A surge in religious tensions in the country has sparked international debate over whether Modi’s India is as secular as the world likes to believe.
The issue came to light late September after a 51-year-old Indian Muslim, Mohammad Akhlaq, was lynched to death after being accused of storing and eating beef, which is banned because cows are considered sacred by Indian Hindus, who make up about 80% of the population
A forensic test revealed that the meat found in Akhlaq's fridge was actually mutton.
It was a barbaric act – there’s no doubt about that. But similar crimes against minorities in India are not uncommon.
Violent rifts between Hindus and Muslims, especially, have continued unabated ever since the Partition of Indian subcontinent in 1947.
However, the problem is that such clashes have been occurring unabatedly ever since Modi assumed office, thereby threatening India’s status as a secular, democratic state.
Months before Akhlaq’s lynching, dozens of students from Indian-administered Kashmir were expelled from a university in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh last year for cheering Pakistan's victory over India in a cricket match. The students were also threatened with sedition charges.
After much outrage and protests over what was clearly a baseless punishment, the suspension was revoked.
In December, reports of forced conversions of both Muslims and Christians by extremist Hindu groups began to surface with opposition ministers accusing Modi of doing next to nothing to stop his hard-line supporters.
“Violence is fuelled primarily by non-state actors who are guided by the Hindutva ideology, which sees India as a Hindu nation, where religious minorities are second-class citizens,” said Tehmina Arora of Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious freedom advocacy group, while testifying before the Congressional committee.
Under its election manifesto to increase “protection and promotion of cow and its progeny,” the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), pushed for bans on cattle slaughter in India in March. The BJP claimed it was a political move but Muslims took it as a religiously motivated measure against their community.
In the wake of rising violence perpetrated by right-wing Hindu groups and the government’s inaction, dozens of authors in India are returning awards given to them by one of the country's top literary bodies in protest.
But despite similar protests and widespread criticism, secularism remains under attack.
On Oct. 17, two 19-year-old Muslim teenagers, Asif Sheikh and Danish Sheikh, alleged that they were assaulted by police officers who told them to “go back to Pakistan.” In a separate incident, yet another mob killed a Muslim man for purportedly smuggling cattle for cow slaughter in Himachal Pradesh.
Judging by the Modi administration’s criminal silence over these crimes, it looks like India’s much-touted secularism is nothing but a farce.