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The Rise of Religious Violence in India: A Psychological Take | Mitakshara Medhi

Mitakshara Medhi

Not many years ago, India prided itself with being a ‘secular’ country, constitutionally and socially. After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, however, the situation started changing. Currently, with growing mobilization of what seemed to be a particular ‘kind’ of individuals, all the other groups with beliefs different from that of these groups are being persecuted. There hardly seems any room left for healthy debates and dissent. All that there is, is the attempt at the imposition of a particular ideology on anyone claiming to be the citizens of India. Individuals with views that vary or are contrary to ‘theirs’ are deemed as “anti-nationals”. One distinction is necessary at this point, which go amiss with the majority of people propagating this coerced common ideology. This fact is the distinction between a nation and the State. While to propagate hate against the nation is “anti-nationalism”, to criticize the ruling party in the government is a fundamental right of the peoples of the nation. The present scenario is witness to the dissolution of this distinction. Anyone speaking ill of the government is deemed to have committed a crime under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (Sedition). Under such restrictive environment, where would the ‘secular’ part of the nation land up?

One important question that arises here is the cause of the rise of violence propagated by one group over another. Frances Stewart (2009) talks about horizontal inequalities to be a major cause of group violence. This is the inequalities felt across group, rather than the vertical inequalities of individuals. When intergroup inequalities coincide with economic and social inequalities, it gives rise to conflicts. But in the present case of India, it may be a difficult concept to apply. When seen in terms of deprivation, the people propagating violence in the name of Hinduism and its “customs”, on comparative terms, are not ‘unequal’. One major understanding may come about through the concept of “perceived inequality”. It is highly likely that these individuals perceive themselves as being deprived of what was, according to them, inherently theirs. The resources are not to be shared with other communities, but to be kept with themselves, or perhaps they fear losing their ‘control’ over these resources if their culture is not preserved. But their ‘idea’ of preservation most likely equates coercing their beliefs not only on people from other communities, but also on members of their own, who is seen to ‘diverge’ from their acknowledged practices. This assumption seems to reflect Abner Cohen’s (1974) argument that while people of one community may ‘ridicule’ the practices other ethnic groups, they seldom indulge in violence against the other. Violence arises owing to certain fundamental issues concerning distribution and exercise of power, whether economic or political or both.

But this seems to be inadequate at explaining the Indian scenario, where the conflicts seems to have arisen not due to distribution or exercise of power, but has resulted from who acquired the power. To be more specific, when the government was formed by a political party which openly propagates their ‘pro-Hindu’ philosophy (whilst claiming it to be not an equivalent of anti-Muslims), the followers of the party gained new grounds for group mobilization, many a times, forming conceptions of their own. Indeed, Stewart (2009) writes about how conflicts arising due to group identities are either state-induced, or formed out of individuals’ own perception. Yet organized group violence cannot survive if there is an open condemnation by the leadership. Hence, irrespective of whether it is the ruling party that have instigated this violence or not, their lack of condemnation itself may be seen as the reason for continuation of it.

From a possibly utopian perspective, the reason why Indian secularism has found itself in trouble is perhaps due to lack of a collective identity among the diverse groups. Different group have their own practices, but there are no shared practices among these group. Erich Fromm in this book “The Sane Society” (1955) states that only when collective art and experiences are formed, a society may be able to sustain itself. He cites the examples of singing, dancing and celebrating, as common experiences.

Presently in India, this view has been tilted in favour of a certain class of people with a definite notion of what Hinduism stands for. This shared practice, is not seen in terms of art, as Fromm stated, but in terms of arbitrary imposition of their own cultural norms on the others. One example is the case of ban on consumption of beef. Although it started off as a ban on illegal slaughter houses, there has been an ever increasing rate of violence – often resulting in deaths – on people consuming it (or even transporting cattle legally). There have been numerous calls on the “need for a Hindu nation”, in furtherance of Veer Savarkar’s ‘Hindutva’. Possibly, there are debates within the ‘Hindutva’ philosophy, but what is being propagated, at large, is against the idea of Hinduism itself. Firstly, Hinduism is not one religious, but an umbrella under which several religions exist. Needless to say, each has their own practices, which, in itself, renders Hinduism without a “common set of norms”. Second, the holy book of Bhagawat Geeta talks of focusing on the karma of the self, and not interfering with those of the others, as it is their own to be dealt with. With such autocratic impositions on the very lifestyle of the Indian citizens, doesn’t it work against the very idea mentioned above? Why are Hindus, who come from a religion based on individualism and the satisfaction of the self and which teaches us to achieve harmony between our mind and our soul first and then try to peace with others, trying to interfere in matters which are anything but theirs?

Lastly, one may still argue about the necessity of nationalism. But recent trends have witnessed such force in implementation of a particular groups’ ‘idea of nationalism’ that the very foundations of this concept is at stake. Nationalism is a feeling that results from a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging can be instilled only when the cultures of the diverse groups are respected. It is fostered through healthy dialogues and debates in case of conflicts or disagreements. However, with such interferences and coercions of one group over all the others, in a country which used to portray itself as multicultural, would it really instill nationalism, or would it prove to be counterproductive? As De Gaulle summed it up really well:

Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.

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