India is a diverse and vibrant democracy that accommodates the needs and interests of people who belong to various religions. There is a marked history of dharmic organisations such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Seva Bharati that have, since their inception, repeatedly either contributed to the growth of the nation or aided the nation during times of crisis. Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who banned the RSS in 1948, again invited the RSS to be a part of the Republic Day celebrations in 1963 as a recognition of the exemplary contribution of Sangh volunteers at the border during the 1962 Indo-China war. Another recent example of the humanitarian works carried out by dharmic organisations is the contribution of Seva Bharati during the 2018 floods in Kerala. Around 350 Seva Bharati units and 5,000 volunteers were engaged in the relief works such as distribution of 350,000 food packets to the needy and organisation of 10 blood donation camps within a week.
On the other hand, India has also seen certain communal organisations that have, time and again, indulged in acts of terror. The recurring involvement of members of communal organisations, such as Popular Front of India (PFI), in acts of terror and violence has been witnessed in states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. This has resulted in the Government of India banning these organisations. In the recently concluded Karnataka assembly elections, this was taken as a point of controversy wherein the opposition parties tried to appease the minority community by promising a ban on Bajrang Dal. However, Bajrang Dal does not have any recorded history or stated intention of destroying the diverse social fabric of our nation through acts of terror and violence. In fact, volunteers of organisations such as Durga Vahini and Bajrang Dal were actively involved in spreading awareness about the corona virus and cautions against it during the lockdown period. Therefore, equating organisations that are known for actively involving in communal violence and terror, and dharmic organisations involved in seva and nation-building, just on the basis of religion, is flawed logic.
Though religion was not the focal point of discussion for the Karnataka assembly elections, opposition parties turned it into one by promising to ban the Bajrang Dal. It is important to note that this political manifesto should not be seen as an isolated incident and that there is a noticeable trend of banning cultural and media expressions of the dharmic view across states that are ruled by political parties known for taking anti-Hindu stances. The ban on the recently released film ‘The Kerala Story’ in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal is an example of the same. The movie exposes a deeper plot to trap girls from the Hindu and Christian communities by agents of terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It was shocking to note that despite the film purely highlighting the role of terrorist organisations such as ISIS and not making any untoward comments against any particular religion, there was huge furore against the movie from chief ministers of these states.
It is imperative to remember that inclusivity and secularism are integral to the cultural ethos of India and this is expressed and upheld through all its institutions. In order to thrive and continue on their chosen path of vision and mission, it is important for organisations to function within the ambit of the Indian law. We must also ensure that the objectives of these voluntary organisations do not go against the cultural ethos of this land. Only then can we ensure that India stands First.