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India’s Saffron Justice: The Rise of the Hindutva State under BJP Patronage – Sarmad Ishfaq


Sarmad Ishfaq |

Although it appears that Pakistan is perpetually portrayed as a hotbed for violence against minorities, it is ironically India that fits this bill more aptly. According to research conducted by Pew, India was the fourth most religiously intolerant country in the world. Pew further stated that government constraints on religion and social hostilities related to religion have increased since 2015. Pakistan, as well as the rest of the world, must become cognizant of the rather ominous caveat that under the nationalistic BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its ties with various Hindutva groups, India has become actively engaged in oppressing its minorities.

‘Hindutva’ is a fringe ideology based on Hindu nationalism and its main facets include (but are not limited to) the belief that the entirety of the subcontinent is the homeland of Hindus and “Hindus” are only those people who accept India as their holy and fatherland. The BJP is known for its connexions with a plethora of Hindutva groups. The most notable or rather infamous of these include the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Sangh Parivar (SP). The RSS is widely viewed as the parent organization of the ruling BJP and from this troubling fact can its sphere of influence be ascertained – not to mention that Modi himself is a lifelong member of the group.

The end goal is to regain India’s lost ‘past glory’ through the creation of an all Hindu state. The BJP’s Hindutva outlook is reflected in the party’s demand for several controversial policy measures.

The RSS has been censured for their involvement in various ignominious acts, which include the demolition of the Babri Masjid, as well as their involvement in communal violence around India. The Human Rights Watch claimed that the RSS, BJP and other Hindutva groups were involved in the Gujarat violence that left around 800 Muslims dead – this event unfolded under then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. The SP, conversely, is an umbrella organization comprised of distinct Hindutva groups, which includes the RSS, BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, and others.

The members and followers of such groups subscribe to proclivities that equate Hinduism with nationalism and hence discern Islam and Christianity as unbelonging in India. These religions are categorized by them as non-indigenous and therefore cannot be a part of their vision of India, which appears to be quite a literal definition of “Hindustan”. These extremist groups, with the implicit and at times explicit patronage of the BJP, have become more ostensible in recent times due to their unceasing nefarious machinations and activities against Muslims and other minorities.

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The BJP won the 2014 national elections quite comfortably with 31% of the vote in the Lok Sabha (lower house of the parliament). Their victory can be attributed to two major reasons – firstly, their schema of economic development and secondly, their intention to appease the demands of a strong minority of Hindu nationalists. Although prime minister Modi’s appeal and the popularity of his economic development agenda was seen as the prime reason the party won in 2014, ideologically the BJP remains devoted to Hindutva policies that impend India’s minorities especially 180 million Muslims (Kim, 2017). The BJP further extended their hegemonic grip on the country in 2017 as they, along with their coalition partners, won 19 Indian states and control of both houses of parliament (chibber and jassal, 2018).

The followers of Hindutva not only subscribe to fanatical beliefs regarding minorities but also appreciate the BJP’s hard-line implementation of such intolerant views. The end goal is to regain India’s lost ‘past glory’ through the creation of an all Hindu state. The BJP’s Hindutva outlook is reflected in the party’s demand for several controversial policy measures. These include but are not limited to implementing a Uniform Civil Code that would rescind Muslim Personal Law; the endeavour of constructing a Hindu temple at the site of the destroyed Babri Masjid (several BJP leaders were involved in its destruction); and also the abrogation of the constitution’s article 370 which grants Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) autonomous status (Kim, 2017).

Ghar Wapsi translates to ‘homecoming’ as the groups involved in the program see the activities not as conversions but as a return to the original home.

Muslim representation in India’s parliament has been plummeting and currently sits at a miserable 4% – the worst level since 1957. In 2014’s federal election, the BJP took power without a single elected Muslim Member of Parliament (MP) while Muslim representation has also reduced in one of the highest Muslim populous states, Uttar Pradesh, from 17.1% to 5.9% in the state assembly. The latter is because the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in 2017’s assembly elections (mannathukkaren, Indian Express, 2018).

Moreover and most repugnantly, since the BJP formed the federal government, there has been a surge in unlawful police detentions, torture, degrading treatment of terror suspects, arrests of innocents from religious and social minorities etcetera (minority rights violations, 2017). Religious violence and the lynching of Muslims and Dalits have seen heavy intensification as well. Since 2014, many Muslims have been victimized and murdered by extremist Hindu groups under divergent campaigns. Some of these insidious campaigns include Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, and cow vigilantism.

