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.
“Hate has won, the artist has lost…,” Indian stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui tweeted hours after his Bengaluru show was cancelled. It marked at least the 12th time Mr Faruqui’s show had been cancelled after threats to the venue and the audience. Earlier this year, the 29-year-old Muslim artist spent a month in jail for allegedly joking about Hindu deities, an accusation that the police didn’t have any evidence for. That’s what a ‘joke’ can cost you in India today.
Or rather, in one of the two Indias that stand-up comedian Vir Das described in his Emmy-winning monologue which exposed the blatant hypocrisy prevalent in the country, including in relation to the plight of religious minorities, farmers, women and Dalits. The video went viral on social media, and immediately received a flurry of reactions, with right-wing activists calling for his arrest.
Home of Hope, Chennai, is a church-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps underprivileged children and orphans with monthly sponsorship feeding programs, and helps women with microloans. Like many NGOs, Home of Hope relies on funds from generous donors across the globe to sustain their work, but the Indian government is making life increasingly difficult for this and many organisations like it.
Since amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) came into effect in September 2020, things have been different. Two boys receiving support from Home of Hope were prevented from sitting their final examinations in September as they were unable to receive the funds that helped pay their fees on time. Several other critical needs, such as healthcare for COVID-19 patients, were also left unmet due to the delay in funds.
Of course, Home of Hope is not the only organisation affected by the new regulations. A majority of Christian charities, organisations and even educational institutions in India are funded by international donors, relying on them to survive. The FCRA amendments have made it almost impossible for them to function.
In June, we published a blog post detailing the history of Dalit conversion in India and how this can often be an act of self-liberation for members of this historically underprivileged community. This continues to this day, however there are those in the community, particularly those who convert to Christianity or Islam, who can continue to face discrimination and hardship even after conversion.
For this blog, we spoke to a Christian who works on Dalit and other human rights issues in the country, who shared some of her own experiences and shed light on the issues that persist for Dalits in India today.
“Growing up as a Christian in India, there were some decisions that you had to make early on in life. One such decision was what I would put my caste down as in my school’s admission form. I was taught that we are all God’s children and we are all equal, but why was I being asked to classify myself? I was a Christian, so I ticked the box that said OC (Other Caste) because we were taught that Christians don’t have castes and that was the only sensible option available. Also, because I was privileged to not know what caste I belong to.
On 7 June 2020, a Dalit Christian man named Bura Singh, his wife and daughter were conducting prayers in their house in Madhya Pradesh, India, when police officials barged in and beat them up.
For Bura, his conversion to Christianity was a matter of faith. For many other Dalits like him, however, conversion to a religion other than Hinduism is not just a matter of faith, it’s also a means – the only means – to escape the centuries-old harassment and injustice meted out to them under the caste system.
Historically, and even today, Dalits who choose to convert to another religion are socially boycotted and harassed. But to understand why there is so much opposition to Dalit conversion by the upper castes, we must understand the origins of the caste system and the history of the Dalit struggle.