Hinduism is losing its traditional tolerance because some Hindus have started believing that it is their faith that has brought them political power — and because this belief is not being challenged by “those at the top”, Fali S Nariman, one of India’s most celebrated jurists, said on Friday.
Nariman said he agreed that the “majority government at the Centre” had done nothing to stop the recent repeated tirades by individuals or groups against members of minority communities.
The eminent constitutional expert delivered the Annual Lecture at the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), titled ‘Minorities at Crossroads: Comments on Judicial Pronouncements’.
Nariman, who began the lecture by saying that he welcomed the single-party majority government at the Centre but also feared it because of “past experience with majoritarian government(s)”, said Hinduism has traditionally been the most tolerant of all Indian faiths.
“But — recurrent instances of religious tension fanned by fanaticism and hate speech has shown that the Hindu tradition of tolerance is showing signs of strain. And let me say this frankly — my apprehension is that Hinduism is somehow changing its benign face because, and only because it is believed and proudly proclaimed by a few (and not contradicted by those at the top): that it is because of their faith and belief that HINDUS have been now put in the driving seat of governance,” he said.
[Underlining and capitals Nariman’s; text of the speech made available by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.]
“We have been hearing on television and reading in newspapers almost on a daily basis a tirade by one or more individuals or groups against one or another section of citizens who belong to a religious minority and the criticism has been that the majority government at the Centre has done nothing to stop this tirade,” Nariman said. “I agree.”
BJP MP Yogi Adityanath has delivered a series of speeches at election meetings in the recent past, for which the Election Commission reprimanded and cautioned him on Thursday, and ordered that an FIR be registered against him. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has described India as a “Hindu nation”, and several political leaders linked to the Sangh Parivar have made allegedly provocative statements since the Narendra Modi government came to power.
Nariman criticised the NCM for not carrying out its “main task”, the “protection of the interests of the minorities”.
“Every government…will do or not do whatever it considers expedient to advance its own political interests… This is why…Parliament has…set up an independent Minorities Commission…
“…The main task of the Commission is ‘protecting the interests of minorities’. And how does one protect the interest of minorities who (or a section of which) are on a daily basis lampooned and ridiculed or spoken against in derogatory language? The answer is by invoking the…law enacted in the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. Otherwise the Commission is not fulfilling its main task which is the protection of the interests of the minorities…
“Those who indulge in hate speech must be prevented by Court processes initiated at the instance of the Commission because that is the body that represents Minorities in India. Whoever indulges in such hate speech or vilification (whatever the community to which they belong) they must be proceeded against and the proceeding must be widely publicised,” Nariman said.
The remarks were made in the presence of Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla, who presided over the function. Later, asked by reporters about the minister’s silence on recent instances of hate speech, Nariman said, “You should ask her that.”
Nariman lauded the role of the Supreme Court in upholding minority rights on many occasions, describing it as a “Super Minorities Commission”. However, he said, the judicial outlook has undergone gradual change since the early 1990s when the BJP introduced the phrase “appeasement of minorities” in the political lexicon.
“The label stuck; ‘minority’ became and has become an unpopular word. And after the same political party had included in its Election Manifesto in the general election of May-June 1991 the party’s resolve if and when it came into power to amend Article 30 to the disadvantage of minorities, ‘minority rights’ got less and less protected by Courts (including the Supreme Court of India) than they were before,” Nariman said.
Heptulla, in her presidential address, reiterated the NDA government’s commitment to “sabka saath sabka vikas”. “One of the important constituents of such an approach is the need for safeguarding the constitutional and legal rights of the minorities and provide them protection and equal opportunity to ensure their economic and social betterment… Government is doing its best for communal harmony and will continue to do so,” she said.
She later defended the government, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told her that Muslims had been “deprived” of their basic rights all these years, and that he wanted her to fulfil the promises the BJP had made to minorities in its manifesto.
She said Modi believed in “inclusive development”, and that there would be no discrimination against anyone on the grounds of religion, language or caste.