India's Explosive Mix of Religion & Politics (speech summary)
“The very idea of India and its premise for pride revolve around religious issues,” noted Arora.
“Communalism” is another religious-political term that is often invoked in Indian public discourse. Arora says “communalism” is the means whereby Hindu nationalists cast Christians and Muslims as enemies of the Hindu-majority community.
“As part of its ‘communal’ agenda, the BJP allegedly organizes and incites communal violence, and raises divisive issues, such as ‘Islamic terrorism’, uniform civil code, and Christian conversions,” declared Arora.
At its worst, the “communal agenda” has resulted in the loss of lives and the destruction of homes and property among both Christians and Muslims. Arora argues that though religious violence has always been a part of Indian society, these acts surged after the BJP took political power in 1998.
The total of violent acts against Christians alone numbered approximately1000 in 2007, or almost three per day, Arora pointed out.
Arora detailed how the BJP’s rise to power has also resulted in discriminatory policy outcomes designed to slow conversions out of Hinduism. For example, Hindu Dalits, along with other “lower” castes, receive development resources from the government as well as favors in the job market. A Dalit who converts to Christianity or Islam, however, will lose those affirmative-action rights.
Of course the most important window into the religious-political tensions ought to be the news media, but Arora argues that Indian media do not always serve the public well in these matters. One issue is that Indian media do not have a religion beat, per se, and thus lack reporters with expertise. But the media often fail their publics with poor reporting and by mislabeling violent events in a way that protects the perpetrators. The media consistently label communal violence as spontaneous “riots” even when the evidence implies they were premeditated.
Arora’s presentation laid out many causes for concern, but he insists that the remedy is not to remove religion from public life. He claims that the remedy is simply to ensure that religion’s virtues come out in public life.
“After all,” Arora noted, “Mahatma Gandhi, known as the Father of the Nation, led India to win independence from the British rule through a struggle that was founded on religious beliefs.”