India’s ruling party, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), espouses an ultranationalist and supremacist ideology known as Hindutva. This virulent ideology (distinct from the religion of Hinduism) seeks to expand the existing hegemony of upper-caste Hindus, intensify the ongoing persecution of Muslims and other minorities, and relegate the minorities to the status of second-class citizens.
The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) movement, which is the fountainhead of the Hindutva ideology, is the real power behind the ruling BJP. This movement has unleashed riots and massacres on minorities, mostly on Muslims, such as in Gujarat (2002) and Muzaffarnagar (2013). The magnitude of hate that RSS has brought to Indian society, with its supremacist ideology, has turned India into what some are calling “Lynchistan.” Organizations that document violence against Muslims and other minorities in India record more than 100 lynchings of Muslims since 2015, some simply for being accused of consuming or possessing beef or transporting cattle. Many fear that the BJP may be emboldened to begin a full-scale ethnic cleansing. According to widely publicized news in Indian media, some of the front organizations of the RSS such as the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and Bajrang Dal are considered religious militant organizations by the CIA.
The Danger of India’s Right-wing Nationalist Parties
The real and present danger faced by Muslims and other minorities in India can be gauged by the fact that the RSS idolizes Adolf Hitler, whose autobiographical manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” is now available in popular bookstores in India. The danger of the right-wing nationalist parties in India has a long history. In 1948, the Home Minister wrote, “There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha [rightwing nationalist party] was involved in the conspiracy [to kill Gandhi].” Some Muslim youth spend decades in prison after being falsely accused of terrorism. Ultimately acquitted by the courts, they have had their lives destroyed, while Hindutva bombers and lynchers have been set free in months, and in most cases have never faced the law at all.
The RSS and BJP have accelerated their persecution of Kashmiri Muslims, bringing the region to the brink of nuclear war. It has been more than 70 days since the Indian government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, and made all of Kashmir a giant prison. More than seven million Kashmiris are confined to their homes with no access to the outside world. The Internet and all lines of communication have been cut off over two months.
The Hindutva inspired government appears to be watching the world’s reaction in Kashmir before accelerating its plan for a massive ethnic cleansing of Muslims, starting with the state of Assam which is roughly 34 percent Muslim. The Hindu right-wing government led by Modi, who is a member of the RSS, has indirectly supported Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Rohingya Muslims by blaming the crisis on “extremist violence,” while at the same time completely ignoring the crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya. The RSS is currently urging extremist Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka to do the same to its Muslim minority.
Using the Law to Strip Citizenship
India passed a Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) on December 10 and now, as law, it is called the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). CAA offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. This new law amends the Indian Citizenship Law, in place for the last 64 years, which prohibited citizenship for illegal migrants.
The discriminatory nature of the CAA is that it offers amnesty to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian immigrants, excluding Muslims from the amnesty. The CAA will work in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which requires individuals to prove their Indian ancestry. A version of NRC that required proof of Indian ancestry before March 25, 1971 was completed recently this past August. Two million residents, many of them Muslim, in the Indian state of Assam, were left off the Register. Non-Muslims who couldn’t qualify to be included in the NRC will now be given citizenship based on the CAA, but Muslims will be left off the Register.
In fact, a more aggressive and nationwide version of NRC is being planned. While the exact text of that NRC hasn’t been announced, it seems it may require proving Indian ancestry way back to July 19, 1948 (closer to the date of the independence of India). Most people in India were poor, landless, and illiterate in 1948. So, this requirement will be almost impossible to meet for the average citizen. While the exact number that will not be able to prove their ancestry is not known at this time, it could be very high given factors such as lack of land ownership, illiteracy and scant education, absence of a birth registry at that time, etc. So, given India’s population of 1.3 billion, this could result in tens of millions of people being unable to prove their ancestry. As mentioned above, the non-Muslims will be eligible for citizenship under CAA, but millions of Muslims will be left stripped of citizenship.
After the law was passed, growing protests have been taking place across the nation. The police and paramilitary forces have reacted with vengeance. Peaceful protests in the northeastern states of Assam and Tiipura and also at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University [AMU] are being brutally suppressed resulting in loss of life and a high number of serious injuries. This has further escalated student protests across the nation.
The increasing level of persecution of Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis (indigenous tribes), Sikhs, and Christians in India is documented by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Many major newspapers in the U.S. and other Western countries have published extensive reports and countless editorials on this subject. Being unaware of these realities amounts to shirking our responsibilities as human beings and as Muslims.
RSS Activists in the U.S. and Other Nations
RSS volunteers and supporters have taken over a vast number of Hindu temples, professional organizations, and cultural spaces of the Hindu and Indian community in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia. and South Africa. It has also increased its influence in the Hindu communities in the Caribbean, East Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific region. In addition, they have several important allies in Washington such as Democratic presidential hopeful, Tulsi Gabbard.
There is another aspect of the rise of Hindutva that hasn’t been paid much attention. The Hindutva ideology poses a very serious problem and challenge for American Muslims. Hindutva followers are the fastest growing Islamophobic group in the U.S. Every year more than 50,000 hardcore Hindutva followers join thousands of highly educated professionals as IT guest workers and students. Hindutva leaders join forces with established American Islamophobes.
Taking Action Is Imperative
So, what are American Muslims supposed to do?
1. We need to educate the Muslim community and the larger community about the dangers of Hindutva to Muslims in India and here in the U.S.
2. We need to build alliances with civil rights and interfaith organizations that support human rights and oppose injustice.
3. While Muslims are the primary target of Hindutva in India, Christians are also suffering under their rule. So, we need to educate Christians churches and the Christian community of the extremist, nationalist designs of Hindutva.
4. We need to develop ties to journalists who can monitor Hindutva and publish content that keeps our own community, and people in general, aware of the aims and actions of Hindutva, both in India and the U.S.