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The lives of minority groups

The heart-wrenching scenes of violence by Hindu-right wing goons in Gurgaon against a Muslim family have appalled millions of humanists in the largest democracy and beyond.

In a video that went viral, the religious zealots can be seen thrashing the family for merely constructing a beautiful house and playing cricket. The family members were asked to leave their home and migrate to Pakistan. The video raises several questions about the plight of minorities in the second most populous country of the world.

It is not the first time that such inhuman treatment has been meted out to Muslims in the country of Nehru and Gandhi. In recent months, retrogressive elements armed with their ideology of hate, stormed several houses of Muslims, beating up the families and asking them to leave India. Kashmiri youth and traders were also attacked in several parts of India in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack that New Delhi blamed on the Jasih-e-Mohammad. The Pulwama attack is just an excuse to target minorities. In fact, India has a long history of persecuting Muslims. In the past too, Muslims were attacked in the aftermath of Babri Masjid’s demolition. They faced furious mobs of goons following the bomb blasts in Mumbai the in early 1990s besides witnessing a pogrom in Gujarat in 2002.

It is not only Muslims that have been targeted by furious mobs of Hindu extremist groups but other minorities too have faced a myriad of attacks in the last seven decades. Ironically, these heinous crimes were not just committed by Hindu extremist groups; activists of the secular Congress also soaked their hands in the blood of innocent people. Who can forget the merciless killings of more than 3000 Sikhs after the assassination of Indira Gandhi? Who can overlook the sheer force of the state that the iron lady used against Sikhs during Operation Blue Star? How can conscientious people forget the sacrilege of the Golden Temple, the decimation of over 400 people and the subsequent witch-hunt of Sikhs all over India during Operation Woodrose that followed Blue Star? Sikhs were turned into a scapegoat for all ills facing the country, with thousands of members from this minority community facing illegal incarceration, forced disappearances and ruthless torture at the hands of Indian state agencies. Sikh militants also targeted Hindu minorities in their areas.

Christians and other minority groups were not spared either. Hindu extremists launched a vigorous campaign to stop the conversion of lower class Hindus and for that purpose they especially targeted Christian missionaries. In 1999, an Australian Christian priest Graham Stuart Staines was burnt to death along with his two little sons – aged 10 and 6 – by extremist vigilantes. Graham had been serving leprosy patients in the Indian state of Odisha since 1965. Last year, a crowd of 300 radicals burnt a Pentecostal church and several Christian shops in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir – while last month a Christian man was beheaded apparently for converting to Christianity from Hinduism in Odisha. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India, which gathers data about different crimes in the country, the rate of crimes against Dalits (another minority group) has risen in the last few years while the conviction rate for such crimes has declined substantially. In 2016, an estimated 214 incidents of crimes against scheduled castes were reported per million (of schedule caste population), up from 207 in the previous year. As many as 40,801 atrocities were reported against the Dalits in 2016, up from 38,670 in 2015. The plight of minorities in the largest democracy has prompted many critics to describe India as a country ruled by believers of majoritarianism.

It seems that India is not an exception. The plight of minority communities – be they ethnic, national, racial, tribal or religious – is visible everywhere in the world. The attacks by Far Right groups on Muslims in parts of Europe, the surge in anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine and several countries of the capitalist world, the denigration of blacks and Latinos in America, the bombing of Christian areas in Egypt, Nigeria and other parts of the world, the genocide of the Yazidis, the Shias and Alawites under Isis rule in Iraq and Syria, the persecution of the Azaris, Bahais, Arabs and Baloch in Iran, the suppression of Shia rights in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the incarceration of over one million Uighurs in China, the denial of rights to the people of Dagestan and Chechnya by Russian authorities and the marginalisation of the Kurds in Turkey fly in the face of tall claims of being civilised and rational.

The condition of minorities in our own country is not rosy either. We do not have enough time to ponder over the factors that led to the reduction of minority communities’ presence in Pakistan – from a whopping 25 percent (at the time of the country’s creation) to a meagre five or less than five percent at present. The ethnic and religious minorities in our own land have not been treated well. While ethnic minorities faced state repression at various times in our history, religious and sectarian minorities remained not only a victim of discriminatory laws but a target of religious, sectarian and nationalist extremists as well.

The Hazaras and the Zikris were targeted by sectarian outfits, the Punjabis and other ethnic minorities living in Balochistan for decades were victimised by Baloch insurgent groups, the Pakhtun working class fell prey to various bands of nationalists in parts of Sindh, the Christians were decimated in attacks of the Taliban and other radical groups while the persecution of the Ahmedis is common.

The recent forced conversion of Hindu girls in Sindh speaks volumes of our commitment to protect minorities. This is not the first incident whereby girls of this minority group have been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. Such incidents are a blot on our national conscience. We have the right to lecture others on human and minority rights but that should not stop us from putting our own house in order.

So, what is the way forward? Perhaps the people of New Zealand have demonstrated what it takes to fight attacks on minority communities. Can we expect to replicate that? Can we summon enough courage to make a human chain around the house of any family that is likely to lose a girl to forced conversion? Are we ready to surround houses of Christians, Ahmadis and other minority groups in our neighbhourhoods to protect them from the kind of mobs that were seen in Joseph Colony, Gojra and Gujranwala? Do we have the moral strength to reject political parties that exploit religious and sectarian differences to get votes? Can we account for our leaders who hobnob with sectarian outfits for political exigencies?

These are tough questions but we need to ponder over them if we really want to prevent our society from descending into chaos and if we really want to protect the social fabric of our dear homeland. Remember how majoritarian tendencies led to the decimation of six million people in Europe during the Second World War and four million in parts of Africa in the decade of the 1990s. If we really want to avert it, we, the citizens of this globe, will really need to start thinking.

Abdul Sattar, "The lives of minority groups," The news. 2019-03-26.
Keywords: Social sciences , Extremist groups , State agencies , Nationalist extremist , Minority groups , Political parties , Political exigencies , Social fabric , Hindu girls