Vigilantism in any form is anathema to democracy and a free society. For a country like India where celebration of diversity is a way of life, it undermines the core values of tolerance and equality. The outrageous incident at Jhansi railway station in Uttar Pradesh where four nuns were heckled, harassed and forced out of the train by a group of Hindutva vigilantes reflects a slide into the abyss of bigotry. The women were bullied and abused by a crowd before being taken away by the railway police. Such incidents, if allowed to go unpunished, will severely damage the secular fabric and create communal discord. The behaviour of a group of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists, who sought to examine travel documents of nuns accusing them of religious conversion, was reprehensible, to say the least. Though Union Home Minister Amit Shah promised that the Uttar Pradesh government would bring the culprits to justice, he must walk the talk and ensure his party government in the State takes appropriate follow-up action to instil confidence among minorities. The problem is that Yogi Adityanath’s brand of brazen Hindutva has already created a toxic climate of communal divide and a political eco-system where the self-proclaimed guardians of culture are resorting to vigilantism which often turns violent. There has been a spurt in cases of vigilantism and mob violence ever since he took over the reins of power in the key northern state.
The Constitution allows religious freedom for every citizen. The Jhansi incident was clearly an encroachment on the freedom and fundamental rights of the citizens. It is a sad reflection on our country that more and more States are coming out with repressive laws that target the freedom of preaching and practising select religions. It is time the BJP did some introspection on how its own ideological positioning and the actions of the rabid Hindutva elements on the ground have created a sense of insecurity among the minorities. The rise of vigilantism poses great risks for Indian democracy. The saffron party, which appears to be benefiting at the moment by the actions of its more aggressive ideological foot soldiers, will realise, sooner than later, the folly of encouraging such elements. It is akin to playing with fire as the ruling party will have little control over the actions of thousands of vigilantes who feel emboldened by the inaction of the government. Unfortunately, the brash and rabid Hindutva that revels in the binary narrative of nationalism versus the ‘Tukde Tukde gang’ has now come to occupy the centre stage of BJP’s ideological positioning. There is a need for bipartisan policy that cracks down on vigilante groups and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad vigilantes.
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