MAVERICK CITIZEN OP-ED
India needs to act urgently against Hindu hate preachers calling for Muslim and Christian genocide
On 26 January India marks the day in 1950 when it became a sovereign nation free from British rule and the coming into effect of its constitution. But under the leadership of Narendra Modi it has strayed far from the secularist vision of its founding fathers. Today, leaders of Hindu nationalist organisations are injecting a fear of Muslim numbers into the Hindu masses. With an Islamophobic political party in power, supported by a pliant police force and bureaucracy, hate preachers enjoy impunity, rendering the lives of Muslims and Christians dangerously uncertain.
The year 2021 ended with calls for the genocide of Muslims and Christians in India by Hindu saints at a Dharma Sansad (religious parliament) organised in the city of Haridwar in Uttarakhand state, northern India, the city of Raipur in the east-central state of Chhattisgarh, and on other public platforms in Delhi. Hindus were asked to arm themselves and finish off Muslims and Christians.
The Uttarakhand meeting was held from 17 to 19 December, but the mainstream media did not cover it. The question of reporting does not arise. It was only after recordings by some young independent journalists surfaced on social media that the world came to know about this genocidal project brewing in the heart of India. It caused shock when people saw the saffron-clad saints exhorting Hindus to prepare themselves to wipe out Muslims.
Before we talk about the attempt of the embarrassed media and commentators to brush them aside as fringe elements, one needs to hear what Himanta Biswa Sarma, the chief minister of Assam, said in a public meeting in Telangana state. Sarma, who belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said that the day was not far when the names of Babur, Nizam and Owaisi would be written off and that this would be the civilisational resurrection of true India.
It was a not-so-subtle genocidal dog-whistle call targeting Muslims. Putting the names of the historical figures of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, and the Nizams, who ruled Hyderabad during the British colonial period, together with that of Owaisi, a contemporary Muslim leader and a member of parliament who talks about the rights of Muslims and minorities together, and then claiming that their legacy would end, left no room for ambiguity.
It was a clear call for genocide – one which was made more crudely in Haridwar only two weeks back. The words of one Yati Narsinghanand, head of the Juna Akhara, a Hindu sect, made the intent of the organisers and participants clear: “Muslims won’t be killed by swords now. You have to defeat them in technique. They already have very good weapons with them. [An] economic boycott won’t work. Hindu groups need to update themselves. Swords look good on stage only. This battle will be won by those with better weapons. More and more kids, and better weapons – only these can save you.”
Another saint, Swami Prabodhanand Giri, called for ethnic cleansing, asking Hindus to take inspiration from what is being done to Rohingya people in Myanmar: “As in Myanmar, India’s police, politicians, the army and every Hindu citizen needs to take up weapons and start a cleansing drive [ethnic cleansing].”
Speaker after speaker thundered from the stage that India has to be freed of Muslims. None of the speakers showed remorse or made any effort to say they were being quoted out of context, as can be expected in such cases. When asked by TV channels and media about their statements, they reaffirmed their position.
Neither the government of the state nor the union government has thought it fit to condemn the calls for the mass murder of Muslims. The police of Uttarakhand did not think that it was serious enough to warrant action. Initially the police tried to defend their non-action by claiming that the speeches had not resulted in any act of violence. It was after much outrage that first information reports were registered by the police and a special investigative team formed. But even after three weeks, no arrest has been made. The police officers explained the delay thus: “We are going through the videos. It takes time.”
The saints have announced that they would hold a revenge rally to protest against the first information reports and investigation against the Dharma Sansad. The police chief of Haridwar found nothing wrong with it and said that as long as Covid-19 guidelines were followed, permission was not needed for this public meeting.
This reluctance of the law and authorities, or their indulgence, is not surprising as this is not the first time such genocidal calls have been made. In August, 2022, at Jantar Mantar, a protest site close to the police headquarters of Delhi, similar exhortations were made in a rally.
A pamphlet distributed at the rally exhorted Hindus: “Where did the war inside you go? Take out your war from within because the crusade is bigger than the law and the constitution. Join me, I promise that I will eliminate this Islam from India, from the whole world. Nothing is impossible, everything is possible. Don’t resist, be a rebel. Don’t make noise, kill… whoever wants to destroy Islam, contact us on the phone.”
The police stood silently watching posters with slogans being raised, such as “Mulle kate Jaenge, Ram Ram chillaenge” (“The Muslims will cry Ram, Ram when they are butchered”). Some arrests were made after much hue and cry, but the accused were let off by the court as the charges made by the police were not seen as serious enough to keep them behind bars.
As Alishan Jafri and Kaushik Raj have shown in their piece in The Article 14, the Haridwar meeting was only one of the nearly a dozen such open meetings. “The Haridwar Dharma Sansad is the latest in a series of seemingly unrelated events organised by Hindu extremists to intimidate Muslims, including denial of spots for namaz (ritual prayers prescribed by Islam to be observed five times a day) in Gurugram in Haryana state; community gatherings called mahapanchayats in Nuh and Pataudi, also in Haryana; and protests… against so-called love and land jihads – unsubstantiated allegations of Muslim conspiracies to marry Hindu women and take over land in Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.”
