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Human rights violations in India

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In yet another damning report, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet expressed `concern over restrictions on Non-governmental Organisations, arrests of activists and implications of Citizenship Amendment Act.

She `appealed to the Government of India to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent’. She `expressed regret at the tightening of space for human rights NGOs in particular, including by the application of vaguely worded laws that constrain NGOs’ activities and restrict foreign funding’. Besides, she `cited as worrying the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which a number of UN human rights bodies have also expressed concern is vaguely worded and overbroad in its objective’. The Act prohibits `receipt of foreign funds “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest’. But, it leaves vague definition of the `public interest’ ad `prejudicial’ to wild imagination of police officers. 

The Act, which was adopted in 2010 and was amended last month, has had a detrimental impact on the right to freedom of association and expression of human rights. Amnesty International was compelled to close its offices in India after its bank accounts were frozen over alleged violation of the FCRA. Bachelet noted, `The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies. ..Constructive criticism is the lifeblood of democracy. Even if the authorities find it uncomfortable, it should never be criminalized or outlawed in this way.’

India keeps the UN in dark: The UN Human Rights Committee oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a party. The Committee  found that India did not  `show the specific nature of the threat or risks posed, and limit its responses to those necessary and proportionate to address such threat or risks’ . India was bound to explain to the Committee that it was invoking `national security and protection of public order as a reason to restrict the right to freedom of association’. 

The Committee noted that `more than 1,500 people have reportedly been arrested in relation to the [CAA] protests, with many charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act – a law which has also been widely criticized for its lack of conformity with international human rights standards’.

Bachelet drew attention to arrest and continued detention  of   the 83-year-old Catholic priest Stan Swamy, a long-standing activist engaged in defending the rights of marginalized groups, despite his poor health. She urged India `to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India’s robust civil society’. 

A bird’s eye view of India’s anti-human laws:  India claims to be the “world’s greatest democracy”. But, the shiny face of democracy has been disfigured by repressive Indian laws like: (1) Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, (2) Terrorist-Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, (3) Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), and (2) Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA). 

The aforementioned laws clothed police and security/armed forces with emergency powers without explicitly abrogating people’s fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution (a fundamental right cannot be usurped or altered). 

POTA is successor to TADA. The TADA remained in force between 1985 and 1995 (modified in 1987) under the background of the Punjab insurgency and was applied to whole of India. The Act had a sunset provision for lapsing after two years post-commencement, which it did on 24 May 1987.  The POTA is just old wine in new bottle.  It does not repeal fake cases under TADA. Indian media termed POTA as “draconian’. Verily so as penalties under this law are akin to those stipulated in Draco’s code of 610 BC to forestall future revolts by common men.  The code provided death penalty for even trivial offences like stealing an apple, or an earthenware utensil.

The POTA attaches evidentiary value to the telephonic, telegraphic and internet conversations.  The brutality of the law was brought into limelight when S. A. R Geelani, a Kashmir lecturer in Delhi University was implicated for attack on the Indian parliament (December 13).

POTA was employed to frame cases against several other Kashmiri leaders _ Yaseen Malik, Syed Ali Geelani et al.  Despite his frail health (ailing kidney, heart with right ear subjected to micro-surgery), Malik was arrested on March 25 under POTA for receiving ISI’s money when he was addressing a press conference at the Hurriyat office. The court acquitted him with observation that there is not an iota of believable evidence against him.

Syed Geelani and his journalist son-in-law, Iftikhar Gilani also were detained under POTA.  Funny charges on senior Geelani included: (1) “Being a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, he criticised US war against Afghanistan, and described himself as Pakistani”.

Iftekhar Geelani was detained for violation of Official Secrecy Act for possessing information about Indian troops’ movement of pre-1996 period.   The alleged information was available on the internet. Having failed to make a case against him, police charged him under the Pornographic Act!

POTA features: In what follows, we would review significant features of POTA. It usurps Constitution-of- India safeguards for fundamental rights (part 3, articles 13-35). The rights include “life and liberty of the person” (article 21) and “freedom of expression” (article 19). The POTA also violates article 21 which provides that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. 

TADA was meant to suppress the Sikhs’ freedom movement.  POTA is intended to stifle Kashmiris’ freedom movement.  Due to heavy opposition from the NHRC, human rights organisations and political parties POTA was not introduced as a bill in parliament.  Instead, it was promulgated as POTO, Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

POTO became POTA on March 26, 2002. POTA as a modified version of TADA, with similar inconsistencies in protection of human rights.

The POTA violates international-human-rights standards, which provide the framework for international protection and promotion of human rights. It is also incompatible with international human rights standards and treaties, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a party.

