Commentary | The rise of Hindu fundamentalism

Why hashtags are not enough

On June 28, thousands of people gathered in cities across India to protest a catastrophic wave of attacks on Muslims by mobs of upper-caste Hindus. Holding signs with the tagline #NotInMyName, the demonstrations stood in stark contrast to the government’s telling silence. At the centre of the protests in New Delhi, hundreds gathered around a stage to hear poetry, speeches, and discourse. Stories of the now astonishingly common shooting and lynching of Muslims and lower-caste Hindus were shared by families of victims. By demonstrating their anger, protesters hoped to send a message to the government and the world that this religious and caste-based violence would not be tolerated. Since then, the movement has been relaunched internationally, prompting more hashtags, music videos, performance art, and more. In India, however, protests and hashtags alone are likely futile.

The current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has been hailed by some as an economic reformer, credited with converting India into a global financial destination. However, this disguise is weak and transparent. Modi is less of an economist and more of a chauvinist, building himself from a groundwork of nationalist zeal.

In India, however, protests and hashtags alone are likely futile.

This foundation upon which Modi’s state has been erected is steadfast. Modi is the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), home to the religious right and political subset of the Hindu fundamentalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a categorically Hindu nationalist organization, and has involved Modi since he was just eight years old. Historically, the RSS idolized fascists such as Hitler and Mussolini, and admired the way Nazism quickly built an economically stable state under the banner of patriotism. With this philosophy, the RSS covertly began stirring up hatred toward non-Hindus by blaming them for train wrecks and violence, arguing that religious and caste differences were the root of the problem. They have since created over 150,000 programmes covering health, education, and development to help struggling lower-class Hindu communities while simultaneously indoctrinating ethnic and religious majoritarian beliefs. Through these operations, the RSS has become the vanguard of Hindu nationalism, and has infiltrated almost every institution in India – including education, the judiciary, democratic ministries, and more. They are rewriting history textbooks and creating propagandist training camps to inculcate children with their cause. With astounding success, the RSS is purging Indian society of all leftist influences.

Since the beginning of his career, Modi has employed the RSS and its philosophy as a political tool. He was the chief minister of Gujarat during the riots of 2002, which accumulated over 1000 fatalities, most of them Muslims. Conveniently, the Gujarat violence happened close to election time and polarized the vote, propelling Modi into victory. Many reports accuse Modi’s police of deliberately inciting violence against Muslims and often leading the mobs of Hindus during these riots. By refusing to condemn the attacks and doing arguably nothing to stop the massacres, Modi has built his career on a culture of hostility, cruelty, and nationalism – a culture that has since been injected by the RSS into the institutional body of India. When asked later if he regretted what had happened to Muslims during the Gujarat riots, Modi responded that even if “a puppy comes under the wheel of a car, one feels sad.” Following the violence, the BJP was able to capitalize on the religious tensions created in Gujarat for years, allowing them to claim the majority Hindu vote in the general election of 2014. By using communal killing as a form of electioneering, Modi manufactured a climate in which his election was inevitable.

Modi is less of an economist and more of a chauvinist, building himself from a groundwork of nationalist zeal.

The other major party in Indian politics, the Congress Party, didn’t stand a chance. They quickly lost their sheen when compared to the reform proposed by the BJP. Their corrupt, high-society members were distasteful when compared to Modi, the supposed everyman. The Congress Party was forced into the background, and became virtually nonexistent in many parts of India.

The election of the BJP allowed aggression to grow exponentially. The Islamophobic violence occurring in India now is a new degree of terror. Muslims live in fear as hostility continues to grow – the recent murder of a 15-year-old Muslim boy has brought to light the severity of the problem: on June 22, Hafiz Junaid was stabbed to death at a railway station in Asoti, India over a seating dispute. The assailants flung his body onto the railway platform, as a crowd of 200 assembled near the attack. Junaid’s companions were also critically injured in the assault, resulting in an ambulance being called. However, the subsequent police investigation was almost immediately stopped in its tracks; of the 200 people on the platform, not one claims to see what happened. The police cannot find a single person who says they witnessed the murder or the aftermath. The corn-vendor whose shift coincides with the time of the attack says he wasn’t there. Neither the station-master nor the two staffers who went to investigate saw the event at which they were present. The post-master managed to be in two places at once: in his office from which he called the ambulance, while at the same time at home “relaxing”. Collectively, the entire crowd of Hindus at the train station chose to not see the event.

Analyses of this incident have discussed how Muslims are effectively being pushed out of the social body and denied access to basic humanity, as their murders and lynchings have been rendered a non-event. Through the exposé of Junaid’s stabbing, we can begin to understand that the days of the Gujarat massacres are long gone. In 2002, Muslims begged for their lives at the feet of Hindu mobs. In 2017, there is nothing to see. It is a terrifying revelation that crowds of Hindus can make the agentive decision to see and un-see the savaging of a Muslim boy. The vigilante Hindus across North India hunting Muslims for sport do not need to worry about witnesses: there will never be any. India has entered an era where ordinary Hindus do not feel any obligation to even acknowledge the presence of a Muslim boy. And Modi continues to look the other way, tacitly endorsing the attacks, while his silence is reproduced in the silence of right-wing Hindu citizens.
Reports of violence against non-Hindus are continuing to emerge, from the mob attack on a Muslim woman to the murder of a Muslim student leader. However, these reports barely scratch the surface; many assaults are simply not reported by any mainstream source. The lack of coverage is leading to a blanket of ignorance surrounding the violence, obscuring the severity of the issue.

With astounding success, the RSS is purging Indian society of all leftist influences.

Something needs to be done to halt the current trajectory of fundamentalism in India. Fear grips the political left, resulting in passivism instead of resistance. The protests taking place are commendable, but aren’t enough to face the silent, prevailing government. The fundamentalist philosophy directed by the RSS and the BJP has slowly saturated India, making resistance more difficult than ever. Battling and petitioning the government isn’t easy when the government controls most institutions.

Drastic steps need to be taken, and we need to be doing all we can to help and support Muslims and left-wing Hindus in their fight against Hindu fundamentalism. While more safe protests need to be orchestrated, resistance groups and left-wing media sources also need to be supported to ensure that the RSS’s influence and control is countered. Focusing on the violence is not enough – we must dismantle the system that cultivates it.


Support local left-wing organizations/news sources working against fundamentalism: The Wire, Scroll.in, Tehelka, Caravan Magazine, NDTV, Forward Bloc, Revolutionary Socialist Party (India). Help spread the word.


Comments posted on The McGill Daily's website must abide by our comments policy.
A change in our comments policy was enacted on January 23, 2017, closing the comments section of non-editorial posts. Find out more about this change here.