The Garuda Purana lists Haridwar among the seven holiest pilgrimage centres in India along with Ayodhya, Mathura, Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Ujjain and Dwarka. Yet this historical sanctity could not prevent this city in Uttarakhand from becoming the cynosure of militant Islamophobia last month when a group of saffron-clad Hindutva proponents descended on it and issued clamorous calls for the annihilation of Muslims.
The cause célèbre was a “Dharam Sansad” organised by Hindutva leader Yati Narsinghanand from December 17 to 19. If Narsinghanand allegedly instigated Hindus to take up arms against Indian Muslims, Sadhvi Annapurna, the general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, reportedly wanted them killed. She claimed that India was steadily moving towards becoming an Islamic state, and for it to be converted into a “Sanatan Vedic Hindu Rashtra” Hindu youth must throw away books and start wielding weapons. Another Hindutva leader, Swami Anand Swaroop, narrated how he had been extorting money from the Muslims of his locality for years. He also warned that resolutions passed against Muslims (which include decrees to socio-economically boycott them) at the Sansad had the authority of a holy writ (“dharam aadesh”). Therefore, governments will have to accept and implement them, failing which a war more gruesome than the 1857 uprising in India against the British would be waged.
Even while the Haridwar meeting was spewing hate against Muslims, a parallel Hindutva event was underway in Delhi where an oath was administered to a group of people by Suresh Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News, to “die for and kill” to make India a Hindu theocracy.
It is intriguing that such treasonous statements and genocidal Islamophobia have not yet elicited the full force of the law despite being the very antithesis of what Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised the Muslims in December 2020 while speaking at the centenary celebrations of the Aligarh Muslim University. The PM had assured that no Indian citizen will be allowed to lag behind because of his or her religion and all will be made to feel secure about their future and constitutional rights. He reminded his country that there are issues beyond politics and power, and therefore, instead of wasting time on differences (matbhed) people should focus on making India self-sufficient (aatmanirbhar).
Before that, in March 2018, during a meeting in Delhi with King Abdullah of Jordan, the Prime Minister underlined the fact that Indian democracy is a celebration of age-old pluralism and told Muslims: “The Government of India is leaving no stone unturned in empowering the Muslim youth. We want them to have the Quran in one hand and a computer in the other.”
The Haridwar and Delhi conferences made a mockery of these promises given by no less a person than the prime minister to show his commitment to sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas. Even more shocking is the atavistic regress seen in the attitudes of the organisers. They seemed to have advanced from what the renowned American psychologist Gordon Allport called “antilocution” (where prejudice against an “out-group” is expressed by the “in-group” through hate speech and derisive insinuations against the former) to seeking extermination or removal of Muslims from the Habermasian public sphere.
From an anthropological point of view, one wonders what enculturation process could explain the revulsion that these men and women feel for Indian Muslims. For, no ancient or modern exponent of the great Indian system of life — Sanatana Dharma — had ever philosophised about a world where hate rules in place of love.
Swami Vivekananda, the celebrated apostle of Vedanta, explained in 1898 that “without the help of practical Islam, the theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind”. He proposed harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Quran to teach humanity that “religions are but the varied expressions of THE religion, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best”.
Needless to say, incitements such as those mentioned above are the direct opposite of Vivekananda’s idea of Hinduism. They also constitute a crime not only in India but also under Article II of the United Nations’ Genocide Convention, which includes in its definition of genocide any act that intends to destroy a religious group completely or partially, or inflicts on it “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.
Therefore, if India does not legally counter the rising Islamophobia not only would the country’s progress and reputation as a secular democracy be seriously affected but international opinion may tilt in favour of the recent findings of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In its 2021 report, the USCIRF recommended the designation of India as a “country of particular concern” for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA)”. India had rejected the report calling it “biased and tendentious”.
Indian Muslims, despite having been the victims of occasional majoritarianism, have never shied away from placing their trust in India’s constitutional authorities. As such, they repose full faith in Prime Minister Modi’s assurances given to them, and hope that his government will do everything to fulfill their legitimate aspirations of peace, security and progress.
This column first appeared in the print edition on January 8, 2022 under the title ‘The Haridwar challenge’. Rahman is the secretary-general of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought.