India prides itself as a tolerant and multi-ethnic state, but is it really?

Published: April 27, 2017

Muslim women from Indian state of Gujarat shout anti-government slogans during a protest in New Delhi on December 28, 2010 against the discrimination, exclusion and persecution of Muslims. PHOTO: AFP

Recently, India has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Over the past three years, after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won in a landslide, India has witnessed increased religious intolerance.  Beef has constantly been politicised and electoral rhetoric has constantly used the communal card to pull voters.

During the Uttar Pardesh (UP) elections, communal rhetoric was couched in an extremely hateful language, and in the end, BJP chose a fire brand anti-Muslim to lead as the chief minister, despite the fact that it had other alternatives. After his elections, and despite his attempt to tame down hardliners, the law and order situation in UP has deteriorated, with even law enforcing agencies being attacked in some cases. There have been attacks on Muslims for dating Hindu girls or on suspicion of involvement in beef transportation.

This is not to suggest that Pakistan is better or more tolerant. As a self-reflecting Pakistani liberal, I have been extremely critical of my country’s problems with respect to intolerance against religious minorities.

However, I do think that in some ways, both India and Pakistan are going in the same direction. Yes, there is a difference between India and Pakistan with respect to religious intolerance both in form and intensity. One can persuasively argue that India has not seen suicide bombings against minorities and actual deaths from religious violence are far lesser.

But while India may compare favourably to Pakistan in that respect, it has, nevertheless, witnessed deterioration in recent times when compared to its own past. This is a fact and not some media-cultivated fabrication, no matter what spin you give it. In the past few years, the intolerant voices have gone louder and they appear to have an implicit backing of the state. The fringe right is no longer that fringe; it is making its presence known in the mainstream.

One of the major problems which many from the educated middle class overlooked while voting for Modi (for development reasons) was the fact that the core support of BJP is hardliners, and after being in absolute power, the party had to appease them. Before the elections, and despite clear warning signs, many were simply dismissing such a possibility from occurring. The argument at that time was that with moderate and modernist urban middle class behind the recent resurgence of Modi, the focus of BJP will be more towards governance and leaner and efficient government rather than communal politics. The electorate was so sick of the incompetency of the Congress that it was literally willing to overlook the dangers.

And now the evidence is proving as to how wrong those assumptions were. Not only have the hardliners literally taken over control, but what makes the entire situation ironic is that many educated people from the urban middle class are in denial about it. Rather than opposing the excesses, many are simply calling critics as “sickulars”, “pseudo seculars /liberals“, or terming it as a conspiracy of Indian leftists to malign BJP. Some have gone even further and have started to justify rising hardline tendencies.

I have seen countless posts by educated Indians on social media, justifying the construction of Ram Mandir, despite the fact that the entire issue is extremely complicated and its construction will lead to further widening of the communal rifts. The simple fact that one cannot punish the current Muslims for something which had happened 500 years ago, simply escapes their imagination.

Whipping up communalism by BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is generally justified by citing examples as to how the Congress too has tried to play on the wicket of communalism by indulging in minority appeasement. Moreover, every time some violent incident takes place, rather than being critical, the focus of many is to simply deflect by referring to either the 1984 riots against the Sikhs under the Congress rule or some contemporary incident where a member of BJP has been harmed or where a minority member has acted violently against the majority. The critics (seculars in almost all the cases) are then mockingly asked to show the same level of anger which they show when minorities are attacked.

There is a huge problem with this entire approach. First of all, it is trying to create false equivalences. Minority appeasement does not create the kind of dangers which whipping up majority communal sentiments does. Although one could make a normative argument against both, but whipping majority communalism can lead to tyranny of the majority and also to violence at a much larger scale. It’s potential to inflict harm is way greater than so-called minority appeasement.

