INDIA has built a slick, PR-backed image of itself as a ‘shining’ country, a sort of giant amongst nations. But as chastening observations made by the UN secretary general during a visit to the country have illustrated, much remains to be done where the rights of minorities in the country are concerned.
António Guterres termed India a “partner of choice” of the UN. Yet other comments made by the global body’s chief were far less flattering. Mr Guterres called upon New Delhi to “protect … the rights of all individuals, including members of minority communities”, while urging his host country to nurture and strengthen diversity.
He also asked India to do more to advance gender equality and protect women’s rights, while calling upon the state to take “concrete actions” to protect the rights of journalists, activists, students and academics — who have all faced the wrath of the Hindutva state.
It is not too difficult to understand what motivated the UN chief’s observations. After all, ever since the BJP took power in 2014, India’s minorities, particularly its Muslims, as well as other citizens who disagree with the Sangh Parivar’s blinkered vision have had a rough ride. Indian Muslims have been lynched, and seen their homes bulldozed, while discriminatory laws have been passed to disenfranchise millions of them. Moreover, government officials and senior members of the ruling party have made incendiary comments about Muslims, as well as Islam’s sanctities.
India’s brutal tactics in held Kashmir have also been widely condemned. And while Pakistan, as well as independent watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, has called out New Delhi for these transgressions, the Indian PR machinery has brushed aside these concerns as partisan statements or meddling. Yet when the UN secretary general raises these concerns, Indian spin doctors will have a harder time brushing them under the carpet.
Mr Guterres praised Gandhi and Nehru during his Indian visit. The problem is that many in today’s India, piloted by the BJP, idolise Godse, Gandhi’s killer, as well as Savarkar, the rabid ideologue who fathered the concept of Hindutva, a toxic mix of Hindu extremism and European fascism, and who despised the Nehruvian vision for India. But the fact is that India is very sensitive about its ‘branding’, especially when powerful foreign entities chide it for its transgressions. That is why comments such as the ones made by the UN chief are important, perhaps to help change the Indian rulers’ behaviour.
Other powerful actors, such as the US and EU, also need to call out India’s bad behaviour, and not mollycoddle New Delhi in the hopes of using it to get even with China. Perhaps such criticism could eventually help loosen Hindutva’s grip over India and pave the way for a more moderate atmosphere in which minorities are treated like human beings, and friendship is pursued with neighbouring states.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2022