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Power-hungry religions go silent on violence in South Asia

Politicians use religion for their ends, but it is for religious leaders to avoid being politicized
Young men gather beside the wreckage of homes set on fire and vandalized by mobs in Khumujamba village of Churachandpur on May 9, 2023, in a violence-hit area of the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur. More than 70 people have been killed in the hilly border region in clashes between the majority Meitei people, who are mostly Hindus, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe

Young men gather beside the wreckage of homes set on fire and vandalized by mobs in Khumujamba village of Churachandpur on May 9, 2023, in a violence-hit area of the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur. More than 70 people have been killed in the hilly border region in clashes between the majority Meitei people, who are mostly Hindus, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 18, 2023 12:12 PM GMT
Updated: January 02, 2024 05:35 AM GMT

Nations across South Asia are currently witnessing unprecedented violence linked to religion, making many people wonder about the reasons for the upsurge. One noticeable fact, seemingly unlinked to the violence, is that elections are around the corner in most of them.

From Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to army-controlled Myanmar and the serene shores of Maldives, democratic freedoms have to pay a heavy price as politicians hijack religion. They placate religious sentiments to stay in power—no matter democratically or otherwise – and examples are spread across New Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka, Colombo, Kathmandu, Kabul, Naypyidaw and Male.

The mayhem in South Asia, which covers a mere 3.4 percent of the world’s habitable area but houses more than 25 percent of the world’s 8 billion population, is part of the efforts to intimidate, subjugate and systematically subordinate societies, where the majority are unable to apply logic when blinded by the politicized rhetoric of religions.

It is only natural that violence spreads as elections near. Hindu-majority India, the world’s most populous nation, is getting ready for parliamentary elections next year. Buddhist-dominant Sri Lanka and Muslim-majority Bangladesh are also facing an election in 2024.

Pakistan is already witnessing recurring riots and chaos ahead of its general elections this year. The political hyperbole—of both ruling and opposition parties—is always to make sure not to offend religious sentiments, even if it means going silent on fanatic violence.

India has been courting violence for a few years, mostly targeted at its minority Christians, Muslims, Dalits (former untouchables) and tribal people. The government, which came to power in New Delhi in 2014, and was re-elected in 2019 promising to champion Hindu causes, remains silent on the violence.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP or Indian People’s Party) seeks a third consecutive term, attacks on religious minorities have become common. Observers say they would help BJP consolidate the votes of Hindus, who form nearly 80 percent of India's 1.4 billion people.

Early this month, a savage riot between two ethnic groups in Manipur claimed at least 71 human lives and displaced more than 45,000 people. The riot took hues of religion as most of the ethnic Kuki are Christians, while the rival Meitei people are Hindus and a majority in the state.

April saw mobs of Hindus celebrating their festivals targeting Muslim communities. After the troublesome Ram Navami, a Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Ram, grabbed worldwide attention, the influential Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called it a “vivid manifestation of mounting Islamophobia and systemic targeting of the Muslim community in India.”

And yet, senior Catholic leaders in the southern Indian state of Kerala expressed their willingness to support the BJP. In a public announcement, a bishop said Catholics in his region will help BJP win a seat in Kerala in the upcoming parliamentary polls if the BJP-led government in New Delhi helped his people get a better price for natural rubber—their main farm produce. That shows the power of Mammon over morality and the vulnerability of the Catholic leadership.

In the past decade, we saw religious fanaticism increasing in largely peaceful Bangladesh. Many human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have voiced concerns about "violence and repression."

The latest annual US International Religious Freedom (USIRF) report released on May 16, ahead of Bangladesh's general elections eight months away, said: “The perpetrators of communal violence largely enjoy impunity.”

In Myanmar, after months of fanfare about conducting polls in August 2023, the ruling army suddenly extended the junta’s illegitimate rule for another six months. A report by the United Nations Human Rights Office in March this year said that the air attacks by the military more than doubled to 300 from 125 a year earlier.

Instability and violent conflict and the military's crackdown on armed ethnic rebel groups, which include Christians, have claimed the lives of more than 3,200 people since the February 2021 coup in the Buddhist-majority nation of 51.5 million.

Luckily, we don’t see religion-linked street violence in Sri Lanka often. However, Buddhist monks, who control the religion of most Sri Lankan people, play decisive roles in making and breaking governments.

Buddhist monks were at the forefront last March when thousands protested on the streets as the nation witnessed an unprecedented economic crisis. Protestors invaded President Gotabaya Rajapaksha's house, forcing him to flee. It forced then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cabinet to resign.

South Asian politicians shamelessly use religion for their ends, and that is understandable. But the silence of religious leaders against fanatic violence will ultimately render their religions uncivilized and unacceptable. It is for religious leaders, who do not seek to share power with politicians, to protect their religion from being eliminated.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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3 Comments on this Story
RAO
Highly biased article . If pedestrian and scooterist involved in accident it's always scooterist fault . Same applies to other vehicles .it's always the one with higher/ larger vehicle. Minorities always innocent only majority are culprits. Double standards. If religious parties are growing in popularity it's because this sort of media and rubbish articles
IBRAHIM
After Modi came to power 2014, he has give the licences to Hindu extremist for violence. There is not doubt in the Modi licence. He never uttered a single word on violence in Manipur, even home minister. Mr.Rao, opinion on this have no weight to criticise the minorities. Always stronger section instigate violence using poor Hindu youths as it is happening in Karnataka since bomby came to power.
DR SHAILENDRA BHADRORIYA
Your intentions are v clear : to defame indian govt n play victim cards for Christians & others. You just ignore d fact of violance unleashed by West in afgan, iraq, Syria now in Ukriane Russia. The kind of safety n power muslims enjoy in India is rare for them most of the countries. All the religion in India has to follow constitution except for Muslims who follow Muslim personal law borad.. Stop playing victim card.
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