The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Religious tensions inside India have been bleding out to other countries.

During a recent visit to India, Anthony Albanese, the prime minister of Australia, made a commitment to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protect Hindu temples after several were vandalized by pro-Khalistan protesters. Hindu temples in Canada and England were also targeted.

The Khalistan referendum has driven some of the anti-Hindu protests outside India. To help explain what the referendum is, here’s a helpful explainer:

“The unofficial ‘referendum’ is a voting exercise that is being organised across several countries by the U.S.-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) organisation, which was banned in India in 2019 for ‘espousing secessionism and militant [activities].’ The referendum seeks to establish a consensus among Sikh communities to carve out a separate homeland within India, which will be known as Khalistan. It is generally proposed that this be achieved through carving out the Indian state of Punjab, the only Sikh-majority state in the country. The campaign group says it would then approach the UN and other international human rights bodies with the demand to re-establish ‘Punjab as a nation-state.’”

In Leicester, England, Hindu-Muslim communal violence was reported following India’s victory over Pakistan in the Asia Cup cricket match in Dubai. Far-right Hindu hardliners had demonstrated in Leicester yelling “death to Pakistan.” Such instances have led to retaliatory violence including Hindus targeting Muslims.

Apart from the Khalistan referendum, communal and sectarian violence continues in India through institutionalized extremism. These include far-right Hindu extremism proliferated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and exclusivist Muslim radicalism propagated by the Popular Front of India (PFI). Both these organizations seek to counter and outmaneuver each other. While the PFI was banned in India in 2022 for five years, similar sanctions were not imposed on the RSS for inciting communal violence. This has led to widespread criticism among India’s polity and human rights groups.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is considered complicit in fueling the RSS, especially since Modi’s involvement with the group in his youth. Although the government cracked down on PFI activities in the country, it is now guilty of the consequences of failing to control the damage done by both organizations.

While Islamophobia is an ugly reality in India and elsewhere, Hinduphobia is spreading in Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan where Hindu temples have been vandalized. Similar incidents occurred in Bangladesh against Hindus, such as the 2021 sectarian violence during the Durga Puja Hindu festival.

Whilst it is established that extreme ideologies are institutionalized by various groups; it is not impossible for different religious communities to coexist. Professor Valeria Fiorani of the Catholic University in Milan through archaeological investigations had discovered that Hindu and Islamic communities had peacefully coexisted in Pakistan’s Sindh province in the 11th and 12th centuries, long before the formation of ultra-nationalist organizations.

To avoid allowing religious tensions to metastasize as they have in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, governments around the globe must act swiftly and sanction the organizations which propagate such tensions.

Nathasha Fernando is a visiting lecturer at the Metropolitan College, Dehiwala in Sri Lanka.