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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Saffron weaponization of public discourse in India

Instead of cowering and giving in to Hindutva’s mindless violence and exclusionary policies, social groups across India need to show resilience and solidarity with the Muslims and other minorities. Resilience, when accompanied by steady intellectual resistance, can counter fascism and save society from permanent sociopolitical damage

Hate speech by general definition is a verbal tirade to express hate and anger against a particular group or community on the basis of race or religion. This reactive and mostly over-reactive phenomenon has been a part of human society since time immemorial. It’s a shapeshifter, a chameleon that has appeared in countless shapes and colors: from the ancient Greek period to the radical evangelicalism, from the American Ku Klux Klan to modern white supremacists, from European nationalism of the 20th century to postcolonial Africa and Asia, and from the era of Cold War ideological proxies to Donald Trump’s racist remarks against minorities and migrants, the virus of hate speech has had different variants –with characteristics both distinct from and similar to one another.

But unlike the traditional versions, in the words of the United Nations Secretary-General, today “hate speech is not an isolated phenomenon or the loud voices of a few people on the fringe of society. Hate is moving into the mainstream –liberal democracies and authoritarian systems alike. And with each broken norm, the pillars of our common humanity are weakened.” This applies to Modi’s India more than it does anywhere else. The historical and political dynamics of hatred in India have filtered down to unidirectional bigotry against Muslims.

Read more: Malala horrified over India’s Hijab controversy

An endless cycle of hate and violence in India

The inauguration of Hindutvaat the august Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2014 activated the underlying communal sentiment in the Indian society; and, since then official and unofficial hate-mongering against the Muslims has been manifested in hate speech, major alterations in the structure of citizenship –including the revocation of articles 35A and 370 and introduction of the controversial CAA, communications blackout, persecution on the basis of culinary and linguistic habits, and mob violence. Hence, each and every aspect of life has been radically saffronized and with this, India’s claim of being the largest democracy on earth stands on eggshells.

The saffron weaponization of public discourse against Muslims in India has recently culminated in a three-day hate speech conference at Haridavar. At this gathering of communal hatred, the atmosphere was charged with anti-Muslim sentiment as usual; but there was something more sinister going on there. A female pro-Hindutva speaker gave a genocidal call to arms against Muslims. As if that wasn’t outrageous enough, she gave an estimate on how many volunteers would be required to cut down a certain number of Muslims.

This calculated violence, this measurement of force to persecute a particular community is an open challenge to human rights in general and to the edifice of communal coexistence in South Asia. The pronouncements made at the Dharma Sansadare representative of a larger culture of minority persecution which has become a trademark of the current BJP regime. With the legal mechanisms in place to prevent hate speech in India; such occurrences are set in a complex fiasco of political questions: whether legal measures can deter a social crime or not? Is this contemporary politics of hate an extension of communalism or is it divorced from the original conflict?

Read more: India’s first meta-verse wedding reception attracted 3000 guests

Has BJP dismantled Indian secularism for good?

If that is the case then how to understand this phenomenon where one group, after capturing political power, overhauls the entire social structure of a polity? It has been called ‘representative fascism’; which means that a fascist ideology cloaks itself as the face of change and nationalism in order to capture the popular sentiment and vote bank. After such an ideological group or party comes into power, it unleashes its fascist designs. It is only at a later stage, when fascists are in complete control of the state/society, that resistance emerges.

Civil society creates a line of defense against the marauding army of chaos and agents of violence. At the close of Modi’s first regime, the Indian intelligentsia carried out demonstrations, wrote open letters to the world which gave a clear message that Modi needs to go. Modi did not even budge, instead, he returned to power a second time stronger than before. The dissenting and protesting citizens have been threatened, arrested, fired at, and labeled as traitors. Hence, through fear and intimidation, Hindutva broke through the forward formation.

Who is responsible for the current scenario?

Today, when the representatives and officials are attending congregations of hate speech against Muslims; when Muslim street vendors are being boycotted in quite a few parts of the country; when minority groups are required to prove their Indian origins; when Kashmir has become synonymous with curfews, demographic changes, and occupation; the international community, human rights organizations and advocacy groups should be vigilant in checking the fascist growth in India lest a genocide happens. Most recently, Gregory Stanton of the Genocide Watch has identified early warning signs of genocide in India which is nothing less than alarming.

Internally, the Indian society has to counter Modi’s fascism by adopting a two-pronged strategy: resilience and resistance. Instead of cowering and giving in to Hindutva’s mindless violence and exclusionary policies, social groups across India need to show resilience and solidarity with the Muslims and other minorities. Resilience when accompanied by steady intellectual resistance can counter fascism and save society from permanent sociopolitical damage. Even an isolated act of resistance against fascism, like the girl with the Hijab, isn’t insignificant in the larger scheme of things.

Read more: India’s anti-Muslim firebrand possible future PM?

The world needs to take the predicament of Indian Muslims seriously; if not for the sake of a persecuted minority community, then to preserve world peace. In a nuclearized South Asia, calls for genocide against any community is not just a case of hate speech, it’s more than that.


The writer is a Lahore-based university teacher of politics, philosophy, and development studies. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space