Opinion: Hinduphobia Is Being Weaponized For The Defense of Hindutva

Unlike some people who want you to believe that Hindu supremacism is a product of the past decade or so, the truth is clear: its existence is over a century old. Currently, the RSS is the largest and oldest fascist organization in the world.

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Unlike some people who want you to believe that Hindu supremacism is a product of the past decade or so, the truth is clear: its existence is over a century old. Currently, the RSS is the largest and oldest fascist organization in the world.

In July 2016,  Gary Kasparov, arguably the greatest ever chess player said something that might as well go down as prophetic:

“You can get quite far in a democracy if you can convince a majority that they are victims of a minority and that only you can protect them.”

Kasparov said this well before the times of Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro, and while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was upping his Hindu nationalistic rhetoric in India.

When the majority are convinced of a fear that does not exist, what follows can be bloody and long-lasting, often irreparable and irreversible damage. India seems increasing to be on that path.

Prime Minister Modi and his party, for decades, have been using the theme of Kasparov’s quote to drum up a fear: a fear that India’s Hindus, who account for close to 80 percent of the population — are in majority in 28 of the 35 states and Union Territories of India — are under threat. An imagined threat, from every non-Hindus, and some Hindus too. And of course, only the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Modi can “protect” more than 800 million under threat.

How are 800 million people under threat and how is it that no one in the world seems to be paying attention? Well because for one, it is mostly a product of lies, deceit, and clever manipulation of ground realities.

But this is not new. When the British ruled India, while the overwhelming majority of the population continued the resistance against the British imperialism, a small section of almost exclusively upper-caste Hindus (the communities who are at the top of India’s caste system and greatly believe in practices like untouchability and non-mixing with other communities) had far different concerns: that India was the land of Hindus, and that the Hindus were under threat from both the Muslims and the Christians. This formed the basis of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation and the ideological parent of the BJP.

Cut to 2021, and some Hindu organisations in the US want to convince Americans that any objection to the hateful ideology of Hindutva, the RSS, and the policies of BJP (the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the setting up of detention centers for Indian Muslims, the ban on beef and tactical support to cow vigilantes to lynch Muslims) is in fact, an attempt to spread fear and misinformation about Hinduism and India. Hence, Hinduphobia.

Understanding Hindutva vs Hinduism

The specific brand of religion portrayed by the Sangh Parivar (an umbrella group of organisations linked to RSS) cronies in the US (the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad America (VHPA) its projects such as Hindu Students Council (HSC), HinduPACT, and Coalition of Hindu’s in North America (CoHNA) has almost nothing in common with Hinduism as a religion.

The Hindutva ideology was imported from Europe by early RSS ideologue B.S. Moonje, who was an ardent admirer of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and the founder of the Hindu Mahasabha. Moonje supported the formation of the RSS. Moonje’s ideas were based on his study of Italian youth organisations Balilla and Avanguardisti and he met Benito Mussolini in 1931 to set up a fascist movement in India.

Just read that again: a decade and a half before India gained independence, one of the leaders of the Hindu right-wing movement had contacted another leader who was to become the second most dreaded fascist in the world. Unlike some people who want you to believe that Hindu supremacism is a product of the past decade or so, the truth is clear: its existence is over a century old. Currently, the RSS is the largest and oldest fascist organization in the world.

These organisations recruited boys from 6 to 18 years-old and put them through various drills, paramilitary training and political indoctrination. The RSS still follows the template of these fascist Italian youth organisations with its drills, marches, propaganda, and vigilantism.

After Moonje’s period, RSS ideologues gave an ‘Indian’ flavour to Nazism. Thus began the early days of Hindutva, a nationalist and inherently anti-Muslim and anti-Christian ideology that propagated the idea that India is the land of Hindus, and thereby, Hindus, are the only true subjects of this country.

Central to this idea was race, just like Nazism. MS Golwalkar, the second Supremo of the RSS, in his seminal work, Bunch of Thoughts, which historian Ramchandra Guha called the Bible of Hindutva, Golwalkar said that the biggest threat to India came from Muslims and Christians. Speaking on race, Golwalkar said:

“Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for use in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.”

Hindutva is very clear that there can be no objection or dissent against turning Hinduism, one of the most, if not the most, diverse faith systems in the world, into one political system with no room for argument.

This is where American organisations come in.

