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The Financial Express

India under Narendra Modi: anti-Muslim campaign and misogyny

| Updated: January 23, 2022 17:48:51


India under Narendra Modi: anti-Muslim campaign and misogyny

Between December 17 and 19, 2021, a group of  Hindu supremacist religious and political leaders met at a place called Haridwar in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Many of them have close association with  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party BJP. The event was labelled as "Dharma Sansad" (Religious Parliament) with the theme, "The Future of the Sanatana Dharma in Islamic India". The principal organiser of the event was a Hindu priest, Yati Narsinghanand who is an engineer educated in the former Soviet Union.

Among the attendees at the event also included BJP leader Ashwini Upadhaya from Delhi, Shadvi Annapurna, general secretary of Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindu supremacist outfit and Prabodhanda Giri, a prominent Hindu religious leader and the head of the Hindu Raksha Sena (Save Hindu Army), another Hindu supremacist organisation based in Uttarakhand among many others. Giri has often seen  photographed with senior BJP leaders.

According to NDTV, chief minister of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami, a BJP politician was seen touching Giri's feet (the Indian way of showing veneration for a person) at the event indicating Dhami's close association with the people involved in organising the event. Uttarakhand is now governed by the BJP, the party Indian Prime Minister Modi also belongs to.

Addressing the gathering, Sadhvi Annapurna was the most forthright in clearly spelling out the Muslim genocide agenda that marked the tone of the event and she said, "Nothing is possible without weapons, if you want to eliminate their (Muslim) population, then we are ready to kill them". She then further added  "Even if a hundred of us become soldiers and killing two million of them (Muslims), we will be victorious…..If you stand with this attitude, only  then will you be able to protect 'Sanatana Dharma' (an absolute form of Hinduism)".

Prabodhanda Giri also called for a Muslim cleansing and said, "Like in  Myanmar, the police, politicians, the army and every Hindu in India must pick up weapons and do this cleansing. There is no other option left". He was referring to the persecution of Muslim Rohingyas by the Myanmar army causing a million of  them to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Yati Narsinghanand also told the crowd that "Economic boycott won't work. Hindu groups need to update themselves. Swords look good on stage only. The battle against Muslims will be won by those with better weapons". Despite Narsinghanand's close association with the senior BJP leadership, he was accused of making derogatory comments regarding women leaders in the BJP.

Between February and March this year, three key North Indian states will go to the polls. Uttarakhand is one these states, other two are Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. To keep winning elections, the BJP needs to keep polarising Hindu voters against Muslims, and spinning more and more outrageous anti Muslim slogans like "Hindu khatre mein  hain" (Hindus are in danger), a slogan that resonates deeply with Hindus and where the danger is coming from is also clearly understood by them.

The WIRE said that the Haridwar event witnessed an "extraordinary quantity of hate speech, mobilisation of violence and anti-Muslim sentiment".

Hindu far right groups have long targeted Muslims over "love Jihad", luring Hindu women into marriage and procreating rapidly with the aim of overtaking Hindus to establish an Islamic state, thus necessitating new laws against "love Jihad".  Muslims were accused of spreading Covid-19 and in the very recent past Hindu mobs have targeted the Muslim congressional prayer on Fridays (Juma prayer)  in northern India. As Jews in Nazi Germany were called "rats", BJP members including the federal Home Minister Amit Shah now refer to Muslims as "termites", eating away at India's resources, thus denying Hindus what is due to them in their own country.

Modi himself owes his meteoric rise to power due to lack of remorse over the 2002 anti-Muslim drive in the state of Gujrat where he was Chief Minister at the time. Since Modi came to power  at the federal level in 2014, Hindu mobs have lynched many Muslims in the northern Indian states including the federal capital New Delhi. Prime Minister Modi is not squeamish about dead Muslims. In fact, Hindu mob attacks have become so common that India's Supreme Court warned they could become the "new normal".

The "othering" of Indian Muslims has been the mainstay of Indian politics since the middle of the 19th century, that became more pronounced since India, a British colonial construct got its independence in 1947. In fact, demonisation and violence against Indian Muslims have become a routine matter in India. The rise of the BJP simply and more brazenly furthered political marginalisation of Muslims that started in 1947.

While Muslim males are the usual victims of Hindu lynch mob; highly respected Muslim women are now increasingly becoming the major targets of online trolling in Modi's India. On the New Year's Day, 2022, about 100   prominent Indian Muslim women woke to a rude shock.  Their photographs without their permission were taken down from their social media profiles and appeared on a mobile application called "Bulli Bai" and encouraged people to participate in their auction. They include actors, authors, journalists, public figures, researchers, airline pilot  including Nobel Laureate Malala Yusufzai (a Pakistani) and others. Also, last July a similar type of auction took place called "Sulli Deals", in which close to a hundred prominent Indian Muslim women were put up for sale. Uploaded photographs of women  were tagged with "your Sulli deal of the day" - a jargon used to indicate products are available at discounted prices. The real purpose was not the auction but to degrade and humiliate Muslim women by sharing their images.

Both "Bulli" and "Sulli" are derogatory terms used for Muslim women in India. It is widely believed that Hindutva inspired Hindu supremacists target outspoken Muslim women with a voice. Such auctions are one of the methods used to shut them because they not only bring forward many social and political concerns facing the country  including exposing  hate crimes and issues of Muslims but also challenge the Hindu supremacist political agenda.

