Religion is like a pair of shoes; a size four might suit one just fine, but coercing a size eight into a size four would be fundamentally wrong, wouldn’t it? Freedom to one might just be suppression to another. India is a diverse country, secular too, as per the Preamble, but some of the most abhorrent acts to rejuvenate the archaic concept of religious majoritarianism are carried forward under the garb of religious freedom and exoneration. From a matter of personal preference, religion has morphed into a societal and political element, and this is where the genesis of majoritarianism expounds itself as the antithesis of a democracy.
Political entities use the trump card of religion to mislead their blind devotees by exploiting their sentiments and monopolising upon their weaknesses. True religion is meant to keep fallen humanity in check and not to serve as the root cause of conflict and disintegration. Nationalism and majoritarianism cannot exist in synergy because they’re both antagonistic to each other; one celebrates the nation as a single entity while the other celebrates the will of the majority religious group as the primary one while alienating the ones whose numbers are more rationed and hence, they are not supposed to belong.
Religious majoritarianism is counterproductive to nationalism and true democracy will only prevail when the rights and well-being of all people can be safeguarded and not curbed by the dominance of any religious sect because our Devbhoomi might give us something to worship but our Janambhoomi gives us something tangible to fight for and be proud of.
Keywords: religion, freedom, majoritarianism, morphed, monopolising, nationalism, counterproductive, democracy.
It is said that we draw our present from our past, be it glorious or inglorious. Innumerable conflicts throughout history have been ostensibly fought for religious majoritarianism, be it the Crusades to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim invaders, the French wars between the Catholics and Protestants, the Taiping Rebellion, and the all-pervading plague of jihad which continues to haunt us till today. Jihad means struggle, but this vague concept has been used to explicate warfare in the name of expanding and defending Islamic territory. The autocratic rule of Bashar-al-Assad in Syria which killed thousands, solely because he politicised religion to a point where having a non-religious opinion was considered to be synonymous to dining with Satan.
Religion has been the impetus behind severe unrest in many parts around the world and continues to do so because people give it that power despite claiming to be free-thinking individuals. It’s not about religious freedom anymore; it’s not about practising one’s preferred form of worship without being gunned down in the alley; it’s more about “Believe in my God or I will kill your God and you.” The irony of it all lies in the mere fact that communalism in and of itself is an atheistic ideology because mass genocide and compelling people to resort to mass suicide in that name of religious freedom, cannot be the will of any God.
Talking specifically about India, being a land of a divergent array of religious beliefs, people leave no stone unturned to display their fidelity towards religion and their adherence and dependence upon it is often unhealthy. Sigmund Freud was right; religion is comparable to childhood neurosis; some people just won’t be told. The interchangeability of religious majoritarianism and nationalism began with the freedom struggle when the use of Hindu symbols was perpetuated by the Moderates who were spearheading the freedom movement. With the partition of Bengal in 1905 and the pseudo-secular concept of nationalism that pervaded the air, Muslims were alienated from the freedom movement.
Gandhi’s redressal during the 1919 Khilafat Movement served as a ray of hope for national unification, and religious majoritarianism was overpowered by patriotism and nationalism, but the threat of subjugation and alienation ran deep in the recesses of the Islamic community which eventually led to the partition and the creation of Pakistan. Ideals like political assertion and political liberty became puppets of the religious majority, and Hindu revivalism in India superseded nationalism and paved the way for communalism.
The 1800s were the glory days for the Islamic folk when Mughal rule established the cultural stalemate because, despite the fact that a sense of equity prevailed at having Persian and Sanskrit as the languages of education, the administrative language was still Persian. The British rule brought with it a change to English as the official language, and with that, the subordination and alienation of the Muslim civilization continued. Even after independence, people worked under the flawed belief that the Grund-norm for what we refer to as India’s composite culture is inarguably Hindu.
The Constitution of India recognises the right to freedom of religion, but how can that be enforced, how can people exercise the freedom that they are entitled to enjoy when there are people screaming, “Mandir vahin banayenge”? The conflict in Ayodhya has been one of the most talked about religious upheavals since its occurrence, but our mentality has not evolved. And let’s all face it, Afzal Guru wasn’t declared an anti-national for actually being anti-national but more so for being Muslim. It may sound harsh, but under the aegis of the BJP government, Hindutva is the only way of life and those who believe otherwise, are mere peasants and are treated as outlaws. Were the Godhra riots justified? Did anyone ever demand an explanation? Did anyone criticise religion for claiming so many lives? If anything, it only strengthened the distinction between Hindus and Muslims that has already been at daggers drawn for a very long time.