It is important to understand that when far from the motherland, there is a natural affection towards it, and to protect its image, customs, and beliefs. As a result, a Hindu living in America would, naturally, defend his/her religious beliefs. But what the VHPA and the HAF have done is use this rather innocuous and pure feeling of love for the motherland and weaponize it, that aims to only defend Hindutva. Take the HAF for example, it speaks of “growing Hinduphobia ” in the West by raising the issue of Dr. Audrey Truschke, who teaches South Asian history at Rutgers University in Newark.

Dr. Truschke through her scholarly work, strived to present a view of India’s medieval history and Hinduism as a religion that is often contradictory to the image portrayed by the Sangh Parivar and its cronies in the US. The result? She is accused of Hinduphobia.

Earlier this year, a petition floated by Hindu Students Council, a VHPA affiliate seeking action against Dr Truschke was picked by some Indian righting media outlets as an example of Hinduphobia, even when it was adamantly clear that many Hindu groups also stood with her in solidarity.

In May, HAF sued Dr. Truschke for saying that the recent attacks on her were spearheaded by the advocacy group and its members, who also want people to believe that caste is a “colonial” concept that has no basis in the religion — a falsehood that is apparent to anyone who has been introduced to Indian history or has a lived in India.

Such laughable statements have been shot down by none other than the greatest Indian political leader of the 20th century and the father of Indian constitution, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.

The less said on claims made by HAF executives like Suhag Shukla and Rajiv Pandit, the better. Hindutva believes in no dialogues, even when the victims (in the case of casteism at least) are fellow Hindus.

The Hindutva hates any conversation on caste, and consequently, when organizations like The Equality Labs work hard to ensure that caste discrimination is recognized in the US and put under the protected category, guess which group opposes such a move? The HAF, of course.

Hindutva is BJP: BJP is Hindutva

The larger aim of the American Hindutva organizations has always been to provide much-needed international support to the BJP’s effort to turn a secular, democratic country into a theocratic state, in which, as Golwalkar says, “minorities should have no rights whatsoever and survive only at the goodwill of the majority of Hindus”.

Every time BJP has taken a step in that direction, the HAF and the VHPA have always acted as its jubilant supporters. From beef ban that led to dozens of lynchings, anti-conversion and so-called love Jihad laws, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to the rescinding of Kashmir’s special status, the list goes on.

According to the HAF and the VHPA, if you speak against these issues and criticise the ideology that is a driving force behind it then you are a “Hinduphobe.”

When the riots took place in Delhi, the VHPA issued a call for donations to ‘help’ riot victims. Yet, in its appeal, it made it sound as if these riots were organized by anti-India forces against the Hindus, an outlandish claim repudiated both by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, who squarely blamed the Hindu nationalist mobs and political leaders associated with BJP for orchestrating and fanning the violence.

“During the visit of President Trump to India, the forces that were fermenting troubles in New Delhi went on a rampage killing innocent Hindus and destroying the properties. Dozens of Hindus were brutally killed,” says the VHPA release.

These riots would then be shown as an example of “Hinduphobia”and “Hindumisia” even though the violence were instigated / provoked by BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra and other members of Hindu rightwing groups and the majority who died and suffered were innocent Muslims.

Google ‘Hinduphobia’ and it would take less than 5 minutes of scrolling on Google to figure out that the term is almost exclusively used by, and for, the purposes of just one ideology: the Hindutva. The first search result takes us to self-professed right-wing publication Swarajyamag.com, followed by noted Hindutva author Rajiv Malhotra. Both parties are avid supporters of the BJP and Hindutva and want you to be convinced that there is no difference between Hinduism and Hindutva.

However, like many people, including eminent historians like Romila Thapar, argue, it cannot be farther from the truth.

In America, the Hindu organizations have also repeatedly used Hinduphobia as a tool to defend Indian-American leaders who enjoy a close bonhomie with Sangh Parivar. Take the case of leaders like Tulsi Gabbard, who has often praised Narendra Modi and his leadership. When Gabbard was criticised for the same, HAF’s Suhag Shukla jumped to her support using the term “Hinduphobia”.

One might accept that Gabbard can be targeted for her beliefs: people who do not practice mainstream faiths (for America at least) can often be targeted for the same. Prejudice? Yes. Lack of knowledge? Possible. But how does it result in Hinduphobia?

The case of Amit Jani was no different. A democratic leader of repute in the Biden administration, many Hindu and non-Hindu community leaders had condemned him for his family ties with the BJP and thereby his support for their policies. As this article says, the Amit Jani controversy was, first and foremost, an American political issue and there were people from all communities supporting and opposing Jani.