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Ghar Wapsi is a Hindutva program that endeavors to reconvert non-Hindus who had previously converted from Hinduism. Ghar Wapsi translates to ‘homecoming’ as the groups involved in the program see the activities not as conversions but as a return to the original home. The RSS and SP proudly proclaim that all ancestors of Indian Muslims and Christians were Hindus and with this justification use violence, threats and money to convert Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism (minority rights violations, 2017).

Groups like Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) have been at the forefront of these conversion drives across India to realize their vision of a purely Hindu India. In a Ghar Wapsi event in Hyderabad, 1200 people were converted to Hinduism according to a VHP official. VHP leader Pravin Togadia has publicly and very brazenly stated: “We want the government to either ban religious conversions or allow us to go ahead with our re-conversion programmes. Hindus can no longer be silent on conversions which resulted in the dwindling of their population”.

Outfits like Hindu Yuva Vahini, Bajrang Dal, and others are actively disseminating propaganda that Muslim men are using love to convert Hindu women (minority rights violations, 2017).

The cow re-emerged as a central principle in India since the BJP came into power. In the country’s north, cow vigilante groups violently repressed cattle slaughter which is mostly done by Muslims and Dalits and is their main source of income (chhibber and jassal, 2018). Under the label of “cow protection”, groups of Hindu men calling themselves “vigilantes” started targeting Muslim farmers, their families, and businesses (Missaglia, unity in diversity, 2018). The cow was also politically leveraged, rhetorically and otherwise, by hopeful BJP candidates in order to further their political and religious ambitions.

Specifically, for example, Gujarat raised its punishment for cow slaughter to a lifetime sentence just before 2017’s state elections; legal slaughterhouses were closed down; and in May 2017, the federal government issued nationwide restrictions on the selling of beef (chhibber and jassal, 2018). Mob lynching of Muslims and Dalits became prevalent after 2014’s election usually under the label of cow protection. Siraj Khan was lynched to death in 2018 by a Hindu mob in central India for ‘slaughtering’ a cow. In the previous year, a Muslim teenager was stabbed to death on a crowded train on the accusation of carrying beef. On 17th July 2018, India’s Supreme Court condemned the endemic of mob lynching and asked the parliament to draft legislation that would stop vigilante justice.

Read more: Indian SC rules against love jihad campaign started by Hindutva extremists

Love Jihad is an alleged campaign driven by Muslim men that focuses on feigning love to convert Hindu women to Islam. Although there is no official evidence to back these claims, this has not stopped the plethora of active Hindutva groups that have found reinvigoration since Modi took office. Outfits like Hindu Yuva Vahini, Bajrang Dal, and others are actively disseminating propaganda that Muslim men are using love to convert Hindu women (minority rights violations, 2017). To put a stop to these conversions, the extremist groups sometimes threaten the woman’s family and in other cases threaten to kill the couple themselves.

Although Love Jihad is not a new phenomenon, it has gained momentum after Modi became prime minister – the term has also become a buzzword in India’s social media circles. There have been cases on social networks like Facebook and WhatsApp, where messages surface naming the Hindu women being “trapped” as well as their Muslim partners. These messages also encourage “true” Hindu’s to locate the men and take matters into their own hands.

Indian security forces killed over 90 Kashmiris (minority rights, 2017), injured over 15,000 (many were blinded due to pellet guns) and put Kashmir into its longest-ever curfew.

Unfortunately, Modi’s government has not done nearly enough to combat these kinds of campaigns and is instead involved, sometimes actively and at others passively, in promoting such extremist collusions in a so-called tolerant India. Modi’s own ministers have strikingly taken a downright insidious tone against Muslims in India and Pakistan. In India’s most populated state, Uttar Pradesh, Modi selected an anti-Muslim far-right Hindu named Yogi Adityanath (founder of the militant Hindu youth organization, Hindu Yuva Vahini) as the chief minister – to the obvious dismay of Muslims.

Yogi is known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and his organization has been a part of communal violence against Muslims in the past. The RSS-BJP leaders also continue to label their detractors as “Pro-Pakistan” or “anti-Indian”. A BJP M.P from Bihar threatened to send all opponents of Modi to Pakistan (minority rights, 2017), while Modi’s former minister for religious affairs, Najma Heptullah has publicly stated that Muslims are not a minority and that “This is not the ministry for Muslim affairs, this is ministry for minority affairs” when asked what she would do for Muslim rights.

