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Home / Opinion / Columns /  Our UN signal that Hinduphobia exists and will be called out too

In 2019, the Narendra Modi government broke the unspoken Code of Omerta that “secular" India will not speak or act on behalf of Hindu (or Buddhist, Jain or Sikh) minorities anywhere else. First, it extended the Indian Constitution fully to Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir by nullifying Article 370, which gave it the option of not following Indian laws; then it enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to fast-track citizenship to persecuted minorities in three Muslim-majority countries in the neighbourhood.

After abandoning this code at home last year, to howls of protests from “secularists" and “liberals" at home and abroad, last week an Indian envoy to the United Nations (UN) flagged this hypocrisy for the rest of the world to note. While violence and discrimination against Christianity and Islam are widely noted and condemned, the same is not acknowledged for India-born religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.

India’s first secretary in the permanent mission to the UN, Ashish Sharma, said: “This august body fails to acknowledge the rise of hatred and violence against Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism also. The shattering of the iconic Bamiyan Buddha by fundamentalists, the terrorist bombing of the Sikh gurudwara in Afghanistan where 25 Sikh worshippers were killed and the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples and minority cleansing of these religions by countries, calls for condemning such acts against these religions also. But the current member-states refuse to speak of these religions in the same breath as the first three ‘Abrahamic’ religions." The last reference was to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Actually, the primary issue relates to Hinduism, which some followers of Abrahamic religions seem to have difficulty in accepting as a valid faith. The historical development of the three Abrahamic faiths gave rise to an implicit assumption that a faith—any religion—must have a historical founder, one idea of God, one sacred text, and some foundational doctrines which define who is a member of a particular religion. Additionally, some seem to think that those who follow other gods and ideas must be converted. Among Indic religions, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism have some of these attributes (excluding the idea that people of other faiths are somehow following false gods), and this is observed to make for a degree of accommodation by Abrahamic cultures.

But Hinduism was not founded by anybody, there is no single holy text (we have several) revered by all, and no agreed set of fundamentals or dogmas that define Hindus as a unique collective. Some sects do have historical founders, like Sri Basavanna for Lingayats, or A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami for Iskcon’s Krishna Consciousness sect, Sri Ramanujacharya for Tamil Vaishavites, etc. By and large, most Hindus would be able to identify some gurus or temples or practices as their own, but not a set of wider fundamentals that would make them Hindu by definition.

Hindus often face a problem in getting countries with Abrahamic majorities to recognize atrocities against them: an estimated 95% of the world’s Hindus live in India, and there is only one other country ( Nepal) with a Hindu majority. Mauritius has a Hindu population that is just around the halfway mark. In contrast, there are 126 Christian- majority countries in the world, including 16 that have formally declared Christianity as a state religion. There are 49 Muslim-majority countries, and four Buddhist-majority countries (and five more with significant Buddhist numbers).

These numbers could explain an asymmetry in how the world may view Hinduism and any atrocity Hindus may occasionally commit against non-Hindus in India. If there are incidents involving a church, up to 126 countries may pitch in with condemnations; a beef-related lynching draws ire from both the Christian and Islamic worlds. But the exodus of Hindus from the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, amid a campaign of terror against them that saw a spate of killings, appears to be a mere event for the rest of the world. Even in India, the Omerta Code imposed by our secular-liberals calls on us to underplay this violence against Hindus, ostensibly because it may encourage Hindu majoritarianism. Till recently, we could not even speak about abductions of Hindu women in Pakistan and atrocities there against Hindus, or the slow demographic decline of Hindus in Bangladesh, from 21% in 1951 to around 8-9% now. A simple law to fast-track citizenship for persecuted Hindus (with other minorities included) has been denounced as anti-Muslim by liberals who conflate the CAA with a future National Register of Citizens (NRC). It is worth mentioning that even in Assam, where a court-monitored NRC has identified 1.9 million non-citizens, the vast majority are Hindus, not Muslims.

In Samuel Huntington’s famous 1993 essay on The Clash of Civilizations, where he postulates that future conflicts may revolve around civilizations rather than countries or states, the Hindu-Indic civilization gets barely a mention. India stands alone as a civilization and state all by itself. India is also a place where three major civilizations have coexisted with some degree of the live-and-let-live spirit, but the truncation of the Indian subcontinent into first two and then three states, two of them defined by religion and the remaining post-partition India by secularism, has worked against global recognition of crimes against Hindus, whether in India or outside.

Civilizational fault lines within India were in no small way the result of centuries of Islamic invasions from the north-west, and Christian proselytisation during and after British colonial rule, something that Hinduism has been unable to resist for many reasons, some internal to it (like the varna-jati system), and others external.

Sharma’s UN speech signals that India has opted out of the ‘secular’ consensus that atrocities against Hindus and followers of other Indic religions will not be spoken about. If one can call out Islamophobia or anti-Christian violence or anti-Semitism, one should be able to call out Hinduphobia too.

R. Jagannathan is editorial director, ‘Swarajya’ magazine

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