Editorial: The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism in South Asia

In the last few months South Asia especially Pakistan, Bangladesh and India had to face large-scale religiously motivated extremism, in the form of violent protests or such acts which risked public lives. In Pakistan and Bangladesh people took over the streets, attacked not just public and public property but security agencies and even kidnapped and killed security persons. In many areas, we witnessed clashes between security forces and mobs. This resulted in dozens of injuries. The apparent cause that inflamed the violence was the French government’s stance over the killing of French school teacher Samuel Patty for showing cartoons of religious figures. However, the determinants of these incidents are not immediate but historical. 

In India, the persecution of minorities under the Hindutva Raj has been the new norm for the once secular South Asian republic. Extremists don’t let any chance to subdue minorities. But this time these notions bring another consequence; ignoring the serious threats of COVID-19, the Modi government allow people to attend a religious activity, and not just allow but ruling party BJP to encourage people to join this largest gathering of the world. This activity played a major role in spreading Corona. Now India has become the hot spot for Corona affected people. Every day thousands of casualties are happening in India. All this occurred due to rigid religious beliefs which even have rejected the basic reasoning. 

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The main problem in this scenario is that this is not simply an issue on the micro level, extremism is a macro issue, that is to say, it is an issue of state policy and institutions. The ruling party of India; of more than one billion people has the mission to beard down everyone except Hindus. In Pakistan, organizations like TLP have the capacity to shut down the whole country at any time. They also have similar jingoistic views to the BJP. In the countries having atomic bombs, this is a serious threat to not just the subcontinent but to the whole world. 

This situation is determined by the faulty political and economic policies of the states and international establishments, who have great influence in the policies of these countries. In Pakistan, this is an open secret that the state has been backing religious extremists for years. During the Afghan war, America and Pakistan literally established factories of religious extremism. So, America is also equally responsible just like the Pakistani state for this situation. Even the role of the state in the current situation is also questionable. The verdict of Qazi Faiz Esa in the Faiz Bad dharna case raised serious questions on the credibility and role of security agencies. 

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To deal with this situation, firstly the state should have to rethink its policy and then eliminate all those institutions and ways which they used during the Afghan war to penetrate their ideology. So, there is a dire need to reform the education system and to get rid of fundamentalist syllabus. 

While in India the rise of extremism is largely determined by the uneven economic policies of Congress. These policies favoured big businesses and left out the lower classes. So, the middle class and lower middle class was extremely annoyed by this situation. Left had failed to capitalize his anger. So, this anger was capitalized by the BJP. Now the Congress condemns anti Secular policies of BJP but does not take a proper stand against their notion. Which is more dangerous. 

Now, along with the above-mentioned steps, there is also a responsibility of the left which is even more important. The left needs to mobilise communities and stand by communities that have been mobilising themselves without any external help. Fundamentalist parties provide an alluring platform of empowering the masses through the evocation of religious identities; an identity that even the state is assumed to be subservient to. The state cannot shoot protestors if they are evoking a religious platform, this is simply the reduction of the power asymmetry between the state and the masses. 

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The left must understand that state and religion are not always collaborating, at times they are renegotiating their relations. Can the left provide a platform of mass mobilisation that would empower communities against the violence of the state and work to reduce the power assymetry between the governing and the governed? As long as the left fails to do such a thing, the religious right in South Asia will enjoy a popular appeal.

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