What Went Down In India As Modi Talked Up Freedom Of Speech And Religion In America

09/06/2016 9:12 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L) in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol June 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. Modi met with President Barack Obama for bilateral meetings on Tuesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his speechwriters should be congratulated for a job well done, but the condition of civil liberties in India isn't quite as rosy as Modi made it out to be in his address to the U.S. House of Congress on Wednesday. From racist attacks against black people to religious tensions over cow meat in Bisada village, about 60 kms from the Capital, there is much to be troubled about at home.

While Modi was telling U.S. lawmakers that "India lives as one, India grows as one; India celebrates as one," Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi was openly calling for India to get rid of its Muslims.

While Modi speaks of his government's dedication to free speech, the Central Board of Film Certification has been chipping away at Udta Punjab, a movie about the raging drug problem in Punjab. The censor board's move is seen as political in nature, as it has ramifications in poll-bound Punjab, where the ruling coalition in which the BJP is a junior partner, is on the back-foot.

Despite his immense popularity among world leaders and Indians living abroad, and his great personal rapport with U.S. President Barack Obama, Modi knows that the international community is watching the steady trickle of reports about intolerance in India, where Muslims are beaten on the suspicion of carrying beef, and a lawmaker calls for an end to Islam.

This must have played on Modi's mind -- among the first things he did in his 45-minute speech was to reassure the Americans that every citizen of India enjoys the freedom to speak her mind and practice their religion without fear. Declaring the Constitution to be the "real holy book" for his government, Modi said, "And, in that holy book, freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights."

Irrespective of what he says on his trips overseas, Modi has failed to rein in leaders in the Bharatiya Janata Party and associated Hindutva organisations of the Sangh Parivar from asserting their Hindutva agenda and making minorities feel unsafe in their own country.

From mounting campaigns such as Love Jihad and Gharwapsi to bullying Muslims over beef, the Hindutva brigade has had a busy two years under the Modi government. But what makes Modi's exhortations of civil liberties in the U.S. House of Congress seem insincere is that hate-mongering now seems like the norm rather than the exception.

READ: I'm Proud Of What I Said, Says BJP Lawmaker Who Called For The End Of Islam

Forget the past two years, let's just look at the events over the past two weeks.

Yogi Adityanath, a lawmaker from the BJP, has called for the arrest of Mohammad Ahklaq's family members because they allegedly ate cow meat. Akhlaq, a Muslim ironsmith from Bisada village in Uttar Pradesh, was lynched by a mob alleging he had slaughtered a cow on the night of September 28, last year.

Religious tensions are once again escalating in Bisada village, where Hindus and Muslims once lived together in harmony. Hindu villagers, mostly relatives of those accused in Akhlaq's murder, have called for the arrest of his family. Sanjeev Balyan, a minister in the Modi government, has ratcheted up the tensions saying an investigation must be done into who else ate the cow.

It is fairly evident now that communal tensions are being allowed to fester in Bisada village so that the BJP and the Samajwadi Party can reap the benefits of polarization in the Uttar Pradesh elections, next year.

The situation in Bisada village doesn't correspond to Modi's claim that "equal respect for all faiths" are anchored in India's streets, institutions, villages and cities.

Early in his speech, Modi quoted Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, who pioneered the abolition of slavery. Quoting from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Modi said that the United States was "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

It is fairly hypocritical of Modi to quote Lincoln in the U.S. House of Congress, while he stays mum at home about the rising aggression against persons from nations in Africa, and all his government can say is that the spate of recent attacks are not racist in nature.

READ: Sushma Swaraj, You're Embarrassing India By Denying Racism

Just a day before Modi made his speech in the U.S. House of Congress, BJP and Congress Party leaders had expressed their displeasure at the presence of Nigerians in the state of Goa.

While Ravi Naik, former Chief Minister of Goa and Congress Party leader, said that he wanted "negroes" out of Goa, Kiran Kandolkar, a BJP lawmaker, said that Nigerians were not welcome.

"Goans do not want Nigerians, because they riot, have a rough attitude and bad behaviour," he said.

In another part of the country, two Muslims were arrested for allegedly sharing offensively photoshopped pictures of the Hindu goddess Kali on Facebook, following a complaint by religious fringe organizations in Bhopal.

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