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An Indian Inquisition

The chaotic days of India’s partition still leave their mark on the country’s conscience today. In 1947, India and Pakistan found themselves tangled in religious bloodshed, and although this was almost seventy years ago, bitterness between members of various religious faiths is still easy to see. In the last few months in particular, Hindu nationalist organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have organized mass Hindu conversions for people of various faiths in exchange for material rewards such as houses.

Photographer: Graham Crouch/Bloomberg
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India. Source: Graham Crouch/Bloomberg

Despite his progressive image, Narendra Modi, India’s immensely popular Prime Minister, has said and done almost nothing about this. Modi’s administration may be set to lead India into an economic revolution, but by staying silent on this matter, he is allowing the country to turn its back on religious tolerance and the moral codes that should be expected of it.

As a longtime member of the RSS himself, the Prime Minister’s current situation is a complicated political trap. He has two viable options: he can adhere to the Hindu nationalist principles that have brought him so far in his political career, and continue to say and do absolutely nothing about the conversions, or he can stand up for the secular principles that the Indian political system is built upon and end this historical form of oppression. If he is truly the Prime Minister of India, not just the Prime Minister of the Hindu population, his actions should undoubtedly reflect the latter.

The Indian media unearthed this scandal in December 2014, as the RSS found itself in the middle of a controversy involving a Muslim community in Agra. Fifty families claim to have been forced to convert to Hinduism by nationalist groups related to the RSS. Technicalities of whether or not the conversions were truly forceful have been debated, but reports of similar acts have emerged throughout the country. Allegations in Gujarat and Kerala, where Christian citizens were converted to Hinduism, have popped up as well.

It is important to note that the RSS isn’t the only player. As previously mentioned, the VHP is also involved. In fact, Praveen Togadia, one of the VHP’s leading figures, stated“We are going to take the percentage of Hindus to 100 percent in the country. We won’t tolerate Hindus becoming a minority.” This idea of India being forced to become a hundred percent Hindu is both ambitious and frightening.

To understand why such acts may be so easy to get away with, it is important to study India’s current Prime Minister. Modi has long been a controversial figure. A member of the RSS since age 8, Modi was governor of Gujarat when violent riots against Muslims broke out in 2002. Although he can’t conclusively be blamed for the riots, his indifference back then and his indifference now are a serious cause for alarm. Indian Muslims have long been oppressed. According to Professor Timur Kuran at Duke University, as of 2004, average per capita income of Indian Muslims was only 72.4% that of Hindus. Economic inequality such as this is a widely-recognized institutionalized form of putting a minority down. History has repeatedly demonstrated this, particularly with African Americans in the United States in the mid-20th century, and the situation with Muslims in India is becoming eerily similar. Now, with massive organizations going after their faith right under the Prime Minister’s nose, it is getting harder and harder for Indian Muslims to worship freely, something that should be guaranteed to them by the Indian constitution.

Perhaps in an attempt to make up for Modi’s inaction, members of political parties other than Modi’s BJP decided in December to stall new economic bills from being passed in protest of the “ghar whapsi” scandal. This was a positive step taken by other members of the country’s leadership.

Despite this, Modi still hasn’t done anything worthwhile. Limited interactions with the press as well as almost no true action on this issue should tarnish his image. The man has seen basic constitutional rights denied to a reasonable chunk of the population, and he is still able to turn away discreetly. Modi is in a strange, morally corrupted limbo, and it’s about time he said something against the extremists that made him who he is.