RELIGION AND CRIME – INDIAN PERSPECTIVE
Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai
India is a secular country. It boasts of being the largest democracy that works on the principle of ‘Unity in Diversity’. There are all sorts of people – of different religious backgrounds – who hold various positions throughout the country irrespective of these factors. Further, there are bodies like the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Minorities, along with a large number of NGOs that work for the benefit of the various religious communities present in the country. While the same is the ideal notion of appropriate religious tolerance, India still witnesses a significant number of incidences of religious violence and related crimes.
Religious violence and related crimes – commonly referred to as religious crimes – are criminal acts of violence by followers of one religious group against followers and institutions of another religious group. In the Indian context, these often manifest in the form of riots or mob lynching incidents by two very prominent religious groups – Hindus and Muslims. A very significant incident that became the spark that incited this seemingly never-ending fire was the partition of India in 1947. As the partition was based on religious grounds, feelings of animosity between the Hindus and the Muslims skyrocketed, with each side believing only in their own righteousness and feigning ignorance towards the other.
Ever since, large-scale religious violence and riots have periodically occurred on both sides of the border. India itself has witnessed sporadic large-scale violence sparked by underlying tensions between sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities. These conflicts also continue to stem from the conflicting ideologies – of hardline right-wing groups versus Islamic Fundamentalists – which are prevalent in various sections of the population. In addition to the same, there are a lot of such crimes committed against many religious minorities whose only apparent fault is being a minority.
These crimes, especially against the minorities, have increased tremendously ever since the Modi-led BJP came in power. In 2018, IndiaSpend’s fact-checker initiative titled ‘The Citizen’s Religious Hate Crime Watch’ revealed that some 90% of religious hate crimes in the last decade have occurred since Modi came to power. As many as 90% of religious hate crimes since 2009 have occurred after Modi led the BJP to power at the Centre in 2014. This points compellingly to the conclusion that an environment has been created under the union government’s watch in which people feel safe, enabled, even encouraged to act out their hate and attack religious minorities. The permissive environment for hate attacks created by frequent hate speeches by senior leaders of the party, and the government’s refusal to criticize these attacks except very occasionally and in general terms, means that communal and vigilante formations feel emboldened and encouraged to attack people of minority identities with impunity.
As also observed by Hate Crime Watch, around 66% of the cases have occurred in BJP-ruled states, while around 16% of hate crimes have been recorded in Congress-ruled states at the time. But this in itself is not surprising as the BJP was in power in 20 out of 29 states. What is far more telling is that among the cases in which the details of the attackers’ political affiliations are known or reported, as high as 83% of the hate crimes were by attackers who were allegedly affiliated with Hindutva organizations, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Yuva Vahini and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, among others; as well of the political parties of the BJP and the Shiv Sena. Members of the Bajrang Dal were also found to be involved in the largest number of religion related crimes. Of the 30 cases of such crimes in which Bajrang Dal members were alleged to have participated, the Hate Crime Watch shows that 29 of these took place after 2014.
But this situation is not one-sided. Mainstream media by no means provides a balanced or an exhaustive enough reportage to be used for a fair, pan-India analysis. It has been seen that many media houses cherry-pick cases in which the victim-perpetrator equation suits their narratives. It is essentially tailor-made to show Muslims as overwhelmingly the victims and Hindus overwhelmingly as the perpetrators, creating a false perception among minorities that they are under attack from ‘fascist’ Hindus with active cooperation from the state machinery. The harsh reality is that the Hindus have also been an overwhelming target of religious hate crimes in India. Hindus have been murdered brutally and lynched for speaking up, in riots that were specifically anti-Hindu and driven by Islamists and some, just for being Hindus. Be it the brutal murder of Intelligence Bureau employee Ankit Sharma by rioting Islamists during the Delhi anti-Hindu riots, or the 2019 case of the gruesome killing of Hindu Samaj Party leader and Hindu Rights activist Kamlesh Tiwari by Jihadis in his own residence in Lucknow, there are various such instances that show very clearly that the hatred and enmity goes both ways.
All these instances have somehow become so commonplace that people have now begun tolerating and ignoring such instances instead of taking appropriate action on them. It is certainly time for the government to acknowledge this rampant evil, and start documenting such serious issues and take relevant measures to curb and prevent such instances in the future. There can be research, study, even policy formation or reformation, or relevant codification of these crimes as specific offences, and proper legislations based on the same. The judiciary also needs to lend a helping hand by providing their takes on these instances and their continued influence on the law and order of the country. On the same lines, effort is also necessary to be made in order to educate people on the tenets of secularism, and help them gather and spread awareness regarding their equal status as far as their religious identities are concerned.
As such, it all boils down to the individual’s sense of belief and choice. It has the power to influence every decision that an individual or a group of individuals makes. There is nothing that cannot be reconciled via transparent communication. Religious tolerance is the essence of Indian secularism. All religions have only ever preached tolerance, equality, kindness and brotherhood. It is up to all of us to convey each of our versions of these foundations and try to build a unified structure over the same.