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  Opinion   Columnists  02 Oct 2023  Aakar Patel | If you have eyes…The many ways in which govt targets India’s minorities

Aakar Patel | If you have eyes…The many ways in which govt targets India’s minorities

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Oct 3, 2023, 12:08 am IST
Updated : Oct 3, 2023, 12:08 am IST

Not only is bigotry and prejudice and discrimination common in the “New India”, it is why Mr Jaishankar & his party are politically popular.

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. (William WEST / AFP)
 Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. (William WEST / AFP)

Four centuries ago, a British ambassador, Sir Henry Wotton, defined a diplomat as “an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”.

Our external affairs minister S. Jaishankar (the “S” stands for Subrahmanyam, the name of his father K. Subrahmanyam, who was instrumental in weaponising India’s nuclear programme and waging war against Pakistan), who is a good spokesman for the government. He was also a good spokesman for the previous government, under which he had served for many years. What he says, therefore, should not be considered as his personal view: he is sent to lie abroad for the good of our country.

Last week he was in Washington and New York, enlightening the world on the great things happening in India. At one of his meetings, he was asked by a reporter the standard question BJP leaders face when abroad: Why are you targeting other Indians, especially Muslims? Mr Jaishankar replied, as reported by the news agency ANI: “I defy you to show me discrimination.”

It is fairly obvious and does not need to be shown to those who have eyes and ears, but since the claim has been made, it must be engaged with.

There are three levels at which the BJP discriminates. The first is through exclusion. For the first time in our history, we have no Muslim Union minister, no Muslim government MP, no Muslim BJP MLA anywhere in India (the party has over 1,000 MLAs), and this exclusion does not surprise anyone. If in the United States, Joe Biden’s party did not have a single African American or Hispanic American senator, Congressman or state legislator, it would be a scandal. Here is has been made normal.

The second way in which the BJP targets minorities is through the law. Beef lynching as a category of violence was gifted to India after the Prime Minister went after what he called the “pink revolution”, and in 2015 two BJP-ruled states, first Maharashtra and the Haryana, legislated laws criminalising the possession of beef. The lynchings began shortly thereafter.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in 2019, was according to India’s home minister one part of a pincer. The other was the National Register of Citizens. Their purpose, he explained, was to filter out non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring states and then go after the Muslim ones. Muslims are the only Indians for whom divorce is a criminal offence. It is a civil wrong for all the rest. This happened through a change in the law in 2019. Starting in 2018, the BJP-ruled states began legislating laws criminalising inter-faith marriages, targeting what they called “love jihad”. The BJP in Parliament admitted that there is no such thing as “love jihad”, when asked a specific question, but the laws are needed nonetheless. Madhya Pradesh’s law passed in 2021 retains the power to undo a marriage, including one that has children. The laws have come to the BJP states of Uttarakhand (2018), Himachal Pradesh (2019), Uttar Pradesh (2020), Gujarat and MP (2021), Karnataka and Haryana (2022).

In 2019, Gujarat amended a law that forcibly ghettoises Muslims. It gives the district collector the authority to undo property sales and leases on the grounds of “improper clustering”. Meaning that Gujarati Muslims cannot rent or buy property in Gujarat’s neighbourhoods where even foreigners can. The amendment gave the government more authority to ensure this forced ghettoisation.

In Gujarat in 2017, the punishment for cow slaughter, which is an economic crime, is life imprisonment. No other economic crime in India, including bank fraud of thousands of crores, attracts life in jail. Why was the punishment increased? To harass Muslims, of course.

In Uttar Pradesh, it was reported recently, of the 139 people jailed under the National Security Act, 76 were people who were accused of cattle slaughter. We could go on with the laws, but let us move on to the third way in which Mr Jaishankar’s party discriminates against the minorities, and that is through his party’s actions.

The convicted rapists of a Muslim Gujarati woman were released in 2022 on the instructions of Mr Jaishankar’s government. The woman’s infant daughter had been murdered by these rapists. The men convicted of lynching a Muslim were garlanded by Mr Jaishankar’s fellow Union minister in 2018. The MPs of Mr Jaishankar’s party abuse Muslims inside Parliament. The list of things said by his colleagues is too long to be listed here, and perhaps someone else might compile them in another column. After having said what they did, they have been rewarded. A woman who called Muslims something unspeakable is a minister in the Union government’s rural development ministry, as is a man who said that India would be better off today if all Muslims were asked to leave. Mr Jaishankar sits next to them at Cabinet meetings.

Again, it does not surprise any one of us to look at these facts because we have been living with them since 2014. Not only is bigotry and prejudice and discrimination common in the “New India”, it is one of the reasons why Mr Jaishankar and his party are politically popular. The consequence of unleashing this is damage which is also visible all around us to those who have eyes and ears.

All nations have flaws and diplomats are expected to lie abroad. But Mr Jaishankar must be told this, it is to be for the good of their country.

Tags: bharatiya janata party (bjp), eam jaishankar, minorities