The first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, observed on Thursday, aims at turning the spotlight on increased hostility against religious minorities.
In our own Indian terminology, it is the UN day against communal violence. Interestingly, the government in the land of Gandhi and Ahimsa, didn’t issue a statement in support of this UN day.
The day passed almost unnoticed in India, with no coverage or TV discussions in the mainstream media.
The United Nations recently declared August 22 as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, in recognition of the increased hostility and violence against religious communities, especially minorities, across the globe.
As per a report by the US-based Pew Research Center, 83 countries across the globe experienced high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion, from government actions or hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups.
Sadly, even in India, communal violence continues to wreak havoc in the lives of religious communities. But our polarized media has chosen to ignore the elephant in the room: a crackdown on institutions run by religious minorities, and increased incidents of sporadic violence against Muslims and Christians happening practically in every state. Jharkhand, UP, and Odisha have become hotbeds of hatred and bigotry being spread by vested interests.
According to a statement in Parliament in December 2018, during the period of 2014-2017, there were close to 3,000 incidents of communal violence resulting in over 300 people being killed and over 7,300 people being injured.
This violence not only stands in direct conflict with the constitutional safeguards but also undermines our cultural ethos, democracy and even our economic growth.
Nobel laurate Amartya Sen would argue that open, constructive and respectful debate of religious ideas and beliefs is at the very heart of being an Indian.
This search for ultimate truth and meaning is a reflection of the very essence of the human person and led to many faiths traditions being born and spread.
But religious freedom and tolerance is not merely good for the individual, but rather it benefits the entire society.
A study by Brian Grimm and Roger Finke found that religious freedom is powerfully associated with other civil and political rights, freedom of the press and economic freedoms and prolonged democracy. The study found religious freedom to be a key ingredient to peace and stability.
This is particularly important for business because where stability exists, there is more opportunity to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations.
Religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development and disrupt huge sectors of economies. We saw this most recently in Sri Lanka and Hong Kong.
Studies show that violence hits India where it hurts the most —the economy. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, India in 2017 spent over US $ 1.19 trillion (over R80 lakh crore) to contain, prevent and deal with the consequences of violence.
So, while, this cost is not only a result of communal conflict, it should act as an incentive for all of us to try to reduce conflict in the nation.
We would do well on this first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief to remember that reduced conflict means more resources spent on development of the nation.
The members of the Constituent Assembly placed a heavy premium on freedom of thought belief and worship.
S Radhakrishnan, member of the Constituent Assembly articulated this when he said that, “India is a symphony where there are, as in an orchestra, different instruments, each with its particular sonority, each with its special sound, all combining to interpret one score. It is this kind of combination that this country has stood for.”