India has signed but not yet ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) to validate torture under POTA. However, notwithstanding non-ratification, adherence to international human rights standards has been upheld by the Supreme Court of India in a number of decisions (for example, Vishaka & Others vs. State of Rajasthan & Others: 1997(6) SCC24).

The Telegraph Act makes intercepts inadmissible as evidence. But POTA allows it. Other rights-suffocative features of POTA include: (1) vague definitions, (2) insufficient pre-trial and trial safeguards, (3) threats to freedom of association and freedom of expression. Ensuing paragraphs highlight the features.

VAGUE DEFINITIONS: Section 3(5) of the POTA, while criminalizing membership of a “terrorist gang” or a “terrorist organisation,” does not clearly define what these terms mean. The crime is considered complete upon proof of membership.

Thus POTA provides for criminal liability for mere association or communication with suspected terrorists or expressing political opinions without the possession of criminal intent. Obviously, the section is repugnant to ` the right to freedom of association’ enshrined in Article 22 of the ICCPR.

Section 3(8), purports to punish those in possession of information of material assistance in preventing a “terrorist acts”. Failure to provide such information is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

Section 4 of POTA allows legal presumption that if a person is found in unauthorized possession of arms in a “notified area,” he/she is automatically linked with terrorist activity. This along with other provisions undermines the basic right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

ARREST: Section 48(2) provides for pre-trial police detention for up to 180 days. This provision contradicts Articles 9(2) and 9(3) of the ICCPR which require that all arrested people be promptly informed of the charges against them and that they are entitled to trial within a “reasonable time”, or release.

TORTURE:  Torture in police custody is a well-known fact. Section 32 provides that confessions, even those under duress or torture, made to police officers are admissible in trial. This violates Indian Evidence Act, article 14(3) (f) of the ICCPR and article 20(3) of the Constitution of India.

Section 56 of the Ordinance provides for protection from punishment and blanket immunity to police officers who use torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during interrogations. POTA obviously contradicts India’s repeated promises that she is dedicated to eradicating torture”.

Efforts on the anvil to refine POTA are nothing but palliatives to cure police brutality.  Hence, they are not worth discussing.   When asked about the POTA, in an interview to The Hindu, Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers said: “Past experience had shown that draconian legislations did not provide much safety to the state against terrorists or militants but were used only to protect the safety of the government in power”. He added, “My concern is that extensive powers given to the executive can always be abused without there being any independent judicial review”.

Conclusion: India uses its draconian laws to gag dissent. The Hindu-monk chief minister of India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh regards a cow as a citizen. He directed the police to register cases under National Security Act for offences concerning a cow. One hundred and forty cases were soon registered to terrify the Muslim.

The inescapable conclusion from the above analysis is that the POTA is meant to gag political dissent and crush freedom movements.  It baffles one’s imagination that POTA has the same goal as Draco’s code had 2, 613 years back that is “crush common men’s revolt by use of brutal force”.  POTA is unnecessary in view of India’s other equally draconian laws like Indian Armed Forces  (Special Powers) Act and Terrorist-affected Areas (Special Courts) Act. These laws allow pre-trial detention of “suspected militants” without disclosing reasons and house searches without warrants. An arrestee is considered guilty until he is proved innocent. An appeal against POTA lies to the inaccessible Supreme Court.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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‘External forces’ won’t decide the actions of New Delhi

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India’s farmer’s protest is in the news for a while for the obvious reasons. In a democracy there should be protests, it keeps the power balanced. However, in India, the protestors and the government are both facing a common challenge, that is the external influence. To which, Indian External Affairs Minister and other government wings already made public statements. Before understanding the external factors, one needs to look into the farmer’s protest.

What are the farm laws?

Last year Government of India passed three laws in order to bring a reform in the agriculture sector in India, which are:

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act – provides for setting up a mechanism allowing the farmers to sell their farm produces outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs). Any licence-holder trader can buy the produce from the farmers at mutually agreed prices. This trade of farm produces will be free of mandi (marketplace) tax imposed by the state governments.
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance – Allows farmers to do contract farming and market their produces freely.
  3. Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act – amendment to the existing Essential Commodities Act. This law now frees items such as foodgrains, pulses, edible oils and onion for trade except in extraordinary (read crisis) situations.

According to the government – the new laws will help to strengthen basic farm sector infrastructure through greater private investments. Successive governments have found financial constraints in investing in farm and rural infrastructure. It is argued that with food markets growing exponentially in India, private players would make agriculture profitable for the farmers.

Why farmers are protesting?

