A Fork in the Road: What lies ahead for religious minorities in Sri Lanka, India and South Asia?

Sri Lanka and India are facing pivotal moments, both for their future, and the future of South Asia as a whole. Both countries’ drives towards religious hegemony have left little place for Christians and Muslims, a factor which will certainly lead to more instability and intolerance in the region.

Sri Lanka: Buddhist nationalists vindicated

Sri Lanka was the site of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, in which over 250 people were killed when terrorists targeted a number of churches and hotels across the country. In the aftermath of the bombings, there were reports of violent attacks against Muslims and an increase in anti-Muslim prejudice. Some reprisals against the Muslim population have been carried out by Christians, in contrast to the previous relative harmony between the two communities as they both battled intolerance from sections of the Sinhalese Buddhist population.

Furthermore, Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), who have been portraying Islam as a threat to both Buddhism and Sri Lanka for years, consider their stance vindicated by the bombings.

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The promise of an inclusive India?

As Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) starts its second innings in government after one of the most bitter, vicious and polarising election campaigns India has witnessed, he has been speaking of an aspirational and inclusive India.

The BJP-led coalition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) secured 350 seats of the 542 seats in the Lok Shaba (parliamentary) elections, with their majority growing from 25% in 2009 to 45% in 2019. Given the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda, this success gives rise to concerns that BJP-controlled areas may be subject to increased FoRB violations.

With exceptions in the south, for example in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry, the BJP made fresh progress in West Bengal and Odhisa, and continued to tighten its grip on existing stronghold states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.  Despite the Southern states remaining largely free from the BJP, FoRB monitoring in the South will need to be stepped up, particularly with the party’s win in West Bengal and Odhisa, states that have recorded a rise in FoRB violations.  

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India: A rude awakening in an election year

Dr Shashi Tharoor, the former Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, once described Narendra Modi as a paradoxical Prime Minister who says one thing and does another.

Coming into power in 2014 on egalitarian slogans like “ache din aane wale hain” (good days are coming) and “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (togetherness with all and development for all), Modi appealed to the corporate and middle class groups who were already beginning to resent the Congress Party, which was plagued with a series of corruption scandals. Posturing as the “development visionary” while presiding as Gujarat’s Chief Minister (2001-2014), he was fielded as the best candidate who could fix India’s decaying economy and good governance.

This clearly was not the case, as the reckless almost overnight demonetization had a drastic impact, particularly on lower income groups.

The promise of good days is far from being realised. For the religious minorities that make up approximately 16.3% of the population the last five years have been anything but favourable.

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India’s general election: The church in Jharkhand under direct attack by the state government

In the lead up to India’s elections from 11th April-19th May, CSW is focusing on some of the issues faced by religious minorities in the country.

Last month, CSW’s South Asia Team Leader detailed the anti-conversion narratives that are often used to fuel religious intolerance. In this post, a guest contributor from Jharkhand state, whose name has been kept anonymous for security purposes, outlines the spread of hate speech by government officials in the state:

“On 11 August 2017 the front page of all newspapers in Jharkhand published an advertisement sponsored by the state government with a photograph of Jharkhand Chief Minister Shri Raghuvar Das and Mahatma Gandhi which misused the statement of Shri Mahatma Gandhi claiming that “If Christian missionaries feel that only conversion to Christianity is the path to salvation, why don’t you start with me or Mahadev Desai? Why do you stress on conversion of the simple, illiterate, poor and forest-dwellers? These people can’t differentiate between Jesus and Mohammad and are not likely to understand your preachings. They are mute and simple, like cows. These simple, poor, Dalit and forest-dwellers, whom you make Christians, do so not for Jesus but for rice and their stomach.”

“There is enough place in state prison for all the pastors and preachers if they continue to carry out missionary activity in the state.”

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India’s general election: the politics of religious conversion in pursuit of a Hindu Rashtra

As India approaches the Lok Shaba (parliamentary) election this year, the right-wing Hindu organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates (collectively known as the Sangh Parivar) are likely to take stock of their progress in realising their dreams of making India a Hindu Rashtra (Nation).

Constructed on M.S Golwakar’s ideology that since time immemorial, ‘mother India’ was formed of ‘one culture, one religion,’ the RSS pursues a narrative that the Hindu has fallen ‘victim’ to foreign religions, namely Islam and Christianity, and that the protection of the ‘faithful’ is imperative.

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