India

Hindu vs. Muslim in India: The Washington Post covers a battle that's getting worse

Hindu vs. Muslim in India: The Washington Post covers a battle that's getting worse

To listen to some Muslim activists around the world, one would think the only injustices are those happening in Palestine. There’s curiously little outcry about much worse stuff going on in China (as GetReligionista Ira Rifkin has written) and India.

India has 172 million Muslims; home to 10 percent of the world Muslim population and second only to Indonesia and Pakistan. But Indian Muslims –- as well as Sikhs, Christians and other minorities –- are vastly outnumbered by roughly 980 million Hindus. And in recent years, the trends in violence targeting Muslims in India — often fueled by smartphone messages sent through WhatsApp — haven’t been good.

Which is interesting in that India’s Muslims are growing and by 2050, India will surpass Indonesia as the world’s largest Muslim country. Which makes this recent story in the Washington Post about so-called cow vigilantes all the more timely.

Alimuddin Ansari, a van driver, knew the risks. Smuggling beef in India, where the slaughter of cows is illegal in some states, is dangerous work, and Ansari eventually attracted the notice of Hindu extremists in Jharkhand.

One hot day in June 2017, they tracked him to a crowded market. When he arrived with a van full of beef, the lynch mob was waiting.

Reports of religious-based hate-crime cases have spiked in India since the pro-Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, according to new data from IndiaSpend, which tracks reports of violence in English-language media. The data shows that Muslims are overwhelmingly the victims and Hindus the perpetrators of the cases reported.

Riots between religious groups have risen 28 percent between 2014-2017 and this year isn’t looking any better.

Some of the violence in the reported cases centers on cows because Hindus — nearly 80 percent of India’s population — believe the animals are sacred, and many states have laws that protect them from slaughter. Violent “cow vigilante” groups patrol the roads, beating and killing those suspected of smuggling beef.

Which means the unfortunate van driver was one of the victims.

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Why Muslim news media have shied away from covering the Uighur persecution story

Why Muslim news media have shied away from covering the Uighur persecution story

As with other religions, Islam embodies the concept of like-minded believers sharing a global destiny no matter which nation they live in.

In Arabic, this idea is known as the Ummah. Militant Islamists invoke it repeatedly to convince Muslims they are obligated to aid Muslims persecuted by non-Muslims.

How does this work in practice? As with Christians (the extensive history of Christian nations fighting other Christian nations is hardly unknown), the idealized notion that co-religionists can count on fellow believers in stressful times is highly limited.

Witness the lack of global Muslim efforts to assist their Chinese Uighur co-religionists currently being brutalized by the Chinese government. Or the relative dearth of Uighur-related news coverage emanating from Muslim-majority nations.

Western media, on the other hand, have covered the Uighur story like a blanket — despite the geographic, logistical and political hurdles making it difficult to do so. Here at GetReligion, we’ve posted repeatedly on the Uighur situation the past few years.

One Western publication I think has done an excellent job with the story is Foreign Policy. The magazine has published, online, two strong pieces on the Uighurs in just the past couple of weeks.

Here’s one from late October that tells how China is planting strangers who absurdly identify themselves as “relatives” in Uighur homes to monitor them. Here’s the second, published last week, detailing that Uighurs are so desperate to escape Chinese persecution that some are actually fleeing to Afghanistan for safety.

Consider that for a moment. True, Afghanistan is a Muslim nation. But it’s also a land of continual warfare where even the innocent can become collateral damage at any time. So fleeing to Afghanistan hardly ensures peaceful sanctuary. And yet they do.

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Sikhs imprisoned in Oregon: How a national scandal hit a small farming town

Sikhs imprisoned in Oregon: How a national scandal hit a small farming town

Oregon is a diverse state and one in which I did lots of religion coverage during the my early reporting years. There are generous concentrations of Jews, Christians and Muslims and sprinklings of other groups — but Sikhism are one faith that isn’t heard about often.

