Modi and Religious Minorities, Dalits, and Adivasis.

In his first 100 days…

1. Modi promised an end to financial “untouchability” but is ushering in a new era of financial exploitation.

Modi’s recent announcement of plans to bring about “banking for the poor” has been promoted as a bold step towards addressing poverty. “Financial inclusion” has been the buzzword describing plans to enable the most disenfranchised to open and administer bank accounts, and avail of financial services such as an ATM card, credit, and receive direct government aid instead of through intermediaries. While this does appear to represent an important concession for the “poor” there are serious problems to consider. First, 93% of India’s workforce is largely informal, including contract labor, construction labor (78% unorganized), casual labor, manufacturing labor, sweepers and scavengers, shop workers, and agricultural workers (predominantly unorganized). Second, India’s population is overwhelmingly impoverished, with more than 800 million living on less than Rs. 20 per day. The official minimum wage remains as low as Rs.115 ($2)/day. With such low wages and without protection from clearly regulated banking legislation the means for maintaining a functioning bank account are non-existent.

Moreover, Modi’s stated aim to reduce inequality stands in stark contrast to the overwhelmingly pro-rich orientation of his economic policies. The slogan “financial inclusion” invoked by Modi is in fact the same slogan used to justify the ongoing rapid expansion of private banks, including those associated with some of the biggest corporate houses in India such as Reliance. A cursory look at the results of privatized banking since 1991 shows that it brought about more financial exclusion of rural and semi-urban Indians than otherwise. With a heavy urban bias, concentrating its activities in three metropolitan centers, privatized banking alongside the rapid withdrawal of state investment in rural development contributed to both the immiserization of agricultural populations and the rapid return of parasitic moneylenders as the primary source of rural credit. In sum, the banking initiative presented by Modi, founded on the premise of private bank expansion, is a recipe for another disastrous chapter of immiserization and economic strangulation of the lowest waged and unwaged populations.

2. Constitutional safeguards circumvented, threatening displacement of hundreds of thousands of Adivasis.

Adivasis (India’s indigenous communities) predominantly live on resource-rich lands in states such as Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and as such have been increasingly targeted by state and corporate interests. In less than 100 days, the Modi administration has pushed for the rapid dilution of environmental clearance norms and requirements, by enfeebling the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Forest Conservation Act (FCA). These changes will not only allow for a quickening of development that will account for displacement of Adivasis, but it will also bypass community consent processes required under the FRA.  (For more on Forest Rights Act see Development and Environment sections of this report.)

The government has given its approval to the raising of the height of the Narmada Dam in Gujarat by another 17 meters, signaling its disregard for the decades long struggles of Adivasis and small farmers that are facing submergence or violent dispossession of their villages resulting from the dam project. Once the new dam height goes into effect, it is projected that more than 250,000 will be displaced, mostly Adivasis, living in the densely populated villages in Nimad of Madhya Pradesh, submerging houses, farms, shops, temples, mosques and crops.

On May 28th, 2014 the Modi government put in effect the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization (Amendment) Ordinance that has allowed completion of the Indira Sagar Polavaram Irrigation project. This ordinance has provisions for circumventing constitutional safeguards meant to protect Adivasis. The dam is projected to submerge 74 gram panchayats (local governance councils) and 193 villages in Khammam district in Telangana and is projected to displace 200,000 (mostly Adivasis) while also submerging 3,500 hectares of forest land.

These are some stark examples of policy initiatives of the Modi government that are clearly intended to benefit corporate interests, under the guise of “stimulating economic growth,” inevitably intensifying the violent displacement of Adivasi communities from their lands. Such policies completely contradict Modi’s campaign promises of “inclusive development,” and will intensify the ongoing war being waged by the government on behalf of the corporate sector on India’s poor and most disenfranchised.

3. Organized violence against Muslim communities orchestrated by Modi’s party.

While vowing through campaign promises that his Hindu nationalist beliefs would not interfere with his ability to govern on behalf of all Indians, Modi has remained silent on anti-Muslim violence since coming to power.  Urban Development Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Azam Khan, recently said that the new Modi government has asked Indian Muslims who oppose Modi to move from India to Pakistan. Within 10 weeks following India’s May 2014 general election, over 600 “communal incidents” against Muslims were documented by police in Uttar Pradesh (UP) primarily close to places by-elections would be held.  The strategy of polarizing Hindu and Muslim votes in UP seems to have backfired for now as the BJP lost seven of its eleven seats in the September 13, 2014 by-elections.

Modi seems to remain resolutely anti-Muslim. His inaction indicates no fear of state reprisal for anti-Muslim activities. This emboldens his BJP support team and hardline affiliates. His stance in 2002, during the mass killing and displacement of Muslims in Gujarat was highly controversial. Yet within his first 100 days, he remains silent as violence against Muslims continue. If Modi planned to demonstrate his ability to govern for all Indians, these days would have been the time.

