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Message to Readers

Republishing for Samina's #Samina50 contest.

I would really, really appreciate feedback on this.

Is there anything that is irrelevant, that I should not have included? Anything that I should have? Is anything unclear or difficult to understand?

Hindutva is Poisoning and Dividing Indians

April 4, 2020

​It was the day of Holi, a Hindu spring festival. The sleep inertia had barely left me when I heard shouting and rhythmic clapping from outside. From the balcony, I saw a group of men from our housing society standing in a circle in the middle of the main roadway, clapping and shouting slogans, with two of them dancing in the middle of it all. 'Jaago Hindu, ek baar jaago toh,' they were chanting. Wake up Hindu, wake up once. What's unfortunate is that the sight of adult men dancing in the streets, calling on Hindus to 'wake up' did not surprise me as much as it should have. It saddened me terribly, but with everything happening in the country—and with everything that had happened since the Hindutva-supporting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged victorious in the 2014 general elections and Narendra Modi first became the Prime Minister of India—it wasn't much of a surprise.

While Hindus constitute 80 percent of the Indian population, India is also home to a number of religious minorities, including more than 200 million Muslims—the world's second-largest population of Muslims. Yet Hindu nationalist ideology defines India fundamentally as a Hindu country. The ​proponents of Hindutva ​(translated as 'Hinduness') strive to make India a Hindu Rashtra (nation-state). A Hindu, they believe, is anyone who regards India as their fatherland (pitribhumi) as well as holy land (punyabhoomi). Thus, this criteria includes Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists (since their religions originated in India), while excluding Christians, Jews, Parsis, and Muslims. According to the Encyclopedia of Hinduism, advocates of Hindutva seek to equate national identity with Hindu heritage through measures including "attempts to 'reclaim' individuals judged to have taken up 'alien' religions, the pursuit of social, cultural and philanthropic activities designed to strengthen awareness of Hindu belonging, and direct political action."​

When people enthusiastically backed Modi and the BJP during the 2014 elections, the support wasn't so much for his pro-Hindu policies as for his promises of alleviating the high inflation and unemployment levels, which the BJP's campaign largely revolved around. According to Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "while the BJP’s national campaign focused on issues of development and good governance, it selectively deployed Hindu nationalist tropes in pockets of the country where it believed such appeals would resonate."

Throughout his first term, followed by re-election in 2019, Modi has been criticised for the Hindutva overtones of various policies. Government school textbooks have omitted chapters on Muslim rulers. Historically Muslim names of many streets and even cities have been changed. Those opposing the government's decisions have been branded anti-national and charged under a colonial-era sedition law. There have been alarmingly frequent cases of Muslims being attacked by Hindu cow protection vigilante groups. (Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism.) But the most blatant targeting of Muslims came with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which eased Indian citizenship laws for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who came before December 2014. The government justified the exclusion of Muslims by claiming that Muslims aren't 'persecuted minorities' in these countries.

But nowhere did Hindutva have a greater detriment—or ​triumph, depending upon your point of view—than in winning a great many people over. Modi has massive public support despite—or perhaps due to—his strongly discriminatory policies. According to The Times of India, he is now the leader with the largest popular mandate in the world. He and his party have been able to convince even those people for whom religion never held much importance. And I've seen this myself.

My father has never been a religious person. I seldom saw him voluntarily going to a temple or even wholeheartedly participating in religious ceremonies. He has often argued with my mother, who is a deeply religious person, about the futility of rituals. Once, she gave him a plate full of delicacies, telling him to go to the nearest temple and give it to the priest. It was another festive day, and as per custom, none of us could eat anything without first offering a portion to a priest. My father went and gave it to a street sweeper. "The priests are overfed," he simply said. This has now become the norm at home.

It is this same person who has now become not just overtly aware and proud of his Hindu identity, but also deeply Islamophobic. He does not believe in every tenet of Hindutva, but Modi has his unwavering support. So much so that his relationships have fractured over support for Modi. He is no longer fond of a cousin that he has always respected and liked, after an argument on a family WhatsApp group—the cousin didn't approve of Modi's policies. Meanwhile, his dislike for another cousin has considerably decreased after she clearly expressed her pro-Modi stance in the same group chat.

My father has come to see Muslims as intolerant, cruel invaders. Once I told him how Modi has turned him into a person so aware of his religious identity. "So that's good, right? He reminded me of my religion and culture that I'm forgetting," he said.

There are so many more people who have been poisoned by Hindutva—the men of my housing society, calling on Hindus to 'wake up', the people who killed innocent Muslims in Delhi last month, only because of their religious identity and the people who now believe that uplifting Hindu culture is paramount for India.

Last year, I made my sociology school project on Islamophobia. Of the 30 people that I interviewed, only one person agreed to allowing their children to marry Muslims. Most, including my father, agreed that Muslims are responsible for most of India's conflicts.

