02/26/2019, 18.45
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Caste and Islam used politically ahead of India’s election

In May, the country goes to the polls. Although a secular state, India’s religion and caste are being exploited by all parties. Toponyms are changed because they are too Islamic or colonial. Kashmir students complain of abuses following a terror attack that killed scores of soldiers.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Pilgrimages and pseudo-science as well as caste and Islam are in the service of politics in India, where voters go to the polls in May to elect the new lower house (Lok Sabha) as well as some State assemblies.

Like the Kumbh Mela, a huge Hindu gathering on the banks of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), caste and religion continue to dominate Indian politics, the more so since a Pakistan-connected Islamist group carried out an attack in Kashmir that killed 44 soldiers.

Formally, India is a secular, multicultural and pluralistic country. Article 25 guarantees freedom of worship and the right to propagate one’s religion. Although most Indians are Hindu, religious coexistence has always been a cornerstone of the Union.

According to the latest census (2011), 79.8 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people are Hindus (almost 967 million); Muslims are the largest minority at 14.23 per cent (173 million); Christians are only 2.3 per cent ( 27.8 million).

Although relations among India’s various communities are generally good, caste and religion tend to be played during elections by various parties.

A case in point is the recent decision to approve quotas for the high caste poor. Another one is the renaming of the city of Allahabad as Prayagraj by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath because its traditional name was "too Islamic".

Renaming cities and towns for purely political reasons has become a tradition that even left-wing governments indulge in, at least when it comes to replacing British colonial era names with indigenous ones to please local linguistic groups.

Since the attack last February 14 in Pulwama, students from the disputed State of Jammu and Kashmir complain that they are the victims of abuse irrespective of their religious or caste affiliation.

Some colleges have announced that they will not accept students from that State. In some cases, students have been expelled from their rented rooms. One of them, Irshad, knows all to well about islamophobia from teachers and fellow students.

Out of fear, he has been forced to study at home. " I don’t go to school any more. I sit at home and study for my exams,” he said. “My Hindu classmates insult me every day. If they fail me this time again just for who I am, then I’ll have no choice but to work at brick kiln. I know of Muslim students much brighter than me who have no choice but to work there.”

Class also plays a role. In Uttar Pradesh for example, Muslims are classified as "disadvantaged caste" and usually vote for the Samajwadi Party. Dalits are instead represented by the Bahujan Samaj Party. Brahmins vote for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Jat (peasants) vote instead for the local group Rashtriya Lok Dal.

After the massacres of Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, which caused 50,000 refugees, the Rashtriya Lok Dal aligned itself with the BJP and is now a great political force in the state.

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