Where Are India’s Dissenting Hindus?

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As anti-Muslim rhetoric festers, the Hindu majority continues to fail to raise its voice against the BJP’s toxic politics of hate.

In these troubled times, the world’s two largest democracies – India and the US – are increasingly becoming hostile, threatening places for people with Muslim names. US President Donald Trump’s ban on the entry of citizens from Muslim majority countries signals an official ideology legitimised from the top that people of Muslim faith are potentially dangerous. In India, the appointment of a man who revelled in hate speech and communal incitement against Muslims as chief minister of UP, the country’s most populous state – which, if independent, would be the fifth largest country in the world – similarly signals, in the words of The Guardian, that “.. in India minorities exist mainly on the goodwill of the majority. Step out of line and there will be blood.” And blood has already begun to flow.

By all estimates, India is heading for a scorching summer. Signs are evident everywhere that the soaring mercury will be matched by the sweltering heat of hate speech and violence stirred against the country’s minorities. In his early years in the country’s highest office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi somewhat distanced himself from his own hard-edged communally surcharged oratory during his tenure as Gujarat chief minister by resorting to a rhetoric of relative moderation, especially when speaking on foreign soil.

His party president, ministers and legislators, however, felt no need to don a mask of restraint in their continued communal, and often openly hateful, public provocations. This division of labour was useful for those who wished to explain away their support for Modi as being for his business-friendly economic policies and not his communal agenda, which they claimed was being pursued by his aides against his will. This apology never really carried real credibility, because a leader as powerful as Modi could easily have brought all his colleagues into line with a single rebuke if that was what he really wanted. However, with rabble-rousing Adityanath’s selection, it is clear that he no longer feels a need for masks. With Trump’s openly bigoted anti-minority stances, there is today a much more permissive environment for countries like India to also follow Muslim-baiting strategies more openly.

We have often heard of the frog who when thrown into a pot of boiling water, reacts immediately by jumping out. If the frog is placed into lukewarm water, which is slowly heated, it does not react or resist even as the water gradually boils, and the frog ultimately dies. Zoologists today contest the science of this experiment, but as a metaphor, it vividly illustrates the difference between what is unfolding against Muslim minorities in the US and India.

Trump, with his brash inexperience, threw the frog into boiling water. The cruelty and injustice were clearly visible to the world, and the frog also reacted. In India, the process is much more akin to a slow but lethal raising of temperatures, through countrywide cow vigilante attacks, campaigns against religious conversion, communal election rhetoric, and the demonising of Muslims as terrorists, sexual predators, serial divorcees and irresponsible breeders. Observers are unable to comprehend the enormity of the assault. The frog – for us, the democratic rights to equality and freedom of Muslim minorities in both countries – is gradually being boiled alive.

Also read: Indians Angry at Trump’s Ban on Muslim Refugees Should Look at What Modi is Doing

In India and the US, the rhetoric led from the top convinces the dominant groups that it is they who are persecuted, rather than being the oppressors or even the privileged. Thus, in the US, white Americans are persuaded that the country belongs to them, but is being taken away by coloured people, alien immigrants and untrustworthy Muslims. In India, the message is that the country belongs to the Hindu majority, but it is being stolen – aided by corrupt ‘secular’ parties – by Muslims whose loyalty lies outside this land. This moral inversion resonated in both democracies, spurring the rise of a minority persecution complex in the majority.

This systematic hate propaganda met with some resistance from white Americans, mostly college educated. In India, however, the greatest support to divisive ideologies comes from people with the highest levels of education and privilege. I find much greater instinctive willingness for peaceful and respectful co-living between people of differences in India among those who have been denied education and benefits of economic growth. This worryingly illuminates what higher education does to those who benefit from it in India – far from building liberal values or scientific temper, it seems only to nurture a sense of selfish entitlement and prejudice against minorities of various kinds and the poor.

