Chauvinist winds over India

Recent debates, whether over refugees, the right to dissent, or gender violence, suggest that India is becoming a nation devoid of compassion for those who are persecuted even to the point of murder. Are we such a graceless polity? Have we always been this way?

Fodder Points for mains:

Quotes to be used in Mains Answer:

  • In the great ethical exploration of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asked Krishna what, if anything, could justify taking a human life. He dismissed every answer Krishna gave and entered battle reluctantly, against his own dharma.
  • Mahatma Gandhi qualified Arjuna’s words, saying we could take up arms if our own lives, or if the lives of others, were under attack.
  • Guru Gobind Singh said it was our duty to come to the defence of all those who were threatened through no fault of their own.

Stance on Rohingya:

  • The Supreme Court defending its decision to deport Rohingya refugees. Intelligence agencies say all Rohingya are a threat because some amongst them are terrorists and/or criminals.
  • The Home Ministry says they are illegal immigrants, and many opinion writers say we must put security above concern for refugees.
  • Government spokespersons say defensively that India has neither signed the 1951 Convention of the UNHCR (the United Nation’s Refugee Agency) nor its 1967 protocol, and so it is not bound to take refugees.
  • India is not a signatory to the UNHCR convention is a matter of shame, not a just defence. The UNHCR is one of the few stellar non-governmental institutions whose work is a credit to all of the UN.
  • The UNHCR’s efforts with Syrian and Rohingya refugees deserve support, especially since the organisation was critical to India’s support for refugees during the 1971 Bangladesh war, and helped ensure their safe return.
  • Despite India not signing the convention, the UNHCR has generally praised India as a host country. Indeed, as the present government at the Centre says, the country’s track record in the past has been good.
  • The people of Tripura opened their homes for refugees from East Pakistan in 1971, as did the people of Tamil Nadu for Sri Lankan refugees.
  • Tragically, the issue of Rohingya refugees gained salience in Jammu, which has a glorious tradition of hosting refugees that dates back to the 18th century.
  • And just by way of perspective, the number of Rohingya refugees in India is estimated to be 40,000 while the UN warns of an exodus of close to a million.

Worsening polity:

  • India’s position on Rohingya refugees is only one sign of the country’s worsening polity.
  • Seventy years ago, when introducing the draft Constitution of India, B.R. Ambedkar warned that democracy “is only a top-dressing on Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.”
  • Our elected representatives, he said, would have to work hard to give people the education, income, and opportunity that would enable them to display tolerance towards each other. 
  • The shift towards chauvinism is not unique to India’s polity.
  • Waves of similar and more extreme chauvinism swept the U.S. and Europe from the 1990s on — first in response to refugees from the Balkans war and then to 9/11, and post-9/11 to the rise of Islamist terrorism and refugees from the wars in West Asia.
  • India’s own neighbourhood has long been communal towards religious minorities, whether they are Hindus in Fiji, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka; or Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan.


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