Since Modi came to power, hardliner Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) -affiliated groups have launched a vitriolic campaign against Muslims of what they have claimed is an effort to end a phenomenon they call “love jihad,” an alleged Muslim strategy for converting Hindu women to Islam through persuasion of marriage or money. Many Indian progressives point out that “love jihad” is nothing more than a fabricated discourse being used to legitimize forced conversions to Hinduism. (For more on “love jihad” see Gender section of this report.)

What is significant in the spate of attacks on Muslim and Christian communities is the centrality of the dynamics of caste underlying the issue of conversion. Hindu supremacist (Hindutva) groups foment communal unrest in areas where Dalits (erstwhile ‘untouchables’) have converted to either Islam or Christianity and coerce local Dalits to “reconvert” and then convince family and community members to do the same. Dalits who refuse “reconversion” are targeted more intensely by such organizations, and state-level “anti conversion” laws are employed by the authorities to further persecute them. Remarkably, Hindutva organizations enjoy impunity even when they engage in outright acts of violence. Dalits who convert, often to escape the tyranny of the Hindu caste system, are witnessing the outright denial of their right to search for an escape. The same Hindutva organizations that seek to deny autonomous religious legitimacy to Dalits have little to offer by way of addressing the continuing oppressive exclusionary practices of caste Hinduism. For instance, Dalits who were converted forcibly to Hinduism from Islam still find that they cannot draw water from wells claimed by caste Hindus in their village in Madhya Pradesh.

4. Modi has remained silent on forced conversions of Christians.

Inspired by Modi’s rise to power, several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have launched so-called “re-conversion” drives targeting Christian communities. RSS Hindu activist, Rajeshwar Singh recently declared while converting a Christian family to Hinduism in Hasayan (140 km south of Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh), “We will cleanse our Hindu society. We will not let the conspiracy of church or mosque succeed in Bharat (India).”  On August 26, 2014, 72 Dalit Christians were converted to Hinduism at a Seventh Day Adventist church in Asroi, Uttar Pradesh. Rumors continue to circulate suggesting Christians were forcibly converted and the church has also been refashioned into a Shiva temple. A fact-finding team is currently pursuing an investigation.

These conversion efforts are directed primarily at Adivasis and Dalits, but also Christians, informed by a caste politics that drives Hindutva anxieties over conversion. The basic claim that all Christians, like Muslims, are converts, empowers Hindutva groups to deny the religious legitimacy of Adivasi and Dalit Christians. Moreover the claim that conversion to Hinduism is merely “re-conversion” rests on the fallacious notion that all Adivasis are “Hindu” by default, denying the legitimacy of their own distinct and autonomous religious traditions that have little to do with Hinduism. In BJP-ruled states like Chhattisgarh, draconian laws specifically target Christians, as in the recent case of the Bilaspur High Court banning “all non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers and speeches in the villages” in Bastar district. The message is clearly that the only religious identity permissible is Hinduism. Tellingly, the Modi administration has remained silent on the growing atmosphere of repression threatening Christians in India. (For more on (re)conversions see Culture section of this report.)

Previously, in Gujarat…

1. Over 45% adults in Gujarat don’t have bank accounts

According to a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported India-wide survey of 45,024 adults from October 15, 2013 to January 8, 2014, over 45% adults in Gujarat have never had access to a bank account, worst than 10 out of 19 major Indian states. While Modi is pushing for “financial inclusion” on a national level, in his own home state, almost half the adults don’t have bank accounts. The same study also points out that despite these statistics, an increase in the number of bank branches and accounts hasn’t resulted in operative use. Nearly half of the accounts are inactive, only 54% of the population use their account once in 90 days and among the poor, that number drops to 45%.

2. Rampant exploitation of Adivasis and Dalits

Adivasis and Dalits make up more than 1/5th of Gujarat’s population yet their lands and children are not protected. Gujarat’s economic success depends on the exploitation of cheap Adivasi and Dalit labor which extends to children. Gujarat has a terrible track record when it comes to stopping child labor.

Gujarat, under Modi, has also not supported Adivasis in regards to property ownership. Under the Forest Rights Act, Adivasis were to be offered titles for land their families had been living on for many generations. Under British colonization control of Adivasi lands were taken and then transference of land was given to the national Forest Department through the decolonization process. But the Modi government in Gujarat was slow to enforce this legislation.  The Modi Government began offering individual revenue records for establishing property ownership to 15,000 Adivasis in October 2013 only after Gujarat High Court ordered that the FRA had to be honored. However, even that action has been insufficient. The community rights mandated in the FRA  have not been enacted, leaving thousands of Adivasis without their property rights.