Moreover, India is a diversified and complex country with many ethnic and communal cleavages. To keep the social fabric cohesive in the face of so many cleavages which can always explode is an extremely difficult thing. And to keep everything together with parliamentary democracy is even more difficult. Many of today’s loathed concepts like “minority appeasement” have, in fact, played a role in maintaining social cohesiveness under the democratic umbrella. What is being called appeasement may be in some form an essential compromise to ensure that the country’s social fabric does not tear apart along various fault lines. Indian secularism is not merely separation of church and state but it espouses special minority protection.

Yes, one can argue that perhaps the Congress had gone overboard and had tried to extract electoral mileage out of it, but to dismiss the entire concept as nonsensical and to draw equivalences with violent majority communalism is also not correct.

Secondly, it is much easier to realise that intolerance is being deliberately and explicitly perpetuated by organisations like the RSS and political parties like Shiv Sena. Yes, violence may have occurred during the Congress era also, but did they deliberately whip up hatred against some groups? Did they politicise beef in the same way? Did they draw derogatory comparison between Hindus and minorities by calling the former the “Ramzadas” (offspring of Lord Ram) and the latter “Haramzadas” (bastards)? Did they initiate movements like Ghar Wapsi? All these things have occurred during Modi’s era and his government is either directly involved or have at least shown reluctance in stopping its allies.

Yes, anti-Sikh riots occurred during Congress rule and there one can blame its leadership to incite violence against a minority group, but the way that incident is being used to deflect current malpractices is plain wrong. Moreover, the Congress leadership of the time may have had a falling out with the Sikhs, but there is nothing in ideology of the Congress party which leads to the creation of systematic discrimination against minority groups.

Over the years, India has tried to pride itself as a tolerant and multi-ethnic state. It has tried to contrast itself with Pakistan (which was carved out of British India) by claiming to espouse secular and more liberal values. Its case against the Partition actually hinges on the claim that in a united India, minorities could have lived freely without any fear.

The case against Pakistan by the Congress in the 1940s was not that Muslims and Hindus do not have differences. It was not even whether Hindus and Muslims are two different nations or one nation. Rather, it was the belief that despite differences, India could harmoniously accommodate all.

And yet, what is constantly happening in India is merely proving that the case for Pakistan was legitimate. A few months ago, I had written an article where I had argued that the creation of Bangladesh did not prove the Two-Nation theory wrong. There was a lot of heated debate on it. In my opinion, the creation of Bangladesh did not prove the fallacy of the Two-Nation theory.

The real test implication for proving or refuting the Two-Nation theory is what happens in India to Muslims living there. If the hardliners continue to impose their agenda and harass Muslims, while the educated look away, trivialise or find justifications for that behaviour, then frankly, the case for the Two Nation Theory is strengthened.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Veer
  • Ashika Raut

    Yes creation of Pakistan was legitimate and partition should have done properly i.e. all Muslims should have deported from india.we are still suffering because of these arabic slaves.Recommend

  • Anon

    Do you believe or support Two-Nation Theory………….?Recommend

  • Milford

    Pakistanis still deluded by the charms of two baton theory even it has brought so much destruction, shame, and whatnot to this time- after 70 years. Everything will be fineRecommend

  • peter pan

    I do not see how Pakistan can use the plight of Kashmiri Muslims to justify the two nation theory. when there are over 150 million other Muslims living in India who Pakistan would NOT want to have within their borders since they are not PUNJABIS, SINDHIS, PATHANS, OR BALUCHIS, Further more the Kashmiri MUSLIM DO NOT WANT TO COME TO PAKISTAN. They only want a separate homeland.Recommend

  • vinsin

    TNT is right. Pakistan is already been created. It cannot be undone. Your argument that Hindus should convert to Islam to prove TNT is wrong. It is not the job of minorities to sacrifice for majority. How long Sikhs, Jains, Jews, Hindus etc need to sacrifice for Muslims majority? What was the point of partition if India cannot become secular? Turkey has already returned converted Churches to Christians so why same cannot be done in India?Recommend

  • Nitin

    If Pakistan wasn’t created, BJP would still have been a party of single digit seats.

