THE images coming out of the Indian capital are truly chilling.

In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India, the country’s much-trumpeted claims of being a secular republic have been thoroughly exposed as the storm troopers of the Sangh Parivar have rampaged through New Delhi. At the time of writing nearly 30 deaths had been reported in the rioting that has been going on for the past few days, ostensibly between those who oppose the new Indian citizenship law — who are predominantly Muslim — and those who favour the divisive legislation — who are mostly Hindu.

There are reports of mosques being set afire, goons barging into Muslim homes, and police officers forcing injured protesters to chant pro-Hindutva slogans. It would be naive to ask where the administration is in all of this; it is clear that the state — the Hindutva state — is part and parcel of this ugly situation. The Delhi chief minister, who belongs to a party opposed to the ruling BJP, has asked for the army to be called in and curfew to be imposed to control the situation.

At the moment, the Indian state’s primary duty should be to control the violence and prevent it from spreading further. This, of course, is not the first time India has been rattled by spasms of communal bloodletting; the slaughter of thousands of Sikhs in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination; the violence following the razing of the Babri Masjid by Sangh Parivar zealots, and the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, when Narendra Modi was chief minister of that state, are grim reminders of India’s history of religious violence.

But this time things are different mainly because the dispensation that rules New Delhi has amidst its ranks some virulently anti-Muslim elements, while hate material can spread like wildfire through social media.

Therefore, the capital needs to take stringent steps to ensure religiously motivated violence does not spread, and specifically that India’s minorities are protected from bloodthirsty mobs. It is a tad ironic that the violence in the Indian capital was happening around the same time that US President Donald Trump was being feted at an official banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan. What is more ironic is that Mr Trump praised Mr Modi for his commitment to religious freedom.

If the BJP government’s brutal record in India-held Kashmir, its divisive legislation, and soft corner for Muslim-baiting Hindu zealots are anything to go by, this praise is wholly unearned and the global community must have the courage to call out the Indian state for its bigotry.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2020

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