3. Muslims in Modi’s Gujarat

During Modi’s tenure, ultra-nationalist Hindus attacked and killed more than 2,000 Muslims and forced 150,000 out of their homes. It has been widely reported that Modi both encouraged and failed to stop the violence. In the aftermath, Modi refused to help return displaced Muslims to their homes and neighborhoods, instead amplifying his public anti-Muslim rhetoric in election speeches later that year. Early in his political career, Modi rose in the ranks of the RSS with his involvement in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) student wing, and also by participating in activities linked to 1992 communal violence where Hindu mobs demolished the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. He also, not surprisingly, has not denounced the attacks on Muslims in Uttar Pradesh earlier in 2014.

4. Christians in Modi’s Gujarat

During the National Democratic Alliance government, in 1998, a series of attacks were launched against tribal Christians in Gujarat’s Dangs district led by the RSS and its cultural wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).  Also, anti-conversion laws have been used to target and harass Christians. For example, Gujarat law requires permission from the district magistrate for anyone seeking conversion to a religion other than Hindu. This law not only infringes on the right to one’s own religion, but also to one’s own privacy. This state law violates Indian constitutional law and international law simultaneously.

Read more…

1. Financial Exclusion/Exploitation

  1. “Financial Inclusion: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Study Suggests Gujarat Is Poor Performer Compared to Most Indian States | C O U N T E R V I E W . O R G.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  2. Ghosh, Jayati, and K Bharadwaj. “Poverty and Employment in India.” In Rural Livelihoods: Crises and Responses, edited by Henry Bernstein, Ben Crow, and Hazel Johnson. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press in association with The Open University, 1992.
  3. “Hindu Nationalists Ascendant in India: Will Narendra Modi Be Prime Minister of All Indians? – Forbes.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  4. “In India, Microcredit Has Suffered a Black Eye –” Accessed September 19, 2014.

2. Dalits

  1. “Atrocities on Dalit Women Go Unpunished: Gujarat NGO | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  2. “Dalit Rights Group Slams Modi Government’s Stand On Child Rights : Insaf.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  3. “Fewer Convictions in Crimes against SCs – The Hindu: Mobile Edition.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  4. Ghosh, Jayati, and K Bharadwaj. “Poverty and Employment in India.” In Rural Livelihoods: Crises and Responses, edited by Henry Bernstein, Ben Crow, and Hazel Johnson. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press in association with The Open University, 1992.
  5. “Gujarat Gets Approval to Raise Narmada Dam Height – The Hindu.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  6. “Gujarat Turns a Blind Eye to Manual Scavenging – The Hindu.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  7. “How NaMo Has ‘Disappeared’ Untouchability In Gujarat ? By Subhash Gatade.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  8. “India: Caste Forced to Clean Human Waste | Human Rights Watch.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  9. “India Urges Millions of Poor to Open Bank Accounts – Businessweek.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  10. “In India, Microcredit Has Suffered a Black Eye –” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  11. “Thangadh Killings: Gujarat Govt yet to Act – The Times of India.” Accessed September 19, 2014.

3. Adivasis

  1. “11 Environmental Disasters Narendra Modi Blessed in His First 100 Days – Quartz.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  2. Hardiman, David. “Christianity and the Adivasis of Gujarat.” In Labour, Marginalisation, and Migration: Studies on Gujarat, edited by G Shah, M Rutten, and H Streefkerk. Sage Publications, 1999.
  3. “Polavaram Ordinance: Protests by Adivasis Intensify | Down To Earth.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  4. “Will Narendra Modi Protect the Adivasis? – The Borgen Project.” Accessed September 19, 2014.

4. Muslims

  1. “5 Reasons Why Narendra Modi Leading India Is So Controversial.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  2. Amnesty International. “A Decade on from the Gujarat Riots,  an Overwhelming Majority of Victims Await Justice in India.” Public Statement. Accessed September 19, 2014.
  3. Coalition Against Genocide. Genocide in Gujarat: The Sangh Parivar, Narendra Modi, and the Government of Gujarat, March 2, 2005.
  4. “Express Investigation Part-I: Over 600 ‘communal Incidents’ in UP since LS Results, 60% near Bypoll Seats | The Indian Express.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  5. “If Left Can Condemn Maoists, Why Is Narendra Modi Silent on Sanghis? – Firstpost.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  6. International Initiative for Justice (IIJ). Threatened Existence: A Feminist Analysis of the Genocide in Gujarat, December 2003.
  7. “Modi Rails against Illegal Immigrants after Muslim Killings | Reuters.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  8. “‘Narendra Modi Does Not Want Muslims to Progress in India’ – News Oneindia.” Accessed September 19, 2014.

5. Christians

  1. “India’s Christians Fear Rise in Persecution under BJP | Christian News on Christian Today.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  2. “‘Love Jihad’ and Religious Conversion in Uttar Pradesh – The Times of India.” Accessed September 19, 2014.
  3. Shehzad Poonawalla. “Indian Christians Under A Narendra Modi Led Government,” May 21, 2014.