Indian PM's mild reaction to violence over eating cows gets few bites in U.S. media

Scripture, as most GetReligion readers surely know, can be read in a myriad of contradictory ways. That includes interpretations that justify racism, slavery and  punishing or even eradicating those who believe or act differently.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others are guilty of this. As are Hindus, despite their penchant for theological pluralism.

Now we have a politically influential Indian Hindu journal writing that the Vedas, Hinduism's oldest scriptural texts, say it is permissible to kill "sinners" who slaughter cows, which are revered in Hindu culture.

I doubt Mahatma Gandhi would have agreed with this. But then again, he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist who conceived the world through a darker  and narrower lens

If you're wondering about the news hook for this post, it may be because other than The New York Times, American news media have paid little ongoing attention to this growing story (or so my relatively quick Web search found).

But look no further than the late-September killing of a Muslim Indian who was set upon by a Hindu mob acting on rumors that he had slaughtered a cow for food, an allegation that has not held up, according to later reports. He was one of three people to die in the last month in violent incidents related to consuming beef.

Here's a Times story summing up the basic situation. And here's a BBC report that explains India's laws concerning the slaughtering and eating of cows.

Note the Times story's critical political angle. Note further that it links this local vigilantism with India's top national leadership. When you're talking about the world's largest democracy (a term that seems to grow more elastic by the day), it's something to which journalists -- religion, world affairs and even business specialists -- need to pay greater attention. 

Concerned about religious liberty issues? This is one of the most important, with the potential to tear apart the world's second most populous nation (over 1.2 billion) and spark an interfaith bloodbath.

The Indian journal mentioned above is named Panchjanya, published by the Rashtriya Sangh Seva (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization that is the intellectual wellspring behind the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- the political party headed by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In short, this means one can draw a straight line linking Panchjanya to India's head of government. Modi is a staunch Hindu nationalist who, as of this writing, has has been slow and low-key about criticizing the violence, although he did order party underlings to not make statements that appear to justify beef killings.

I've written here before about how Hindu communal triumphalism is riling the Indian body politic. My focus before was Hindu nationalist assaults on the late Mother Teresa's domestic reputation and on Indian Christianity in general.

But the larger fault line here is between India's vast Hindu majority (over 800 million people) and its smaller but still huge, and growing proportionately, Muslim minority (around 140 million, the world's second largest Muslim population). Indian Christians account for just about 2.3 percent of the population, or less than 24 million people.

Indian Hindu liberal writers have castigated Modi's handling of this affair. Click here for one such example. Some of India's leading liberal authors, of various faith groups, have also acted to return India's highest state-bestowed literary prize in protest of the violence and what they say is the Modi government's crackdown on free speech.

The future of India -- modernizing tech giant or regressive religious and political intolerance -- may very well hang in the balance.

That's big news. American news outlets have the responsibility to try and educate Americans for what may lie ahead.

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