Pushes for Hindu hegemony in India give rise to a fascist government

On July 28th, thousands of people gathered across 11 cities in India with signs to protest the most recent wave of attacks and lynchings against Muslims by organized mobs. A week before, a 16 year old boy was stabbed to death on a train for being accused of carrying beef on his person. These are the attacks of the Hindutva supporters in India that are rallying behind the idea that pure Hindu values must be adhered to in order for India to prosper. These are the people that believe that in order for India as a nation to survive, Muslims must comply with Hindu ideals first before their own religion, lest they want to be labeled as traitors.

Since 2014 there has been a significant rise in the number of religion based incidents against Muslims in India. From the staged conversion of Muslims under the misnomer of “Homecoming” in Uttar Pradesh to the case of a man being forced to pay fees by a member of parliament for fasting during Ramadan, right wing extremist Hindus have been subjugating Muslim Indians to cruel and unusual forms of punishment with minimal public backlash.

Asgar Ansari was a 45 year old Muslim man that traded in the eastern state of Jharkand. On June 29 a mob found him, beat him up, and eventually killed him. He was allegedly carrying beef in his car. Usman Ansari was a Muslim dairy owner whose house was set on fire three days earlier. Reports say that a cow carcass was found near his house.

Under the name of “cow vigilantism”, extremist subsets (such as the Hindutva) of the country’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are actively attacking Muslim individuals. While illegal, these two incidents are part of a string of attacks that can be linked back directly to the right wing activist groups such as the Bharatiya Gau Raksha Dal (BGRD) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), both of which are part of the same umbrella family of the Sangh Parivar, the same right wing organisation as the BJP. Groups like these use the false title of “gau rakshaks”, or protector of cows, to justify these acts.

The official statement on the BGRD website reads that they care and provide shelter for abandoned cattle but in reality, they do little as an organization to prevent the awful treatment of the cows that freely roam the streets of india. Instead, they focus tracking the people who are instrumental in transporting cattle and attack them instead.

While many of the dominant religions such as Christianity and even sects of Hinduism in India consume beef, the majority of the trade and business in the beef industry is conducted by Muslims. Of the 28 people killed in these attacks, 86 percent have been Muslim. This helps the Sangh Parivar achieve their ultimate goal of homogenizing a pluralistic country into a fully Hindu state through deliberate and targeted attacks and the cow has since become a powerful symbol of Hindutva.

Hindutva today can be traced back to the first half of the 20th century as a form of militant, violent, revivalist Hindu chauvinism and nationalism. The exact point in time at which Hindutva and this version of Hindu nationalism began has always been unclear, but it is generally attributed to the publishing of “Essentials of Hindutva” by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in the early 1920s. This was inspired by a pamphlet that came out in 1909 regarding the supposed “decline” of Hindus in India, causing hysteria and worry all across the country. It originated as an idea that each citizen of India must be pure and Hindustani.

India as a nation state has its protections for large minority populations clearly written into its constitution. On paper it is a secular, pluralistic democracy where all minorities are treated as equals regardless of ethnic or religious background as citizenship is purely territorial.

Hindutva is now trying to redefine what it means to be an Indian citizen. Savarkar defines citizenship as something that belongs to anyone who considers the nation of India from the Himalayas in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south to be both pitrubhumi and punyabhumi (the Fatherland and the Holyland respectively). Using this logic, many Sangh Parivar party members do not consider those that are Christian, Muslim or Jewish as true citizens. This rhetoric is widespread among dominant BJP politicians as well.

In December of 2016 Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a minister in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, differentiated between citizenship being dependent on whether someone was ‘Ramzadon’ (the progeny of Ram) or ‘Haramzadon’ (illegitimate offspring), thus further disenfranchising non-Hindus. Other BJP chief ministers have also publicly endorsed the act of hanging those that try and succeed in slaughtering cows and have actively exhorted vigilantes to be more intensive in their acts. In BJP ruled states there is even sometimes legislation that makes cow slaughter punishable by actual imprisonment. Little is done to reign in vigilantes and this only emboldens their efforts.

Modi has done little to publicly disparage these attacks. On August 15th 2016 he stated that there needs to be a greater emphasis on reducing “communal tensions” and spent the majority of the speech discussing the importance of pluralism and the idea of “moving forward”. India has always been defined as a pluralistic democratic and secular society. These have been integral pillars of stability in a region of the world that has been historically chaotic through waves of colonisation.

The concept of nehruvian secularism, as introduced by the country’s first prime minister after gaining independence from the british rule Jawaharlal Nehru, has underlaid the previous six decades of Indian nationalism, allowing for some form of stability.

When the Hindutva movement within India began to rise in the 1990s visible cracks were made in the facade of stability were seen. The economic growth in the 90s led way to the rise in the middle class, with which the more conservative and outwardly religious people were able to come into a position of power. Coupled with the rise of mainstream propagation of an idea of Islamic radicalism and revivalism in the world during the late 90s and early 00s, Hindu conservatives strengthened their roots of Hindu revivalism in the Indian subcontinent.

Modi says that he is focused on moving towards an idea of pluralism and has refused to directly comment on Hindutva, but the official BJP website states

“The future of Bharat is set. Hindutva is here to stay. It is up to the Muslims whether they will be included in the new nationalistic spirit of Bharat. It is up to the government and the Muslim leadership whether they wish to increase Hindu furor or work with the Hindu leadership to show that Muslims and the government will consider Hindu sentiments. The era of one-way compromise of Hindus is over, for from now on, secularism must mean that all parties must compromise.”

Police often report on the BGRD attacks as results of mob mentality getting far out of hand, but BDRD members have indicated via social media that these actually might be pre-planned. Across platforms such as Facebook, BGRD members flaunt swords and automatic weapons via photos and videos. Often they will upload multimedia showing them taking pride in their violent methods by beating people with iron rods. BGRD activists have also come forward and said that they have gone through training in how to purposefully inflict injury.

While these acts are highly illegal, terrorism analysts refuse to categorize these attacks as forms of local terrorism. Instead, they are categorized to “fall into a pattern of communal mobilization and vigilantism.”, according to the executive director, Ajai Sahni, of the New Delhi based institute for Conflict Management. Still, the Hindutva attacks follow many similar traits to terrorist attacks as they are both premeditated, carried out by non-politicians but are still politically motivated, and target unarmed civilians.