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World

Hindutva biggest threat to religious freedom in India since Gandhi’s assassination: Indian journalist

Washington, D.C.: Prominent Indian journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani has said that Hindu majoritarianism – also known as Hindutva, or Hindu supremacy – is “the greatest threat to secularism and religious freedom in India” since the assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

According to Kashmir Media Service, Arfa Khanum Sherwani, senior Editor at Indian publication The Wire, addressing the International Religious Freedom Summit (IRF Summit) 2024 organized by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) in Washington, said, “The ideology that is responsible for the assassination of Gandhi… is ruling India right now.”

Sherwani also rejected the idea that rising anti-Muslim violence in India should be labeled as merely “communal violence” or interfaith clashes. “It’s not communal violence. Let’s call it what it is. It is state persecution of Indian Muslims… Right now, it is the Indian Muslims who are [painted as] the clearest enemy,” she said. “I feel [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] might try to formalize the status of second class citizenship to Indian Muslims, and he might try to change the constitution in fundamental ways.”

Nadine Maenza, President of the IRF Secretariat and former Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), spoke on rising anti-minority violence in India. “We see Hindu nationalists in coordination with the controlling BJP government, targeting ‘the Other’, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other religious and ethnic minorities,” she said. “The hate speech and religiously discriminatory policies and laws have led to violent attacks, including sexual violence against minorities within communities.”

Sukhman Dhami, Co-Founder of Ensaaf, a nonprofit organization working to achieve justice for crimes against humanity in India said India has become a country where persecution based on faith is a consistent feature. “We’ve also seen an entrenched culture of impunity arise… Because of this culture, we see a continuing replication of persecution and gross human rights violations,” he said.

Dhami also commented on recent reports that the Indian government ordered assassinations of individuals living outside of India, including in the US and Canada. “India has been emboldened by the fact that it has been able to get away with atrocity crimes in India,” he said. “[It] has now taken those same practices… and has felt that it has a license to kill with impunity internationally.”

Siju Thomas, Director of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International India, spoke on rising hate crimes against Christians by Hindutva members, including cases of mob violence.

“Just last year we reported close to 700 incidents of violence and hostility against Christians [in India],” he said. “The year before that, we had close to 500 such incidents; and the year before that, again, close to 500… and these are very conservative estimates.”

Father Christu Rajan, Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore, said, “For the last almost ten years, we have continuously seen attacks on the Indian constitution… [some] say that we have already formed a new constitution, and if that comes to effect, there won’t be voting rights for Christians, Muslims or other minority communities. India remains a secular country, but that is now a jeopardy.”

Ajit Sahi, Advocacy Director at IAMC said, “Hindu majoritarian extremists… day in and day out are attacking churches, mosques, symbols of the minority religious community. They are beating up people and forcing them to chant Hindu religious slogans… But they are never acted against.”

Bina Nepram, Founder of the Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace said, right now, everything is weaponized. “Our identity is weaponized, our religion is weaponized, our homes are weaponized, our politics is weaponized. How can we build a society with guns? We have to do nation building, and it has to be done with a lot of love,” she added.

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