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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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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Attacked, harassed and ostracised: Christians in India continue to suffer as the country slides further still into ethno-religious nationalism

Last week, the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) released its annual report on Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India in 2021. It documented 505 individual incidents of violence across the country in 2021, including three murders, as well as other forms of harassment against Christians including disruption to worship services, social boycott and ostracisation, and forced conversion to Hinduism.

The report states: “No denomination – whether organized or a lonely independent worshipping family or neighborhood group – none has been spared targeted violence and intense, chilling hate, the worst seen since the general election campaign of 2014. The year 2021 saw calls for genocide and threats of mass violence made from public platforms, and important political and religious figures on the stage.”

Reverend Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the EFI, spoke to CSW about various issues facing Christians in the country today:

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New Education Policy 2020: A subtle attempt to reshape India’s collective thinking

In July 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government released a 62-page ‘New Education Policy’ (NEP) to much excitement. It had been 34 years since the last education policy was rolled out, so the excitement was understandable.

On the surface, the policy looks grand and attractive. It speaks of reformation and becoming a ‘Global Knowledge Superpower’. However, India’s religious minorities are dissatisfied. In the 18 months since its release, there have been several protests against it by Muslim and Christian groups, claiming that they have been left out of the central government’s glorious vision for the future. 

Here are some of the key concerns. 

Lack of representation of religious minorities

While the 1986 education policy focused on giving minorities and women access to education, reducing child drop out rates and introducing education for adults, the NEP 2020 seems to focus more on technology, new-age curricula and innovation, with hardly any specific agenda to uplift members of minority communities. In fact, the word ‘minority’ is only mentioned twice and ‘Muslim’ is mentioned once – ironically to admit that they are under-represented. 

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