These differences endure even when the privileged and educated Indians migrate to the US. Recent immigrant Sukhada Tatke observes in an article in the Firstpost the glaring absence of voices of fellow Indians in street demonstrations and protest marches as well as on social media feeds after Trump’s election. She speaks of her California-based cousin who wondered why she was so distraught: “Nothing he does is going to affect you, he had said. Is that any consolation? I snapped back. Today, only after new moves in the president’s immigration policy has he slowly begun to speak out against the dangers of a Trump presidency because he himself feels threatened by it.”

The most striking differences between India and the US has been the response of ordinary people to the anti-Muslim policies of their governments. Protestors gathered with welcoming signs at American airports within hours of the first travel ban being announced, people visited their Muslim neighbours to reassure them of their safety, judges at all levels struck down the presidential order, lawyers gathered at airports to offer legal aid and film actors spoke eloquently for the rights of people of colour and minority faiths in film award functions.

In India, I wait for the day when in UP villages where posters have come up giving notice to Muslim residents to leave, Hindu residents reassure their Muslim neighbours that they are both welcome and safe; where they fight to defend the security and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people threatened by cow politics and contested abattoirs; where students, teachers, lawyers, doctors, workers, farmers, actors and journalists all join the battle against the toxic politics of baiting and scapegoating minorities.

Our silences can only signal our complicity with the brazen changing of India into a Hindu country. A land where minorities must submit, else blood will flow.

Harsh Mander is a social worker and writer.

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  • kujur bachchan

    The question is, are there any dissenting Hindus? Mr Mander’s wait for the day the majority of middle class Hindus – students, teachers, lawyers, doctors, workers, farmers, actors, traders, journalists and others – join the battle against the toxic politics of baiting and scapegoating minorities is going to be endless. Because, as I see it, the dissenters among the majority community are too frightened or timid to speak out against the hate mongers.

    I shall endeavour to convey my feelings through the examples of the events or times over the years, which I was witness to.

    First, the Good Times. I grew up in a small town and did my schooling in a Christian school. The principal of the school was a Bengali Hindu. The school used to hold prayer assembly for the Christian pupils every morning. However, almost all students, irrespective of their religion attended the assembly and prayed along with their Christian friends. The Muslim and Hindu students did not consider it blasphemous to recite Lords Prayer, which they knew by heart. The lunch break on Fridays was of ninety minutes duration so as to allow Muslim students to attend to the Friday Namaz.. The Urdu teacher, a Muslim and the Sanskrit teacher, a Brahmin pandit, the most revered teachers, never missed the assembly. After some years, this Urdu teacher was elevated as principal of this school.

    Bad times. 1967, the year of one of the worst communal riots. The administration had clamped day-night curfew. Our family was sitting in the courtyard of our house. Suddenly we heard the mingled sound of running, panicky shrieks for help and the shouts of ‘kill him, kill him’. What we saw was a dishevelled middle age man (Muslim) running for his life chased by scores of sword and lathi wielding persons (Hindus). I do not not know where he was being chased from. But only a hundred metres from our house, he fell down in a paddy field and the blood thirsty mob lynched him. No Hindu; no Christian and; no Sikh from our locality dared to save his life by opening their doors. A couple of days later during a short relaxation of curfew, a group of (Hindu) men, know to my father came to our house. One of them was wearing a white khadi kurta, which was splattered with blood. When asked about the blood stains, they shamelessly boasted that a few hours before they killed an aged Muslim, who had strayed into their Hindu majority mohalla. They had smashed his head with a large stone. Hence the blood stained kurta. In this case too no one came forward to plead with these killers to spare an old man’s life.

    1984. I was residing in West Delhi. The frenzied mobs baying for the blood of the Sikhs were on prowl. There was a Sikh temple (Gurudwara) about 0.5 km from where I resided. The mob reached there and encircled it. We could see from atop our houses the rioting mob around the gurudwara and the sevadars inside. People only watched from their rooftops. No concerted effort made to help the encircled occupants of the Gurudwara. Result was one of the worst preventable tragedies of our times. All the subsequent neighbourhood night vigils (in which I participated too) ostensibly to prevent recurrence of massacre were big farce enacted to hide our collective shame.