This 2013 Oregonian piece estimates there are probably less than 1,000 Sikhs in the entire state, which may explain why officials at a local prison knew nothing about this 500-year-old faith when a load of Sikh immigrants was dumped at their door.

The mistreatment of these Sikhs –- and the number of Oregonians who volunteered to help them -- led to an Associated Press story that ran last week.

We’re going to be looking at several interesting stories, because this is — sadly — a story that isn’t going away anytime soon.

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — With the sun bearing down, Norm and Kathy Daviess stood in the shade of a prison wall topped with coiled razor wire, waiting for three immigrants to come out.

It’s become an oddly familiar routine for the Air Force veteran and his wife, part of an ad hoc group of volunteers that formed in recent months after the Trump administration transferred 124 immigrants to the federal prison in rural Oregon, a first for the facility.

The detainees were among approximately 1,600 immigrants apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border and then transferred to federal prisons in five states after President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy left the usual facilities short of space.

Almost half of those sent to the prison outside Sheridan, an economically struggling town 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Portland, on May 31 are from India, many of them Sikhs — part of an influx of Indian nationals entering the U.S. in recent years...

The story is not new.

In June the Portland-based Willamette Week covered a demonstration of religious leaders railing against the detaining of so many religious refugees at this prison.

Religious leaders from the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice today denounced the treatment of the 123 immigrants detained in a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., saying many of the men are religious refugees fleeing persecution in their home nations.

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Separating religious belief from cultural tradition. In real world it's no easy journalistic task

Separating religious belief from cultural tradition. In real world it's no easy journalistic task

Is it possible to separate out religious influences from centuries-old societal customs? And if so, just how does a journalist go about doing this?

This is not an easy task. That goes double for journalists -- perhaps most journalists -- with little exposure to the principles of group dynamics or the psychology of institutional religion.

This may sound like hubris on my part, but I believe that the wide experience gained on the religion beat prepares journalists to better understand humanity’s complex social and psychological formulations -- allowing religion writers and editors to (potentially) better parse the differences.

This recent New York Times story on the semi-isolation of menstruating women in remote western Nepal, causing the death of some, provides a platform for exploring the question.

But first, a quick return to Brazil.

You may recall that a few weeks ago I posted here on the custom of some indigenous Brazilian tribes to murder unwanted children. I tried to explain how from their tribal perspective the practice made sense.

I noted that in their rain forest environment, where food is surprisingly difficult to come by, the children -- fatherless or physically impaired -- were in the tribes’ view being sacrificed for a greater good. That's because they could not contribute to the group's food supply, which tribal leaders deemed an unacceptable burden that threatened the entire group's survival.

I also noted how outrageously obscene the practice seems when considered from a Western mindset rooted in the Abrahamic religious traditions. My point was to illustrate how difficult it is for journalists to put aside their deepest values when covering groups with a vastly different belief set.

The late Huston Smith, the renowned scholar of comparative religion, once wrote, I’m paraphrasing now, that every civilization -- and by every civilization he even included small, semi-nomadic jungle tribes -- is influenced by some spiritual vision of how life is best lived.

I take that to mean that in the Brazilian case, the tribes were following some inner sense of their own notion of right and wrong, even if they did not articulate it in spiritual or religious terms.

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Real dangers in India, Indonesia and Brazil as the religious pendulum swings way right

Real dangers in India, Indonesia and Brazil as the religious pendulum swings way right

Human history may be explained as a pendulum that swings, uninterrupted, between religious and political extremes that have profound consequences for those affected. Our limited time here is no different.

This metaphor for perpetual change is currently swinging to the right in much of the world. A prime reason why, is that the most recent political and religious pull to the left failed to deliver on its promises of economic justice, political equality, and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of inner security and calm craved by all.

Impatient and needy creatures that we are, such failures inevitably shift the underlying gravitational momentum that sets the pendulum in motion. When liberal (pluralistic in outlook, government and rationalism viewed as essentially positive forces) views fail us, large numbers inevitably swing to the right. A similar dynamic occurs when right-leaning ideas (top-down tribalism, traditionalist “cures” for society's ills) leave us dissatisfied and feeling threatened.

