Teesta Setalvad

How democracy is being turned on its head in India

There were some notable differences between the swearing-in ceremonies of the Hindu-supremacist government of Narendra Modi in its first victory on May 26, 2014, and its re-election on May 30, 2019.

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India’s ruling Hindu right wing is using doublespeak

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that presently leads the coalition government in India and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are frequently accused of a politics laced with hypocrisy, deceit and doublespeak. Both frequently speak and act in ways that prove their critics right. This should not be surprising from a party that pretends to be the exact opposite of what it really is. It participates in India’s democratic process even while remaining rooted in an ideology and organization—the RSS—wedded to the authoritarian agenda of turning secular India into a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu State).

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The Historic Victory for Gay Rights in India Was Long Overdue - And Just the Beginning

On September 6, 2018, India gained a second freedom from colonial rule. Having gained political freedom from the British on August 15, 1947, the country adopted a Constitution guaranteeing certain basic rights and freedoms to all citizens, on paper. In reality a section of its citizens had remained un-free till now. The Victorian-era morality that the colonial masters imposed in the land of the Kama Sutra outlived the colonial regime, surviving as section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, which stipulated:

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More Than 4 Million People Who Should Be Considered Citizens Aren't Recognized by Xenophobic Government of India

Can a nation, 71 years after its formation, turn the very basis of citizenship on its head? If you look at the twin developments happening under aggressively hegemonic regimes, in both the U.S. and India, it appears it can. The scale of the tragedies unraveling as families are split, as talks of a barbed wire fence and wall gain hysterical ground and even higher courts in these lands rubber-stamp attitudes that fundamentally alter the basis of the creations of both nations, are huge.

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A Real-World Tactic for Fighting Islamophobia: Talk to a Muslim

Is Islamophobia as old as Islam itself? This may be a debatable proposition. But there is no doubt that modern-day extremism in Islam’s name and Islamophobia have been feeding on each other to a point that the latter today looks like a raging worldwide epidemic. Ordinary Muslims and their well-wishers are now challenged to think in novel ways of tackling the “othering” and demonizing of a global community of nearly two billion people. This is especially true as much in the U.S. under President Donald Trump as in present-day India, which has been under the hegemony of Hindu supremacists since 2014.

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Does India’s Far-Right Government Officially Approve of Lynching As a Political Tool?

Most Americans, one hopes, would today feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed by a dark chapter in their history. Perhaps even a white supremacist might today flinch at the mention of the word lynch. It’s what the White Man frequently did to the Black Man in “the land of the free” toward the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Dictionaries define lynching as a premeditated extrajudicial killing of a person(s) by a mob to punish an alleged aggressor(s) or to terrorize a targeted minority group. For maximum impact, the act had to be made a public spectacle so others could watch, hear or read about it. 

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Protests Break Out in India as the Hindu Right Lessens Protections Against Caste Violence

Not everyone did, but you could sense it coming, the lava building to a burst. The intensity of it when it did—on April 2—took most Indians by surprise. The immediate trigger for the outpouring was the March 20 verdict of the Supreme Court of India calling a halt on automatic arrests and registration of criminal cases under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, enacted to safeguard Dalits (Scheduled Castes) and tribals from the insults and injuries they are frequently subjected to by members of the “upper castes.”

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In India, Muslim Patriarchy Has Convinced Women to March Against Their Own Freedoms

The orthodox and the conservatives among Muslim clerics in India like it best when women are neither seen nor heard in public. Ironically, these very self-appointed custodians of Indian Islam have in the past few weeks issued marching orders to Muslim women, directing them to pour out of their homes and take to the streets. This the women have done, in city after city across the country of India: Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Malegaon, Nagpur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Kanpur, Hyderabad and a score of other cities and small towns. Many more road shows are planned for the days ahead.

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India's Right Wing Can't Bury the History of a National Hero's Religious Tolerance

On February 19,  the Maharashtra government in western India celebrated Shiv Jayanti, the anniversary of the birthday of the legendary 17th-century Maratha warrior “Chhatrapati Shivaji (Bhonsale) Maharaj,” with much fanfare. This year is special in a way, as in the next few months construction will begin on the long-awaited “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial” in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai. The first phase of the memorial is estimated to cost Rs 2,500 crore (around $400 million). Costs for the second phase will be worked out later.

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In India, the Preference for Male Babies Has Created a New Problem: Bride Trafficking

Hindu-majority India places its goddesses on very high pedestals. For knowledge you think of Saraswati; for wealth you pray to Lakshmi; for power you bow before Kali. Knowledge, wealth, power…what more can a man dream of?

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Violent Clash Over Flag Ceremony Is Latest Flashpoint in Hindu-Muslim Conflicts

The communal violence that erupted in a town in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on Republic Day, January 26, again highlights the point that from the problematic perspective of the country’s Hindu supremacists, Indian Muslims can never be trusted to be, or to do good. Not even when they enthusiastically organize a program in their neighborhood to unfurl the national flag as a mark of respect for the tricolor, love for the country. Not even if the venue chosen for the occasion happens to be a spot named to honor the memory of a Muslim soldier, Abdul Hamid, whose act of extraordinary courage and sacrifice gave the Indian army a crucial edge during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. For this, Hamid was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military honor.

