What is Hinduphobia
At a United Nations General Assembly conference in 2020 discussing religious freedom and tolerance, the Indian representative called the rest of the world out on their ignorance towards Indic faiths (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.). Indeed, global resolutions commenting on the protection of people from faith-based violence and discrimination should not be exclusive of certain religions.
Over time, several issues have been raised regarding harassment of non-Abrahamic religious people, especially Hinduism, primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom such as when Hindu NASA interns were publicly sent demeaning comments, or a university professor arbitrarily used a Hindu student’s family picture to express his thoughts on Indian communal politics, among other cases. Some of this was incited by the west’s disgust with BJP’s (Bhartiya Janata Party, India’s ruling party) ‘Hindutva’ agenda. Other cases were blatant disrespect to Hinduism’s tenets and non-monotheistic nature.
Hindus cite more violent manifestations of Hinduphobia in Pakistan and Bangladesh, where rogue elements force Hindu girls into marriages and conversions followed by little to no legal repercussions.
Hijacking the Narrative on Hinduphobia
While those mentioned earlier are valid issues, many of India’s self-proclaimed “nationalists” and cultural enthusiasts have hijacked it to bolster domestic majoritarian politics. Although not everyone wishes to do that, their untimeliness indicates internalized phobias against the minority or a “mine-is-better” bias. Some may just be unaware victims of populism.
It is also noteworthy that several issues that Hindus face outside India are not always because they are Hindu but because of unresolved racism, i.e., these issues would not be exclusively faced by Hindus but other non-Western ethnicities as well. Usually, widespread religious discrimination and phobias are accompanied by propaganda and systematic issues. This is a lacking condition in Hinduphobia, where many incidents are blown out of proportion. If anything, there is reason to believe that certain narratives on Hinduphobia exist as propaganda to harm other communities.
Adding on to “Hinduphobia,” “nationalists” feel that Bollywood, over-the-top (OTT) media platforms, several regions within India, and domestic “left-politics” are also “Hinduphobic.” While the previous contentions could just be innocent people misunderstanding technicalities of society, this is where the line between Hinduphobia and propaganda starts to blur further. People begin to stray away from defending Hinduism to self-victimizing, cherry-picking, forming their own bubbles of reality, and weaponizing a valid cause to hurt other communities.
Employed in BJP’s IT cell, workers look for crimes where Hindu(s) may be victims. Then they immediately interpret it from a communal angle and make sure every possible Hindu feels its anxiety, even if the news is out of context, as many were when BJP in West Bengal took to this mission during the post-election violence earlier this year. These ultranationalists seek to nudge Hindus into being more active and cautious through mass forwards and other forms of propaganda. Over the last few years, several Instagram campaigns have also sprouted where their “nationalist” admins provided “guidelines” for “Hindu men” to follow. Often, these guidelines painted non-Hindus and seculars as inherent enemies.
The Indian Political Scenario
India’s ruling party is seen to be majoritarian. Upsetting the Indian left and sensible ex-BJP fans and workers, the ruling party has also damaged Indian democracy with internet shutdowns, suppression of free speech, and dissent, among other things. Unfortunately, BJP’s enthusiastic supporters are convinced that these are either not flaws or too small to care about.
Still, it is known that the rise of Modi and BJP’s elected officials has been through aggravating and leveraging voter’s anxieties against other communities. It is thus no surprise that many of BJP’s elected officials rose to power based on polarizing speeches. Their proponents also speak against “minority appeasement” because of their exposure to “minority perpetrated crimes” which are often misinterpreted, blown out of proportion, or outright false.
BJP’s comrades’ even have preset titles for opposing different classes of people, depending on the topic. These can range from “urban Naxals,” “Jihadi,” “chamcha (loyal to Congress),” to even “Khalistani (accusing farmers and Punjabis of being separatists)” and caste-based slurs coupled with internet trolling and even in-person harassment and violence.