    The fact that it took Pakistan & its intellectual 50-70 years, after division of India on religious lines, to find incidents to justify creation of Pakistan is proof enough that division of India on religious lines was wrong.

    What is happening in India today is most certainly effect of India’s post partition conflict with Pakistan and global Islamophobia which combined with incompetency / corruption of India’s left and center aligned political parties has been used is very effectively by BJP to transform India’s liberal voter base into nationalist voter base.

    As you mentioned India is still behind Pakistan with regard to the level of intolerance but judging by events of last 3 year, I dont see it will take long for us to catch up with you.

    A funny Slogan I hear from BJP supporter is “We wont let India become Pakistan! while its their own act for sure going to turn India into a Hindu Pakistan…Recommend

  • Ahmar

    “”And yet, what is constantly happening in India is merely proving that the case for Pakistan was legitimate.”

    Sunni-shia killing each other. Punjabi-Baloch killing each other. Pathan-Mohajir ethnic violence. bombing Sufis shrines.

    What is happening in Pakistan proves the case for Pakistan was anything but legitimate.Recommend

  • Rohan

    I do agree that modis India is not tolerant but why do Pakistanis like to gossip about Indias problem and mind you the 2 nation theory was bogus as 1971 played . Pakistan should worry about its own muslims especially Shia,Ahmadi , muhajir and balochistan Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    No Ahmadi has been killed in India for calling himslef Muslim yet.Recommend

  • Hosur

    Whatever the article may say the fat that the population figures of minorities and significantly that of muslims has been going up.Not down.This is contrary to the data from our neighbors. There it is shrinking and often the minorities are escaping to more tolerant societies.Recommend

  • Milind A

    “I have seen countless posts by educated Indians on social media, justifying the construction of Ram Mandir,
    despite the fact that the entire issue is extremely complicated and its
    construction will lead to further widening of the communal rifts. The
    simple fact that one cannot punish the current Muslims for something
    which had happened 500 years ago, simply escapes their imagination.”

    Due to realize that it is faith here? Will you advise your coreligionists to let go off Kaaba or change some rulings there… Easier to advise others..Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Raza Habib raja,i think you r the one who is writing continuously on India,modi etc etc.and if I m not wrong.if you have doubt about popularity of modi,i wish your media would have reported about Delhi MCD election result.clearly Aap is losing Delhi in next must accept few things .ram Mandir will be built,cow will be protected .what I want from my country is a brief war with neighbor.we take India to the path of development.indians have not taken theeka of secularism.if anything our govt can go and declare it a hindu country.this is what we want it today.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Why such articles again & again/
    If Pakistanis really care about Muslims in India, why don’t they accept them and give them citizenship?
    What they have done for the Kashmiris till date – Nothing.

  • Soumyadeep Debnath

    Creation of pak on the basis of 2 nation theory or iqbal’s dream absolutely justified….nobody is opposing that….now focus on your present instead of poking into other’s affairs…Recommend

  • RHR

    No I am not the one who is constantly writing on India, Modi etc.
    At least try to do a little Google search first before getting riled up!Recommend

  • RHR

    I have written plenty on religious intolerance in Pakistan. Feel free to go through that.Recommend

  • RHR

    My belief does not make a difference. It is proven or refuted by what is happeningRecommend

  • RHR

    That shows the mindset! Thank youRecommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    Actually, more than Pakistanis, it is Indian these days who thank their stars for creation of Pakistan. It is clear more and more every day that a population of 600 million Muslims in India, would have had made it a scene of perpetual civil war because Muslims are just not compatible with any other community when they are in large number. In fact, Muslims are not compatible even when they are in majority because then they start killing each other to prove who is more “pious” Muslim. Thankfully, India managed to escape that fate and Nehru and Patel saw the future just like Maulana Azad. Next time you visit Jinnah’s grave, please pay are respect too for all the trouble he saved us Indians.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    How do you make sense of above written comment?this comment is edited in a way it has lost all its editor is a frustrated guy.but hey you guys can do nothing else writing and publishing meaningless blog here and there.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Curious that the author hasn’t mentioned how religious minorities have been systematically persecuted in Pakistan, falling from around 20%of the population in 1977 to under 4% today!Recommend