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Powerful Attack on India's System of Corruption Comes from Unlikely Power Center - Its Courts

It has alternately been called a mutiny, a call to conscience, an unconscionable act. When four of India’s Supreme Court judges (a total of 25 sit in 13 benches in this highest court of the land) took the unusual step of addressing ills within the court to the nation’s media, it shook all sections. In this unprecedented move, they challenged the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for alleged nepotism in assigning cases to pre-chosen benches. The press conference was held at the residence of the number two justice, Jasti Chelameswar. The others in attendance were Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph. As the Indian Express reports, “in a letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra [these justices] expressed concern on certain judicial orders passed by the top court which… [have] ‘adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivery system.’”

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We Can't Let Hindu Nationalists Rewrite India's History

The fault lines were sharp and deep that December 1992 when for nine days the urbs prima of India, hailed for its cosmopolitanism, saw this veneer shredded—painfully. All of December, including Christmas and New Year celebrations, public temper in Bombay was fragile, as the ill-intended maha-aarti program launched by the far right (Shiv Sena, Bharatiya Janata Party) combined released a fresh bout of hate that again spilled into violence against the Muslim 'other.’ This is what led to the violence of January 1993, where for another nine days, at least, there was violence instigated by the Saamna, the daily newspaper and mouthpiece of the Shiv Sena (SS), ensuring that homes and properties were targeted with chilling precision.

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India's Courts Finally Crack Down on Police Torture and Brutality

In a major victory for the human rights movement in India, the Law Commission of India, headed by Justice BS Chauhan, has recommended that the Indian government ratify the Convention Against Torture for ratification to enact a Prevention of Torture Law. In its 273rd report submitted to the Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on October 30, the Commission makes a substantive argument for the prevention of torture. (Read the entire report of the Law Commission.)

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The Right-Wing Assault on the Truth in India Claims the Life of Another Journalist

“Unfortunately, today anybody talking in support of human rights and against fake encounters [extrajudicial killings] is branded a Maoist supporter. Along with that, my criticism of Hindutva [aggressive majoritarian ideology that stands for a Hindu Theocratic State] politics and the caste system, which is part and parcel of what is considered ‘Hindu dharma,’ makes my critics brand me as a ‘Hindu hater.’ But I consider it my constitutional duty to continue—in my own little way—the struggle of Basavanna and Dr. Ambedkar towards establishing an egalitarian society.” —Gauri Lankesh

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Universities in India Are Criminalizing Student Protests

Last month, the campus and area outside the Banaras Hindu University erupted again, in what has now become a pattern of a repressive Modi-led regime. Such universities, governed by central government statute, have been at the receiving end of unprofessional appointments and a retrogressive education policy that is cutting back on affirmative action and scholarships for students from deprived backgrounds. There has been sharp condemnation all around, and protests in many cities.

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For India's Hindu Nationalists, Religion Alone Defines Entitlement, Rights and Citizenship

It’s a worldview at odds with modernity and republicanism crafted in the Indian Constitution and the state: A fundamental belief, indoctrinated through skewed ‘history’ lessons in the shakha, that asserts religion and faith systems, some more than others, inherently determine entitlement, rights and citizenship.

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India’s Supreme Court Puts Liberty and Freedom First

There are moments when institutions do a democracy proud. One such moment took place August 24, when a nine-judge bench of India’s Supreme Court ruled on the right to privacy. The verdict was unequivocal and unanimous: Privacy is a fundamental right, an integral part of the right to liberty, one of the inherent rights of humanity, not granted by statute (even the Constitution) and hence unable to be suspended or taken away. This settles—in significant measure—jurisprudence on the question that had been hanging fire since India’s Emergency (1975-1977).

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Refugee Crisis in India for Muslim Myanmar Migrants

The photo-op provided by India’s prime minister, strongman Narendra Modi, with the svelte Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has more than its share of irony. The former is leading a supremacist right-wing government in India and spearheading a refugee policy that institutionalizes discrimination against Muslim migrants. The latter is facing worldwide reprobation for her treatment of the Rohingya refugees who, the Dhaka Tribune says, are “pouring into Bangladesh like water.”

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Mob Violence in India Will Have Legal Repercussions, for Once

India is a country of more than one billion people, a fifth of the world’s population, the largest democracy; yet the country was held to ransom once again, this time by a rapist. The headline, “The Day a Rapist Held India Hostage,” by one of India’s well-known television celebrities, Barkha Dutt, in the Washington Post told the rather sordid story—in part. What was not included in that account was how this is not the first—nor will it be the last—time rampaging mobs, guided by the politically powerful, have stoked mob violence with impunity and been allowed, literally and figuratively, to get away with it.