    1999. A cowardly mob of Right wing Hindus burnt alive an Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines along with his his two children (aged nine and ten), when they were sleeping in their car. The Staines tried to escape from the burning vehicle but the mob prevented them. The evidence suggested that the leader of the mob Dara Singh was affiliated to Bajrang Dal. The Church of North India convened a condolence/prayer meeting at the Cathedral Church of Redemption situated near Rashtrapati Bhavan. I attended the prayer. It turned out to be an all-Christian affair. The only non-Christian person of prominence to attend the solemn gathering was then Chief Election Commissioner, Mr M.S. Gill. Considering the proximity of the Church to the centre of power, one expected some more big names from other religious communities to attend. Wishful thinking. So much for our secularism.

    I reproduce my comments on the article ‘Muslims must refuse to be killed’ that appeared in The Wire on 9.4.2017.

    “We find it natural to feel hurt and register our protest when the ethnic group or religious group to which we belong is subjected to atrocities. It is time we learn to stand up and raise our voices when people of communities or faith other than that we belong/profess are persecuted or humiliated. Not only Hindus but every other Indian irrespective of his or her religious faith should come out and denounce this well thought out plan to terrorise and demonise those of our fellow Indians whose only crime is that they profess Muslim religion.”

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      To add to what you wrote, I don’t think it is mere fright or timidity that stops Hindus from speaking out against hate crimes and hate mongering. In my opinion, it is also that our collective moral compass has stopped working. It has been drowned by the arrogance and hatred that right wing Hindu majoritarian ideology has bred in us, encouraged all the more by the tacit support of the ruling party. This becomes clear when one reads some of the comments in the Comments section of The Wire – the almost-visceral hatred for Muslims is pretty obvious.
      Since when did this happen? Was it always inside us only waiting for outward expression, or has it arisen only recently?
      I went to a Christian Missionary school in Patna in the early eighties. Many Muslims and Anglo-Indian students studied here, and we were good friends with all. The captain of the school cricket team was Hindu, and there were three Muslims in the team. Forget hate, there was not even the slightest hint of anti-Muslim bias in our conversation, nor in our interactions with our Muslim friends.
      A few months before the 2014 elections, I chanced upon the cricket captain after 30 odd years. I was shocked when he said: “I support the BJP because I want Muslims to shake with fear!” When I asked him why, he said Muslims have too many children and if not checked quickly the country would soon be dominated by them!
      I have got similar sentiments from my colleagues at work, and even family.
      Is the hatred for Muslims derived from fear and insecurity, or is it simply something that has grown out of and also feeds the muscular aggressive Hindutva ideology sweeping the country?
      One wonders – how does it end? By drowning Muslims in the nearest ocean? By pushing them into ghettos like Juhapara, where they shall live as the Jews did in the ghettos of Nazi Germany and Poland? Step out of line and there will be blood?
      This is no subtle silence Mr Mander – a thoughtful silence that is biding its time and which shall erupt in protest shortly.
      This silence is INDEED the permanent silence of complicity.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    On the lack of dissent and condemnation among Hindus when it comes to acts of hate against Muslims, it is instructive to read what Ambedkar had to say on a related subject – the relation of Hindus to Untouchables. In his work “Untouchables or The Children of India’s Ghetto”, Ambedkar writes:

    “The question is why has the Hindu no conscience? There is only one answer to these questions.”
    “Untouchability is primarily based on religion”.
    “If the Hindu observes untouchability it is because his religion enjoins him to do so. If he is ruthless and lawless in putting down the Untouchables rising against his Established Order, it is because his religion not only tells him that the Established Order is divine and therefore sacrosanct but also imposes upon him a duty to see that this Established Order is maintained by all means possible. If he does not listen to the call of humanity, it is because his religion does not enjoin him to regard the Untouchables as human beings. If he does not feel any qualms of conscience in assaulting, looting, burning and other acts of atrocities against the Untouchables, it is because his religion tells him that nothing is sin, which is done in defense of the social order.”

