Why are Hindus and Muslims clashing in India?

Why are Hindus and Muslims clashing in India?

Earlier this week, India saw some of the worst sectarian violence in decades as Hindus and Muslims clashed in the streets of the capital, Delhi, killing dozens of people. Why?

The immediate cause of the unrest was a confrontation between critics and defenders of a new citizenship law that offers refuge in India to ethnic minorities from neighboring countries, but excludes Muslims from those protections. Opponents of the measure say that by basing people's rights on their religious identity, the law violates guarantees of secularism enshrined in India's constitution. Street demonstrations about the law have roiled many cities for months. But when a group of women protesting in a Delhi neighborhood earlier this week refused to clear the streets, a fiery local Hindu nationalist politician called on his supporters to do the job themselves. Almost immediately, the streets exploded in violence.


The historical context: India was born in a crucible of communal violence. When India declared its independence in 1947, ending nearly a century of British rule of the sub-continent, Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India became separate countries. Large numbers of people found themselves on the wrong side of a newly drawn border, and the ensuing sectarian violence and expulsions displaced 15 million people and left as many as 2 million dead. Against this backdrop, independent India was founded as a secular democracy, the better to accommodate, however messily, the rich patchwork of ethnic, linguistic, and religious identities held by its citizens.

The idea of a secular India has always been challenged by Hindu nationalists, who believe that the state should have a more explicitly Hindu character – the way that Israel (excluding the occupied territories) is a democracy which also identifies as a "Jewish state."

This fight over religious identity and secularism has come to a head in recent years. In the 2014 election, the BJP, a political party with roots in Hindu nationalist movements, swept to power. Narendra Modi, a lifelong politician who first joined one of those movements as a schoolboy, became Prime Minister.

Modi and his government have done many good things for India: they've streamlined taxes to make the sprawling economy more efficient; used new technology to massively expand poor and illiterate Indians' access to state benefits and bank accounts, and done hugely important basic things like installing millions of toilets in remote areas.

But his government and party have also pursued policies that appear to target India's 200 million-strong Muslim population. National citizenship registers are being revised in ways that threaten to exclude millions of Muslims who arrived as migrants from neighboring countries in the 1970s. Delhi has also revoked the special status long enjoyed by the state of Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in the country. And human rights groups, along with the UN, have accused the government of turning a blind eye to rising hate crimes against Muslims.

History rhymes: Twenty years ago, long-simmering tensions between Muslims and Hindus over holy sites in the northwestern state of Gujarat exploded into violence that left more than a thousand people dead, most of them Muslims. Hate crimes against Muslim women and children were particularly grotesque.

The local government, controlled at the time by Hindu nationalists, was accused of allowing or even tacitly encouraging the violence. And though a supreme court investigation later disputed this claim, the governor at the time was banned from the US over the issue. That governor's name was Narendra Modi.

A blue graphic using 1's and 0's to form an image of roads leading into a city

Governments, civil society and industry are beginning to understand the value of data to society in much the same way they considered the importance of thoroughfares 200 years ago. Just as these roads ushered in a new era of physical infrastructure that helped society thrive then, today we are beginning to understand the need to invest in modern approaches to our data infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and innovation, support individual empowerment and protect us from harm. Just as our physical infrastructure of roads and highways needs to be used appropriately, maintained and protected, so does our data infrastructure.

To maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of our data use, we need privacy regulations to serve as our global rules of the road that preserve our ability to use and share data across borders, supported by innovative tools and solutions that protect privacy and empower individuals. As we reframe our focus to support data use, let’s examine the regulatory approaches that have been working, and develop new approaches where needed to enable the responsible use and sharing of data. To read more about Microsoft’s approach to protecting data infrastructure, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, our parent company, has opened this year’s GZERO Summit with a provocative speech on the near future of international politics. Here are the highlights.

Are the United States and China now locked in a new form of Cold War? Their governments behave as if they are.

But Bremmer isn’t buying it. He’s not predicting that Washington and Beijing will become more cooperative with one another, but that both will be too preoccupied with historic challenges at home in coming years to wage a full-time international struggle.

In Washington, the main worry will be for America’s broken political system. US politics is becoming even more tribalized as TV and online media target politically like-minded consumers with hyperpartisan news coverage. Widening wealth inequality fuels the fire by separating white and non-white, urban and rural, and the more educated from the less educated. Deepening public mistrust of political institutions will fuel future fights over the legitimacy of US elections.

Beijing’s burden centers on how to extend decades of economic gains while moving away from a growth model that no longer works, as higher wages in China and more automation in factories elsewhere cut deeply into China’s manufacturing advantages. China is still a middle-income country. To reach the prosperity level of wealthy nations, it needs 6-7 percent growth for another 20 years.

But China must spend less in coming years to keep giant, deeply indebted companies afloat and more to care for the largest population of elderly people in history. And its leaders must accomplish this at a time when China’s people expect ever-rising levels of prosperity from their government.

The domestic distraction of US and Chinese leaders will create new opportunities for European, Japanese, Canadian, Indian and other political and business leaders to contribute toward international problem-solving. But other governments aren’t the only new players stepping into this power vacuum.

Technology companies are fast becoming important geopolitical actors. We’re entering a world in which economic winners and losers, election outcomes, and national security will depend on choices made by both governments and by the world’s big tech firms.

Bremmer calls this a “techno-polar moment.”

The idea is simple but transformative: Just as governments make the laws that determine what can happen in the physical world, tech companies have final authority in a digital world that’s becoming both more expansive and more immersive.

The biggest tech companies will establish sovereignty by defining the digital space and its boundaries, the algorithms that determine what happens within that space, and the “terms and conditions” that decide who gets to operate in this world.

For skeptics, Bremmer poses this question: Who will do more to influence the outcome of next year’s US midterm congressional elections: The president of the United States or the CEO of Meta? According to Bremmer, since the vote will be influenced by both real-world rules changes and the online flow of information, the answer isn’t obvious.

How will tech companies try to expand their power? Some will behave as “globalists” by trying to reach consumers and influence politics everywhere.

Others will act as “national champions” by aligning with individual governments and their goals.

Still, others will behave as “techno-utopians,” companies that expect historical forces and tech innovations to help them replace governments in important ways.

The relative success of these models over the next decade will decide how government and tech companies share power over the longer-term and whether democracy or autocracy will have the upper hand.

What’s to be done? “Think adaptation, not surrender,” says Bremmer. Steps can be taken to limit the sometimes negative influence of tech companies in the political lives of democracies. But just as climate change can be limited but not avoided, so we must understand and adapt to a world in which governments and tech companies compete for influence over our lives.

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How is China able to control their tech giants without suppressing innovation?

For Ian Bremmer, one important reason is that there's a big difference between Jack Ma questioning Chinese regulators and Elon Musk doing the same to the SEC.

"In the United States you've got fanboys if you do that; in China, they cut you down," Bremmer told CNN anchor Julia Chatterley in an interview following his annual State of the World Speech.

Still, he says China knows it cannot kill its private sector because it needs to keep growing and competing with American tech firms.

So, who's winning the global battle for tech primacy?

Right now, Bremmer believes the US and China are at tech parity — thanks to their tech giants.

"When we're talking about tech supremacy, we can't just talk about governments anymore."

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