“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit
atrocities.” — Voltaire
Dr Shaik Ubaid | Caravan Daily
IN February 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center declared in its annual study that the number of active hate groups in the US alone had reached a 20-year high in 2018, of about 1,020. The groups include white supremacists, neo-Nazis and more.
Unfortunately, the rise of hateful ideologies is not limited to US and is no longer on the fringes of society. The vile rhetoric coming from the highest offices in the land in several countries, the mainstreaming of xenophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry is now a global phenomenon. The disaster that Nazism wrought on the entire world appears to have been forgotten. Genocide is no longer a rarity, as it has occurred in just the last 40 years in Bosnia (1992), in Rwanda (1994) and in the Central African Republic (2012-13). In some countries, such as India, the purveyors of hate have actually managed to push bigotry and religious persecution as part of state policy. In Myanmar, blind hate against the minority Rohingya Muslims has resulted in mass violence now widely accepted as genocide, committed by the majority Buddhist community.
The genesis of Hindutva
The most rapid and alarming rise of hate and religious bigotry expressed in the form of violence against minorities is actually occurring in India, although the downward spiral of xenophobia and racism in the US and Europe is worrisome too.
The Hindu supremacist movement, known as Hindutva that seeks to turn India into an official hegemony of upper-caste Hindus is now effectively in power in India. Hindutva is distinct from the religion of Hinduism, although it arrogates to itself the right to speak for all Hindus. The fountainhead of this vile ideology of Hindutva, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, known more commonly by its acronym, the RSS idolizes Hitler and was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
Through grassroots dissemination of its ideology, predicated on the notion of Hindu victimhood at the hands of religious minorities, the RSS has grown to a membership of 6 million with hundreds of thousands of chapters in the towns and villages of India. In both the magnitude of hate it represents, and in its track record of mass violence against minorities, including rape, arson and genocide, the RSS is the Hindu equivalent of ISIS.
India’s crisis and a threat to world stability
Hindutva’s war of attrition against India’s pluralist traditions is finally threatening the very existence of India as a democratic, secular country where citizens of all faiths are supposed to be equal before the law. Millions of Indian Muslims have been deemed foreigners in the Indian state of Assam through the nefarious “National Registry of Citizens,” that has even excluded the family of the late Muslim President of India, Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. This denial of citizenship to people who have lived in India for generations is the first step towards ethnic cleansing as evidenced in neighboring Burma.
Dalits, who have been the victims of the longest-running system of apartheid in the history of humanity, have witnessed an uptick in “upper” caste oppression, violence and discrimination. Forty-nine eminent intellectuals recently wrote an open letter to PM Modi demanding that hate crimes against Dalits and Muslims including brutal lynchings in broad daylight must be stopped immediately. Rape as an instrument of subjugation and humiliation of an entire community has long been the RSS’s strategy in dealing with religious minorities, as seen in Gujarat (2002), Muzaffarnagar (2013) and in countless other instances of mass violence.
India is a nuclear power with 140 nuclear warheads and is situated in a geopolitically sensitive region bordering China. India tries to exploit its location by courting the United States. On one hand the ruling party actively undermines pluralism and demonizes the founders of the Indian secular polity, while projecting itself as the world’s largest democracy in an attempt to command respect on the world stage.
India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was barred from entering the United States since 2005 because of his role in a pogrom where over 2,000 Muslims were killed and raped in the state of Gujarat of which he was the Chief Minister. The ban on his entry to the US was lifted only when he received diplomatic immunity on account of assuming the office of the Prime Minister.
Hindutva’s infiltration into the center of power in US
The US Commission for International Religious Freedom has consistently placed India in the Tier 2 of the “Countries of Particular Concern” with respect to religious freedom. Report after report of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have painted a disturbing picture of a polity that is complicit in mass violation of human rights and religious freedom. Dozens of hearings at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission have raised concern about the evil of Hindutva supremacy taking over India.
Despite this apparent visibility of India’s descent into fascism, the Hindutva movement has smartly insinuated itself into mainstream America, mirroring their gradual acquisition of power and influence in India. In the US their strategy has comprised of gaining influence in the spaces of Indian Americans, while pursuing proximity to power through active lobbying in Washington, DC, campaign financing of politicians, and projecting themselves as champions of human rights through well-crafted campaigns.
Among Indian Americans proponents of Hindutva have steadily moved into positions of power at professional associations such as the Association of Indian American Doctors. They have appropriated how India’s culture is projected in America through their ascendancy in Indian cultural organizations and through Hindu-centric campaigns around Yoga. In Washington, DC, organizations like Hindu American Foundation have consistently sought to deflect any attention on India’s human rights record or accountability for its egregious violations of religious freedom.
Every year tens of thousands of Hindutva supporters come to the United States as students and IT professionals. They have been so emboldened as to be openly forming alliances with American Islamophobes.
Some of the Hindutva organizations in America are as follows:
1. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS, and a counterpart to India’s RSS)
2. VHP of America, the US counterpart to India’s virulent VHP organization that is implicated in multiple cases of mass violence against minorities
3. Hindu American Foundation (HAF), an influential organization among mainstream Hindus who are duped by some of HAF’s benign advocacy on behalf of Hindus, barely suspecting HAF’s links to RSS and its complete alignment with the Hindutva agenda.
On multiple occasions, HAF and other Hindutva affiliates such as the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and the Uberoi Foundation, have sought to introduce Hindutva ideas into the US public school curricula, most notably in California. Such content covers a wide spectrum of Hindutva ideology, including a sophisticated denial of caste oppression as an integral aspect of Hindu society, and Islamophobic narratives that are part of the Hindutva catechism in India and around the world.
These organizations invite notorious Hindutva ideologues and leaders from India such as Sadhvi Ritambra, Yogi Adityanath, Subramanian Swamy and other office bearers of the RSS itself. In 2015, the Council for a Parliament of World Religions withdrew from an event organized by the VHP-America precisely because of the hateful rhetoric of invited speakers like Dr. Swamy, who called for the destruction of mosques and the disenfranchisement of India’s Muslims.
The objective of VHP-A and others in organizing such events is to inject Hindutva into the Hindu population in the US, and to raise funds to advance its nefarious goals in India. Hindutva votaries have taken control of hundreds of Hindu temples across the US, and are running countless Sunday schools where the hatred of Muslims, Dalits and Christians is staple diet.
The time is upon us for US faith leaders, human rights groups and news media to call out Hindutva as the racist, hateful ideology that it is, and to resist its spread in the United States.