    Ambedkar lists the Commands of Menu regarding untouchability, and then goes on to say:

    “Can anybody who reads these Commandments of Manu deny that it is Hindu religion which is responsible for the perpetuation of untouchability and for the lawlessness and want of conscience on the part of the Hindus towards the Untouchables?”
    “…it will be found that the Hindus in committing these acts are merely following the Commandments of Manu.”

    After doing a detailed comparison of Christianity in relation to slavery and Hinduism in relation to untouchability, Ambedkar ends by saying:

    “If religion remains impartial, it is capable of defeating the inequity committed by law. This is exactly what happened in Rome in regard to the slave. That is why religion is believed to ennoble man and not to degrade him. Hinduism is an exception. It has made the Untouchable sub-human. It has made the Hindu inhuman. There is no escape to either from the established order of the sub-human and the inhuman.”

    (From: Untouchables or The Children of India’s Ghetto by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, Part III Chapter 9)

    • Pradyumna Reddy

      Why don’t you read Manu’s laws instead of repeating Ambedkar’s dogma? Ambedkar’s word isn’t gospel. Manu Smriti doesn’t even have any reference to untouchability. Its main whipping boys are the Shudras. During Vedic period, there wasn’t even a classification of Shudra as tribes were always at war against each other. It is only in the later Vedic period that this class was added. Coming to Manu Smriti itself, a text so religiously followed according to Ambedkar that it was lost for nearly three hundred years before it was translated and codified as law for Hindus by the British. All Non Brahmins in South India are Shudras or Dalits and they were champions of Hinduism while the so called defenders of Hinduism were earning their Jagirs in the Mughal court. Rather than indulge in Ambedkar’s dogma, can the liberals question it? Ambedkar’s warped criticism of Brahmanism which never held sway in the South esccept in Kerala cannot be applied to Hinduism as a whole.

      • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

        Sir, have you read the essay by Ambedkar that I was referring to? If you haven’t, please do so – it has much more than just quotations from Manu Smriti. It is an eye opener (if one is willing to open one’s eyes, that is), a mirror to our society.
        Forget Ambedkar.
        My personal experience, from what I have observed around me including in my close family is that Hindus can often be arrogant, cruel, un-empathetic and unjust. Most have a strong sense of superiority and entitlement, which often translates into contempt for the lower caste/class – many hold the opinion that the latter are unworthy of whatever they have achieved and they deserve all their misfortunes. I find most Hindu rituals selfish and crafted with the sole aim of one’s own personal salvation. Even “good” deeds are essentially for the Hindu’s own redemption. He will willingly feed a hundred beggars once a month, yet expresses no dissent against the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, happily handing over his daily household s–t to the “dirty” man who comes around with his cart everyday, but is quick to castigate him when he asks for a wage hike from Rs.30/- to Rs.50/.
        I have often tried to make sense of this, and failed. How can a people so deeply religious be so cruel at the same time, so silent against obvious injustice?
        Ambedkar’s essay does provide a rationale, which is why I quoted him – it seemed relevant to this article. One can disagree with the nitty gritty, but in a broader sense he surely offers the contours of an explanation.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Oh yes, yet another popular argument in defense of the indefensible – Hindus got killed by Muslims and Sikhs, so now its payback time! Revenge for all the atrocities committed against Hindus, right from the day Mahmud of Ghazni invaded Hindustan a thousand years ago. You conveniently forget that Hindus have been no shrinking violets either, but of course that’s not how the narrative of revenge works does it? It is always “us” who are the victim (second class citizens) and “them” who are responsible.
    So do stand by the sidelines and cheer as militant Hindutva goes on the rampage – you have a thousand years worth of revenge to take.

  • subhash

    I, honestly believe, India was never secular. Even during Congress regime, it was propagated that all religions were ‘accommodated ‘ in India. True, but that is not secularism. Secularism is separation of religion and the state. No one dared to say that religion and for that matter caste doesn’t have any place in Indian polity. But, no, since it was politically paying theories after theories were devised to suit and justify vote bank politics . Our so called intellectuals also joined in. Sadly, no religious or caste leader opposed this . They also jumped on the gravy train . The result was a bewildering hotch-potch which Indian populace began to hate internally. It was just time that the reaction of the such unjust appeasement took place.

