August 30, 2010

Religious disharmony in India, in spite of what you may have heard

dalai lama, violence in india, religious harmony, secular right, andrew suttafordIt must have been music to Indian ears to hear the Dalai Lama suggest earlier this month that China learn nonviolence and religious harmony from India. But it was just so much noise to others. India, after all, has been witness to some of the most extreme religious and inter-caste violence in the post-war period. We read this from Andrew Suttaford over at the Secular Right:

Is he talking about the Gujarat riots of 2002, where Hindus enraged over what turned out to be an accidental train fire killed an estimated 2,000 Muslims and drove another 100,000+ from their homes, with the connivance of the local government? Only 11 people have been punished for this so far – they must have been awfully industrious. That’s fewer than the 14 people handed life sentences for the slaughter of another thousand Muslims at Bhagalpur in 1989, but that process took 17 years to complete.

Is he talking about the mass violence directed against Christians in Orissa at Christmas in 2007? The burning alive of a nun inside a Catholic orphanage the following year? The burning to death of an Adventist pastor and his mother inside his home, during a spree that saw 17 Orissa churches and over 500 other homes destroyed?

By religious harmony, does he mean the laws popping up in Indian states banning conversion from one religion to another, specifically targeted at Christian efforts to proselytize among Hindus? In Orissa, it now requires a permit from the police to convert from one religion to another.

Suttaford goes on to mention attacks by Muslim extremists and inter-caste violence, something that continues in India to this day in spite of laws abolishing the caste system. In practice it survives.

We should keep in mind that the Secular Right is no fan of religion, arguing in its description of itself that  "conservative principles and policies need not be grounded in a specific set of supernatural claims." But it is in fact tough to argue that India is a model of religious harmony, since quite the reverse has been true.

In recent days, anti-Islamic rhetoric has dismayed plenty of us, but if you consider our post-war record, religious tolerance has been pretty much the rule. Let's hope it stays that way.

Image: AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

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