The fastest growing economy in the world, India, is arousing alarm among liberals at home. Fanatic Hindus, prescribing to the tenets of the fundamentalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have taken to the streets to punish those they believe are guilty of violating religious law. The most common victims, naturally, are “beef-eating” Muslims and untouchable Dalits. After failing to find the numerical strength required in parliament to remove the word “secular” from the constitution, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to use street power to implement religious law. Many states have already legislated life sentences for “cow-killers” while gao-rakshaks (cow guardians) kill and maim innocent citizens in the streets with impunity.
India has always had RSS, the go-back-to-religion organization. Prior to Partition, it even took on the most popular man of undivided India, Mahatama Gandhi. The pacifist, assassinated by a Hindu fanatic, had earned the respects of the subcontinent’s Muslims by backing the Khilafat Movement of 1919. Many even vowed to stop eating beef out of gratitude to him. His non-violence movement, however, was deemed insufficient by the era’s RSS, which conducted “military” exercises to mock him.
Today, the BJP government is rolling back the foundational construct of the Indian state by utilizing violent street power. The fallout has come in the shape of unprecedented atrocities in India-administered Kashmir and relentless shelling across the border with Pakistan.
The world is looking away because Pakistan, in addition to its badly performing economy, is doing the same sort of thing at home. Its conduct under the blasphemy law has put non-Muslims at great risk. The flawed law cannot be amended because of pressure from various religious sects that defend “official” violence. Another factor aiding India’s march to extremism is the spawning of terrorist organizations in the Islamic world with capacity to strike globally against imagined enemies. Compared to that threat, the decline of India into government-sanctioned violence must look harmless if not useful as a counterforce.