Hinduism is perhaps one of the most oppressive systems of religious beliefs in the world. It is the only religion which divides its own followers into an impregnable structure of castes barring vertical social mobility. One’s status in the Hindu society is determined by the accident of birth in a particular caste. Those born in higher castes have a privileged position as compared with those born in the lower castes or strata of the Hindu society. Dalits or untouchables, as the name suggests, are at the lowest rung of the society, destined to lead a life of abject misery and deprivation. Hinduism does not allow a person to change his or her caste, thus, barring vertical social mobility. On top of that, it teaches the doctrines of karma and transmigration of soul under which members of lower castes are expected to be content with serving members of higher cates as penance for their sins in the previous life. Thus, Hinduism not only consigns members of lower castes to a life of continuous suffering, it also teaches them to accept their sufferings as the logical consequence of their misdeeds in their previous life. Consequently, it robs them of the ambition as well as the possibility of improving one’s social status in the present life through one’s conduct. For that, one must wait for the next stage in the cycle of life! By way of contrast, Islam teaches human equality and brotherhood. In an Islamic society, the social status of a person is determined by his or her character and conduct, and not by the accident of birth. Further, there is no bar to social mobility in an Islamic society.
In view of the retrogressive and oppressive features of Hinduism, it would not be surprising to see mistreatment of and discrimination against lower castes, especially Dalits, in a Hindu society. It would also be logical to assume that the mistreatment to which non-Hindus would be subjected in a Hindu society would be even worse. What living in a Hindu society, marked by the strict application of the teachings of Hinduism, implies for Muslims and other minorities can be gauged from the following quotation from the 1938 work of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalker, the second supreme leader of the hardline and militant Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), entitled We, or Our Nationhood Defined:
“The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture….In a word, they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu religion, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—-not even citizens’ rights.”
The landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, under the leadership of Narendra Modi in the general elections held in 2014 reflected a huge rightward shift in the Indian politics with dangerous implications for lower castes in the Hindu society and even more so for the minorities in India such as Muslims and Christians. Considering BJP’s close alliance with RSS and the deep commitment of both to Hindutva or the revival of Hindu nationalism and the interpretation of the Indian culture exclusively in terms of Hindu values as explained by Golwalker, it was logical to expect after the 2014 elections that there would be growing cases of religious extremism at the expense of minorities and lower castes in India. This is precisely what has been happening in India over the last four years. However, the stage for the tidal wave of religious extremism sweeping India currently was set by the destruction of Babri mosque in 1992 and the massacre of about 2000 Muslims by extremist Hindus in 2002 in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was its chief minister. The Sachar Committee Report, commissioned by the Indian government in 2005 and tabled in the Indian Parliament in November, 2006, highlighted the pathetic condition of the Muslims in Indian. In many cases, their conditions were even worse than those of Dalits because of discriminatory practices prevalent in the Hindu-dominated society in India.
Despite the safeguards provided in the India constitution for the protection of lower castes and the minorities, there have been increasing cases of Hindu extremism and bigotry against them more recently. It would be reasonable to assume that under the Narendra Modi-led BJP government conditions of minorities, especially Muslims, and Dalits are likely to get worse instead of getting better. According to a report carried by the weekly Economist of 27 January-2 February, 2018, daily headlines in India reveal such horrors such as Dalit Woman Raped and Murdered, Man Poisons Well Used by Dalits, Dalits Attacked for Slaughtering Cow, Dalit Youth Attacked for Watching Upper-Caste Ceremony, and Dalit Forced to Shave Moustache. The report further points out that protests by Dalits against repressive and discriminatory practices are suppressed with excessive use of force. Similar protests by members of higher castes typically end with politicians and officials acceding to their demands. Dalit parents regularly protest that schools have singled out their children to clean toilets. They also complain that state schools assign numbers to plates when handing out free lunches, lest a child whose family insists on ritual separation from Dalits be served on “polluted” crockery. One can imagine the extent of the suffering of members of lower castes considering that they constitute about 41 % of the Indian population.
The growing incidents of discriminatory practices against Dalits, other members of lower castes in India, and minorities reflect the oppressive character of the caste system embedded in the Hindu religion and culture. During the relatively moderate rule of the Congress party, these tendencies were kept in check to some extent. Now that an extremist Prime Minister fully committed to Hindutva is at the helm of affairs in India in the form of Narendra Modi, the latent oppressive tendencies of Hinduism have fully come into play, revealing the dark side of the so-called shining India. Now that the genie of Hindu extremism is out of the bottle, it would be well-nigh impossible for a future government, even of a relatively moderate character, to put it back.
The growth of Hindu extremism has serious implications for Pakistan-India relations. The extremist mindset of the present BJP government in India would not lend itself to policies of moderation and compromise in the management of Pakistan-India relations. Instead, India’s emphasis would be on a muscular and coercive style of diplomacy with the aim to browbeat Pakistan into acceptance of its unilateral demands on such issues as terrorism, New Delhi’s quest for hegemony in South Asia, Kashmir, Siachin, and Sir Creek. In all likelihood, Pakistan is likely to resist such demands on the part of India. Therefore, in the foreseeable future, certainly during the rule of the Narendra Modi-led government, the prospect is of continued tensions and strains in Pakistan-India relations. In the face of such an inflexible attitude on the part of India, Pakistan should keep the door of dialogue open so that India can walk through it whenever it is ready to do so. At the same time, Islamabad should firmly adhere to its principled positions on outstanding Pakistan-India disputes. A policy of appeasement of an India with hegemonic mindset would merely whet its appetite for more and more concessions from Pakistan. However, in the best interest of Pakistan, adherence to a principled policy should be combined with a low-risk and non-adventurist approach in the management of Pakistan-India relations.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.