Hatred will have costs for India’s diversity and security

Ostracising Muslim citizens and linking the entire community to terror will have serious implications
It is useful to remember Rwanda, where hatred between tribes, historic grievances, and fake news spread through radio led to colossal loss(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
It is useful to remember Rwanda, where hatred between tribes, historic grievances, and fake news spread through radio led to colossal loss(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Published on Dec 26, 2019 07:41 PM IST
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ByC Uday Bhaskar

Children enacting plays and recalling significant national events is an endearing activity, and December is a special month given that it is the end of the calendar year, and whether one subscribes to Santa Claus or not, the holiday ambience is contagious. However, in an unsavoury but not surprising development, on December 15, a school in Karnataka had children enact the demolition of the Babri Masjid. A video clip of the “demolition” that was widely circulated on social media noted that the footage was taken at the Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School in Kalladka in south Karnataka and that the school is owned by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader, Prabhakar Bhat. Union minister Sadananda Gowda and the Lt Governor of Puduchery, Kiran Bedi, also reportedly attended this event, though the minister was said to have reached the venue after the Babri demolition episode ended.

Be that as it may, local media reports indicate that the two schools run by this RSS leader have inculcated an ideology of hatred against the Muslim-Christian faiths among their students, and that while this is against the provisions of the constitution, the institution continues to receive State patronage. This pattern, as noted, is not unsurprising in states where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments are in office — and Karnataka is no exception. Police have arrested three members of the governing body of the school, but it remains to be seen if there will be any deterrent action.

This inculcation of casting the Muslim faith and its adherents as the “other” to be despised is acquiring a large footprint in many educational institutions across India that have an empathy and affinity with the Hindutva ideology. In recent years, an insidious linkage has found traction wherein the Muslim citizen is framed as a potential terrorist or a sympathiser of jihad.

This was repeated on December 22 at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in the capital, where young people were seen chanting slogans that dripped with this derision for the other, among them,Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko (Kill these national traitors — with an expletive added)”. There have been other visuals, particularly from rallies held to support the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which show young people chanting slogans such as, “Aatankwad ki kya pehchan? Mulla Masjid Pakistan (What is the identity-marker of a terrorist? Maulvi-mosque-Pakistan)”.

The total disregard for the spirit of the Constitution and the tolerance for diversity of all hues that India espouses is self-evident, and the nature of the transgression is the same whether in south Karnataka or the national capital.

While this recourse to divisive politics by the BJP is often justified as deft electoral strategy — the cynical stoking of religious animosity to garner the majority’s support and advance the ideology of exclusionary Hindutva (as opposed to inclusive Hinduism) — the implications for national security are corrosive.

Ostracising the Muslim citizen and casting sly aspersions about the links of the entire collective (of 200 million) with terrorism can have very serious repercussions for the internal security of the country in the long run. Modi won his second term on the plank of national security and the Pulwama-Balakot trajectory. Jihadi terror has been highlighted as the most serious threat to the country, and the illegal immigrants morphing into potential sleeper cell recruits is the dominant strand of the prevailing security discourse.

Modi, in an electoral rally in Jharkhand, alluded to dress as a marker of the potential miscreant/terrorist, and asserted that those “creating violence” could be “identified by their clothes.” The reference to the Muslim community needed little elucidation.

Fake news pertaining to purported Muslim acts of violence originating on social media outlets has become staple fare in India, and many audio-visual platforms report such unverified news and often embroider the unsubstantiated rumour to pander to communal sentiments. Many instances of mob violence against the minorities (both religious and socio-economic categories), leading to the loss of innocent lives, have been triggered by fake news reports emanating from social media outlets.

India is entering uncharted waters by way of the impact of the bushfire like dissemination of fake news through social media. It is estimated that social media users in India include 300 million on Facebook; 200 million on WhatsApp; 73 million on Instagram; 250 million on YouTube; and 90 million on TikTok. Many young Indians are likely active on all or most of these platforms.

While the two case studies are not similar in any manner, the Rwandan experience is illustrative of a worst case exigency for India. The African country paid a very heavy price in the mid-1990s when pent up hatred among two tribes and historical grievances, compounded by fake news spread through radio, resulted in colossal damage to life and property.

Sowing the seeds of hatred and divisiveness will cause irreparable damage to the distinctive societal ozone layer that has nurtured India’s diversity for centuries. Surely, this is not the path towards a $5 trillion economy.

C Uday Bhaskar is director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi
The views expressed are personal
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Monday, January 24, 2022