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India’s Identity Crisis

The Indian Constitution states that there is no official religion and therefore is a secular country and government.  It has been this way since 1947, when India gained its independence, with Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jainists, Sikhs, and Jews living somewhat peacefully.  However, after the election of the Indian Prime Minister in 2014, the country has experienced a period of upheaval, which has left people wondering what constitutes an Indian citizen.

In 2014, Narendra Modi was elected as the Indian Prime Minister.  He is a member of the BJP, or Bharatiya Janata Party.  Some of the party members believe that only Hindus are actual Indian citizens.  They oppose Muslims, not only because they are not Hindu, but because they are as seen as a threat to India due to terrorist attacks.  Many Indians, who are now known as “Hindu nationalists,” share that same belief, which has caused riots and the abuse of Muslims across the country.

There have been reports of Hindu nationalists attacking Muslims.  Some of these attacks have been violent, and have lead to deaths.  On September 8, a group of Hindu-practicing men stormed a mosque and attacked the Muslims praying there, killing 15.  It is often not reported for fear of retaliation since many of the police are Hindu nationalists themselves, and support the attacks.  A man named U.R. Ananthamurthy, a long time political commentator and Indian novelist, wrote a book prior to the 2014 election called, “Hindutva or Hind Swaraj.”  In it he addressed the issues that India faces.  He accused candidate, Narendra Modi, of provoking anti-constitutional movements, and warned the people of India that electing him was dangerous.   The backlash from the publication of the novel was so great that he received death threats, and had to be protected by security until he passed away after the election of Modi.  Ananthamurthy was well-respected in his field, until he published his final book.  Although he was only trying to to protect his fellow citizens, many of them agreed with Modi’s policies.  The people who once looked up to him have rejoiced at his death.  Following his death, there were more outbreaks of anti-Muslim sentiment.

Hindu nationalist movements are deeply rooted, going all the way back to British governance.  India was divided by Britain into Muslims and Hindus in July of 1945 in hopes of derailing the revolutionary movements that might get rid of their rule.  After British rule, the split between the Hindus and Muslims was more pronounced.  The recent election of the Indian Prime Minister has caused these tensions to resurface.

The results of Modi’s election has caused officials to question whether or not nationalist parties should be banned from running in elections again.  In the article, it states, “Chief Justice TS Thakur said, ‘the essence, the ethos of our constitutional system is secularism… religion and politics don’t mix.’”  It goes on to explain how Hindu nationalism has been apparent in India for nearly two decades now, but recent events such as terrorist attacks have caused the nationalist movement to become even more violent, and prevalent, than before.

India has prided itself as a secular country for most of its history, but new challenges and old tensions have started to create animosity between the Muslims and Hindus.  The change of power has brought a Hindu nationalist movement, which is threatening the constitution of India.  It has sparked the question, “What makes you an Indian citizen?”  For some, the answer to that seems to be Hinduism, and this is causing massive protests against Muslims.  Some citizens hope that the tension will die down, but for now, it does not seem to have an end, which is causing more and more violence in India.