The hope is always the same, of course; finding a quick, earthly salvation to get us through the day.

In recent days, several elite media stories about events in India, Indonesia and Brazil have illustrated the problematic impacts of the current global shift to the right. (I’m covering lots of ground here so rather than use wordy block quotes, please click on the links provided to better understand my point.)

All concern religious freedom issues. All illustrate how religious, and ethnic, minorities have been treated miserably by majorities who use religious and political dominance to trample the rights of the powerless.

You could argue that none of this is new, that it’s just more of the pendulum at work. And you’d be correct.

But I cite them here not because they're new under the sun, but simply as a reminder that the human desire to dominate those who are different -- religiously or otherwise -- continues to wreck havoc on the weakest among us.

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Reuters misses some key players in news package about Hindu radicalization of India

Reuters misses some key players in news package about Hindu radicalization of India

Beneath all the sparkle and glitz of 21st century India is another story; an ominous tale of how the leaders of the 1.3 billion-person nation do not want to turn the nation back a century but instead wish to turn it back hundreds of centuries.

In a package about Hindutva; an ideology seeking to establish the primacy of Hinduism in every aspect of Indian life. Which, according to a fascinating package of articles from Reuters, means rewriting Indian history and killing any opponents who get in the way. And which, in the Reuters universe, means Muslims, who comprise 14 percent of India’s population.

However, this approach ignores Christians and Sikhs, both of whom claim millions of adherents who’ve been in India for many centuries (or in the case of the Malabar Christians, since the time of St. Thomas the apostle). For a sample:

NEW DELHI -- During the first week of January last year, a group of Indian scholars gathered in a white bungalow on a leafy boulevard in central New Delhi. The focus of their discussion: how to rewrite the history of the nation…
Minutes of the meeting, reviewed by Reuters, and interviews with committee members set out its aims: to use evidence such as archaeological finds and DNA to prove that today’s Hindus are directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact not myth.

So what this means is that the Hindu god Ganesh –- a deity with a human body and an elephant head –- was a real person. Or that the divine prince Rama, described in the Indian epic Ramayana, is a historical figure who rescued his wife, Sita, from the demon king Ravana with the help of an army of monkeys.

Interviews with members of the 14-person committee and ministers in Modi’s government suggest the ambitions of Hindu nationalists extend beyond holding political power in this nation of 1.3 billion people - a kaleidoscope of religions. They want ultimately to shape the national identity to match their religious views, that India is a nation of and for Hindus.
In doing so, they are challenging a more multicultural narrative that has dominated since the time of British rule, that modern-day India is a tapestry born of migrations, invasions and conversions. That view is rooted in demographic fact. While the majority of Indians are Hindus, Muslims and people of other faiths account for some 240 million, or a fifth, of the populace.

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Bollywood movie 'Padmaavat' draws mixed coverage on Hindu-Muslim themes

Bollywood movie 'Padmaavat' draws mixed coverage on Hindu-Muslim themes

About 11 years ago, I was in Rajasthan, India, to research some stories for the Washington Times when I decided to take off a morning and visit one of the stupendous hill forts just north of the “pink city” of Jaipur, so named because of its stunning rose-hued buildings. We went to two of them, but it was the 17th century Amer –- or Amber -– Fort that caught my attention for its open air balconies, latticed stonework and gardens.

It was either there or in a similar palace that I heard of jauhar, a form of mass suicide by royal women and their retinues –- to escape abuse and rape -- should their menfolk fail in battle. A guide showed me bloody handprints on the wall from several of these women, left there before they went to die.

