India at 75: A nation under siege

India celebrates its 75th year of independence from the British on 15 August. Every year this day is commemorated by remembering the innumerable sacrifices Indians made in their pursuit of freedom and self-rule. But year after year the question of whether this is the vision of India that the nation’s forefathers and freedom fighters gave their lives for becomes ever more pressing.

Even as there was much to celebrate on 15 August 1947, independence came with a heavy price. Just a day before, on 14 August, India was torn into two; the painful partition of India and Pakistan along the lines of religion has continued to have profound effects on the lives of people on both sides.

If anything, 75 years later, these communal divides seem to be growing bigger. There has been much debate on the partition in the intervening decades – who is to blame, what went wrong and what could have been done. But just as the debates continue, the hatred continues to grow.

The last two years have especially seen a record number of hate crimes related to religion or belief in India, with a particular increase in disharmony between Muslims and Hindus. Religious intolerance is no longer limited to extremist fringe elements anymore, it has seeped into everyday relationships,  neighbourhoods and workplaces across the country.

Perhaps now more than ever is a vital time to stand up, come together, strategise and figure out how Indian citizens and the international community can work towards countering this hatred and restoring and maintaining the nation’s proud democratic heritage. Before it’s too late.

To reflect on the anniversary and how much has changed for religion or belief minorities in India over the past 75 years, CSW spoke with Tushar Gandhi, an author, activist and the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

He told us: “In the first four decades following independence, minoritism wasn’t much of an issue. It was probably also partly because of the trauma that people suffered because of the partition. There was more effort for assimilation and equality. It was only later that the seeds of dissention were purposely sown in the minds of the Indian people.

I remember in my childhood that the faith you belonged to was never an issue. Nobody was bothered about it. It was only in my thirties that people started identifying others by their religion. That’s where the distinction between majority and minority crept in. Because this was done with political motives, unfortunately they succeeded.

Today, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary, we have made minorities feel as though they are second class citizens and that they don’t have equal rights. Every group that is a minority is feeling unsafe and intimidated. The question on their minds is do we belong – that was never there before. 

The problem in India today is that people have adopted the creed of hate very willingly and we see the predominance of intolerance, hate and prejudice in the common sphere of life. For too long, liberals like me used to be complacent saying these are just fringe elements, we didn’t realise that it wasn’t the lunatic fringe, it was the lunatic core that was the biggest issue.  

I think if we are to reverse this trend, we need to attack the hate that has taken root within each one of us – suspicion, prejudice, intolerance, all those are ingredients of hate. Today we see hatred manifest itself in almost every public sphere. It doesn’t leave anything untouched. Look at the campaign against Amir Khan and Lal Singh Chadda. You realise that we’ve reached such absurd levels in our completely unjustified blind hatred for a particular group.

A few days ago we marked the anniversary of the Quit India Movement; many of us activists came together and decided to launch a campaign against hate. We flagged off a movement and took a pledge to counter hate in India. We borrowed the slogan ‘Angrezo Bharat Chodo’ (Britishers Quit India), which Gandhi came up with in 1942, and we rephrased it to ‘hate quit India’. We are now conferring with each other to create an organisational kind of network to counter hate with love across the country. 

Under the guise of remembering the tragedies of our past, on last year’s Independence Day the Prime Minister said he would now make it official to commemorate 14 August as the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day. This is a very thinly disguised attempt at creating more hate. Instead of healing the scars of partition, they keep the memory alive and ensure that every time that memory is rejuvenated, it causes more hate in society.

This is very dangerous because when the head of a government makes it an official policy, it is an endorsement of the backlash that is bound to happen because of it. I would call it irresponsible because it is a very well-thought out and strategically announced policy and that has to be countered. I also feel for the victims of the brutality of those who suffered because of the partition. But 75 years later, there has to be healing. When that kind of a campaign becomes an official policy, we need to think of a mass movement to counter that.