Mumbai: In November last year, the Patna-based research institute Centre for Policy Analysis released the “Global Minority Report” which put India at the top of the index. Countries like South Korea, Japan, and the US followed. This report, unveiled by then vice president of India M. Venkaiah Naidu, came at a time when there is a growing global concern over the communal fissures apparent in India.
The study, the author Durga Nand Jha notes, began in 2019 but data collection was delayed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, India witnessed many communal flare-ups – from the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests to the communalisation of the pandemic.
The report looks at these protests with rather pre-conceived biases. In chapter 4, dedicated entirely to India, the report calls the upheaval around the CAA, National Register of Citizen (NRC) as something that was “practically not a big concern for Muslims” in India. These protests erupted because there were concerns that the twin processes of CAA and NRC would disenfranchise Indian Muslims. The protests led to a clampdown on the community and a large number of rights activists from the community still continue to be incarcerated in different parts of India.
The report, however, says that “the CAA was India’s acknowledgement of its responsibility towards the religious minorities of the Indian subcontinent facing religious discrimination and persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan”.
The study, according to the author, focuses “on the patterns and major trends which have a long-standing impact over the minorities” in India. The report attributes some confounding “reasons” for placing India right at the top. In justifying his research, Jha says, the logic of equality has always been “captivating” for people who feel that they are being discriminated against.
“That is why a bulging section of the Indian population feels that the Indian brand of secularism is inherently discriminatory against the majority community,” Jha claims. What he doesn’t say is that inequality and violence are not just “feelings” but are the lived reality of many in the country.
Centre for Policy Analysis is a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-linked think tank. Jha claims to be a researcher but doesn’t make his political affiliation public. He was a member of the BJP’s National Minorities Coordination Committee in 2014. In 2018, Jha claimed that the Congress government’s decision to appoint a committee headed by Justice Rajendra Sachar in 2005 was a “blatant communal act”. The problem of underdevelopment in the Muslim community has more of a geographical connotation than a communal one, he observed in his report then, which was submitted to the government of India.
Though the report considers religious freedom as one of the “30 variables” to determine the condition of the minorities in each country, it does not mention the “anti-conversion laws” put in place by many BJP state governments. While the Indian constitution gives all individuals the right to profess, practice, and propagate religion freely – subject to considerations of public order, morality, and health, these laws restrict that freedom. Though ostensibly made to tackle the issue of “forced conversions”, experts have noted that they target interfaith couples. These laws also target members of Adivasi and Dalit communities who have consciously moved away from the Hindu religion.
Other “variables” that the report considered are the nature of the judiciary, the existence of blasphemy laws and the pattern of violence against religious minorities to intimidate them among others.
India’s minority policy, Jha claims, “focuses on the promotion of diversity”. It is a rather dishonest claim because a large part of minority and Bahujan communities in the country do not have the right to food of their choice. In the name of protecting cows, murder, flogging, and humiliation of Muslims and Dalits have become a common phenomenon across the country.
“Love jihad”, a conspiracy theory used to oppose inter-religious relationships, has slowly begun taking legal shape. In December last year, the Maharashtra government set up a committee “to track” interfaith couples, dovetailing its larger political objective of later introducing the anti-conversion law in the state. At least nine states – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Odisha – already have anti-conversion laws in place.
Jha adds that the emphasis of India’s minority policy is on the protection and promotion of diversity. He adds, “However, very often, it does not have the desired results as there are many reports of clashes on different issues between the majority and minority communities, particularly with the Muslim community. This calls for a review of India’s minority policy. India needs to rationalise its minority policy if it wants to avoid conflictual situations in the country.”