India has witnessed another two murders of Muslim men in a week. Asif Khan, a gym trainer from India’s Haryana state was lynched by a Hindutva mob while returning home after buying medicine. A week later, 17-year-old Mohammad Faisal died in police custody, sustaining heavy injuries after he was arrested for allegedly violating coronavirus restrictions. The incident took place while he was selling vegetables outside his home in the Uttar Pradesh district. These men are some of the hundreds of innocent men lynched or burned to death by a Hindu mob. As a victim of this hate, Faisal is the face of Hindutva state violence on Muslims. These killings have become normalized in a highly radicalized society, which often hails the murderers as “heroes.”
Incidents such as these have become so frequent that mainstream media have long lost interest in reporting them. Justice for the victims has become a near-fantasy in the country, with few Muslim journalists and activists calling for the police to take action against the criminals. In cases of crimes perpetrated by the police, the Hindutva state is the guarantor of their protection. Even if the police do arrest the criminals, they are often released on flimsy charges and are welcomed and congratulated by politicians of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Most of the lynching is videotaped and circulated on social media, yet one can hardly find any mass mobilizations demanding justice or asking for an end to this barbarism perpetrated in the name of “Hindu pride.” The mobs often force their victims to chant the religious hymn-turned war cry ‘Jai Sri Ram’ meaning ‘hail Ram’, endorsing their role as right-wing nationalists and upholders of Indian or Hindustani identity. Worst of all, Muslims discussing these issues on social media are categorized as instigators.
State Sponsored Islamophobia
India recently caught the attention of global headlines with news of a “corona jihad” in New Delhi, where a Muslim group, Tableeghi Jamaat, was caught in a masjid gathered together despite the sudden lockdown imposed last year. The congregation members were accused of spreading the disease due to their crowds. Indian media blared accusations of a corona bomb, with fake news circulating regarding the victims alleged misbehavior against hospital staff. Many lives were lost as a consequence of this spike in Islamophobia last year.
The radicalization of Hindu society to its worst and cheapest form has gained worldwide attention, as prominent activists have raised their voices against the attacks made by Hindutva accounts on social media. These accounts often showcase a mix of the disturbing attitudes of: desperation, misogyny, hate, ignorance, racism, threats of death and rape, intolerance, and the most common of all — Islamophobia. More recently there has been a trend of infographics that attempt to repackage the hateful rhetoric into easily swipe-eable posts.
Under the RSS affiliated BJP government, India has weaponized every issue to flame Islamophobia or, literally, hatred against Muslims. It may be a surprise to many, but the BJP government is holding many Muslims they consider Bangladeshis in newly-made detention camps situated in the northeastern state of Assam. Muslims are being stripped of their citizenship – an easy method to dehumanize them and persecute them. These same steps were taken by the Myanmar government, culminating in the Rohingya genocide. Another example of institutional Islamophobia includes the formation of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA). India’s passing of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), whereby any non-Muslim from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh coming to India are given citizenship, highlights a de-prioritizing of Muslims citizens and an emphasis on nationalist-based identity politics. The list of tools cooked up by the state to castigate Muslims is never ending.
The Hindutva Project
In the face of liberalism’s worldwide existential crisis, there is a movement amongst India’s wider Hindu society to redefine their country differently than the liberal intellectuals and freedom fighters who did so following independence from British colonialism. The project envisioned by the Hindu paramilitary organization known as RSS is that of a Hindu Rashtra or Ram Rajya (kingdom of Ram) based on the idea of a long-lost glorious Hindu civilization surrounding the mythical deity Ram, whom some Hindus consider as the highest God. Though India has today transformed into a Hindu state, its institutions completely hijacked by Hindutva ideologues, the Hindu Rashtra project is far from complete with India’s 200+ million Muslims seen as a major impediment.
At the same time, the Hindutva ideology asserts that India belongs to those of the ‘Indic faiths’ (Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Sikhism) — the only religions supposedly originating from India (though this, too, is contested). Ironically, this concept is an amalgamation of political ideas that can be traced back to Europe: racism, fascism, and nationalism. Hindutva intellectuals like D.V. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar were supporters of Hitler and admired the way he “cleansed” German society of Jews and upheld the “pure” Aryan race. Hindutva claims India is the origin of Aryan people and seeks to legitimize the already racist caste system, wherein the upper caste brahmin minority are considered superior to the rest. Hindu scriptures like Manu smriti are explicit in this racist differentiation.
But why stick to these foreign, failing, and abhorrent systems of fascism and nationalism? Did Ram rule over a kingdom with Hindu nationalism as its political ideology? Hindu scriptures do not contain elements upon which a Hindu Kingdom can be idealized. Thus, Hindu adherents have no choice but to adopt ideologies of non-Indian origin.
The problem of a Hindu Rashtra is similar to the dilemma faced by Zionists in establishing a “Jewish state” with a majority Jewish citizenry. A Hindu state — in its vision for homogeneity — would require a large majority of its inhabitants to adhere to “Indic” religion. Thus, Hindutva has primarily identified Muslims (though Christians too are considered to be an internal threat according to Golwalkar) in the country as outsiders who must be eradicated. It has also falsified reports on the increasing number of Muslims in the country in attempts to impose birth restrictions and a uniform civil code intended to further oppress Muslims.
Hindu Revivalism or Disintegration?
A Hindu state refuses to accommodate its Muslims in any way, given the proposals to either convert them to Hinduism, expel them to Pakistan or ethnically cleanse them through mass murders and genocides. One often hears from proponents of Hindutva that it is not radicalization occurring within Hindu society but revivalism. But is this revivalism calling for piety and fear of God among Hindus in following their scriptures or an honest intellectual research of the Sanskrit texts written by sages that advocate for more peaceful practices? The answer might not be palatable to many existing Hindu nationalists.
This so-called revivalism is not only progressing in a negative manner as it is further pushing society into a moral and spiritual downfall. It has resulted in the normalization of injustice and oppression, not just of Muslims, but of the outcast and dehumanized Dalits. Hindutva is attempting to unite Hindus against the Muslim ‘other’, but their own scriptures fall short in providing any provision for unity among themselves. It does not even consider the Dalits or other indigenous people with dark skin to be Hindus! Many of these indigenous people, also known as Adivasis, have come forward to assert their non-Hindu identity and history, posing a further challenge to the Hindutva project.
Because Hindutva encompasses within it a deep inferiority complex, it is constantly struggling with ‘whataboutery’ in relation to Islam. The challenge is significant since there are no fundamentally set rules and principles with which anything could be conceived as a Hindu value, let alone a Hindu state. In addition, there is no proper definition of “Hinduism” itself, other than a combination of people residing beyond the Indus river with an infinite amount of deities, practices, cultures, and languages. Hinduism then resorts to defining itself in relation to the land whose boundaries are also undefined (Hindutva believes in ‘Akhand Bharat,’ an idea of India that stretches from present day Afghanistan to the then region of Indo china). In light of such a crisis then, Hindutva has no other option but to resort to lies and propaganda intended to rewrite history according to what it needs history to be.
For Hindutva followers, there exists an undeniable jealousy towards Muslims and Islam because they know their religion lacks what Islam boasts. They are then left with no other option but to try “eliminating Islam” (to borrow the rhetoric of some of their leaders) from the country. The means is justified for the glorious end result of Hindu state, even if this means carrying out the genocide and oppression of Muslims. The end result, which is not difficult to envision, is Hindutva dealing the final death blow to “Hinduism” — stripping it off of its already fragile essence.
Photo by Big G Media
About the Author: Huda Shareef is an Mphil student in West Asian studies in New Delhi. You can follow her on twitter here.