“India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.”
India, a home to 1.35 billion people, has under one roof people with different religious and cultural beliefs, outlooks and practices. The festivals, languages and customs, all speak enormously about the country and how its people live together. It’s a beautiful emotion of oneness that brings together all the people in the country into a single whole. It also tries to do away with all the trifling differences that keep people divided into various groups or sections.
However, just like a coin has two sides, so does the religious diversity prevailing in a huge landmass like India. This diversity which is a unique characteristic of the Indian society and makes it stand apart from other countries of the world has an ugly side associated to it too. In the recent years this diversity is what has increased disturbances and toll of life in the country, leading to nothing but a religious divide. If we go back in time, we realise that British rulers took the very first step to inculcate the roots of religious divide by following a policy called “divide and rule”. They tried their best to widen the gulf between the Hindus and the Muslims through various measures like separate electorates, reservations etc. but even after partition a minor chunk of the Muslim population decided to stay in India because of the faith they backed in the Indian leaders who lead to independence. However, Muslims never felt secure and equal. Even today they complain that they’re looked upon with suspicion and are denied justice and fairplay in the administration. It’s been 71 years since independence but the sad reality is that the Hindu-Muslim riots still continue to take place in various parts of the country, the extent of damage varying every time.
The different communities are not the only ones to be blamed because the politics today has come to acquire a very dirty meaning. Politics now is a game played by those in power or on their way to power. Those in authority have to indulge in various things to keep themselves in power. They are expected to strengthen the party organisation and to satisfy their supporters even if it requires the use of religion. In the past also there have been numerous incidents of religious intolerance that resulted in riots and violence such as the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, 1990 Anti-Hindu riots in Kashmir, 2002 Gujarat riots, the 2008 Anti-Christian riots and various others, some of them being openly supported by the government in power. In recent times, Muslims in India have experienced attacks by Hindus because of alleged cow slaughter, while Hindus were also sometimes the targets of hostilities by Muslims especially Dalits, the lowest-caste Hindus who were ill-treated in society by almost everyone.
Recent research shows that India is the fourth worst country in the world for religious violence. Cases have been analysed that involved hate crimes, mob violence, communal violence, religion-related terror, the use of force to prevent religious practice, the harassment of women for not conforming to religious dress codes and violence over conversion.
Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India. Every citizen of India has a right to practice and promote their religion peacefully, but the country does not always practice what the Constitution states. Officials of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at both the central and state government levels make statements that India should be exclusively Hindu. Minority communities, including Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, keep complaining of numerous incidents of harassment by Hindu nationalist groups. Who is to be blamed for all this? The people who strongly feel for their religion, the dirty politics and selfish power holders or the idea of dividing people on the basis of religion? The day an answer to this question is found will be the day when India actually steps into a new era where everyone has only one belief that it is the country that matters first and not the religion to which they belong.