It’s been around 3 months since the Farmers are protesting in North India, on the highways en-route Delhi. Despite having rounds of talks between the government and the farmers, they’re yet to find a common understanding.

Farmers are worried as they feel this may impact the existing structure and lead to the corporatization of the agriculture sector in which the big corporations will exploit the farmers. Moreover, the new farm bill talks about the establishment of the private Agriculture Produce Market Committee, which in turn will end the role of middleman involved in the market, However, the middleman is seen by farmers, not as one exploiting them but one who provides services to them. Their number in two states – Punjab & Haryana could cross 100,000. So, farmers and middleman fear that this will ultimately result in huge job loss and impact the structure.

Another point farmers fears that from individual-to-individual relation, these bills will change the market into the individual to corporate relations. With a changed dispute settlement mechanism the farmers also are worried that their pleas could not get the desired settlement.

MSP – Minimum Support Price is another demand forwarded by the farmers, which they apprehend that allowing outside-APMC trade of farm produces would lead to lesser buying by the government agencies in the approved Mandis (marketplace). The protesting farmers say the new laws would thus make the MSP system irrelevant and they would not have any assured income from their farming. Right now, the government announces fixed MSP for around two dozen crops.

The working of the MSP system has been such over the years that it benefits only a handful of farmers at the all-India level. The Shanta Kumar committee set up by the Modi government in 2015 says that only six percent of farmers benefit from the MSP regime.

The catch here is that for farmers of some states such as Punjab and Haryana, the MSP system has worked well. In these two states procurement of paddy and wheat range around 75-80 per cent.

So, the fear that the MSP system may crumble and get dismantled after the new farm laws are implement has become a very emotive issue for the farmers of Punjab and Haryana. And, that is why they are the ones who are most vocal in their protest against the farm laws and demanding that the MSP should be made mandatory for both APMC and private Mandis (marketplace).

The government, however, is constantly in touch with the farmers and trying to resolve the issues through dialogue and till then the laws have been kept on hold while talks are held.

External group’s interference

Many external elements are interfering in the protests and challenging the government, including a few fringes and notorious separatist organisations which are based and nurtured by the West during the days of the cold war days for the obvious reasons. In the garb of human rights and democracy, they know it very well that how to destabilise a nation. There are many examples in front of us, the Russian protests being one of them. 

The world has seen how after the new U.S. government’s arrival in the United States set the narrative for the socialist lobby around the world. President Trump very well assessed the threats of such groups and kept them in check but the new administration seems to propagate their ideology as the state policy. 

When President Biden said, “We must meet the ‘new moment’ accelerating global challenges” it indicates toward continuing the policies of Obama administration with new added ‘Biden’ characteristics. 

The tweets by American celebrities and people with clear political leaning are not about the protests, they in fact, do not know much about the protest, and their idea is to attack the ideology which doesn’t meet theirs. India is a land of protests, revolution, ideas and ideologies and both the Government of India and Indians respect the thoughts across the spectrum.

One of the American Congresswomen said that she will continue to monitor this situation closely and another expressed the solidarity but their thoughts are not driven by the plights of farmers, rather a particular ideology.

Recently, the State Department welcomed the reforms by the Indian government and also advocates for the protests. Which is contradicting in itself. India as a bearer of an Independent Foreign Policy should avoid any validation by any foreign government and let not the tweets by a particular mindset decide the course of protest or government actions.

India as a democracy respect different ideas but can’t allow any ‘vested interest’ groups influence any actions by New Delhi.

From our partner International Affairs

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Forced Cremation: Another bout of marginalisation in Sri Lanka

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A thermometer gun is used to take a boy's temperature in Sri Lanka. © UNICEF/Chameera Laknath

The agony of the Sri Lankan civil war is not worn off from history as yet. The 26-year war decimated the foundations of the country and highlighted the separatist fragment of the society. The massacre of the Muslim community and the wounds left to fester since 1990’s riots have still not subsided even after three decades. While the clash of the Sinhalese and Tamils climaxed in 2009, the violence against the Muslim minority never ceased. The recent strike over the rights of minorities is the forceful cremation of the deceased in the line of Covid prevention adopted by the Sri Lankan government. Regardless of the religious doctrines guiding the final proceedings of the dead, the Sri Lankan regime continues to ploy to utilise the pandemic as a tool to forcefully cremate the deceased Muslims irrespective of the sentiments of the Muslim families.

