I’M just back from a month in southern India, where all is lush, peaceful, and communist. In Kerala, this translates as higher literacy rates, greater gender equality, and less desperate poverty, rather than gulags and Stalinist pogroms. Like the rest of secular India, religion is everywhere; temples, mosques and churches tranquilly co-exist side by side. All gods are catered for.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, as the populist Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, welcomed his American counterpart, Donald Trump, dozens of people were slaughtered in Delhi. Muslim-owned shops and businesses were burned to the ground, in the worst violence for decades, reminiscent of the partition of 1947.
Why? Modi, elected by just 37% of voters, and leader of the ultra-nationalist Hindu BJP party, has been at it again. Rabble-rouser extraordinaire, he is India’s Trump. (A decade ago, he was refused a visa to the US; these days, Trump calls him “brother.”) Modi’s latest attack on democracy is the Citizenship Amendment Act, which discriminates against the 200m Indians who are Muslim. (India is 80% Hindu; Modi loves a scapegoat.)
Many Indian Muslims, often poorer than their Hindu compatriots, don’t have the paperwork to prove their citizenship, despite being born and bred there; Modi is building internment camps. People are terrified. And with good reason.
Here’s a recent story from The Hindu newspaper. A 27-year-old Muslim single parent moved from her village, in the southern state of Karnataka, so that her 11-year-daughter could go to school. The woman rented a place to live and got work as a domestic help, so that her child could get an education. (Being a single parent in India now is like being a single parent in Ireland fifty years ago; being a poor Muslim woman from a rural village makes it even harder).
But mother and daughter settled into their new life in the town of Bidar. All was going well, until the daughter’s class at school put on a play about the Citizenship Amendment Act, and its impact on the lives of ordinary people. The police heard about it, questioned the children, and arrested the head teacher, herself a Muslim. They also arrested the young Muslim mother from the village, charging her with “teaching objectionable dialogues” to her daughter. The school was charged with sedition.
When her mother was locked up, the 11-year-old child was left in the care of neighbours, before being transferred to a hostel. According to her teacher, a Hindu, the girl was in such a state she couldn’t sleep, and was unable to sit her exams. All she could do was cry for her mother. After several weeks and attention from the media, the mother and the head teacher were released.
Meanwhile, back in communist Kerala, the state governor rejected the Citizenship Amendment Act as “illegal and unconstitutional.” In Delhi, Modi and Trump bromanced each other, united in their policies of persecuting minorities as a way of clinging to power. Ugh.