October 24, 2021

Communalism and Fundamentalism in South Asia

THE series of targeted killings of minorities and migrant workers by terrorist groups in the Kashmir Valley have pushed the besieged territory of Jammu & Kashmir into new depths of despair and gloom.  The diabolical aim of killing school teachers, street vendors and migrant workers is clear – deepen the communal divide and create conditions for an exodus. 

That this is happening in Jammu & Kashmir, which has been under central rule as a union territory since August 2019, is a strong indictment of the way the centre has dealt with J&K and the people of the Valley in particular.  The abolition of Articles 370 and 35A and the dismantling of the state of Jammu & Kashmir were vindictive measures meant to punish the people and the secular political forces in the Valley who had stood with India.

The Modi-Amit Shah dispensation has made no bones about their aim to divide J&K on communal lines, adopt measures to marginalise the Muslim majority population in the Valley and destroy Kashmiriyat. The repression of the mainstream political parties of the Valley was in keeping with this agenda.

The demolition of the democratic space for politics in J&K with the suppression of all dissenting views and gagging of the media, coupled with a heavy-handed security-State approach, have opened the way for the violent activities of the extremist-terrorist elements who get sustenance from Pakistan to hold sway. 

The claims of having put down by force, the terrorist networks operating in the state have been shown to be only partially true given the impunity with which these elements have targeted innocent civilians. 

Deepening the divide on religious and Kashmiri-non Kashmiri lines is the purpose of the terrorist elements.  The divisive and Hindutva-oriented policies of the Modi government have also further alienated the people, thus helping the extremist forces. There is no democratic political activity to counter these trends.

Notwithstanding the continuous security operations against the militants and terrorist groups, the only way the deteriorating situation can be reversed is by restoration of the statehood of J&K, removal of all restrictions on political activities, resumption of political dialogue and freedom of the press, so that there is a democratic environment to isolate the extremist forces and tackle terrorist violence. 

The spate of targeted violence against minorities in J&K must not be seen in isolation from what is happening in the rest of the country.  The BJP-RSS combine is engaged in systematically promoting an anti-Muslim agenda.  Not a day passes without some report of attacks on Muslims and hate campaigns against the minorities in the social media. In BJP-ruled states, Hindutva organisations engaged in such activities are given protection. In some states like Karnataka, Christian places of worship and prayer meetings are subjected to attack.  The anti-minority agenda of the ruling party and the Hindutva organisations provide a rationale and fillip to the fundamentalist-extremist elements in Kashmir.

The recent round of attacks in Bangladesh by fundamentalist forces against the Hindu community and temples are a disturbing reminder that communal politics and fundamentalism in South Asian countries are interconnected.  The purported blasphemous use of the Koran propagated through the social media seems to have been a planned effort to rouse feelings against the Hindu community during the Puja celebrations.  Six people have died in the course of 17 incidents of communal violence across the country.  The Sheikh Hasina government has announced that it will deal firmly with the communal trouble-makers and has already arrested hundreds of rioters.  But commentators in Bangladesh have pointed out that the anti-Muslim attacks in India have provided fuel to the fundamentalist elements within Bangladesh.

All over South Asia, religious and ethnic minorities are under attack from the fundamentalist and communal elements from within the majority community. In Sri Lanka, Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist elements have been targeting the minorities; in Pakistan, the minorities, including minority denominations like the Shias, live in constant fear of violence.  Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, cannot countenance religious or ethnic minorities.

The parties of the ruling classes in the South Asian countries are guilty of patronising religious chauvinism and ethno nationalism. India is the biggest and most powerful of these countries.  Hindutva communalism and Hindu nationalism in India will inevitably evoke parallel responses in its neighbouring countries, given the complex interplay of religious, social and cultural traditions among these societies.

Only an assertion of secular and democratic values anchored in the politics of an equitable development and well-being of the people can open the way for a better future and progress for the whole of South Asia. 

(October 21, 2021)