Not only is the monumental US presidential election being held this year but the Indian prime minister election is being held as well. As India’s influence grows globally, especially with its economy being declared “The World’s Fastest Growing Major Economy” this year and holding the title of the most populated country, the global power of their government increases. Leveling up to foreign powers like the U.S., India’s democracy grapples with a similar, pervasive issue: these two nations, professedly secular in their respective constitutions, confront an increasingly ambiguous separation between church and state, whether it’s Hinduism in India or Christianity in America. The consequences? Minority groups are increasingly marginalized and alienated, facing vast disparities that compromise the promise of pluralism. Nations must be cognizant of the convergence between religion and state, or it will inevitably lead to the destruction of their “democracies.” Religion has no place in democracy. This article is the first installment in a three-part series, with this particular piece focusing on India.

Hindu nationalists and conservative Christians, in India and the U.S. respectively, may have motivations that coincide more than expected. Delving into the history of each country is critical for understanding present-day implications.

The land India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh reside in today was once a single state (“The British Raj”) under British Parliament rule from 1858 to 1947. The British started conducting a census on the British Raj to “divide and rule.” Using diversity to their advantage, they would classify Indians based on their religion or caste to promote violence between varying groups. Although the effect of Britain’s religious categorization of Indians is unclear, the tensions undoubtedly rose once British colonization ceased. Muslims were worried about living in a country with a Hindu majority, and their fears foreshadowed that they would be made foreigners in their own homes. As the new government emerged with distinct Muslim and Hindu parties, spewing violence mirrored the political fragmentation. The existence of these individual parties characterized by religion encouraged division and opposition. While the Indian government waited for the transfer of power from Britain, an impartial government structure was proposed by the British cabinet. Shortly after both parties agreed to it, the Indian National Congress (the “Hindu” party) stated they would have the power to change any initial agreements. The All-India Muslim League sensing unprecedented domination commenced “Direct Action Day.” It was scheduled to be August 16, a day that would ensue in protest if Muslims were not granted a separate state. The All India-Muslim League announced, “We do not want war. If you want war, we accept your offer unhesitatingly. We will either have a divided India or a destroyed India.” On August 16, 1946 (Direct Action Day), the “Great Calcutta Killings” lasted 4 days with almost ten thousand lives lost. Members from both parties formed the communal riots. The party responsible remains controversial, but it is painfully clear that the reason for any of this violence was a desire for religion within the government. 

With constant disputes and disagreements, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, proposed a partition to India’s original leaders, Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. To the British, Congress, and the League, it was clear a united nation was irreconcilable. British lawyer Sir Cyril Radcliffe used religious demographics and geographical factors to draw the borders, creating two entities: India and Pakistan. Over 16 million citizens began their emigration to new frontiers, of which up to 2 million died. Some British soldiers who witnessed Nazi camps during the Holocaust “claimed Partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits.” Even after the territory was delineated, violence continued over certain villages and religious sites across the borders. Parting such a diverse nation was not simple; it caused severe displacement and identity struggles for individuals. Not only does conflict over land from 1946 still occur in places like Kashmir, but violence persists today among groups labeled as mutually exclusive. These groups are driven by rigid religious identities instilled by respective countries. Countless lives may have been saved if there had been a greater emphasis on shared values rather than on divisive differences. 

Religious conflict and violence are nothing new or abnormal for India. Even the Prime Minister’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has had a history of its members inducing religious-based violence against minorities. Some of the documented instances include BJP politicians stating Muslims should be “set ablaze,” that Hindus and Christians should not eat at Muslim-run restaurants, and BJP state legislator Gyan Dev Ahuja even encouraged Hindus to kill Muslims if they were suspected of killing cows. Each of whom were said to be investigated and prosecuted but many instances like these go unbothered because of the major support for oppressive parties like BJP. These politicians are only further enhancing and projecting the anti-Muslim rhetoric. 

In 2020, a new temple began to be built in Ayodhya, a sacred city in Uttar Pradesh known to be the birthplace of the Hindu God Ram. Ayodhya Temple was unjustly built on the ashes of a mosque, inaugurated by none other than India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a BJP member. Babri Masjid mosque was built in 1528, and soon after the British fled India in 1949, Hindus snuck a Hindu statue of God Ram into the mosque. The Hindus claimed that the mosque was laid in the exact location where God Ram was born and therefore the land was rightfully theirs to build a temple. There were disputes over who the land should rightfully belong to. On December 6, 1992, the BJP party gathered one hundred thousand followers at the mosque. It wasn’t long before the mosque was demolished. The police, acting under the authority of the BJP, did nothing. This destruction perpetuated extreme violence throughout the country with riots from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Over 2000 lives were lost because of the greedy decision to destroy the mosque. This controversy led to a Supreme Court case, which took 27 years to establish a ruling. In 2019 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was reelected, the Supreme Court came to a decision. Although the destruction was declared an illegal act, a unanimous vote decided that the land would be given to the Ram Temple Trust, a Hindu organization funded to build a temple in this locus, and to “ensure equity” to the Muslims granted the claimants land to build a new mosque acres away. It is a justified assumption to say if it had been Muslims who destroyed a Hindu temple this would not have ended with the same Supreme Court decision. This itself creates a crack in the foundation of democracy. 

Prime Minister Modi and the BJP have made it their mission to restore Hindu’s glories and this Ram Temple was used as a campaign tool. The Ayodhya Temple, the temple built upon the ashes of a Mosque, although only 70% completed, was inaugurated by PM Modi on January 22, 2024. With the Prime Minister Election being April-June of this year it is not a coincidence, “Today’s date will go down in history,” Mr. Modi said after the event. “After years of struggle and countless sacrifices, Lord Ram has arrived [home]. I want to congratulate every citizen of the country on this historic occasion.” The temple is expected to draw in 50 million visitors yearly, already garnering millions of visitors daily. The opening of this temple not only marks the beginning of a Hindu nationalist agenda but emphasizes the BJP party’s intentions. This temple not only represents systematic violence against Muslims, but it is also being celebrated as a key part of Modi’s reelection campaign. Since PM Modi was elected into power, Muslim hate crimes have increased by 90%. States with a majority BJP government had more Muslim hate crime incidents. Allowing religion to be a part of politics opens the door to bias and manipulation. Modi has purposefully made his political strategy revolve around Hinduism with a campaign strategy that implicitly suggests only those who vote for him are true Hindus, thus leveraging religious identity to secure the majority vote leaving the Muslim minority invisible.