But how, and who turned it into a case of Hinduphobia? HAF’s Suhag Shukla, no less.

“Repudiate the nasty #RejectAmitJani calls. Openly #StandwithAmitJani.  Recognize these campaigns targeting your only senior #HinduAmerican staffer as what it is: #Hinduphobia” claimed Shukla on her Twitter handle.

In a democracy, every person has the right to scrutinize his/her leader. Just like Jani, Preston Kulkarni also came under scrutiny for his ties with the RSS. Again, the questions raised were perfectly valid and Kulkarni came out when calls against his outright association with the RSS and his presence at the Howdy Modi rally in the US in 2020 got stronger, fearing for his political career, Kulkarni posted on his website that his party “does not accept support from any foreign entities, nor is it connected to or influenced by any foreign organizations, such as RSS, [the Chinese Communist Party], or their affiliates.”

Subsequently, in a letter to the Muslim community, Jani said, “I want to make it clear that I am, and always have been, an ally to the Muslim community.”

Kulkarni did not go so far as to condemn the RSS, criticize the CAA or other BJP policies, but simply put; he was in a political battle and had to face tough questions. He answered some, dodged others, and came out like any other political leader with gains and losses. Again, how does questioning an American leader’s questionable ties with Hindu fascist organizations like the RSS become Hinduphobia? Only the HAF and the VHPA know better.

HAF’s duplicity regarding “Hinduphobia” is apparent from the fact that HAF and it’s allied Hindu Nationalist organizations have harassed and organized protests against fellow Hindu Congresspersons such as Rep. Ro Khanna and Rep. Promila Jayapal for speaking out against Hindu Nationalism.

In fact, HAF co-founder and current board member Mihir Meghani made a full $2800 contribution to Rep. Ro Khanna’s Republican opponent. Further, Mihir Meghani contributed to the Republican leaning American4Hindus PAC that made additional contributions to Khanna’s Republican opponent as well as endorsed Trump for reelection in 2020.

Currently, both VHPA and HAF are leading an aggressive campaign against the virtual ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ conference starting September 10. HAF and its supporters have sent thousands of emails and letters to the 45 centers or departments at over 40 universities urging them to rescind their cosponsorship for the conference, again using “Hinduphobia” as a tool to shut down the voices that are critical of Hindutva.

Hinduphobia vs Antisemitism: Imagined victimisation vs real trauma

Between 1206 and 1857, Muslim rulers ruled over Delhi and various parts of India. If the Hindutva narrative is to be believed, millions and millions of Hindus were killed, subjugated, converted and displaced.

Often, these same “historians” have also made outrageous contradictory claims, such as on the one hand claiming that Mughal emperor Shah Jahan cut off the hands of every laborer who built the Taj Mahal, while on the other hand also claiming that Taj Mahal was actually a Hindu palace whose facade was simply “Islamized”.

Which begs the question then: how are there still close to 80% Hindus in the country and only two states (including Lakshadweep, a Union territory with a population of 65,000) have a Muslim majority population?

How is it that Hindu upper-castes remain in control of most of the land in the country if the Muslim rulers were so ruthless? About 80% of India’s agricultural land is operated by ‘other’ castes which may be the so-called upper castes or ‘other backward classes (OBCs).

The Dalits, on the other hand, own less than 10% of the total farmlands despite their population share in rural areas is 18.5% as per the 2011 Census. The Muslim data is not even available from a reputed government source.

Antisemitism was the call for action after one of the most bloody and disturbingly violent periods of World History. Apart from conspiracy theorists, few, if any, doubt the genocide of Jews and the Holocaust that took place.

But allow me to ask: Where are the calls for eliminating all Hindus like the case with Jews in the Hitler era? Are there any plans to bomb Hindu countries like the kind that followed 9/11? Are Hindus being checked twice and thrice at the airports because of their names? Is there a Guantanamo Bay-like international prison that houses only “hardcore extremist” Hindus without trial for decades? Is there a war on terror against Hindus? The answer to all that is a large, resounding NO.

Prejudice against a community is wrong, but to use it to falsely amplify claims of victimisation, covertly support fascist organizations and want people to believe that the criticism of Hindutva is Hinduphobia.

The truth is, Hinduism has always been open to criticism and that is what makes it a special religion for many who practice it. The fascists want you to believe there are no other options and that they are the only vanguard between respecting religion and its obliteration. It would be wise to once again remember what Kasparov said.