The rising wave of Hindu nationalism and Islamophobia in India threatens to sweep up Muslim-majority Kashmir in its wake

India’s rapid economic growth, the vital technology sector, massive government-led privatisation with substantial foreign direct investment has led to deceptive visibility of prosperity – as if it were plentiful everywhere.

While evident in specific pockets throughout the country, prosperity in India has been exaggerated. Not in the presence of the nouveau riche, but the political projection of wealth and power.

Several economists are now challenging India’s purported economic success with a focus on the intensification of poverty, rural to urban migration, and the collapse of existing family and cultural norms.

Courageous Indian intellectuals, such as Pankaj Mishra, Arundhati Roy, Gautam Navlakha, and several others, have poignantly described the necessity of transparency to rein-in the bravado and confront lurking socio-economic crises.

Likewise, in ‘Puncturing the Myth of India,’ Mihir Sharma laments what he describes as a ‘crisis in credibility’ – or, a culture that conceals real unemployment rates and embellishes overall growth.

There is another related phenomenon, intricately woven into fake-news, hyperbole, mythification and economic illusion. That is, using Islamophobia as a strategic weapon to de-legitimise the Kashmiri movement for self-determination.

In moments of economic downturn, there is a tendency of fascist leaders to shift towards a rising tide of religious ultra-nationalism that utilises ‘othering’ as a tool to expand power at the expense of marginalised segments of society. The recent annexation of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir is a manifestation of this.

The Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, at the University of California, Berkeley, provides a trailblazing collection of evidence that highlights the rise of Islamophobia in India.

The report convincingly describes how the targets of “religious ultra-nationalism in India have been Muslim, Christian, Sikh and ‘lower castes’ within India’s society". More specifically, in the past two decades, the violent toll of Hindu fundamentalism has led to massive human rights violations against Muslims in Kashmir.

Hindutva Social Imaginary

Discriminatory practices and policies, according to the report, are linked to the growing 'Hindutva social imaginary' that serves to otherise Muslims in India and Kashmir. This fascist narrative “casts Muslims as ‘outsiders’ and ‘invaders’ of India rather than belonging to it, although their presence is simultaneous to or predates the formation of the state.”

The logical endgame of Hindutva ideology is the purge of all non-Hindus and in particular, Muslims, to create a pure Hindu Rashtra, or an India for only Hindus.

Hindu nationalists argue that Muslims from the Mughal Empire conquered India and enslaved its people, forcing a significant part of the population to become Muslim. Consequently, this justifies the forced conversions that ultra-nationalists are currently undertaking, such as Ghar Vāpasī to return Muslims (and others) to their natural state (Hindu). 

Similarly, this narrative is used for the destruction of Muslim religious sites that are purportedly claimed to be historically Hindu. This was the situation surrounding Ayodhya and the infamous Babri Masjid. And, this false imaginary also justifies the ongoing brutality and subjugation of Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination as, again, caricaturing self-determination with a pathology of ‘Muslims doing it again.’

Another manifestation of this vigilantism demonstrated in the Berkeley report is the annual increase in beef-related attacks and murders since Prime Minister Modi took office in 2014. Specifically, the passage of obstructive beef legislation is directly linked with escalating fatal attacks by Gau rakshaks – cow vigilantes.

Of course, none of this Hindutva imaginary is historically accurate. All ancient texts written in several languages describe Kashmir as a separate geographical space.

The false history of a greater India,  allegedly spoiled by Muslims, needs to be robustly confronted.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The Berkeley study highlights the role of the national Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in exacerbating communal tensions and heightening violence against Muslims and other minorities.  To be exact, leading members of the BJP are personally implicated in “communal violence” and hate-speech.

The BJP has the highestnumber of lawmakers in the country with declared cases of hate speech against them. For instance, BJP legislator and prominent politician and economist, Subramanian Swamy says: “Muslims should take an oath declaring that their ancestors were Hindu if they want to prove their citizenship.”

Even worse, BJP Union Minister Giriraj Singh declared: “The growing population of the country, especially Muslims, is a threat to the social fabric, social harmony, and development of the country."

Most menacingly, BJP leader Yogi Adityanath, has sickeningly spoken of raping corpses of dead Muslim women. Collectively, these statements by BJP leaders are grotesque in the manner they demonise the already marginalised Muslim community.

Reckless media

The horrendous effects of unregulated media are nowhere better seen then in India. The scores of 24-hour news channels and media powerhouses are ‘war crazy’.  

The Berkeley report highlights that Indiaʼs influential corporate media houses are deliberately set to “mobilise the electorate on communal lines” by promoting the hate speech of Hindu extremists, even to the level of murder. To be precise, since 2014, 12 reporters have been killed. In 2017 four reporters were murdered, and, more recently in 2018, four journalists were killed. What this reveals is an increasing level of violence directed against journalists who do not tow the official BJP narrative.

Take, for instance, the brutal 2017 murder of female reporter Gauri Lankesh, which was planned a year in advance. Her murderer Parashuram Waghmare was affiliated with members of a fanatical Hindutva organisation, according to several official Indian sources.  

Unfortunately, the Berkeley report details how RSS and Hindutva ideology has become embedded within the “newsrooms and boardrooms of Indian media houses.”

Restricting the wave

The Berkeley report on Islamophobia in India is a watershed moment that meticulously documents rising levels of fanaticism and intolerance under the BJP and explains the reasoning behind the illegal or unilateral annexation of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

It offers several policy proposals/suggestions. First, it is essential to increase the attention of international embassies/civil society to issues of religious freedom and related human rights, including to regions who have faced or are vulnerable to facing politically-stoked violence. International pressure should be placed on the current Indian government to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and be compelled to implement effective measures to prohibit and punish cases of religious violence.

Second, spread awareness, education and encourage open discussions around human rights violations against minorities in India and Kashmir.

Third, encourage the Government of India, to take prompt and effective legal action against individuals and groups responsible for perpetrating violence against minorities.

Collectively, these steps, if taken in a spirit of openness, transparency and honesty, will effectively begin to address the underlying causes/motivations of Islamophobia in India and the nuclear flashpoint of Kashmir.

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