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Mainstream, VOL LX No 7, New Delhi, February 5, 2022

Need to Reaffirm Pluralism | Suranjita Ray

Friday 4 February 2022, by Suranjita Ray

As a pluralist society, India is home to people from different castes, religions, languages, regions, communities and cultures. The Constitution of India also guarantees the citizens right to equality and prohibits discrimination based on the above differences. Therefore discriminations, hierarchies, oppression, suppression and animosities amongst various sections of society based on prejudices need to be disproved. It is pertinent that people across the castes, religion, language, ethnic communities and culture feel safeguarded.

The Prime Minister has affirmed in several of his recent speeches that people’s participation must be at the core of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of India’s freedom and transition towards a progressive society. The celebrations, he stated must involve the feelings, suggestions and dreams of 130 crore countrymen. It should encompass the glimpse of the pride of Sanatan Bharat and the glory of Modern India and ’creating a vision’ for India@2047. A series of events are being organised around five themes - the freedom struggle, ideas, achievements, actions and resolve at 75. The most valuable tribute to the glorious history of India’s plural culture and social values is to realise an inclusive society which ensures people’s involvement as an integral part of this country.

Ironically, the anti-Muslim agenda and Hindu-Muslim divide raised during the recent times has seen increasing insecurity, distrust, suspicion and fear in the air. The most obvious and visible forms of threats and sectarian violence are from thecommunal forces which assert dominance of Hindu religion and culture. Though the celebrations pledge to realise the dreams and aspirations of the martyrs of the freedom struggle, they will remain symbolic without measures to counter forces that perpetuate discrimination, dominance and hatred based on collective prejudices.

Entrenched Prejudices

We find resurgence of caste, ethnic and religious predisposition which grievously questions the commitment to democratic values. The hold of caste, ethnicity and religion to dominate and control social relation reiterates its degenerating impact. Identification of citizens by their caste and faith has seen new forms of discriminations and repressions which the minorities have been subjected to. Religious and caste consciousness are built into the cultural and social reality which sustains exclusionary practices, layered oppression and intolerance. It is embodied through laws, attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, norms, practices that reinforce the hierarchies, dominance, hegemonies, and power asymmetries. The regressive idea of one nation, one religion and one language, has provided sordid to several rhetoric of hate crimes against a particular culture, religion, caste and ethnic/linguistic/regional community which are reprehensible (Ray, 2019).It has weakened the secular democratic narrative and torn the plural social fabric of India into disjointed pieces.

The most obvious forms of prejudice internalized against certain religious communities and castes are visible in the frequent attacks and atrocities against Muslims, Christians and Dalits.Attacks on Mosques and Churches, disruption of Friday prayers offered by Muslims in the open spaces,anti-conversion laws,glorification of gharwapsi, control over food habits and cow vigilantism resulting in mob lynching and atrocities against the Dalits and Muslims, subjugating the minorities into obedience, police brutality and use of religious slurs that are obnoxious and offensive against students protesting peacefully in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act, alleging the nonconformists as anti-nationals and imposing sedition charges, seeing the Muslims as a threat to the Hindus and frequency of ‘hate speech’ targeting the minorities, reinforces the agenda of establishing a Hindu Rashtra. These stories have to be told repeatedly, as reminders to counter the divisive and coercive strategies, attitudes and behaviour, to preserve pluralism and multiculturalism which are the core civilizational values.

The Dharam Sansad organized by Hindutva leader Yati Narsinghanand from 17 to 19 December 2021 in Haridwar in Uttarakhand, advocated that Hindus should take up arms against the Muslims and chase them as Rohingyas were chased from Myanmar. While what constitutes ‘hate speech’ might be a matter of debate, constant use of the communal axis to preserve the hierarchy and dominance of Hindu religion and its culture has legitimised bigotry and rationalised discrimination, humiliation, subjugation, marginalization, exclusion, isolation, alienation, and helplessness of Muslims, Dalits, and Tribal people (Ray, 2020). 

It is important to understand that such incidents are not occurrences that are abrupt and unforeseen. It has contributed to alienating major sections of society as the ‘Other’. The politicization of identities along caste and religious lines has festered communal divisions, resulting in the deep schisms that people experience. We also find philosophical reasons that not only explain but also justify the strategy to use caste and religion as a convenient currency of mobilization against the minorities. Such strategiesgenerate fear, anxiety, insecurity, diffidence and animosity amongst the non-Hindus. It has led to increasing hostility, cleavage, hatred, discrimination, oppression and suppression and repeated atrocities on the minorities. Thus, the fundamental principles of secularism, multiculturalism, and pluralism are constantly under threat. 

Safeguarding Pluralism

The Prime Minister, in his address to the nation on the 70th anniversary of Independence Day, unfolded the idea of ’New India’ that would emerge by 2022. It shall be free of communalism, casteism, terrorism, corruption, and nepotism. He stated that violence in the name of faith will not be acceptable. The campaign sabka sath sabka vikas sabka viswas promises the common citizens their participation in the dream of building a new India that is developed and modern.

He applauded the democratic spirit ingrained in every Indian which includes commitment to pluralism in the ‘Summit for Democracy’,hosted by Joe Biden on December 9—10, 2021 to renew democracy at home and confront autocracies abroad.

It is pertinent to understand that the idea of ‘New India’ cannot become an end in itself. It should be a means to strengthen social justice, democratic and secular values, pluralism, and unity amidst diversity. The idea of India cannot be isolated from the people’s lived experience. It is important to explore several complex issues and to do away with the widespread disjuncture between the idea of India and the real living experiences of people. We see increasing majoritarianism resulting in strengthening prejudice, discrimination, polarization, divisiveness, aversion and intimidation. The practice of democracy will remain curtailed without the annihilation of practices of discrimination based on caste and religion which are gaining ground. It is important to preserve the peaceful co-existence of multiple identities that intricately weave the social fabric of India. Commitments to preserve diversity, heterogeneity, plurality and multiple cultures, language, and religion is not only the constitutional and moral responsibility but also the political responsibility of a representative state in democracy. Christophe Jaffrelot argues that there is a change from liberal secular democracy to a majoritarian ethnic democracy in India (see also Bajpayi, 2021:5)

The democratic values enshrined in the constitution such as equality, freedom, justice, dignity and inclusiveness remain mere abstract ideas/rhetoric/campaigns and slogans. It is important to constructively engage with the everyday experiences of prejudices and hatred to eliminate such practices. The state should play an important role in dismantling polarities and the structures of inequality, hierarchy and oppression without which the vast majority will not only remain insecure and excluded but will also become aggressive and antagonistic. In fact, reaffirming pluralism that defines India remains a critical concern while we celebrate 75 years of our independence and transformation towards a progressive society.

* (Author: Suranjita Ray Teaches Political Science in Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi. She can be contacted at suranjitaray_66[at]yahoo.co.in )

References

  • Bajpayi, Ananya (2021), Book Review of Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy by Christophe Jaffrelot, Princeton University Press in The Hindu, Magazine Literary Review, 12 December, 2021 page 5.
  • Ray, Suranjita (2020), ‘The Making of a Hindu Nation’ in Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 6, New Delhi, January 25, 2020 - Republic Day Special
  • ................ (2019) ‘Transcending Pluralism: A Threat to Democracy’ in Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 1, New Delhi December 21, 2019 | ANNUAL NUMBER.
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