The Persistent Erasure of Religious Minorities in India | Sojourners

The Persistent Erasure of Religious Minorities in India

Image via REUTRS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is dangerous, another example of how global Islamophobia has become. As a Dalit Christian, I understand how religious minorities in India are othered and face systematic discrimination. So I stood with many other South Asians across the world protesting the Indian government's hateful and exclusionary policies.

Passed by the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), this bill purports to expedite the path to citizenship for undocumented, refugee, religious minorities in India. It specifies six religions — Hindu, Sikh, Parsi Buddhist, Jain, and Christian — and three countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The CAA and its blatant exclusion of Muslims is proof that, as long as the world continues to tell the story of one “Indian culture,” all other identities and histories will continue to be systematically profiled and erased.

In India, my caste, Dalit (previously called Untouchable), and religion, Christian, has meant that I have lived in those other identity categories. For centuries, my community was considered "caste-less" and, as such, not Hindu. Our inherited duty was of service to those positioned higher in the economic and cosmological order. From being considered caste-less and non-Hindu, Dalit castes were nominally brought into the Hindu fold in nearly the same historical moment that India exiled another religious minority, Muslims, as non-Indian. This is not a coincidence.

In the political precursor to Dalit castes becoming termed Hindu, Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar fought for separate electoral representation for our communities in the newly forming South Asian political system. But Hindu national leaders, in order to form a Hindu majority, offered a compromise wherein Dalit castes would be counted as Hindu in the Indian electoral system. In turn, Dalit castes would be given affirmative action rights. Any Dalit caste member who chose a different religion, like my family, who chose Christianity, lost these rights. Thus, our communities provided the numbers required to push for a Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India. Many Dalit communities, as our position on society’s bottom rung became enshrined in a Hindu structure, converted to another religion as an assertion against such religious and caste discrimination.

Dalit Christians have since been keenly aware that violence against minorities is often left out from India’s international story of nation-building. Systematic violence has continued under Modi’s administration since his election as India’s prime minister in 2014.

Indian Christians have faced an increase in attacks seen in Bibles being burned, churches vandalized , faith leaders being arrested and assaulted, and forced conversion programs. The forced conversion of Dalit Christians and Muslims is called “ghar wapasi” meaning “return home,” a notion that assumes that all religious minorities are fallen Hindus. One Hindu nationalist leader, Rajeshwar Singh, made this explicit in his comments on eradicating Islam and Christianity from India by 2021.

There sentiments continue to prevail with the passing of the CAA .

As I write, thousands of Muslims families in Hyderabad have been cordoned off and interrogated for identity documents for themselves and their children. Concurrently, Modi’s BJP has forcefully stripped the predominantly Muslim Jammu and Kashmir of their autonomy and has shut off the internet and phones in the area with plans for ‘deradicalization camps’ similar to the Uighur detention centers.

While this moment is new in its intensity, Dalit Christians have long known that religious freedom, plurality, and democracy have not been on the plate for us, and we have never been invited to the table as Indians. The so-called inclusion of Christians in the CAA is nothing more than a thinly veiled bribe that assumes that Dalit Christians will be quick to forget a long history of violence; violence against Muslims, Christians, and Dalits that has been deployed in concert to further the project of Hindu majoritarianism. We cannot and will not.

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