Sixty-one years ago as the independent sovereign nation of India dawned on the global horizon, its leaders led by a visionary Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru boldly declared that the new nation will be a secular democracy. In these sixtyone years, despite frequent travails and tribulations in an ethnically and religiously diverse nation, where at least six major religions and thirteen major languages flourish, as IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neighours have faltered, India has continued to thrive as a modern, secular democracy.
After struggling to control religion based violence for years as India adopted a free market economy system to usher in the era of rapid industrialization and foreign investment, it got hit by waves of terrorism. In recent years and more so in the last few months, a string of serial terrorist bombings in several cities has put both the public and the ruling power structure on edge.
IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s law & order forces and police have not been succesful in stopping the frequent acts of random terrorism. At the same time many human rights activists have observed that instead of painstakingly investigating the instances of homeland terrorism and apprehending the culprits, the police offen resorts to brutal tactics. They find scapegoats from among the poor people and slum dwellers, a large number of whom are the religious minorities.
Simultaneous with terrorism the other five hundred pound gorilla in IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s living room that threatens its rapid progress as a world class nation is religion based violence. Thus Muslims and Christians – IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s major religious minorities – find themselves at the receiving end of this mayhem in many instances, and when seeking justice from law & order authorities they find limited recourse. In quite a few such instances police investigations are negligent, enquiries lack transparency and the findings of enquiries are not implemented, e.g. the widespread anti-Muslim mayhems in Gujarat in 2002 and in Mumbai in 1992.
The most recent such occurrence has been the large scale mayhem targeting poor Christians living in remote small towns in the states of Orissa, Karnatak and Gujarat by extremist religious groups like Bajrang Dal in the last couple of months. In Orissa alone 45 churches were attacked, 50 people were killed and 18,000 houses were destroyed in recent months by the rampaging followers of Bajrang Dal, the anti-minority sectarian group, as IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prepared to meet President Bush in Washington DC.
As IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rapidly growing economic and technological base transforms the nation into a world class powerhouse, of necessity, it needs to take strong action to subdue both of these five hundred pound gorillas, namely terrorism and religion based violence.
The nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rulers have to bite the bullet; take stringent actions to curb terrorism in public places; make the police accountable and transparent to the common citizens; ban and subdue extremist sectarian groups regardless if they belong to the majority or minority religious communities; bring to justice all who have indulged in sectarian violence regardless if they are powerful government officials or politicians.
Photo: Laxmi Street, Pune