Communalism has always been a part of Indian politics since its independence and partition in 1947. But never has it thus threatened to poison and divide its people. Hindutva must be challenged and resisted, or it will be the end of India as we know it.
  • Indian Ministry of Home Affairs Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, “2011 Census Data,” 2011, http://censusindia.gov.in/2011-Common/CensusData2011.html
  • Pew Research Center, The Future of World Religions: Population, Growth Projections, 2010-2050 (Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • Cush, Denise; Robinson, Catherine; York, Michael (2012), Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Routledge
  • Milan Vaishnav, “The BJP in Power: Indian Democracy and Religious Nationalism,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2019, https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/04/04/bjp-in-power-indian-democracy-and-religious-nationalism-pub-78677 

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  • Bhavya's Treasure

    During the partition, my great grandfather was rescued by a Muslim friend of his! He'd given him some money and asked my great grandpa to run from the place as he was aware of the riots breaking in a few days!
    Had that man not saved my great grandfather I wouldn't have been reading this today...
    I agree at some points with you but at others I don't!
    It's not local Hindus or Muslims that fight, they're 'gundas' hired by some evil people who are at high posts. Such events are dividing Hindu-Muslims and making them feel insecure towards each other. And as far as CAA is concerned i wasn't sure about my stand initially but after listening to Subuhi Khan, a lawyer I completely agree with govt's decision. It's not ONLY some Hindus who propagate this agenda but some Muslims also do the same. I would've been happier if you would've weighed them equally. :)
    For me, a person is a person no matter Hindi or Muslim! As long as they've a human and not a bloodthirsty devil within them they're pure!

    4 months ago
  • outoftheblue

    I just read this, and I honestly relate so much! My grandparents are outright islamophobic and even my parents, although they're a bit more subtle about it. And offensive, sexist jokes as well as pro modi propaganda is the reason I'm not part of any family WhatsApp groups.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    5 months ago
  • asta

    I'm in the same boat as you are--my father, who never used to be religious, is now fully supportive of Modi, and calls anyone who doesn't support him anti-national. To condemn people for the actions of their ancestors is nonsensical, and to condemn an entire community for the actions of a (very, very) small minority is, too. This was a wonderful essay, thank you for sharing!

    5 months ago
  • Samina

    The results are out!

    7 months ago
  • Samina

    Thank you for participating.Hope you have a nice day.:-)

    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    I don't even understand your side of the argument anymore. You said that you're against Islamophobia, but you're just constantly justifying it.

    There's a reason I’m so adamant about my position too. I have seen Islamophobia. I have seen people blaming Muslims for things that some other Muslims at some other point in history did.

    I know that what happened during the Kashmir exodus was very wrong, that many Muslims became anti-Hindu, that KPs were scarred for life and that the perpetrators weren't even adequately punished, but that doesn't mean that you can blame Muslims at large for it. There are many Muslims who believe that what happened during the Kashmir exodus was wrong. You have to understand that not every Muslim turned against Hindus. And even if they did, you can't blame other Muslims today.

    What you're talking about is akin to blaming the Germans for the Nazi's crimes. If the next generation just keeps holding on to it, how can we ever even dream of peace?

    Muslims have also been the victims of a lot of religiously motivated violence. They never got any apologies or collective regret either.

    Also, did you delete half of your comments here?

    8 months ago
  • sophism

    I would read “Our Moon Has Blood Clots”. There is a reason I’m so adamant about my position — I’m not supporting my side of the argument without a good reason, because I literally consistently tried to avoid feeling the way I feel about Kashmir today (because I’m a liberal in the US so it would be politically incorrect).

    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    The same way one knows anything at all in life.

    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    I'm not trying to undermine your family's experiences, but you have to understand that just because they went through that doesn't mean that every Kashmiri Pandit went through it as well.

    I know for a fact what went down in Kashmir too, and I know that Muslims made efforts to help Hindus, and I know that peaceful Muslims mattered because honestly, even if just one Hindu family didn't lose their lives because of some Muslims who helped them (and I also know that there were quite a lot), it could mean the world to their families and friends. So they matter. Your Grandfather being betrayed might not be a unique incident, but that doesn't in any way mean that every Hindu in the valley was betrayed.

    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    I'm sorry that your grandfather was betrayed by a friend, but the people who did these deplorable things probably believed in JKLF's ideology while not being formally associated with it. There were other Muslims who promised to protect their Hindu neighbours and apologized for everything they had to go through. Not every Muslim betrayed their Hindu friends and neighbours.

    That the 'whole Kashmir thing' was awful is a sentiment shared by many Hindus as well. I think that if you want an apology, it should be because you were hurt and it will make you feel better, not because THEY 'spread awareness for their communities'. If they don't forget stuff, that's too bad for them. It shouldn't make you hold on to past incidents, or give you the 'right to be mad'. My whole point through all of this is that just because some people of a community do something bad doesn't mean that every person of that community is just as likely to do something bad.