  • Rohan

    Dude,you’re country’s anti India ideology and your country itself is a cancer to the region.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Repeat with me:

    1. India is peaceful and progressing because it is Dharmik majority country, otherwise it would be ISIS land like Syria, Iraq & AfPak at worst or utterly depressed and confused banana republic state of South Central America.
    2. India is tolerant and celebrates difference of opinions and diversity in ideologies because it is Dharmik majority nation. Here all 72 sects of Islam exists without mayham – compare that to Islamic Republic of Pakistan where every day a Shia, Ahmedi is being killed and are made to leave the country.
    3. India is progressing in Science & Technology, in business and trade because it is Dharmik.Recommend

  • RHR

    Google my name and you will find dozens of articles from me ON prosecution of religious minorities in PK. If I can criticize my own country then I have the moral justification on criticizing others.Recommend

  • RHR

    No one is “poking” into your affairs. It is a Pakistani newspaper and just like you have the right to comment here, I have the right to write.Recommend

  • RHR

    And if writing on a Pakistani website, while being a Pakistani is poking into your affairs, then frankly get lost and dont comment. Restrict your comments to Indian websitesRecommend

  • RHR

    This proves TNT!Recommend

  • RHR

    Beta google my name and you will find what I write about
    Typical Modi troll who is just like PTI trollRecommend

  • RHR

    Sure and so are you!Recommend

  • RHR

    At least it is provenRecommend

  • RHR

    Now if you really believe in it, then why criticize it?Recommend

  • ron

    kashmiris dont wanna leave their home , what india wants is just that rich piece of land and not its local peopleRecommend

  • Patwari

    See, this is what happens when you lose your place in the toilet line.
    Long long toilet line. You start ranting and foaming. And begin spouting
    On the other hand if Kajol eats a cow it becomes a buffalo and it’s OK.
    See, she is not a Muslim.But if a Muslim eats a cow, he will be killed.
    Or hanged from the nearest holy Peepul tree.
    Everyone knows that about 4 or 5 Muslims are killed every month on the Cow Pretext.
    Even uses Muslims as human shield. Tied to jeeps.
    For some strange reason, hindus do not like being told that there are
    two billions of them. Not the false fake figure of !.3 billion hindus,
    put out by their govt. If you include Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram,
    Manipur, Sikkim, Meghalaya………you see?…..get the picture now?Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Beta Google my name? you r writing about India that too about its interna issue.this is not Kashmir problem Recommend

  • Rohan

    Lol ,you can’t even make a comeback,why don’t you just log off and retireRecommend

  • RHR

    Really! Who is deciding that? You? Recommend

  • Rohan

    Sure , why notRecommend

  • rationalist

    Discrimination? Some facts:

    1) non-Muslim population in Pakistan has gone down from 28% after partition to the current figure of 4%

    2) Muslim population in India has increased from 11% after partition to the current figure of 16%

    Draw your own conclusions.Recommend

  • Sane

    What about killing (millions) of Muslims in India calling them Muslims.Recommend

  • Sane

    India is progressing?!! wow. Your ex PM drinks Urine and says this is treatment of all ills and bad luck. You use urine in cosmetics and sell to other countries. You kill Muslims on cow eating and slaughter cows yourselves and export their meat. Ha…Ha…Ha… India is progressing. No one says any religion to leave Pakistan. But, your politicians and fanatic Hindus says Muslims to leave India. You cannot make Muslims to leave India. They will cut India by making another Pakistan.Recommend

  • Sane

    Two nation theory still persists, rather stronger than 60 year ole era. This is witnessed in India that Hindus cannot coexists with Muslims and Muslims in India need Pakistan-II.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Comment was mangled by scared of Hindustanis moderators.Recommend