Rana Ayyub, a Washington Post columnist told  Al Jazeera "Bulli Bai" takes hate crime in India to another dangerous level where Muslim women are being virtually violated and made a free-for-all for a bigoted mob". She further added, "These auctions of women from the minority communities display the moral degradation of India and its constitutional values". In fact, the more vocal a Muslim woman is, the more she is targeted for on-line harassment.

This "Bulli Bai" auction and its earlier edition six months ago once again make me think in a country where 84 per cent of the population are Hindu and just 14 per cent Muslim, Modi and his party BJP must have achieved an astonishing feat of success in creating a fear of threats coming from Indian Muslims.

Muslim communities in India are very diverse with differences in language and ethnicity and also widely dispersed across the country except in Indian occupied Kashmir, yet there is such a heightened fear of them. Such a fear is ultimately a clear manifestation of a psyche that breeds extreme hatred that led to this utterly disgusting behaviour by two 21 year old males and a 18 year old female.

On a wider context it also manifests the existence of a deeply rooted culture of misogyny in India, especially directed at Muslim women where even a 18 year old female has been accultured into it. This must be deeply worrying for Indians who are opposed to bigotry and misogyny in their country.

The modern idea of India was essentially a British colonial construct. Before then the South Asian peninsula was composed of obdurate kingdoms and principalities completely devoid of any sense of oneness of the land mass of the peninsula in its political construct.

Even British colonial India contained 565 princely states ruled by indigenous rulers in a subsidiary alliance with the British crown. In 1947 these princely states covered  40 per cent of the area of pre-independent India with 25 per cent of its population.

Historian Perry Anderson pointed out in his book "The Indian Ideology" that the "idea of India" was essentially a European, not a local invention, as the name itself makes clear. No such term, or equivalent, as India existed in any indigenous language.

The core issue now what the post-colonial India as emerged in 1947 is, or more precisely what India should be needs to be resolved to address the issue of sectarianism or what is commonly called communalism  in India. Nehru's India - a Republic based on democracy and secularism have been seen as a way to resolve the sectarian divide.

But at a deeper level  one can readily question what is the social foundation of democracy in a caste ridden society? Also, India as a state while secular (in the Nehruvian sense) in statement but how far in substance?

In fact, Nehruvian secularism  has been at best lip-deep, completely devoid of any substance. Nehruvian secularism is in reality a fudge in an effort to maintain a unified and centralised India but created a deep resentment among Hindu supremacists who have now gained control of the country. 

Modi's brand of sectarianism also most unlikely has come out of the blue. Kanchan Chandra writes  in the Foreign Affairs that "Congress's sustained move towards Hindu majoritarianism over several decades created fertile ground for the more extreme ideology of the BJP". Now in Modi's India, ethos is Hindu and religious minorities, in particular Muslims need to know their place.

The late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru) played the Hindu card to regain her power back after her electoral defeat in 1977. In the wake of her assassination  in 1984, her son Rajiv as Prime Minister continued with his mother's pro- Hindu policy.

Ashutosh Varshney, a Professor at Brown University makes even a more pessimistic observation on the future of Indian Muslims and said,  "The longer Hindu nationalists are in power, the greater the change will be to Muslims' status and the harder it will be to reverse such changes".

No wonder Rahul Gandhi (Rajiv Gandhi's son) has been increasingly displaying  his Hinduness. He and his party's public commitments to Hindu causes including cow protection are a prelude to the Congress readying itself to carry on the Hindu agenda set by the BJP as and when it comes to power.  Shashi Tharoor another very high profile Congress leader well known both at home and abroad has written a book arguing his reasons being a Hindu and  also discussed about his Hinduness at Oxford.

Sekhar Gupta wrote in the Print (September 4, 2021) that "Indian Muslims have been completely eased out of power structure, not just by the BJP but all other parties. Even in the Supreme Court there is only one Muslim judge out of 33."

Nehru's India also could not resolve the deeper polemics surrounding Indian being a nation (a cultural construct)  and India being a state (a political construct) and how to mediate between the two to sustain a unified centralised India. Therefore, the fragility of Nehru's India is clearly manifested in Hindu supremacists' ascendency to power because he could not put an everlasting ideological glue to his India to keep it cohesive.

Now Hindu supremacists are trying very hard to put an alternative ideological glue called Hindutva to create a new India - a Hindu India. But with the application of this  new glue to the Indian body politic, they are in effect deconstructing Nehru's India.

Now the question that must be asked is that given India's ethnic, linguistic and religious diversities both across and within regions, how practical it is to drum up the notion of a Hindu India as canvassed by the BJP that defies these differences. A Hindutva inspired Hindu India is rather based on xenophobia and mutual hatred, something that threatens to rip apart than support the notion of one India.

Also, notwithstanding India's extreme poverty and squalor, the question Modi and his ilk still need to grapple with is how marginalisation and demonisation of 14 per cent of its population which imply sidelining 200+ million people from productive activities would impact its dream to become an economic powerhouse. After all, market and conflict have a habit of not cohabiting well in most of the times.

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