The Reformist

Religion and Dissent in India



Dec 25 2021

Lynchings are not new to India. Lynchings have been happening in India since time immemorial and for a wide assortment of reasons. Indian lynchings in that way have a rather inclusive character. People belonging to marginalized castes are lynched for falling in love with people belonging to dominant castes. Sometimes, lynchings happen for marrying someone belonging to another religion and sometimes for choosing to eat or carry beef and pork. In this regard, getting lynched for committing sacrilege in India shouldn't come as a shock. When the bar for lynching has been set so low across the country, lynching for committing sacrilege should seem par for the course.

However, there is more to being lynched for sacrilege than meets the eye. India is a deeply religious country. As per Pew, nearly 97% of Indians believe in God. Close to 80% state that they are absolutely certain that God exists. It is all but natural to assume that for a deeply religious country, following what is dictated by their religion in their day-to-day life is a sacred duty. Conversely, any person who does not lead a way of life in a manner seen as appropriate by fellow followers of their religion will be made an example of. It is here that religion in India acquires a central character in lynchings.

The root cause of most lynchings in India can be traced in some form to religion. Going against one's caste practices, eating beef or pork, marrying a boy from the Hindu faith are all acts which are viewed by followers of different religions as displays of disrespect to religion backed ways of living life. Instead of taking strict action against those that lynch, the response of the Indian state has largely been inaction. Eminent members of India's civil society have not earned themselves many accolades either. In any lynching mildly related to the Hindu religion, all hell breaks loose. Writers express a great deal of anger, awards are returned, events are canceled and the media's attention shifts towards the accused. However, when large rallies were held calling for the execution of Kamlesh Tiwari, a man who was lynched for making derogatory comments on Prophet Mohammed, India's civil society lions become Cheshire cats.

Lynching someone for refusing to live life by rules dictated by religion can only be stopped by the Iron hand of the Indian state. India, after all, is a country where 80% of the population believes that they are absolutely certain that God exists. An example from the Pew survey brings this reality to light. Over 74% of India's Muslims prefer having access to their own religion’s courts. Naturally, in deeply religious India, a desire for a bottom up groundswell to reform how religion is enforced is unlikely to happen. The only way change can happen is for the Indian Parliament to act and strongly look at passing legislation which protects those that violate religious conventions and persecution for those that harm people for doing so. This has been done before and we have survived. The acceptance of the Mandal commission recommendations despite student protests is one such example. The fear of losing one's life is a powerful deterrent. It can prevent well-meaning citizens from coming out and expressing how certain religious practices place a hurdle in the pursuit of personal freedom in 21st century India. The provision of social sanction to violence committed in the name of religion can only be overcome by top-down action.