  • RHR

    Read the article rather than just the titleRecommend

  • Rajiv

    What “rich” piece of land?
    What made you think it is rich?Recommend

  • Rajiv

    No doubt about TNT.Recommend

  • Rajiv
  • Salim Alvi

    He lived for 99 yrs. I saw him when he was 95 years old. He had a glow, no tummy and was very fit. Islam and Christianity are not organic and native even to Semitic or Middle Eastern people. Judaism was somewhat organic. Romans created Xianity in IV century and has nothing to do with Jesus/Yeshu whom Romans persecuted when he was alive. Koresh & Hashmites copied Romans to create yet another deadly legion and divided the natives and brutalized them. The native converts lost their native languages, native culture and ancestral history.
    Ghar wapasi of natives is already happening. Americans especially educated ones are leaving the enslaving legion of Romans. Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Why do you think there is long line? Indians cross Wagha border every morning to give Pakistanis to give a good vegetarian dump of fertilizers.. may be Pakistanis are not requiring so much fertilizers since they have left agricultureRecommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    It is convenient for you Pakistani liberals to say that quote ” The real test implication for proving or refuting the Two-Nation theory is what happens in India to Muslims living there” unquote.

    – The very fact that India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, and there never was a true exchange of population during the 1947 partition, only proves that the Two-nation theory was never implemented in right earnest, in the first place.Recommend

  • Kaal Chakra

    It is human nature to quickly doubt the integrity, objectivity, fairness, and overall goodness of someone who disagrees with us on matters important to us. As an Indian rightwinger, I appeal to all Indians, particularly those of us on the right, to kindly resist that temptation. From an Indian point of view, RHR is the most objective, thoughtful, constructive ‘critic’ of India living outside of her own boundaries you will probably ever meet, or have the good fortune to read. We don’t have to agree with him, but it is important to listen to what people like RHR have to say.Recommend

  • Sane

    The name India must be changed to COWLAND. it would be fun to see cows in queue to vote BJP candidates in next election in India.Recommend

  • Cynical

    Very well said.Recommend

  • RHR

    Kaal lovely to see you! How are you my friendRecommend

  • only truth is nature

    indians and pakistanis are the only people in the world who hate each other despite having the same anscestary,culture,history,good or bad habits,similar family systems,music etc.Recommend

  • LS

    On the contrary, millions of Hindus have been killed in India… By rough estimates that number exceeds 80 Million.. Recommend

  • LS

    Yes, I guess I do agree that in the sea that comes from most of their “so called journos” he does not pretend as much. I will give him that much..Recommend

  • LS

    So true.. the cancer went away… but that Punjabi habit of “show off” that they are superior hasn’t gone away.Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    What TNT are you talking about Mr RHR … ??!! … The very fact that India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, and there never was a true exchange of population during the 1947 partition, only proves that the Two-nation theory was never implemented in right earnest, in the first place… the unfinished agenda of the partition in 1947 … !!Recommend

  • ahmad rehan

    The fact that teh picture used for the article is from the year 2010 speaks volume on it own. author could not find any images muslims protesting anything in india. The truth is Indian muslims are very happy much more happier and better off than pakistani counter partsRecommend

  • indian

    i being an indian muslim can confidently say that india is highly intolerant today. fascist forces are in power. even christians , dalits , sikhs are suffering here. india ka tolerant hona sirf dhong hai. i dont know situation in pakistan so i cant say about you. in india nowadays everyday muslims are suffering and if the conditions dont improve it may cause huge uprising in india.Recommend

  • angrybird

    pohh after killing ad butchering kashmiri pundits, sikhs, budhists from kashmir by muslamic terroristsRecommend

  • np

    It shows mindset of Jinnah and all Pakistanis that agree with TNT. He talked about Hindus and Muslims as two nations that could not live together. HE pushed out Hindus from Pakistan.Recommend

  • cheesycheese

    How did you upvote a comment calling me an abusive troll? And here you are talking about integrity, objectivity and fairness? Recommend