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Modi himself was the infamous chief minister of Gujarat because of his alleged complicity in the anti-Muslim riots in 2002 which ended with around 800 Muslims’ death. The Supreme Court eventually cleared Modi of any charges but this decision outraged many Muslims. In true democracies, such a heinous event unfolding under a political executive’s domain would result in the immediate resignation or termination of that political office regardless of his or her involvement in the event or not. Here instead the BJP promoted Modi through its ranks and supported him as their prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections.

With respect to Indian Occupied Kashmir, one need not look further than the current protests against India that initiated in 2016 and India’s abhorrent response that has further fuelled the fire of the protesters. In July 2016, mass protests erupted due to the killing of a popular freedom fighter by Indian forces. In response, the Indian security forces killed over 90 Kashmiris (minority rights, 2017), injured over 15,000 (many were blinded due to pellet guns) and put Kashmir into its longest-ever curfew.

Numerous human rights groups have also lambasted the Indian government for not giving them access to Jammu and Kashmir to investigate the humanitarian atrocities being conducted.

Draconian laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Protection) Act (AFSPA) are still enforced in the region although there have been many international calls on its elimination. The AFSPA gives widespread discretionary powers to security forces such as shoot to kill, right to arrest without a warrant, right to raid houses and so on – furthermore, if all this was not appalling enough, the AFSPA also grants security forces impunity from civilian prosecution (minority rights violations in India, 2017).

Modi’s intentions further became transparent when he nominated a controversial far-right politician to become an M.P. Dr. Swamy has made his disdain for Muslims very obvious as in 2017 he tweeted that Kashmir should be “depopulated” of its Muslims who should be sent to south India as refugees (minority rights violations, 2017). The persecution of the Kashmiri people has tragically deepened since Modi has taken control of India. Although many were optimistic when the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP became coalition partners in Jammu and Kashmir’s government, this optimism soon dissipated.

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Currently, the Kashmiri protests have a real danger of escalating into an armed militancy if the Indian government continues with its political-military status quo (Mohanty, 2018). As already stated, the BJP government is also attempting to abrogate article 370 of the Indian constitution that gives special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir. Modi’s government has also placed Kashmir under a media blackout by shutting off internet and phone services intermittently so that civilians cannot communicate the horrors they are forced to face with the rest of the world (change.org).  Moreover, there was even a ban on the newspaper, Kashmir Reader, which was overturned after almost three months.

The BJP also discontinued their collation with the PDP in June 2018, which has since placed Jammu and Kashmir under the direct rule of the central government (Chandran, CNBC, 2018). This move emboldens the BJP and its hardliner approach in the region since the PDP is not present to moderate the party any longer. India’s barbaric response to its own “citizens” has driven away even moderate Kashmiris – soldiers barge in homes, cut off roads, use live ammunition when protests erupt killing or blinding innocents including children (Genttleman, NYTimes, 2018).

It is extremely heartbreaking that this label is more oratorical than pragmatic – this, unfortunately, has always been true for India but perhaps never truer than the present.

In 2018, the United Nations accused the Indian government of using excessive force in Kashmir since 2016 and called for an international inquiry into human rights violations (nebehay, Reuters, 2018) but India has rejected this report by the U.N. Numerous human rights groups have also lambasted the Indian government for not giving them access to Jammu and Kashmir to investigate the humanitarian atrocities being conducted. The BJP run India’s tyrannical actions have resulted in protests grew in size and number, but the armed militancy aspect remains abated since Pakistan has reduced support to militants (Gettleman, NYTimes, 2018).

Despite Pakistan’s clampdown on supporting proxy groups in the region since 9/11, India continues to admonish Pakistan with countless faux allegations of cross-border terrorism on all forums – bilateral, regional and international. India must cease its mentality of denial and contemplate that it is their own policies of disillusionment that is undermining millions of people. It must be clarified here that India has never truly realized “secular” status that its constitution so proudly asserts even when it was under the so-called secular and diversity-oriented Congress party.

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The country has a deep-rooted legacy of socio-economic marginalization of minorities and castes, religious-based communal rioting, and lack of political voice for the disenfranchised whether the ruling party was the Congress or the BJP. However, under the current BJP’s tenure, these anachronistic and illegal activities have proliferated and become more pronounced. For a country that derives abundant pleasure from being the world’s largest democracy, it is extremely heartbreaking that this label is more oratorical than pragmatic – this, unfortunately, has always been true for India but perhaps never truer than the present.

After concluding his Masters and receiving the Top Graduate award, Sarmad continued his passion for writing and became a researcher for Lahore Centre for Peace Research. Sarmad has several publications in international journals and magazines in the fields of Terrorism/Counterterrorism and International Relations. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.
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