Sri Lanka, officially known as the ‘Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’, is a South Asian country forming a tear-drop below the Indian subcontinent and located at the southwestern edge of the Bay of Bengal. The country was bloodied by the infamous civil war that incited in 1983; claiming mounds of lives and consuming countless communities. The 1990 Massacre was the flash point of the civil war; mosques attacked in the town of Batticaloa resulting in 300 Muslims brutally slain as a drive against the Sinhalese government. The end of the civil war should have marked an end to the inhumanity bestowed upon the Muslim minority given the fall of the ‘Tamil Tigers’; the main culprits of the 1990 massacre. However, the religious violence exponentiated instead of contracting under the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lanka as the anti-Muslimism campaigns picked up pace over the last decade, leaving the Muslim minority, making only 9% of the total population, insecure with respect to safety of life and prosperity.

Over the course of the decade, the spree of violence and discrimination against the Muslims transitioned into bloody chaos claiming mosques, shops and even crippling entire towns dwelled by the Muslims. The anti-Muslimism rhetoric led by the extremist Buddhist group ‘Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)’, backed by the Sinhalese government, paved the riots against the Muslim community in the form of mobs ravaging the Muslim towns during systematic protests. The repeated calls for protection went unheeded by the Sinhalese Buddhist Revivalist Groups, further nudging and encouraging the extremist monks to spread hatred against the Muslim community which came across as the mobster mentality boldly continued to oppress the Muslims.

The Human Rights abuse under the regime of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, has surpassed all the records of injustice etched in the Sri Lankan history. His promises to bring back the Muslims displaced amidst the civil war went in vain and he proved to be as much of a biased leader as his brother. When Gotabaya came into power in 2019, the Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Party (SLPP) had been mongering extremism under the pretence of mob-attacks while backing groups like BBS to simmer hatred and prejudice against the Muslim community. The Rajapaksa brothers are notorious of their Burma-like mentality of ethnic cleansing, rumoured to be following the footsteps of Myanmar to thin the Muslim minority in a similar exercise of genocide as against the Rohingya Muslims. Though the ‘ethnic cleaning’ allegations have been repeatedly put down by the SLPP leaders, the historical bloodletting of the Muslim community and the irrational policies adopted under the charter of litigation point to a very different and bleak picture of politics in Sri Lanka.

Since the Sri Lankan government adopted the mandatory cremation policy in March 2020, more than 80 deceased Muslims have been forcibly cremated against the will of their families. While the Rajapaksa-regime uses forced cremation as another tool to torment the Muslim community by trampling on their basic rights in the guise of Covid-prevention, World Health Organisation (WHO), along with the Sri Lankan doctors, has rejected the justification provided by President Gotabaya for adopting cremation as a safety procedure to prevent water contamination due to rituals related to burial. Despite of the assurance of WHO, the Sri Lankan government not only refused to consider burial as an accepted method but even the Supreme Court expended no time to shun the petitions filed against the forcible cremation law, pushing injustice in the face of the Muslim minorities. The UN experts remarked on the systematic persecution of the Muslim community: “We deplore the implementation of such Public Health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of the Muslims and other minorities of the county”.

It is clear from the stern attitude of the Rajapaksa-regime that it aims to undermine the voice of the minorities by crushing the rights and subsequently silencing the protests that ensue from the inhuman treatment. Though the global political circles have responded strictly to the ghastly abuse of power in Sri Lanka; UK being the prime country to hold active protests against the violation of human rights and even UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, threatening sanctions on Sri Lanka for proactively transgressing the rights of minorities. However, despite of the pressure building up, the spokesperson of the Sri Lankan government, Keheliya Rambukwella, rebutted the allegations by stating: “We do things only on expert advice and cannot take ad-hoc decisions”. The juvenile statements followed by the aggressive attempts to subterfuge the global community are enough to expose the extremist mindset of the Sri Lankan government. The debacle that is to follow, in retrospect, could be far worse than the civil war since even the dead are not spared of the tyranny in today’s day and age.

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From Gandhi to Modi: Exploitation of Svadharma

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Hinduism is depicted as the world’s oldest religion, with roots and customs dating back to more than a 4,000 years. As of now, it constitutes of around 900 million followers, and is the 3rd most practiced religion after Christianity and Islam. In essence, Hinduism carries main concern over the mind, spirit and body of individuals, where non-violent actions that result spiritual peace of these identities are idealized. Moving forward, the central notion of Hinduism revolves around dharma, which can be associated with the overall duties and responsibilities of individuals in society, with accordance to ethical and moral practices that highlight non-violence. Notwithstanding, Hindus are also disposed to choosing their individual dharma in accord with their consciousness, intellect, and circumstances. This is coined as svadharma, and includes the duties and responsibilities of Hindus in relation to fellow beings and the total environment they reside in. Consequently, the attainment of peace is promoted through fulfilment of life goals, and the abandonment of stormy conditions. Since Svadharma as a concept is up for interpretation, it varies from individual to individual. In fact, due to its subjective nature, it also leaves room for religious exploitation in the lust for political objectives. This essay will aim to put forward the true depiction of svadharma through analyzing Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Satyagraha; adding on, the exploitation for political incentives shall be explained through BJP’s Hindutva ideology.

