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Faith under siege: What is behind the recent spate of attacks on Hindu religious sites?

Democracy is inherently set up in such a way that it caters only to those who are willing to raise their voices.

The temple vandalism in Hauz Qazi, Chandni Chowk is still totally fresh in our memories, still very much a topic of discussion on social media, as is the news of attack on other Hindu religious sites. Then, we hear of Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, where a Shivling is desecrated by a man urinating on it! In fact, Opindia has compiled a list of at least 10 incidents of desecration of temples across India since June 2019. I suspect the actual number is much higher.

So what is going on? Why is the average Hindu suddenly finding themselves under attack alll across the nation?

I do not have the data, but I will describe what I suspect is happening. Let me begin with a story from my hometown of Ranchi.

Several years ago, one afternoon, we heard that Ranchi’s Main Road had suddenly turned into a war zone, shops and businesses were being attacked, windows broken and cars smashed by some members of the local Muslim community. We were not sure what had triggered the violence, but word on the street was that they were retaliating against something “we” had done.

Except “we” had no idea. The following day, people in Ranchi gathered around local Hindi newspapers to find out what had happened and why. That’s when I heard the word “Rohingya” for the first time in my life. Like most people of Ranchi, I did not even know how to pronounce it. We learned that something had happened in Myanmar, that a community of Muslims known as “Rohingyas” had been offended, that the Indian government was apparently supportive of the Myanmar government. And this was the trigger that led some local Muslims in Ranchi to retaliate against “us.”

The rioters had made no distinction between their Hindu neighbors in Ranchi and some far away people in Myanmar they had a problem with. Their anger was directed at “non-believers,” no matter who they were.

Such indiscriminate hatred towards “non-believers” and deep seated prejudices against “idol worshippers” are a huge problem. But the pseudo-secularist setup of Indian society has so far prevented this problem from even being discussed, let alone be addressed.

As with the old event in Ranchi, such “low intensity” communal attacks against Hindus and their sites happen all the time and all across India. Like I said, Opindia counted ten instances since June 2019 alone. And because they are so common, police and administration treat it as some kind of “normal,” usually ignoring them altogether. And local Hindus also tend to ignore them.

So what is behind the recent spate of attacks? I suspect there are two factors at play here.

The first is a rising Hindu awareness. All across India, Hindus have increased their expectations, especially now that we have Modi 2.0 at the center with second successive majority. They are no longer willing to ignore incidents and be intimidated. And when something happens, they are no longer afraid to demand justice and put the government on notice.

This phenomenon goes hand in hand with India’s changing politics. Without the rising Hindu political consciousness, there would not have been 303 seats for Modi. And without the 303 seat government, local Hindus would not have felt emboldened to raise their voices for the first time.

And democracy is inherently set up in such a way that it caters only to those who are willing to raise their voices.

Remember early 2015, when the ruckus over “church attacks” had hit the fan? Then Delhi Police informed the Center that just 3 incidents of crimes against churches had been reported in all of 2014. That did not surprise me. What did surprise me was the rest of the data supplied by Delhi Police : that 206 temples and 30 gurudwaras had suffered some sort of crime during the same period!!

But the “passive” Hindus had failed to organize and raise their voices against it!

I believe that is what has changed now. Hindus have their eyes open and when something happens, they speak up. It helps that this is the age of social media, where information spreads quickly and it is very difficult to bury people’s voices. Also there are right wing outlets that can put reporters on the ground and follow up on stories that media would have us forget.

I suspect there is a second factor as well, which is far more dangerous. The entire ‘liberal ecosystem’ has invested heavily into the fake “Lynchistan” narrative and painted the May 23 verdict as some kind of affront to India’s Muslims. This could be a factor leading to more aggression on the ground.

The truth is that the rising Hindu consolidation since May 2014 is no different from political empowerment of oppressed sections all across the free world. It could be black people in America, Jewish people in Europe, backward castes in India or the women’s movement anywhere. For centuries, the Hindus in India have faced discrimination and atrocities for their identity. It was only a matter of time before they used democratic means to achieve their emancipation.

As such, we need two things. First, the government needs to adjust to the “new normal” and adopt a zero tolerance policy towards religious violence against Hindus. This attitude must filter down from top levels of government down to the constable on the beat. And to the media, which must learn to treat such attack on the Hindu faith with the seriousness it deserves, not cover it up with euphemisms like “samuday vishesh.”

The second is that Hinduphobia, prejudices against “non-believers” and “idol-worshippers” must be tackled with the same seriousness as racist, casteist or sexist prejudices. No, it’s not okay to crack gaumutra jokes, just like you would not crack jokes about why a woman can only work in the kitchen. It’s not funny and it serves to further prejudices and fuel attack against the Hindu faith. We cannot have an environment that normalizes or trivializes violence or prejudice against Hindus. The problem of Hinduphobia must be tackled through school education, sensitization efforts, with government resources and civil society contributions, exactly in the way we raise consciousness for any other form of social justice.

We must all move towards the new normal. It’s the way we grow as a society.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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