The failure of the Karnataka authorities to stand against religious intolerance has yielded sad yet expected results

Incidents of communal violence have risen sharply in Karnataka state in recent months, and anti-Muslim sentiments are on the rise.

First there was the hijab controversy that began on 28 December 2021 when the authorities of an educational institution in Udipi, Karnataka banned six Muslim girls from entering with their hijabs (headscarves) on. Several other colleges followed suit with bans that were upheld by the Karnataka High Court on 15 March 2022.

State-sanctioned intolerance    

Ministers in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), meanwhile have not shied away from expressing their radical agenda. In February 2022 the senior BJP leader in Karnataka, K S Eshwarappa, said that a day would come when the ‘saffron’ flag (a symbol of Hindu nationalism) would become the national flag.

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‘Kashmir Files’ – A film used to fuel religious intolerance in India

The Indian film Kashmir Files has been mired in controversy since its release on 11 March. The 270-minute-long film, directed by Vivek Agnihotri, an open supporter of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), focuses on the brutal killings of estimates of between 30 and 80 Kashmiri Pandits or Kashmiri Hindus from 1988-1990 and their exodus from Indian Administered Kashmir.

The film revolves around a young student who finally discovers that his parents were killed by Muslim militants and not by accident, as his grandfather had told him. The student is caught between two conflicting narratives, that of his grandfather who is seeking justice for the exodus, and that of his mentor – a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor who tells him no such appeasement is necessary.

The historical events on which the film is based occurred in the 1990s, amidst a rising insurgency in Kashmir, when the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a militant separatist organisation comprising Muslims, targeted the state’s minority Hindus – Kashmiri Pandits – forcing an estimated 75% of the Hindu population to leave the state and seek refuge in other parts of India. Governments in power since then, including the BJP, have done little for their resettlement.

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A holistic response to forced migration

Displacement due to adverse circumstances has existed for as long as humankind has walked the earth. Yet in a stark contrast to those fleeing the violence in Ukraine, others genuinely seeking refuge in Europe from dangerous situations today are increasingly dismissed as economic migrants on the grounds of their ethnicity or religious identity. What, or rather who deserves to find refuge and make a country their home is continually being contested. 

Statistically speaking, the world is facing the largest displacement crisis since the Second World War, with close to three million people having fled the war in Ukraine in a matter of weeks. Other individuals and communities are fleeing from some of the most dangerous areas of the world in search of a new life – or to put it bluntly, life at all.

Western countries only host 14% of the world’s refugees

The vast majority of the world’s refugees flee to neighbouring countries, for example to Lebanon in the case of Syrians, or to Bangladesh in the case of Rohingyas from Myanmar/Burma. However, Western nations, where fears of ‘mass migration’ are exploited in populist ethnic and religion-laced politics and loom large on the media landscape, host just 14% of the world’s refugees.

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India’s hijab controversy is forcing Muslim girls to choose between their education and their faith

Over the past month, the Indian state of Karnataka has been in the news as protests related to a ban on Muslim students wearing the hijab (headscarf) in the classroom escalated and spread across the state. 

The tensions led to violent clashes between those supporting the ban and those against it, drastically affecting the education of students who have already been hit by the pandemic. 

Background

The controversy began on 28 December 2021 when authorities of an educational institution in Udipi, Karnataka banned six Muslim girls from entering with their hijabs (headscarves) on. One of the students filed a petition in the Karnataka High court demanding the right to wear the hijab under Article 14 of the Indian constitution, which recognises equality and equal protection under the law, and Article 25, which stipulates that all citizens have the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion. 

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A hero of the faith: Remembering Shahbaz Bhatti

On 2 March 2011 Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities Affairs, was assassinated as he left his mother’s house in Islamabad. He had spent his life dedicated to standing up and speaking out for marginalised and vulnerable minorities in Pakistan, and his legacy is still felt today.

On the 11th anniversary of his assassination, Mr Bhatti’s nephew David writes about his uncle’s life and legacy, and the situation for minorities in Pakistan today:

On a recent trip to Rome, Italy, I was able to tour the Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola. For the last twenty years, this ancient church has been dedicated to the memory of Christian martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. Pilgrims and tourists from around the world go there to learn about and gain inspiration from individuals who – from Africa to South America, through Communism and Nazism – made the ultimate display of self-sacrificial love in the face of tyranny and evil.

On my visit, I was able to once again see, after eleven years, my uncle Shahbaz Bhatti’s bible which is displayed alongside the relics of the New Martyrs of Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. This was the very bible that I would see on his nightstand on my visits to Pakistan – the book in which he would be immersed every morning, through which he gained his strength, and by which he lived his life. Today, it serves as an enduring symbol of his legacy: of his unwavering dedication to serving others and of his faithful and fearless pursuit for justice.

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