Concern over religious shouts in Indian parliament
Hindu and Muslim MPs compete for supremacy with slogans that threaten house’s secular atmosphere
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind administers the oath of office to Virendra Kumar as pro-tem speaker during a swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi on 17 June 2019.
(IANS/PIB photo) ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi, India , June 25, 2019
Religious slogans and hymns reverberated around the walls of India’s parliament for the first time in its 69-year history as members took the oath, inviting criticism that some members have ruined its secular atmosphere.
Hindu and Muslim slogans were used when the lower house, Lok Sabha, held a special session last week for all 543 elected members to take the oath of office and declare allegiance to India’s secular constitution.
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 303 seats in a landslide victory in the recent elections, paving the way for BJP leader Narendra Modi to start a second term as prime minister.
When Muslim parliamentarians went to take the oath, chants hailed Hindu gods such as Lord Ram while there were also Hindu nationalist poems and songs such as Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai.
Muslims refuse to shout such slogans, saying it amounts to worshiping other gods and violates basic tenets of their faith.
In response to such slogans in parliament, Muslim Asaduddin Owaisi, who won the Hyderabad seat, shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and “Jai Hind” (Hail India) after he took the oath.
Another Muslim parliamentarian, Shafikur Rahman Barq, also shouted “Allahu Akbar.” He said that chanting Vande Mataram was against Islam as worshiping anybody other than Allah was not permitted.
“It is quite unfortunate that a temple of democracy has been converted into a Hindu temple where people who don’t adhere to the ideology of a Hindu nation are hounded and intimidated in a most ruthless manner,” said Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, a social activist based in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
Abhay Kumar, a Dalit activist based in New Delhi, said India is a country of many faiths and many sects. “Painting it with one single brush will be unthinkable,” he said.
The BJP, which finds its support among Hindu groups that want to make India a Hindu theocratic nation, has been accused of tacitly supporting violence against religious minorities and socially poor Dalit people.
“Why should Hindu slogans be shouted there?” asked Kumar, expressing dismay that even PM Modi failed to reprimand the “rogue elements” who were shouting slogans “inducing religious passion” in the house.
Rights activist Allen Francis told ucanews.com that religious slogans indicated a major political change since the BJP’s massive poll victory.
“The slogans hailing Hindu gods were raised only when Muslim members were taking the oath. Such actions of the BJP have tried to give an impression that Muslims are against Hindus and that they can be targeted anywhere, including in parliament,” Francis said.
“They can be targeted anywhere in the country, on the roadside, on trains, buses and even inside their houses.”
Indian author and scholar Ram Puniyani said the deliberate religious chants show that the BJP is now in a commanding position in parliament and will turn the house into a sort of holy place of worship of Lord Ram, who has been the major vote catcher for the party.
One slogan stressed the hard-line Hindu resolve to build a Ram temple where Hindu zealots demolished an ancient mosque in Ayodhya in 1992.
According to surveys done after the demolition of the mosque, it was found that the incident had created a deep wedge between Hindu and Muslim groups besides instilling fear among India’s minority communities.
Hindus consider Ayodhya as the birthplace of Lord Ram and a mosque there offended Hindu pride and sensibilities.
The shouting in parliament echoed a Hindu demand that a law is passed to build the temple, bypassing the Supreme Court, which is hearing the dispute over ownership of the land.
Hindus form 966 million or 80 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion. Muslims account for 172 million or 14 percent while Christians comprise 29 million or 2.3 percent.
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