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India's Progressive-Minded Vice President Steps Down: Minorities Are Now More Vulnerable to a Hindu Theocratic State

It happened last week, again, when the simple, formal farewell to an outgoing constitutional authority in India, within the Indian Parliament, was so very bereft of grace and decency—and in fact, so full of viciousness. Hamid Ansari, the outgoing vice president, was simple, dignified and forthright, as he has been in the 10 years during which he held this office. (He is a two-term vice president.)

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Media Freedom Threatened in Narendra Modi’s India

In India, the question of press freedom and corporate-political control and nexus has again been thrown wide open. The first instance is the case of the summary departure of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a well-known Indian journalist, clearly over his recent exposes on the Gautam Adani group, a corporate giant with avowedly close links to India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.

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After an Attack on a Bus of Hindu Pilgrims in India, a Muslim Driver Saves Lives and a Politician Saves Government Dignity

Two things will be remembered about the responses to the attack in India on a bus full of Hindu pilgrims returning from the Amarnath shrine late on July 10: The heroism of the bus driver and the unexpectedly reasonable statement made by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The statement was one of condolence, without jumping to villainizing/generalizing about India’s Kashmir Muslims.

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Protests in India Against 'Cow-Protecting' Vigilantes Succeed in Breaking Prime Minister's Silence

On June 29, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi gave a long-awaited (though mild) admonishment of violent “cow protection” vigilantes who have been let loose in the streets of India, on its trains, buses and village and city public spaces, lynching Indians (almost always Muslims or Dalits, members of the lowest caste). Modi, who is normally outspoken, has previously been mum on the spate of killings, conveying an overall climate of immunity to murderous mobs. What appears to have broken this studied silence are the spontaneous protests that finally erupted all over India and coalesced on July 28 when citizens, including celebrities, in 12 cities took over public squares and promenades after a spontaneous call by Delhi-based filmmaker Saba Dewan in a Facebook post.

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India Is on Its Way to Becoming a Hindu Nation, Suppressing Multiculturalism

As I write, about 150 Hindu groups meet in the unlikely spot of Goa, a popular international tourist destination, to discuss how their "common goal” of the creation of a “Hindu nation” (rashtra) can be achieved by 2023. It is not insignificant, as has been recently pointed out by Professor Shamsul Islam in Sabrangindia, that one of these 150 organizations, the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS), has been regularly holding national conventions to establish a Hindu state.

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India's Ban on Selling Meat Hurts Farmers and Religious Minorities

A recent decision by the Narendra Modi-led government in India to amend the Animal Cruelty Law has been called out as unfairly targeting the country’s cattle industry, as well as its religious freedom.

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The Increasing Cruelty of India's Justice System Is a Clear Sign It's Turning into an Authoritarian State

Most governments, even those that are democratic, have a fractious relationship with human rights movements, advocates and activists. The state, with its long arms and deep throats, cannot really bear the searching questions they pose, especially when it comes to the exercise of power. In India, since at least the 1970s, severe cases of custodial rape and torture have put into question the role and character of the state, its agencies and its police. The enactment on India’s statute books of laws like the Armed Forces Special Forces Act (AFSPA) that grant the armed forces and paramilitary complete impunity from the outer gaze, let alone prosecution for abuses, has made the relationship between the rights defenders and the state much worse. AFSPA has been in force in Manipur since 1958, inexplicable for India, with its claim to tolerance and respect for diversity, and was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s as the conflict in that state escalated and imploded.

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India Is About to Be Grilled on Its Human Rights Record by 112 Countries at U.N. Review

India under the Narendra Modi regime faces a review of its human rights record by the U.N. Human Rights Council. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group of the UN will examine India’s human rights record for the third time on Thursday, May 4. As of now, India is the second most popular country for this UPR session—South Africa just barely beat it out with 113 countries listed to speak for that UPR. Brazil, Indonesia, Morocco and the Philippines are all tied for third at 109.

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Anti-Muslim Violence in India: 15 Years Later, a Widow's Chance to Receive Justice

After the mass violence that shook Gujarat, India, in the early months of 2002, a shockingly high level of impunity caused Indian statutory bodies like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to make scathing indictments on the state executive’s malfeasance—which continues to be a festering sore for the majoritarian juggernaut that is the Narendra Modi regime. The NHRC, headed by a former chief justice of India, Justice JS Verma, made public two reports, one dated April 1, 2002, and another July 2002, that exposed the culpability of the government of the day, the latter saying:

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The Battle for India Is On - Civility vs. Bigotry

A quarter century ago, a cataclysmic event shook the foundations of India. The country of India was then in existence for 45 years, having been created out of a long and emancipatory struggle against British colonial rule in August 1947.

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Muslims Are Facing Violent Crackdowns in India

It is not every day that one of India’s foremost constitutional experts takes the bull by its horns and issues a dire warning. Fali Nariman directly challenged India’s prime minister Narendra Modi about whether the appointment of Adityanath, a yogi, as chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that saw the supremacist BJP swept to power on March 11, "is the beginning of a Hindu state."

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