    To be honest though, as a high school student who’s going to start applying to colleges next year, I believe that you should actually try to be aware of politics, not stay out of it. I think that it's good that you have political opinions, even if I might not agree with all of them :)

    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    A lot of anti-Muslim violence has also happened during our lifetime. This is honestly a never ending cycle if we don't let it go.

    I understand that the people who've been affected by such incidents would want an apology, but then again it's highly unlikely that the insurgent groups like JKLF who were behind the Kashmir exodus would collectively show any regret. They've been swayed and brainwashed too, and while it's very tragic, their apology for it is as unlikely as al-Qaeda's apology for 9/11. You don't sound stupid—I understand that it must be very, very difficult for you, your family and everyone else who's been scarred by it, and that I might even sound insensitive. But for your own peace of mind, you should try to let it go.

    8 months ago
  • Loser

    Replying for my competition: Wildlife in your poem does not have to be from your country specifically; that was a suggestion. It can be from any country! Just remember the 55-word limit!

    8 months ago
  • Loser

    This is an interesting topic! Although I am from the United States, it is interesting to learn about another nation's politics.

    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    I do believe that what happened between a group of Hindus and Muslims in the past doesn't give a completely different group of Hindus today the 'right to be mad'. People are becoming more Islamophobic because this is exactly what the BJP is doing—reminding them of all these hateful past incidents and making them feel like they somehow need to extract some kind of retribution for them. They're basically telling people that since rulers like Aurangzeb were intolerant towards their Hindu subjects centuries ago (which btw isn't completely true), Hindus today need to take that 'hurt' out on Muslims today.

    What I believe is that these past incidents just should not make any hurt or anger 'pile up over so many years.' They should not define the relations between a Hindu and a Muslim today.

    If by 'grey area' you mean the whole 'we're nice, peaceful people who've been suppressing our anguish' retort, let me tell you that it's just causing more Islamophobia. If we ever want peace, we'll have to forget the hate from the past.

    I most certainly know the 'whole story'. I know that some Muslims have been behind some deplorable incidents that have caused tremendous suffering and grief. But my point is that the punishment for it should only be meted out to the accused, not to every random Muslim.

    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    I still don't get what 'political ambiguities' you're talking about, but it's good to know that you didn't mean to justify this intolerance.

    I used 'poisoned' only with reference to people who support Hindu supremacy in India. If you say that you don't, then I'm not saying that you're poisoned.

    I'm sorry that your family had to go through the Kashmir exodus. It must have been very difficult for them. But I still believe that it doesn't justify any kind of revenge or retaliation.

    I realize that my previous comment comes across as quite rude, and I apologize for that.

    8 months ago
  • sophism


    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    @sophism Are you actually justifying this surge of Islamophobia by citing examples of anti-Hindu violence by Muslims in the past? From more than a thousand years ago? Is this the 'rhyme or reason' you're talking about?

    Being targeted by Muslims in the past doesn't give Hindus today the licence to target completely different people who only happened to share their faith with those people from so many years ago. I don't believe in this at all, but if you want to talk about some kind of revenge, I'd like to remind you that anti-Muslim violence by Hindus absolutely outweighs anti-Hindu violence by Muslims.

    To be honest, I don't understand your stand here. You're saying that you're 'STRONGLY against what is happening against Muslims' but then justifying the same by talking about 'the pain and the anger that Hindus mask' from incidents that happened in the past.

    I have lived in India all my life and I fail to understand what 'political ambiguities' and 'nuances' you're talking about that could possibly justify this violence. I'd suggest you to base your opinions on factual information instead of what politicians tell you.

    You call yourself a Hindu yet justify religious intolerance. Honestly, I find it difficult to believe that one could be an anti-Hindutva liberal democrat and a BJP supporter at the same time.

    No bad blood, I just believe that this kind of hate is the last thing that the world needs.

    8 months ago
  • .amelia.

    This really raised my awareness on the issue in India. I hope this gets settled one way or another. No one, even the Muslims deserve to be mistreated like that! That's just racist!

    Ps. I have a random suggestion for you title. Probably go with a bold sentence? E.g. Hindutva destroying and dividing Indians. But it's okay if you wanna keep your title it's already good enough to me :)

    8 months ago
  • Wicked!

    @agustdv I'm so sorry that your family had to go through the Gujarat riots. It must have been so very difficult.

    It sucks to see my father having turned into an outright Islamophobe, but I just hope that he'll soon realize the devastating implications of his beliefs.

    8 months ago
  • agustdv

    oh man. this was so important. my family fled after the 2002 riots, and we really hoped nothing like it would ever happen again. but then it was delhi in 2020.

    in terms of how necessary this was, i fully stand by everything you said. it was factual, and i appreciated every sentence, especially the part about your father, which must cause you great grief. i hope and pray india becomes habitable again.

    8 months ago
  • stravelbach

    Hi! Just letting you know that I'm writing up a review to this (hopefully in before you need to submit), so please don't delete it soon : )

    8 months ago