    No amount of preaching will help till our governance and politics stops appeasement and appear to be so . This reservation thing is also bound to explode if not checked in time.

    I am sounding like a right winger, but my advice to the present government is that they should stop the pendulum to swing in other direction. For a democratic country, secularism is not a matter of choice, it is a necessity. No differential treatment should be preferred based on caste, creed and religion, as enshrined in our wonderful constitution. Rule of law is what should prevail. Only then we can hope to have country grow as democratic and thus livable one.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Agreed. But why should WE – the educated, supposedly enlightened class – buy into that divisiveness and perpetuate it? Why should WE dance to the tune of political parties? Politicians get their oxygen from us, because we buy into and enact that divisiveness. That’s what they want, and that’s what we give them. Divisiveness is a distraction that political parties create by intent, so that their lack of governance is swept under the carpet.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Indeed yes. Christians are very much in the firing line and atrocities have been committed against them as well. They get less publicity perhaps because as you rightly said they are a lesser minority than Muslims, and also maybe because they lack the Pakistan-Kashmir link which makes Muslim hatred “sexy”.
    In “Bunch of Thoughts”, a collection of essays by RSS ideologue M.S.Golwalkar, he identifies three major “Internal Threats” to the nation: Muslims, Christians and Communists.
    (Chapter XVI, http://www.rss.org/Encyc/2015/4/7/334_03_46_30_Bunch_of_Thoughts.pdf)
    He says here:

    “So long as the Christians here indulge in such activities and consider themselves as agents of the international movement for
    the spread of Christianity, and refuse to offer their first loyalty to the land of their birth and behave as true children of the
    heritage and culture of their ancestors, THEY WILL REMAIN HERE AS HOSTILES AND WILL HAVE TO BE TREATED AS SUCH. ” (uppercase added by me)

    So there you have it – the ideologue has spoken and his will shall be done.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves
  • Pritam Singh

    I provide a link to my article on Institutional Communalism in India which might help in understanding the slow pervasive strength of majoritarian nationalism that provides the cultural/structural foundation for the rise of aggressive and militant majoritarian nationalism https://www.academia.edu/14595704/Institutional_Communalism_in_India

    • kujur bachchan

      Read the article carefully. A reasoned discussion as also an apt rejoinder that demolishes the cunningly misleading propaganda of the majoritarian nationalists that the majority Hindu communalism is a retaliatory response against minority communalism.

      I shall recommend it to all who care for and celebrate the religious and cultural diversity of India.

      Thanks for sharing the article with us.

  • IAF101

    EVIL is a monotheistic Judeo-Christian concept.

    What you call “evil” – the followers of Dharma would call it KARMA….a natural outcome for those who benefited from the coddling of venal politicians while Hindus were being demonized and ignored in their own land.

    The silent majority is CONTENT in the outcome of today – where they are no longer forced to cower and subjugate themselves at the altar of some leftist hypocrite’s sermon on “secularism” or some godless Communist academic’s version of right and wrong.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Finally got around to reading your blog today!
    Well written, and holding up a mirror to our collective inhuman side. Do keep writing, sir.
    And that’s precisely the point: In many aspects of our social life – and specially in the treatment of those who have been cursed by the revered scriptures to be forever below us – Hinduism is incredibly cruel. And Hindus willfully ignore (or dont even recognize!) that cruelty because centuries of practice has convinced us that THIS IS NORMAL, and this is OUR ENTITLEMENT. A Hindu’s compassion and conscience are EXTREMELY LIMITED in its scope and breadth, bounded within only those whom he considers to be “like him” and belong to “his world”. That’s perhaps the reason why, to answer Harsh Mander’s question, there are very few dissenting Hindus.
    Which is why Ambedkar abandoned Hinduism, and which is why I consider him to be THE bravest Indian leader ever.
    Thanks for the blog!