Giry, St├ęphanie
April 2004
New Republic;4/26/2004, Vol. 230 Issue 15, p12
The author claims that while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that heads India's ruling coalition, offers a moderate face to key constituencies at home and abroad, it's quietly promoting bigoted policies that affect voters it knows it cannot win over, like untouchables and religious minorities. For untouchables like Krishnan, who haven't benefited from the government's generous but poorly enforced affirmative action programs, the best way to fight caste stigma has been to convert from Hinduism to more egalitarian religions. But the future of that strategy is now uncertain, because the BJP is reviving a long-forgotten law that penalizes religious conversions. The BJP has worked hard recently to soften its trademark Hindu-supremacist rhetoric. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is turning statesman, having jump-started peace talks with Pakistan. Foreign media outlets suggested that this newfound moderation is a sign that the BJP is finally maturing. More likely, however, the BJP's chauvinism will resurface once it re-cements its grip on power. Today, untouchables still lag far behind other Indians. More than 20 million are bonded laborers. This oppressive tradition has been mitigated somewhat by protections granted to untouchables under the constitution India adopted in 1950. Given the laws' limitations, dalits have tried to emancipate themselves by converting from Hinduism to religions that promise to treat them as equals.


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