During Navratri, or the Hindu New Year, this April, India heard something new. From Karnataka to Himachal Pradesh, processions of young men danced to DJs, or disc jockeys, spinning electronic music that blended techno and trance, devotional and national, bhakti and vibration, speech, beat and slogan to create a toxic environment of hatred
“Disc Jockey Hindutva”, as I call it, is evidence of how Hindutva has inserted itself into sound politics.
What does it mean to say that Hindutva has entered music? It means it will deploy music to create a new insensibility and assault minorities. But can music inspire assault? Pose this question to women and minorities. Communal tracks, sexist tracks, casteist tracks, racist tracks: they are the music for assault.
Ultimately, music plays on the body and mind. We do not hear the fear with our ears – we feel it in our hearts. Before we listen to it fully, it chills our bones.
Music can be a killer. Like any other language, it can be deployed to humiliate. It can break a person. The sound of music can shatter the mirror in which one sees their face.
What does Hindutva sound like?
The sound of Hindutva is no longer Om but it is its obverse: BOOM BOOM BOOM. High on hatred, it dances on the rock and plays on the beat. Hindutva has showed that music can lead to silencing the minority and a festival can be a harbinger of hate.
It has also proved what BR Ambedkar said about Hindu society being cut off from itself. It is only when Muslims are attacked that it feels united, it feels like a society. The young men who breakdanced in the Ram Navami processions were greatly divided by caste and class. But when it came to hating Muslims, they were all united.
Unlike the boundaries of ideology, music is open and participatory. Music becomes the point of initiation into politics. In an unequal political sphere, music gives you the chance to feel as if it is your own. Once you have participated in it, you feel you proudly own it because the participation gives you impunity. It becomes culture. That is why it is more dangerous.
In previous decades in India, it sometimes took a provocative speech from a leader for violence to spill into the streets. Now, it seems all one needs is a DJ. Play the music and violence will reverberate in the streets across the states.
It does not mean that there is no leader. But phenomenon cannot be reduced to a conspiracy when it has become part of the culture. Unlike speeches that listeners could doubt, music brings disparate classes together. You start listening, you move to dance, and by the time you realise it, you were already in.
The appropriation of popular music by Hindutva suggests that common sense is getting communalised. Communalism has become a part of the common culture. The young men who participated in the Ram Navami processions were not necessarily members of a political party. They were merely participating in a festival, revelling in a part of their culture.
Scroll.in had reported on April 11 that participants in these processions have their favourite communal songs. These include: Topiwalas (skull cap-wearers), Banayenge Mandir (We will build the temple) and others. The Topiwala song goes like this: “Jis din jaag utha Hindu, anjam bolega, topi wala bhi sir jhukae Hindustan bolega (The day Hindu awakes, the end result will speak. The man in the cap will say Hindustan with bowed head).”
These are the songs that make participants feel energised and makes their blood boil. “When we listen to the song, we feel strengthened, we get the feeling that we want to kill every single Muslim around,” one participant in a procession said.
Music and fascism
Many discussions about music focus on how it pleases the mind, rejuvenates the body and works as therapy. How it touches the heart and connects separated lovers. Most often, chords are discussed, not the potential sow to sow discord.
Though music has been a great vehicle for Sufis and saints, it has also been a fast friend of fascists. Music, in fact, played a prominent role in the rise of the Third Reich. Fascists loved it. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was a keen violinist and music critic. German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was a great fan of opera.
Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebel understood this well. “Music affects the heart and emotions more than the intellect,” he said. “Where then could the heart of a nation beat stronger than in the huge masses, in which the heart of a nation has found its true home?”
Hindutva appears to be trying to replicate the model: marching bands, processional music, communal chanting and repeated cries of Jai Shri Ram – like Heil. The similarities are shocking.
The social theorist Walter Benjamin, himself a victim of fascism, explained this perceptively in 1935. He saw the phenomenon as an “aestheticisation of politics” in which, fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.
He writes how fascism forces masses to their knees, but also gives them ritual values to celebrate. It would not be shocking to see that the poor and migrant labourers, who were brought to their knees during the pandemic, are dancing to the DJs.
Music is the answer
Myth cannot be challenged by history, nor music by banning it. Music is the answer. To resist this Hindtuva capture of life and culture, we need imagination and utopia. We need myth and music. To re-sensitivise the senses, we have to enter music. It is the sound that will break the fake solidarity of Hindutva. It is the unstuck sound of Kabir that will silence the hate sound of disc jockey Hindutva.
It is war. We need love against the hate. We need to deploy DJ against the DJ. Let’s play it.
Brahma Prakash is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University.