across the Sindhu (Indus) River a Hindu. Today, the term Hindu solely identifies itself with religion and culture. So, when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat says that “everyone living in India is a Hindu”, it is not only cultural and religious imposition, but also makes India stand at the precipice of turning into another Saudi Arabia or Israel or Pakistan.
The centralisation of power in India, in recent times, is for all to see. Today, the nation of more than a billion people is seemingly governed by, at best, two names — Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Everyone in the central cabinet has to toe their line. Ministers’ cluelessness within the government, when it comes to major decisions, sticks out like a sore thumb. A case in point being demonetisation. No one knew about this major economic decision except for a handful of handpicked people. Centralisation of power may at first make the leader seem strong, powerful and commanding. But it inevitably dilutes democracy and takes the nation towards autocracy.
Pakistan, after tryst with dictatorship
Nowhere is the impact of centralisation of power more visible today than in Pakistan. In spite of the country claiming to be a democracy, a lot of power is in the hands of its army, which has led Pakistan through phases of dictatorships, be it under Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq or Pervez Musharraf.
A most certain feature of this centralisation of power, which almost always happens to fall into the hands of the majoritarian class, is the deplorable plight of the minorities. In Pakistan, too, the Ahmadiyas, Hindus and Christians are being discriminated against audaciously. Asia Bibi, a farm labourer from Punjab’s Ittanwala village, spent nine years of her life in solitary confinement on charges of blasphemy. Her crime was that she, a Christian, had drank a sip of water before passing it over to the Muslim women she worked in the farms with. Days later, Asia Bibi was dragged out of her house by a mob led by a cleric, accused of having insulted Prophet Muhammad, badly beaten up, and sentenced to death by a court. Her case made international headlines and Asia Bibi was finally freed — but she had to leave the country and move to Canada.
The stark similarity between India and Pakistan is for all to see. India’s Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis are beaten, humiliated and punished the same way. Cases of mob lynching don’t lead to convictions despite video evidence while victims, even dead ones, are charged with crimes like cow slaughter, or activists spend years in jail without bail.
Saudi Arabia, religion is constitution
Then there’s the problem of overbearing ideologies that tend to lead the political narratives of countries like Saudi Arabia. Even though Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by a royal decree in 1992, the King must comply with Sharia (that is, Islamic law) and the Qur’an.
The Qur’an and the Sunnah are declared to be the country’s constitution. Under the garb of the Sharia, draconian laws like the male guardianship system are passed, although it has no footing in Islam. The Saudi state essentially treats women as permanent legal minors.
A man controls a Saudi woman’s life from her birth until her death. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf.
There’s also the dilution of human rights in countries that operate on the basis of religion. Three of Saudi’s leading scholars are likely going to be executed for trying to bring reforms in the country. The scholars have been convicted under multiple charges of terrorism. UN experts condemned the kingdom’s “continued use of counter-terrorism and security-related laws against human rights defenders”. In fact, India has also seen multiple arrests of intellectuals under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Israel, a nation-state
Israel, a country for the “Jews”, much like India which is being pitched as the country for the “Hindus”, implemented a contentious nation-state law in July 2018, declaring itself the Jewish homeland and putting a priority on Jewish-only communities. Those who drafted the law say it is aimed at boosting Israel’s Jewish character. Parliamentarians from Israel’s Arab sector, which makes up roughly one-fifth of the country’s 8.5 million population, say that this law has effectively turned them into second-class citizens.
Israel has also introduced some of the most draconian anti-immigrant laws in an effort to stop mainly sub-Saharan Africans seeking refuge from conflict and poverty. The law allows the state to imprison illegal migrants for life, and detain them and their children for three-year terms if they are caught entering Israel. This coming from a community that has seen first-hand persecution of a demonic level in Europe and elsewhere.
The current Hindutva-propagating Narendra Modi government is similarly trying to focus on governance guided by religion. Its National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a similar exercise like Israel’s anti-immigrant law that seeks to expel Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and “illegal” immigrants from Bangladesh. Moreover, the government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill will be one of the primary ways through which India will be pushed into a space where it cannot be called secular anymore. It’s a tool to disenfranchise Muslims — with overt remarks about wanting to implement the NRC all over the country — and anyone refusing to see the bill’s true nature is only playing the fool.
Home Minister Amit Shah names every immigrant community in the country except Muslims as people who are eligible for citizenship in India. Hindu Rashtra is now being explicitly mentioned and the ‘secular’ Constitution rarely referenced. If illegal immigrants are being vetted through religion, we are no longer a secular state. We are a theocracy.
India has since antiquity held a unique identity — one that cannot be easily defined. But today, India wants to identify itself with one culture, one religion and one law. Much like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel does.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.