Hinduism is one of those religions that have the maximum number of converts every year in India, be it to Christianity or to Islam. Missionaries, who try to gather more support in aid of their preached religion, apply themselves to the task of gathering followers. When minority suppression becomes an unavoidable problem, the victims inevitably resort to a domestic freedom struggle wherein the exoneration and domination of their ethnicity, becomes their primary prerogative.
The Westphalian concept of majority versus minority is the reason for India facing problems of intolerance, mob lynching and communal riots. Internal conflicts and the obsolete and disintegrative ideology of Hindutva, threatens the pluralistic and secular groundwork of India. Nation and nationalism are concepts based on the geographic sovereignty of a country, so why is that being confined to the straitjackets of religion and ethnicity?
We tend to blame the government for enacting laws that interfere with the existing religious and cultural constructs, and then monopolise upon that to criticise the plague of religious majoritarianism, but what we conveniently remain oblivious to is the fact that the prevalent religious hostility is what allows the government to increase regulations and enact laws as blasphemous as anti-conversion laws in India which allows for more intense suppression of the minority Christian communities by Hindu nationalists. Nationalists. A term that was once used to applaud a person who fought for his country, now has a religious prefix to it. The fatal overlap between notions of religious fundamentalism, majoritarianism and nationalism, has led to an increase in the number of atrocities committed against the minority communities.
For instance, Christians are frequently lynched by mobs in Hindu-majority India, while we have Gau-rakshaks displaying their vigilante skills and attacking Muslims for eating beef. It would be important to highlight here that Hindus worship cows which, historically, were merely units for economic transactions among people and not sacred creatures. Buddhists, Hindus and atheists have been brutally attacked in Bangladesh by Islamic allegiants, and of course, the Hindus, Christians and minority Muslim sects such as Ahmadis and Shias continue to face hostility in Pakistan.
Is religious freedom really freedom if all we can think of doing with it is extract our hatred towards other people and other religions with different prerogatives from the ones that we believe in? It is a blatant mockery of human rights and national sentiment when we try to hide discrimination under the garb of religious freedom, and that’s where tolerance turns into radical upheaval and intolerance. 
The autocratic rulers of India who attempt to establish democratic legitimacy by fraudulent means such as religious majoritarianism, fail to realise that a developing nation like India needs uniformity and not conflict; integration and not classification; cohesion and coexistence, not fusion and domination; synergy and not annihilation; rehabilitation and unification, not segmentation. Any aberration in the framework of social heterogeneity becomes a conflict of interest and prevents a systematic congruence of ethnicities which in turn prevents the varieties and similarities of various religions from functioning harmoniously in a secular environment. 
Our goal should be to morph into the pure democratic system of governance that existed in ancient Greece, wherein the people were the government and the concept of right in rem and right in personam existed in perfect synergy, and nobody was above the law. A true democracy does not face the problem of majoritarianism since all the citizens play an immediate and direct role in the state’s policy-making and governance.
The problem of religious majoritarianism is so deeply rooted in the Indian polity that it is appalling to see just how deep the hooks of prejudice have gone and embedded themselves in our psyche in such a toxic way that we have managed to create a culture where radical religious adherence is able to operate with immunity and facilitate evils like mob lynching, communalism and violence. Another problem is the voting system in India. The concept of electoral voting allows for expression of the only majority will because apparently it is inefficient to give a platform to the needs of all citizens, and low levels of education, corruption, poverty and weak justice delivery systems only ameliorate an already detrimental situation.
A majoritarian rule is basically four lions and a sheep arguing over what they should eat for lunch. Modi Ji is enjoying his tenure, ruling through ordinances and trying to convince the Parliament and the country that majority is more important than consensus. The extremely hardline approach of the BJP government curbs reasoned deliberation and dissent and paves the way for an unabated rise of religious majoritarianism in a country that has been plagued by majority-minority tussles based on fettered religious nationalism from time immemorial.
It is my belief that the root cause for this undaunted and stoic acquiescence is the lack of susceptibility to change, intolerance and democratic illegitimacy. Injustice goes unreported, there is a dearth of fair prosecutions and convictions, and that eventually brings me to the infamous tagline, “Our government has been wagered and sold.” It has been sold to a group of autocratic, hegemonic, unethical ‘leaders’ who believe that being at the top of the electoral billboards makes them right, but what they don’t realize is the stark truth that neither does broad, fanatic and unchartered support automatically qualify a leader, nor does a biased opposition disqualify him. 
