Last week, Kishore Mariwala wanted to charter a yacht with a skipper to sail around the Andaman sea off Phuket, Thailand. At the chartering company office, after Mariwala – whose family runs the Mariwala group of companies – provided his requirements, the receptionist asked him: “Sir, you are from India. Are you a Hindu?”

When he asked why she was asking, she called her boss, and after a quick conversation in Thai, the manager turned to Mariwala and said all the skippers were occupied, save one, who was Muslim. “I hope you don’t mind that,” Mariwala quoted the manager as saying in a Facebook post.

Shocked, Mariwala asked why he was asking this, why would be mind? “Sir,” said the manager, “We read in the newspapers that Hindus don’t want Muslims near them so we were worried about it.”

There are times when a people must be reminded that their thoughts, speech and actions are self-destructive and threaten their country and the values that hold it together. Such a time is upon India’s Hindus.

A growing number of Hindus now speak the insecure and angry language of those willing to discard their own culture, law and constitution and succumb to the dark fantasies of Hindu supremacy. Majoritarian visions, now openly expressed, empowered and normalised as reality, are the armoury from which India’s ruling party fashions its arsenal of Hindu supremacist behavior, from the assaults on India’s universities to using a raft of laws, new and old, against Muslims.

Radicals at the helm

There are more than a billion Hindus in India, and it is not my case that they are all radicalised, dangerous fanatics. The fundamentalists among the Hindus may not even be a majority. But they are more than they were, and they hold the key to determining the course India will take.

The radicalised, or those they have brow-beaten into submission, now control large swathes of India’s unfolding narratives. Hindu-first policies, symbols and feelings are now predominant in politics, in the media, among the judiciary and the police and in public life. Hospital unions in Mumbai fly the bhagwa dhwaj, the Hindu flag, while police vehicles and public transport in Bangalore and elsewhere are adorned with images of Hindu gods. The main opposition party, created by secular consensus, now promotes cow shelters, corporate India makes pilgrimages to the bastion of Hindutva in Nagpur and Bollywood crafts movies that demonise Muslims and celebrate – often through fictionalised history – Hindu warriors.

Ranveer Singh as Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat.

The rest of India has not entirely been levelled by the rising storm of Hindu radicalisation. Indeed, it has sparked a rediscovery and reclamation of the flag, the Constitution and poetry of resistance from the younger, violent days of the republic’s birth. That is why beleaguered Muslims have found their voice. That is why teachers and students – of all religions – defy violent Hindu goons and radicalised police forces who disgrace their uniform, the law of the land and the Constitution they have sworn to uphold. That is why a war for the soul of India rages on the streets, in universities, homes, families and WhatsApp groups.

The trigger

The unspoken trigger for Hindu radicalisation over the years, we hear, is Muslim radicalisation. We hear of a proclivity for terrorism, evident after a spate of bombings in the wake of the Babri Masjid’s destruction in 1992 and the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. Those days of actions and reactions were instrumental in dividing India, the schisms enabled and widened by what were then considered “fringe” Hindu groups, including a fledgling Bharatiya Janata Party. Yet, as the Muslim middle class joined the India growth story, a generation has risen that is proudly Indian and, often, avowedly Islamic, something that many Hindus – themselves given to a rising religiosity – find hard to accept.

The common perceptions about Muslims today, even among many liberal Hindus, include their fecundity, violence, “appeasement” by political parties except the BJP, and their special privileges. These are patently false. We know that Muslims are among India’s most disadvantaged and discriminated communities. In the Modi era, despite insult, humiliation and lynching, they have been silent – until now.

State-sponsored or police atrocities against Muslims are not new. One of the most egregious was in 1987, the year of what came to be called the Hashimpura massacre, when the Uttar Pradesh police rounded up 42 Muslim men, lined then up near a canal and shot them dead firing-squad style. They dumped the bodies of the mostly young Muslims in the water, went home and slept. Many of the policemen involved were arrested and tried. The court verdict came 28 years laterm in 2015. All the suspects were acquitted but, on appeal, convicted in 2016, which is when Vibhuti Narain Rai, the superintendent of police at the time, released his book, Hashimpura 22 May, an account of the massacre and its aftermath.

“The relation between the Indian state and the minorities is almost the same now as it was then in 1987 or even earlier, in the 1950s and the 1960s,” Rai, who became a university vice chancellor and literary editor after his law-enforcement days, wrote in 2016.“The same absence of trust, the same hatred, the same prejudices, the same notions, and the same requirement and attempt to prove their ‘Indian-ness’. Nothing has changed. It is as if the more things change, the more they remain the same. Or perhaps, worsen.”

Relatives pose with photos of the Hashimpura massacre victims in New-Delhi. Credit: HT Photo

‘Spineless government’

Rai writes about “a spineless, politically expedient government lying prostrate before its own men in 2015 – the killers”. The difference in 2019 UP and Delhi is that it is the police who prostrate themselves, willingly, because they are overwhelmingly Hindu and more open to the call of religious radicalisation than ever.

The planning that determines police actions often comes from the top – Adityanath in UP, Amit Shah in Delhi. In other states, such as Karnataka, Jharkhand and Gujarat, the police act of their own accord. In Jharkhand, they have protected or ignored lynch mobs. In Karnataka’s Mangaluru city, the hub of an educated, prosperous Hindutva, officers were caught on video mocking colleagues with rifles for not killing Muslim rioters.In Hyderabad, Telengana, the police admit they profile Muslims in international IT companies.

The radicalisation template was, of course, created in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, where a rich Hindu can stop a rich Muslim from buying the house next door by filing a case under a “Disturbed Areas Act”, meant to keep the communities apart and relegate Muslims to ghettos. The complicity of government officials, police, politicians and judges in the creation of the Hindu rashtra, the Hindu nation, has now gone national, as we have seen in subjugation of the Constitution and the law in reducing Jammu and Kashmir and clearing the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The protests sweeping India are essentially a fightback, however delayed, against the ongoing process of creating a Hindu nation. Until yesterday, it appeared a foregone conclusion. Today, we are not so sure. The ruling party and its affiliates believe the protests do not have the cachet they appear to have, that half a million people marching on any day are but a fraction of 1.3 billion, that almost all Hindu India is with the government.The ruling party and its affiliates believe they can can disregard not just the secular consensus and Constitution holding India together but continue the march towards a Hindu nation forged by fear and force.

Only Hindus can prove this proposition – and the depth of their own radicalisation – wrong. If they do not, we know what awaits.