Defending India’s highest ideals, trying to prevent tragedy

By Savi Hensman
December 21, 2019

On 18 December, I joined hundreds outside the Indian High Commission in London, protesting against dangerous new laws and brutality against students resisting them. Across India, large numbers have taken to the streets in defence of people at risk and the Constitution , under attack by an extreme right-wing regime.

For Europeans, the horror of what the Indian state seeks to do is all the greater because of what many have witnessed in this continent in their lifetimes. Over the past eighty years, when religious or ethnic minorities have been herded into camps amidst spiralling hate, things have seldom ended well. Widespread solidarity is vital if the worst is to be prevented.

Defending the vulnerable and Constitutional values

The far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and prime minister Narendra Modi were returned to power in a 2019 election. These distort Hinduism in a quest for power – and in recent months, the undermining of human rights and democracy has become even more blatant.

Kashmir was seized and its people subjected to military rule and a social media shutdown which has left them desperately isolated. New citizenship laws openly discriminate against Muslims and create a scenario in which millions may end up detained in camps.

It would be bad enough if, on grounds of faith, refugees were refused asylum, contrary to international law. But many Indian citizens too will be affected. Poorer people, for whom it is harder to prove their status, cannot afford lawyers and do not have influential friends, are especially at risk from a National Register of Citizens combined with a Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Already in Assam, large detention camps with high walls and watchtowers are being built. This is just a taste of what is yet to come, unless the plans are defeated. Though Muslims are the immediate target, Christians, Dalits, smaller ethnic groups and dissidents have also been targeted by the government and there is a danger that sections of society will be picked off one by one.

Students at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi were savagely assaulted by police in retaliation for protests. Images of young women bravely protecting an injured male friend captured the imagination of viewers across India and internationally as resistance spread. Leaders in some states declared their unwillingness to go along with policies which violated basic principles.

At the protest outside the High Commission in central London, demonstrators (mainly young and Indian, though supported by others from different communities) carried signs with slogans such as ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters’, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ and quotations from the Indian Constitution. Some were anxiously waiting for news of friends at universities where police have been on the rampage, sometimes maiming youth who were demonstrating or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Several carried flags, representing core values of equality and rights for all. Though successive governments in India did not fully put these into practice, often falling far short, none have gone so far as current leaders in rejecting even the principles for which the Independence movement strove.

Here as in India, some drew parallels with fascism in Europe, which inspired the movement which Modi has been part of since childhood ). Protests have been held elsewhere in the UK too. In the face of far-right violence, it is easy to feel powerless. Yet people of all faiths and none internationally who care about India’s fate – and stability across South Asia – can help publicise what is happening there and put pressure on world leaders not to become accomplices.

Trade and the hope of political advantage may lead politicians to brush away concern for the poor and vulnerable. Yet those who believe in compassion and justice, following the example of those risking their lives in India, can help keep ideals and dreams of a better future alive.

*Read Savi Hensman's comment piece Surrendering to far-right fanaticism in India and UK here


© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (http://dltbooks.com/titles/2195-9780232532616-feast-or-famine)

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.