Last week, a clutch of writers were reported to have withdrawn from the Jaipur Literature Festival in New York City to protest the invitation to a Bharatiya Janata Party leader to deliver the keynote address at the event. As was to be expected, the BJP leader said this was an example of how intolerant liberals hated opinions that are different from their own.
But it was not just Hindutva supporters who criticised the protest. Mahmoud Mamdani, the Ugandan political philosopher and writer of Indian origin, who also participated in the festival, also disagreed with the boycott call.
“I have never before considered withdrawing from an event because I objected, however strongly, to the views of a participant – so long as the event itself was not being hijacked by this person or their organisation, thus closing it to opposing or divergent views,” he told the Middle East Eye.
However, researcher Suchitra Vijayan reminded Mamdani that he did not seem to hold the same view about Israel. Last year, Mamdani called for sanctions against Israel since in his understanding that nation is “an apartheid state”.
The policy of apartheid, which segregates and disenfranchises entire communities, contravenes all principles of civilised living. How can you even talk with someone who does not consider you human enough to walk on the same Earth together? It is perfectly understandable if you decline an invitation to tea with someone who believes in apartheid. This kind of refusal asserts the notion that some principles are not negotiable. You cannot politely discuss such a discriminatory policy with its proponents – you reject it outright.
Can India be compared with Israel? Is the ideology of India’s ruling political party comparable to that of Israel? To go a step further, is the Indian state fast approaching the point where it could be called an apartheid state? Which political force is responsible for putting India on this path?
For almost a century, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – of which the Bharatiya Janata Party is the political wing – has been working to make India a Hindu Rashtra. A Hindu nation, while it may not involve the complete extermination of Muslims and Christians, implies reducing them to second-class citizens.
This project is being articulated in many ways. It is said that Hindus have first right over India, that their way of life is the Indian way of life. Why should those who are not Hindus object to this way of life? It would be good for them to adopt it voluntarily. If they resist, they will be forced by street violence and law to fall in line .
Already, laws are being passed by which various aspects of the lives of India’s Muslims and Christians can be controlled. Among these are laws banning cow slaughter and the consumption of beef. Other laws make it a crime for Muslim men to have relations with Hindu women or to marry them.
Administrative orders have been issued in many parts of the country that ban Muslims from buying land or building houses in certain areas. The very birth of Muslims is considered a conspiracy against Hindus and India, so measures to control population have been suggested.
The most crucial attempt to exclude Muslims from Indian citizenship is the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act. It creates an accelerated pathway to Indian citizenship for refugees from three South Asian nations – except if they are Muslim. Coupled with the proposed National Register of Citizens, this could be used to disenfranchise Indian Muslims.
In public places, be it schools or malls, Muslim markers of identity are being made illegal. In Karnataka, women students wearing the hijab are not allowed into educational institutions.There is no such bar on Hindus or Sikhs, wearing religious symbols. Muslims institutions, madrasas and mosques are seen as suspicious places and the authorities have time and again expressed their intention to bring them under state control.
Besides these laws, street violence against Muslims and Christians is a frequent occurrence. Attacks on mosques have become disconcertingly commonplace. On the occasion of Hindu festivals, members of Hindutva organisations gather outside mosques on the occasion of Hindu festivals to precipitate violence. The perpetrators enjoy the protection and patronage of the administration.
As Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi have demonstrated, the government can bulldoze the homes and businesses of Muslims without due process. Muslims can participate in a protest only at great risk to their well-being. The life of a Muslim journalist in India is fraught with uncertainty, as is evident from the experiences of journalists in Kashmir, Siddique Kappan and Mohammad Zubair.
In addition to legally outlawing the lives of Muslims and the daily violence against them, another strategy is to constantly demonise the community. In this endeavour, much of the Indian media is working like an organ of Hindutva organisations. Claims are made that Muslims are conspiring to increase their population by procreating recklessly; they are conspiring to enter government jobs; they are plotting to buy land to displace Hindus. They are conspiring to trap Hindu girls by deceiving them.
Whatever Muslims do, it is called a jihad. A Muslim scare has been created among Hindus. Muslims are being cast as outsiders, descendants of aggressors, hollowing out the country like termites, stealing the resources of Hindus, snatching their women: this propaganda is now spread openly. Calls to annihilate Muslims are made in open assemblies and the authorities defend this in the courts.
These strategies are being implemented by a range of Hindtuva organisations: by members of the BJP, the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Hindu Munnani, the Ram Sene, Abhinav Bharat and many more.
Educational organisations affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, such as Vidya Bharati, Saraswati Shishu Mandir and Ekal Vidyalaya, run thousands of schools that nurture these ideas of Hindu supremacy in the minds of children and adolescents.
Even though this is well known in India, many are angered by the suggestion that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a fascist organisation. They argue, instead, that it is a patriotic organisation. But is it patriotic to propagate a supremacist ideology that is hostile to India’s minorities? They claim that the Sangh is an organisation of those who love India. But Zionists love their country – as did the Nazis and Italian fascists.
In the balance, though, a fascist is not defined by his patriotism but by his hatred of others. The Sangh has made the idea of love for India synonymous with contempt for Muslim and Christians.
It is appalling that this campaign of violence against Muslims is not considered barbaric in India – that, in fact, some intellectuals consider the idea of hatred for Muslims to be worthy of discussion.
It is odd that Mamdani, who urged that the global community should boycott Israel, believes that the same type of politics in India should be engaged with.
As an academic, Mamdani knows that research matters. Why does he ignore the warnings of scholar Gregory Stanton who warns that India is now frighteningly close to a stage of genocide against Muslims? In what way is it useful for people like Mamdani to share a platform with those who have brought India to the brink of such horror?
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.