There are formal institutions and instruments created towards that purpose. We need to utilise that unless we want to see genocides across continents and each looking for justification on the grounds of others doing the same
he Supreme Court of India recently came out with a split verdict on the recent hijab controversy where government educational institutions in the state of Karnataka have barred Muslim girls from entering the premises wearing hijab. It has now gone to the senior-most judge for the final say. In a secular democracy it would have been a non-issue – a matter of an individual’s choice.
More recently the news broke that the police had booked 11 Muslims for displaying swords in a procession in Karnataka that included children. This, in a country resplendent with angry and jealous mobs chanting Jai Shri Ram with full arsenals in display, sometimes atop mosques and sometimes atop heritage monuments of Islamic origin (as happened very recently in Madhya Pradesh). A few days ago, a bunch of young Muslims were tied to a pole and caned in public in Gujarat, allegedly for disturbing the traditional Garba dance taking place during Navratri celebrations. The crowd around them was, of course, celebrating with happy slogans. Demolitions and bulldozers have become synonymous with targeting of Muslims, as have some or the other religious preacher calling for genocidal war against them.
For the past few years, the news of minority bashing (literally in many cases) in India, has been normalised to such an extent that you pick up any timeline and you will find a series of incidents across the country. It would not come as a surprise, therefore, that neighbouring Pakistan, the very existence of which feeds into Hindu hate mongering in India on an everyday basis, has added fuel to the fire by raising the issue of surging violence against Muslims in India.
One response to this would be – like the Indian foreign minister – “first look at your own track record of treatment of minorities before pointing fingers at us”. Such logic may have helped during Biblical times; it doesn’t serve its purpose any longer. Rather, it keeps the fire going. So, how do we look at the issue of targeting of Muslims in India from an international lens? There are clear guidelines in international instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by most of the countries in 1948 (including India) and the subsequent UN covenants on civil and political rights as well as socio-economic and cultural rights of the people. There are follow-up international institutions like the Human Rights Council, International Court of Justice and UN special rapporteurs working on a range of themes including minorities’ rights and religious freedom which have a mandate to review each country’s record on these rights and hold the states accountable.
When the Delhi police entered Jamia Millia Islamia in late 2019 and brutally beat up the students (most of them Muslims), instead of holding the police accountable the Supreme Court actually asked students to not step outside.
There are also established protocols through which countries, especially functioning democracies, direct their diplomatic, economic and other engagements based on a country’s record on these rights. The USA, for example, publishes its own annual report of each country’s record on many of these parameters. And there are some unsaid but firmly rooted protocols through which a Modi can tell a Putin that right now it is not a time for war. The prime minister is apparently quite oblivious of the fact that his own party and state are virtually waging a proxy war against a range of its citizens, including religious minorities, Dalits and those opposing its socio-economic policies. They are being meted out harsh treatment under the toughest of anti-terror laws to quell the dissident voices.
India’s own constitution promises ample rights to religious freedom, freedom of speech and association to all its people, including minorities. And institutions like an independent judiciary and other bodies like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the National Minorities Commission are supposed to protect them. Unfortunately, in recent years, the judiciary has not come across as a robust defender of minorities. When the Delhi police entered Jamia Millia Islamia in late 2019 and brutally beat up the students (most of them Muslims), instead of holding the police accountable the Supreme Court actually asked students to not step outside. Soon afterward, the NHRC actually held the students for the trouble, paving the way for the justification of state violence against them. Stories of this sort abound.
So what are the options available in this context? The question is not, whether Pakistan is right or wrong in taking up the issue of violence against Muslims in India. The question is about a larger ideal of a global community living on common democratic values and holding one another accountable for the same. There are formal institutions and instruments created towards that purpose. We need to utilise that unless we want to see genocides across continents and each looking for justification on the grounds of others doing the same. Each perpetrator needs to be held publicly accountable through these very available instruments towards establishing a world we all want to be part of.
The writer has remained associated with social activism for many years and is currently an independent researcher and writer