Saffronization of India and the Role of the Government in striking a balance

Saffronization of India and the Role of the Government in striking a balance

Author: Tamanna Gupta, RGNUL

The term Saffronization is a neologism mostly used in the contemporary Indian context, which means an attempt by Hindu nationalists to impose their ideologies, practices, and beliefs on the totality of the population residing in a defined territorial limit. The attempt in this context can even extend to imposing legal principles which are in synchronization with the ideologies of Hinduism, regardless of whether persons of other belief believe in such principles or not. The issue of Saffronization hit headlines recently, when the Central government issued passports featuring a Lotus (flower) on them, claiming that lotus is the “national flower of India”, while the opposition debunked the claims of the Ruling party claiming that it was an attempt at publicizing the political party itself, as Lotus is the election symbol of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).

This is not the only instance where India has witnessed an attempt at the concept. There have been several instances where the ruling political parties have tried to enact laws, bans, or restrictions based on their religious beliefs, often to the detriment of others. Recently, the ruling party was embroiled in controversy when DravidaMunnetraKazhagam’s (DMK) literary wing held protests over an attempt made by the party to “saffronize”  Thiruvalluvar, a poet-philosopher who has written the “Thirukkural”, which comprises of a collection of more than 1300 couplets on a myriad of subjects. ‘Thirukkural’ is a universally known work of Tamil literature and is often quoted by persons of eminence. The protesters demanded a punishment against the BJP workers who allegedly also vandalized a statue of Thiruvalluvar.

Other actions in the recent past that point out this phenomenon include the Beef Ban enacted in a majority of the Indian state, excluding a very few states. Several petitions were filed in courts challenging the constitutional validity of such a move and it generated widespread debate on whether such a move violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Several states that the total ban on possession and consumption is driven from the fact that Hindus regard Cow as a holy and sacred animal. In the aftermath of this ban, several persons belonging to the Muslim community fell prey to mob lynching due to suspicions that they owned beef. It led to tensions between religious communities.

The declaration of June 21 as “International Yoga Day” has also been a subject f widespread debate due to the scale of events that Prime Minister Narendra Modi held on the day, with several critics claiming that the practice of Yoga is intrinsically linked to Hindus, and hence refused to perform or indulge in the celebrations. Controversy also arose over the government’s suggestion of inculcating yoga as a part of the school curriculum daily. The debate regarding students also arose in the case when several students belonging to the Muslim community were debarred from taking the NEET exam, which is the entrance exam for medical colleges across India since they were wearing headscarves and burkhas which concealed their appearance. The court later held in this regard that with regards to a national level examination, removal of such headgear for a limited time is not unreasonable and does not affect their right to religion.

From time to time, attempts have also been made to make changes to the school curriculum, with attempts made to include Hindutva leaders in the textbooks.

 Political pressure was exerted over institutions such as National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), however, not many changes were implemented, except in the state of Rajasthan in 2000-2001 where several changes were incorporated in the leading textbooks, which was sought to be revised by the Indian National Congress (INC) when it ascended in the state of Rajasthan in the year of 2004.

On July 25, 2019, The Central Government announced its decision to conduct testings on “Cow Urine”, to determine its healing properties and beneficial uses. Cow Urine is seen with reverence amongst Hindus. Hindus often display their reverence by consuming cow urine or applying it over their hands and legs. Leaders of other religious organizations, as well as political parties, have criticized the usage of public funds over what they regard as an ideological belief rather than serious scientific research. An attempt was made at revising the conversion laws, which stipulated that religious leaders were compulsorily required to notify the state in case of any conversion or face punishment. This decision did not go well with social activists, who deem this move as an attempt to curtail the “Freedom of Religion”. This draft was proposed and almost implemented in the state of Maharashtra.

Contemporary Indian politics displays several other examples where the dangerous practice is being followed. “Right to Religion” has been enshrined under Article 25-28 of the Indian Constitution, wherein Article 25 states that every person has freedom of conscience and propagation, which has been blatantly infringed in the Beef Ban, Article 26 provides for freedom to manage religious affairs, Article 27 states that no one can be taxed for the promotion of a particular religion, which was negated concerning the research on Cow Urine, Article 28 provides for freedom with regards to attendance of any religious procession, which has been alleged to have been violated on International Yoga Day, it is clear from the abovementioned instances that India is under the dangerous threat of Hindutva politics undermining the right to religion of minority communities, and such practices must be curtailed in the interests of the principles of secularism and general welfare of the country. Only then shall India be able to claim itself as “secular” in a true sense.