Signs of revival were seen for the first time in a long time, after the unfortunate and disastrous Kerala floods. In a time of dire need, humanity came through and it didn’t matter anymore as to which race or ethnicity the victims belong to. All those in any position to provide assistance to the people who were afflicted by the floods contributed in every way that they could and provided a ray of hope in the direction of unification and true nationalism- all for one and one for all.
Individuals from all religions respond to one another during times of crisis and attempt to aid one another in abetting the tragic aftermaths of calamities that arrive unwarranted. Nature and her fatalities pose a ubiquitous threat to communities and people around the world. Damage control and disaster management are ingrained in all human beings and they perceive, interpret and respond to dangers in a synonymous way, irrespective of where they’re from or what their beliefs might be because the higher truth is that one can believe only if one continues to live. 
When nature behaves harshly, all people unite to find a common anodyne that can alleviate them all from their suffering. This is just an example of a scenario wherein religious differences take a back seat because there is a greater cause and a greater need to cater to. It is my belief that religion is a self-created problem when people aren’t looking for a solution, and that is where they find solace in their ethnic comfort zone while criticising those who don’t fall in their preferred category of religion.
The queer part is, some of us are so dependent upon religion to help us distinguish between right and wrong, that slaughtering a cow is wrong, and Muslims steer clear of anything pink or black that can oink, because an elusive entity said so, and not because it’s a living, breathing creature has as much of a right to complete its life cycle as any of us do. Where’s the logic in that? I don’t mean to offend anybody, that was a principle- based innuendo, and not a cow or a pig joke. Please don’t nuke my house. There are certain kinds of people who should be incarcerated just on general principle, because their very existence offends the whole concept of humanity because these are the people who stand behind stone walls wearing saffron outfits and chanting holy verses, while sending other people off to kill themselves and myriad others, solely in the name of religious freedom. Because in India, if you wear orange and can recite in tongues, you’re a good man. You might be reciting the twelve times table in Sanskrit, but nobody cares.
Religious majoritarianism is an issue that needs to be managed by synchronising the relationship between the majority and the minority; by allowing the suppressed and aggrieved to find redress; by deliberating and acting in national interests and recognizing the fact that minority communities are as many citizens of a polity as are majority communities. Social and political evils like being vindictive towards minority communities, introducing religious politics, tampering with the independence of the judicial system, shrouding media critics with bribes and bullets and by demonising minority people as anti-national criminals, lead to dissemination of the basic premise of nationalism.
It is high time that India attempted to protect itself from the ravages of religious majoritarianism. We need to find nationalism and patriotism once again, otherwise, Kashmir won’t be the only entity to be remembered as the one that succumbed to communalism and saw one of the bloodiest conflicts in India’s history.
Like natural disasters tend to bring people together, we need something of a political disaster that rattles our core and makes us realize that in 1975, it was a rash and impudent majority rule that allowed Indira Gandhi to shake the foundations of Indian democracy to its very core. There is a need to eliminate the tyranny imposed by religious majorities and to counter the problem of mischief of majorities which ends the perfidious sacrifices of minority groups.
The sphere and outreach of elections need to be broadened while doing away with the NOTA system because there is no point in having a say that won’t be heard. We do not want the constitutional machinery to be decimated; we need the obsolete to be replaced by something nascent and more efficient. Widening the sphere of electorates and electoral candidates inculcates a certain complexity in the system and interests get further subdivided from religious to regional, cultural, economic, social etc and this would not only deter majority rule but allow all citizens to find an expression of their interests, one way or another because there will be a plethora of interests but no simple majority or domination. Such a division of rights and power will allow nationalism to exist in tandem with true democracy and federalism, and everyone will have a forum to initiate an outcry against their violation of rights and interests.
As a staunch atheist, it is my belief that we ought to eliminate the inherent need for religion, and just let it be a matter and entity of choice; an acquired taste, in a manner of speaking. Religion and ideology have morphed into the most convenient means for us to expound the mala fide intentions of our hearts. Religious freedom not only implicates the right of an individual to practice a belief of his choice but it should also secure the right to not have any other religion imposed upon him and he should be secure in his own shoes. Comfortable and secure. Killing and coveting in the name of religion won’t help anyone; we need to rid our minds of unrealistic and impractical notions of religion first and allow the realization to sink in that religion is not a way of life; it is merely an aspect of it, should we choose to believe.
Right to life, personal liberty, freedom of expression, these are the stalwarts of real life and the pillars of genuine democracy and liberation. Nationalism is a fluid emotion that belongs to all of us and binds us together, so I believe that it is time for us to enter into a new era wherein we fight to defend each other and coexist in perfect harmony, respect each other and our diverse beliefs without snubbing them, and rise above fallacies like religious majoritarianism to create a unified nation.
By – Satwik Jha
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