To begin, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s interpretation of svadharma resulted in Satyagraha, which can be portrayed as a revolutionary step towards non-violent non- cooperation against the British rule in India. Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha was a natural outcome of the supreme concept of truth. According to which, if the truth can be deemed as the ultimate reality, its protection is critical. Hence, Satyagraha refers to the exercise of the truth against all injustices, oppressions and exploitations; which ultimately results in peace on an individual and societal level. It essentially embodies the notion of peace from Hinduism. To add on, for the attainment of fighting oppression through non-violent means, he embraced yogic strength to endure the most intense physical pain, including food and sleep deprivation without any flinching or any fear. Gandhi served as an influence to millions of his unarmed followers, through serving as a symbol of divine strength and passion. Consequently, a mass revolution was launched against the then British Empire, formally regarded as the non-cooperation movement.

 In order to stay true to the divine and peaceful teachings of Hinduism, he commanded individuals to undertake the process of obeying the civil and moral laws of the state, while simultaneously resisting laws that were oppressive and barbaric. As a result, Gandhi laid down certain standards of moral discipline for the Satyagraha process, which were: complete faith in God in order to calmly bear the physical barbarisms directed towards individuals by the British forces, not yearning after wealth and fame, submitting to the leader of the Satyagraha unit, absolutely fearlessness and firmness against brutality, single-minded purposefulness, and individuals losing sight of their duty through the virtue of anger or any other passion. Thus, Gandhi wanted to incorporate attitudes penetrating towards toleration and acceptance of the hardships that came along with this movement. Overall, Gandhi’s svadharma allowed him to attain political gains without resorting to violence, which resulted in peaceful change. In Gandhi’s words, complete civil disobedience through refusing to serve compliance to state- made-law can be an extremely powerful movement. In fact, it can become more effective in comparison to than an armed rebellion; as, it does not include the suffering of the innocent individuals on a wide scale.

Satyagraha was a peaceful and inclusive movement that arose of svadharma; nevertheless, the concept of svadharma also introduced Hindutva, which is an extremist ideology with aims to disintegrate India’s secular outlook through transforming the country into a Hindu Rasht (a majoritarian Hindu religious-nationalist state that directs its 200 million Muslims and 30 million Christians into second-class citizens). In theory this concept goes against the very teachings of Hinduism, which revolves around peace and non-violence. Nevertheless, the concept of svadharma has been exploited and misused; as, Hindu extremists incorporate this notion to justify their horrific acts to attain political interests. The word Hindutva was introduced by the 20th century ideologue V.D. Savarkar, and it literally means “Hinduness.” The central concept was the embodiment of religious nationalism with territorial belongings and citizenship. Meaning, being an Indian was equated to following the religion of Hinduism; as, India was the spiritual motherland of Hindus. This was a problem for Indian Muslims and Christians; as, their holy lands were constituents of other states. Therefore, Hindutva followers disregarded Muslims and Christians as citizens of India. The current Indian government Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been assimilated under the ideology of Hindutva, and this notion has brought them popularity in India. In fact, this ideology was incorporated by them to come into power, which highlights the exploitation of svadharma. As a result, forcible integration into an outward Hinduness is being conducted in India. In recent years, India has witnessed Hindutva extremists killing Muslims due to various reasons ranging from consumption of beef to failing to chant the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” to hail a Hindu deity. Such actions are being conducted in order to compel the non-Hindu population into embracing Hinduism. However, at the end of the day, Hindutva is simply an exploitation of svadharma; as, it does not acquire to its peaceful and non-violent requirements. Moreover, svadharma aims to bring about peace on an individual and societal level; and, Hindutva is simply leading to chaos and riots in India. Through this the fact that Hindutva was a political goal for Modi to come into power is highlighted.

In conclusion, Hinduism is a religion that promotes the concept of non-violence and peaceful co-existence. Over the years, svadharma has been carried out by multiple personalities across India, in order to highlight their roles and responsibilities in insuring a peaceful through their personal interpretation, most notable of which are Gandhi and Modi. Nevertheless, the difference lies in their intentions and ultimate goal. While Gandhi carried a goal of attaining interests of the Indian population through non-violent means, Modi carried the aim of coming into power. Thus, Modi did not follow the true essence of svadharma and simply exploited.

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