New Delhi: Former Vice President of India Hamid Ansari Wednesday said that recent trends in the country interpose a “new and imaginary practice of cultural nationalism” as against the “well established principle of civic nationalism”.
“In recent years, we have experienced the emergence of trends and practises that dispute the well established principle of civic nationalism, and interposes a new and imaginary practice of cultural nationalism,” Ansari said, adding that “almost 20 per cent of our people belong to religious minorities”.
“It seeks to present an electoral majority in the guise of a religious majority and monopolised political power. It wants to distinguish citizens on the basis of their faith, give vent to intolerance, insinuate otherness and promote disquiet and insecurity. Some of its recent manifestations are chilling and reflect poorly on our claim to be governed by the rule of law,” he added.
The remarks were made virtually during a ‘Special Congressional Briefing on Protecting India’s Pluralist Constitution’, organised by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC). The event was reportedly co-hosted by Amnesty International US, Genocide Watch, Hindus for Human Rights and New York State Council of Churches, among others.
In his remarks, Ansari asked: “Why have segments of opinion in a plural society, with a long tradition of accommodation of diversity, decided to question it in favour of a unilateral and distorted reading of its past?” He said that this is a question that has to be answered.
“These trends need to be contested — contested legally and contested politically,” he added.
‘Ideological vision of a Hindu state’
Archbishop Peter Machado, Archdiocese of Bangalore, who also spoke at the discussion, said that he was “a little sad today”, and referred to the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, commonly referred to as the anti-conversion Bill.
He said that “this bill is not necessary” and that the “Constitution is strong enough and we have many laws and regulations, many Parliamentary Acts, that can surely withstand forceful or fraudulent conversions”.
Machado also asserted that this legislation “will be discriminatory to Christians alone”, and will also affect “the freedom of marriage” and the right to privacy.
Nadine Maenza, Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said that “unfortunately, religious freedom conditions in India have been deteriorating at a rapid pace in recent years”.
“Since 2014, the BJP led Indian government has increasingly institutionalised its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both national and state levels, through a foundation of laws and a structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities, which include Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Adivasis,” she added.
‘Duty of United States to speak out’
Speaking at the event, Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey said that he remains “concerned about Prime Minister Modi’s government’s efforts to peel back the rights of religious minorities in India”.
“Laws on religious conversions, citizenship and other restricted measures fly in the face of India’s inclusive secular Constitution and core tenets of any democracy,” Markey said, adding that “it is the duty of the United States to speak out when fundamental human rights are under attack, no matter where, but even more important when they takes place in India, a vital US partner”.
US Congressmen Jamie Raskin and Andy Levin also spoke at the briefing.
Entrepreneur and activist Amina Kausar, who was one of the victims of the ‘Bulli Bai’ app, participated in the event, and asserted that “trolling women is different and much more dangerous than all other forms of violence against women.”
“It is a state-sponsored, state-powered, a huge, well oiled machinery committed to creating an atmosphere of hate particularly towards Muslims. As also other minority communities in India that have been running since 2014 when the BJP first came into power,” Kausar added.
She said that “living in the United States is no insurance against Hindutva misogyny”, and urged the US government to “take note of the systematic violence that Indian Muslim women are subjected to” and implored them “to hold the Indian government accountable”.
On Stan Swamy, Khurram Parvez
Also speaking at the discussion, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, former President of Mauritius, said that she finds the Indian Constitution “unique in its content and spirit”.
She, however, added: “It is really unfortunate that in spite of all the Constitutional provisions in the Indian Constitution on the safeguarding and protection of human rights, the international press is reporting on how the rights of minorities are being trampled upon almost on a daily basis.”
Carolyn Nash, Asia Advocacy Director of the Amnesty International US, spoke about Father Stan Swamy, who she asserted was “targeted and persecuted by the State”. Swamy was one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. He died in July last year, while in custody.
Nash, as also Maenza, Mcgovern, and Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, also spoke about Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez. Parvez was detailed under the UAPA by the National Investigation Agency in November last year, in connection with a ‘terror funding’ probe. He is coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.