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New Delhi: A day ago, news that the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said that the United States was monitoring “a rise in human rights abuses in India by some officials,” was shared widely on social media.
“We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials,” Blinken said.
News outlets recognised the fact that such a direct rebuke by the US was rare. Several pointed to current events that may have warranted such a comment, even though Blinken did not mention any.
Almost all English newspaper editorials in the past three days have focused singularly on communal disharmony – some explicitly pivoting to the Blinken fallout while others have explored the policing of food and the act of policing itself.
‘A constant simmer’
Indian Express devoted its editorial space to analysing the disturbing similarities of the communal violence that gripped parts of the country as Ram Navami celebrations unfolded last Sunday, April 10.
” These were some of the shared features: A religious procession, sometimes armed; provocative slogan and song; stone-pelting; viral videos, from both sides, that inflamed by what they showed and what they hid; delayed or inadequate or partisan police response; curfew.”
The piece then places the blame squarely on the “the party that rules the larger number of states and the Centre,” observing that “whoever may cast the first stone, the BJP must pause and consider if this is where it wants to go.”
The editorial travels through Karnataka, where everything from the hijab to halal meat to Muslim traders has been a Hindutva cause in recent times. The commentary, however, refers to these subjects as “controversies,” although coverage by the same paper suggest they have been singularly made into issues by saffron groups. The editorial highlights BJP’s very own, B.S. Yediyurappa, advising the state government to “put an end to all this.”
While India attempts to come out from under “the Covid shadow,” Express says it is ill-equipped to be “carrying the cross of a constant vulnerability to tensions between communities rising to the surface.”
The paper also makes a concession for the BJP, noting that it did not begin the process of conflict between majority and minority forces.
But then it notes:
“And yet, it is clear that the BJP, by its words and silences, especially in government, provides political support to those who would deepen the divides.”
‘Rein in the hate before it’s too late’
The editorial focuses on Narsinghanand’s various exploits, including topics covered extensively by The Wire, before observing, “Narsinghanand is being treated with kid gloves by the government.”
Observing that he walks free in spite of hate speech during bail, the paper observes that this reflects his confidence in the system – one which is “loaded in his favour” – and in its failure to deal with people and groups like him.
The paper bluntly recognises that critics of the Narendra Modi government do not secure bail easily, but those like the Hindutva leader in question can violate their bail with impunity.
“This is majoritarian aggression as never seen before and with sanction from the State,” the editorial says.
‘Cost of disharmony’
The Times of India‘s editorial said, ‘Diverse India can’t afford imposition of one group’s ideas on others. Neither can its economy’.
Beginning with the ethos of the 18th century Industrial Revolution in the West, the editorial hinged on highlighting the benefits that social harmony had heap on an economy.
“The goal of governance has always been about finding ways of accommodation to pursue its economic and social vision,” it declared.
After a paragraph on what makes India’s diversity unique and the rules that governs it, TOI makes an admission, “An even-handed approach to governance has been scarce recently.”
Noting that the imposition of values by a group on others, often entirely without legal basis, has spanned public spaces and university campuses, the editorial returns to its original point: “Everyone loses because economic progress cannot be realised in community islands.”
The government gradually aiding one group’s intrusion into the rights of another is a slippery slope, TOI adds.
Kolkata daily The Telegraph‘s editorial also makes no bones of the fact that the cheatsheet of hatred is the same from Karnataka to Delhi and focuses on the halal meat ruse in the former and the ‘ban’ on meat sale during Navratri in the latter to illustrate this.
The editorial notes that in Karnataka, even though it is saffron groups who are leading the communal campaign, “this does not entirely paper over the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party is not inimical to the campaign.”
“What stands out is the systematic targeting of a community, together with the indifference to rules, laws and the Constitution. That Karnataka and Delhi should be linked through similar divisive campaigns does not augur well. Only the refusal of people across communities to accept such bullying will turn these efforts to naught,” the paper says.
The Tribune‘s editorial focuses food matters as well and minces few words in striking at the core of communal behaviour.
It says, “The fact that some right-wing organisations are conducting a campaign against the display of halal certification on food products makes it obvious that a specific community is being targeted on the pretext of what it eats.”
Noting how easily such behaviour is tolerated and legitimised, and how many politicians and religious leaders are loathe to address it and decry it, the paper says that this is dangerous.
Focus is also placed on the fact that India is fighting “hunger and starvation,” at a time when large swathes of it are under the influence of “intimidatory tactics to make one menu reign supreme.”
‘Bulldozers at work in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh’
The Free Press Journal‘s editorial came with a collage of the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s speaking on the phone. The ostensible thought communicated is that the BJP leaders are consulting each other over their similar approaches to punishing yet unproven crime – through the use of bulldozers.
“Forget forever the concept that everybody was considered innocent till he was proven guilty under the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that, by and large, India followed,” the editorial wryly observes.
Highlighting cases where those whose houses were bulldozed were not even proven guilty of crimes they were accused of, the paper asks why the judiciary is not one to step up in this blatant flouting of the rule of law.
“As well-established systems are in a state of retreat, the common man finds that there are fewer and fewer doors to knock on,” says.
‘Protect the diversity enshrined by JNU’
In an editorial late on April 11, Hindustan Times shuttled between claims made from opposing sides regarding the violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University – which took place allegedly after the ABVP in the college protested against the consumption of non-vegetarian food on the occasion of the Hindu festival of Ram Navami.
Then, the paper asks for a two-pronged overhaul.
“It is now a norm for students to take such disputes to the police instead of the university authorities. This must change. Students are not criminals,” it recognises.
HT then says that JNU is a microcosm of the nation’s diversity. There, it notes, kitchens serve vegetarian and non-vegetarian food at the same time and hostels accommodate men and women at once.
“Not only have these practices continued, they have taught students to appreciate diversity,” the paper says.
This was made possible because of the place’s “vibrant democratic forums” which the admin must now preserve, the paper says.