In all these meetings Hindus were asked to eliminate Muslims. Previously, Hindu nationalist leaders would use the excuse that they were speaking against terrorists who happen to be Muslims. Now that pretence is gone. It is being said that the root of the problem is in the Qur’an, the holy book of Muslims. Those who follow the Qur’an are terrorists, because it preaches violence and therefore these followers need to be eliminated before they grow in number and finish off the Hindus. The hate preachers of the Haridwar meeting lodged a complaint against the Qur’an and Muslim clerics, claiming that they were conspiring against Hindus.
The hate preachers feel bold enough to announce further meetings of a similar nature. Narsinghanand held a press conference at Shimla, the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, and had this to say: “We [Hindus] are surrounded by the threat of Islamic jihad. Today, Hindus are on the verge of extinction as they haven’t thought enough of reproducing more children after bearing a male child.”
He, like other leaders of the Hindu nationalist organisations, is injecting a fear of Muslim numbers into the Hindu masses. “There are people [Muslims] who produce eight, nine or 12 children like pigs, with the intent to overtake and exterminate the Hindus in future, and elect among themselves a ‘maulana’ as the prime minister of India, who’ll enable them to unleash atrocities against Hindus.
“You [Hindus] shouldn’t be so tolerant of and oblivious to your ‘Dharma’, else they [Muslims] would kill and cook your children for meals,” he said.
In what Narsinghanand called an address to the “followers of Sanatan”, he told Hindus: “There is no other way but to wage a war against Muslims to bring victory to our religion. It’s a do-or-die for us.”
One needs to understand that rabble rousers like Narsinghanand are not isolated cases. They are part of a large and diverse ecology of hatred and violence directed at Muslims and Christians. Their statements, read with the speeches of the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is heading the union government of India and is ruling many states, make it very clear that they are instilling a fear in Hindus that they will be outnumbered and that Muslims could snatch political leadership from them using the electoral democratic route.
Appeals have been made from different quarters asking Prime Minister Modi to speak out against these hate speeches. But he maintains a studied silence and uses his dog-whistle style to generate hatred against Muslims. He uses the medieval Muslim rulers as examples of the faith and keeps telling his constituents that the threat still remains, making it amply clear who the targets are.
Similarly Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, himself a hatemonger, framed the forthcoming assembly elections as a battle between 80% and 20%. The message went across to both Hindus and Muslims.
Tejasvi Surya, an MP and head of the youth wing of the ruling party, recently gave a speech in which he said that peace would come only after all Muslims and Christians were brought back to the fold of Hinduism. After public outrage he withdrew his comment, but has left the video of his speech on various platforms.
These hate speeches are not merely the venting of frustrated majoritarianism. They have to be seen in the context of increasing physical attacks on Muslims and Christians. In 2021, nearly 500 attacks on Christians were reported. Pastors are attacked and jailed, churches vandalised, Sunday masses disrupted. Christmas congregations have been attacked and believers terrorised. Posters were put up recently in Varanasi, warning non-Hindus not to be seen on the bank of Ganga as it was sacred for Hindus and not to be defiled by non-Hindus. Muslim shrines are attacked and vandalised, and mosques demolished. In the state of Assam, Muslims are being evicted on a large scale by the state, which accuses them of having encroached on government land. Muslims are asking why only they are being evicted and no Hindu is touched.
In Gurgaon, a city close to Delhi, Friday prayers of Muslims in open spaces are being disrupted by the presence of police. The state government calls namaz in the open a provocation, a show of strength and a design to grab land. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Muslims to buy land or houses, as this is also called part of a plot to capture property. They are told not to enter Hindu areas. Muslims, be they bangle sellers or fruit vendors, suffer attacks regularly.
It is now an established fact in India that hate preachers enjoy impunity. Courts also do not use their powers to make governments accountable. It has led to a situation in which Muslim women are put up for auction online. The idea is to humiliate them into silence. But it is more than that.
A former police officer, NC Asthana, recently wrote: “Such incidents are a part of a sinister design to debase Muslims, humiliate them, dehumanise them and injure their dignity and self-respect so much that they come to accept their existence as vanquished people, if not sub-humans (the Untermensch of the Nazis) – surviving at the mercy of the majority in a land they are ‘historically’ not entitled to stand on, as per the Hindutva ideologues.
“The ultimate objective of these hate and humiliation campaigns is to wear Muslims down to the point that they are forced to accept a sort of social defeat. Having started with the process of othering, the idea is to force them first to accept second-grade citizen status and finally the status of nowhere people. The grand design is to break their very will to live with self-respect, dignity and honour.”
With an Islamophobic political party in power, supported by a pliant police force and bureaucracy, the lives of Muslims and Christians have become dangerously uncertain. Political parties shun their issues as they fear that it might alienate Hindu voters. In such a situation, Muslims and Christians feel isolated, disenfranchised and vulnerable.
With the spate of meetings calling for the slaughter of Muslims, the situation has become very precarious. It is important that the world wakes up to this reality and forces the Indian state to act according to the constitution and provide security to minorities. It is already too late. DM/MC
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University and writes literary and cultural criticism.