Pious Carnage

The Rise of Hindu Fundamentalism in India

Recent reports from postelection Kenya, particularly of the burning of a church packed with Kikuyu women and children, sent a shudder around the world. Unfortunately, India seems to be moving along a similar path.

Crimes here resulting from intolerance, particularly religious intolerance, have been on the rise over the past five years, including Christmas Eve attacks on seven Catholic churches in the eastern coast state of Orissa. Scenes of cruelty and violence are now so common they don’t even make the headlines. No group can consider itself safe: Muslims are the most vulnerable, but lower-caste people, the poor, Christians, and other minorities are all frequent targets.

Some observers believe that intolerance is integral to the Hindu caste system, which engenders both intercaste violence as well as fierce opposition to other religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Others believe that communal violence was actively encouraged by the British Raj as part of its divide-and-rule approach during the colonial period, culminating in the carnage of the partition riots in 1947. The violence unleashed at that time has remained deep in the national psyche. Whatever the theory, the political imperative of the violence seems to be a given. There is always some section of society—usually a ruling elite—that stands to gain from it. Furthermore, any prolonged violence implies the involvement...

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About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.