A new epic Bollywood film, which ends when the main female lead commits jauhar, is now out. If you wish to understand the Hindu-Muslim enmities that persist to this day in the Indian subcontinent, read up on “Padmaavat” and the mayhem among India’s Hindus before its recent release. According to the Associated Press:

NEW DELHI (AP) — There was anger about a rumored romance between a Hindu queen and a Muslim invader. There were death threats. There were buses burned and grandstanding politicians.
But when the Indian film “Padmaavat” was finally released on Thursday (Jan. 25) amid heavy security and breathless TV coverage, Bollywood’s latest over-the-top offering turned out to be just that: an opulent period drama with multiple songs and dances and a thin storyline and not the slightest hint of the rumored relationship…
The film is based on a 16th-century epic Sufi poem, “Padmavat,” in which a brave and beautiful Rajput queen chose to immolate herself in a ceremonial fire rather than be captured by the Muslim sultan of Delhi, Allaudin Khilji.
Over centuries of retelling, the epic has come to be seen as history, despite little evidence. The main character of Queen Padmini has become an object of veneration for many Rajputs, the clans of former warriors and kings from the western state of Rajasthan.

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New York Times on India: Did Hindu activists make Christmas too dangerous this year?

New York Times on India: Did Hindu activists make Christmas too dangerous this year?

As some of us have gone caroling, Christmas tree decorating or dropped by a candlelit church service lately, we’ve never envisaged a moment where it’d be dangerous to do such activities.

Halfway across the world, in India, they can be life-threatening. 

We're not talking about the scrappy evangelical Protestant missionary groups that have continually given Hindu groups the fits. No, we're referring to Roman Catholics, who aren't known for creating religious tensions there. 

Welcome to the India of 2017. This is a major story, on the global religion scene, but not one American readers see in headlines or on the evening news.

A recent piece in the New York Times provides a door into what is happening.

NEW DELHI -- Tehmina Yadav is a Muslim woman married to a Hindu man. The other night, she was hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree.
In India, a country that is about 80 percent Hindu, Christmas is becoming big business. Airlines play Christmas music, online vendors sell holiday gift baskets, and one especially enterprising young man, Kabir Mishra, rents out a contingent of Hindus dressed as Santa Claus.
“I can provide as many Santas as you want,” he said.
Sitting next to her Christmas tree at home in Delhi, Ms. Yadav said that in India, there was nothing strange about non-Christians celebrating Christmas. Indians have always observed a dizzying number of festivals regardless of religious affiliation, and even though Christians represent only 2.3 percent of the population, Christmas is recognized as a government holiday.

A leftover of its colonial days, the article explains later. But now:

But as far-right Hindu groups have gained traction, India has changed. Christmas has now found itself caught in the cross hairs.

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Washington Post hints at big changes afoot for Tibetan Buddhism. Is there a local story in that?

Washington Post hints at big changes afoot for Tibetan Buddhism. Is there a local story in that?

Tibet ceased to be an independent nation nearly six decades ago. Moreover, the likelihood is that Tibet — birthplace of the Dalai Lama and home to a unique and dramatic form of Buddhist practice — will remain under Chinese domination for the foreseeable future.

In short, the Dalai Lama’s immense international popularity (primarily in Western democracies) and the good deal of advocacy on behalf of Tibet by Western supporters over the decades has, politically speaking, achieved virtually nothing.

Why’s that? Because China’s massive economic and military power trumps, on the international stage, any sympathy for Tibet in Western capitals.

If that’s not enough, there’s now a new -- and surprising -- threat to Tibetan nationalism. The Washington Post wrote about it last month.

That threat is Indian citizenship.

India, home to some 122,000 Tibetan exiles, earlier this year decided to grant many of them Indian citizenship. Until now officially stateless, the Tibetans who accept Indian citizenship will gain a slew of government perks withheld from non-citizens. That includes an Indian passport, allowing them to leave India and travel the world with far greater ease than previously.

That raises at least three questions. One’s political, one’s religious and one’s journalistic. As usual, the three are interrelated. To begin:

* What does accepting Indian citizenship mean for the Tibetan national movement?

* What impact will this have on Tibetan Buddhism?

* Three, why did the Post story not address question two -- given how central Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is to Tibetan cultural and political identity?

Yes, we're talking about the possibility of a slow but eventual assimilation into Indian cultural identity.

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