Dissent Against the State is not dissent against Hinduism
The government’s opponents are upset with the misuse of Hinduism and not Hinduism itself, barring conversation around the origin of caste hierarchies, which some Hindus claim was a cultural invention. In its objective of “living morally and ethically,” Hinduism would never approve of the actions at the hands of BJP and “nationalists.” Like how Judaism would not support Israel against innocents, Islam wouldn’t support extremist groups, Christianity of KKK and other intolerant people, or Buddhism of Myanmar’s Rohingya genocide. This logic can be applied to any country. Just because its leaders are from a particular religion does not mean that dissent against them is dissent against their faith. I have several vocal friends against the government in Pakistan who are proud Muslims; opposing the Pakistani government does not mean fighting Islam or Muslims, so why does being critical in India make me a ‘Hinduphobe’ or anti-national?
Earlier this year, several people opposed the Hindu Kumbh Mela in India. Its hosting and open support were a surprise, especially to the Muslim community whose innocents faced the brunt of nationalist rage which even resulted in some hospitals and clinics denying any Muslim their right to healthcare after the much smaller Tablighi Jamaat held months before the Kumbh Mela. As critics highlighted health hazards, state endorsement, and double standards, “nationalists” misunderstood it as Hinduphobia.
Applying the Twisted Narratives
Earlier this year, India passed new laws governing Information Technology. This bill further regulates OTT platforms and gives the government power to force social media platforms to take down content based on vague criteria. While dissenters opposed several aspects of the bill, including free speech on social media, “nationalists” titled them “Hinduphobic” for “supporting series and movies that disrespect Hinduism.” On an average day, the same is applauded for India’s cultural soft power. “Nationalists” claim that the content only targets Hindus. Their failure to notice inaccurate descriptions of minority communities shows how internalized their misconceptions about other communities are. Indian TV and print media portray its minorities incorrectly also by twisting historical narratives. TV, print and OTT media can be scrutinized and brought on the table for critical conversations regardless of religion, but labeling these platforms or critics of the IT bill as Hinduphobic does not hold base. Regardless of the matter at hand, it is more constructive for society to engage in discourse and criticism rather than arbitrary labels or hard-law.
They’ve also taken to respond to the title “andh-bhakt” (translating to ‘blind follower’), which they received for their unwavering loyalty to Modi and BJP. For many users of the term, it has a linguistic connection separate from religion as “deshbhakt” translates to “nationalist” or “patriot” But, “nationalists” again took to responding to this with “Jihadi” or “andh-Namazi” (namazi – a praying Muslim) instead of introspecting why their unconditional/blind love is for “democratic rulers” instead of the welfare of the nation and its citizens. However, context matters, which is the linguistic connection here. I won’t condone the use of this term with an intention of hurting Hindus or Hinduism arbitrarily.
In India’s recent cabinet shift, many claim that there is diverse representation. Their plight of representation has gone so far that 42% of it is comprised of declared criminals, one of whom was temporarily banned by the election commission for an anti-democratic remark calling to “shoot” the “traitors” protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Along with this, several pro-BJP commentators have made incredibly hurtful remarks and written spiteful garbage in the name of journalism but still roam free. Yet, even when Muslim journalists or comedians are “held accountable” for relatively small mistakes or even no mistake at all (such as in the case of Munawar Faruqui, who was jailed over a “joke he never made”), “nationalists” claim that minorities get away with crimes easily while Hindus are held accountable instantly. If that was the case, several state officials, journalists, and ultranationalists would have been breathing the air of prisons but quite the opposite is true where they roam free and democratic non-Hindu protestors are stripped of their civil rights, detained, and often even forced to “confess.”
Ironically, this communist-hating class of “nationalists” has taken inspiration from Russia’s ‘whataboutism’. Whenever minorities bring up their issues, “nationalists” cherry-pick reversed cases. They resemble the kind that chants “all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter” or “what about men?” in response to a feminist cry. This is a repeated pattern in every domestic issue. When dissenters opposed the abrogation of the Indian Constitution’s Article 370, “nationalists” responded by inquiring about the almost 3-decades-old Kashmir exodus, and with tales of the 3-centuries-old Aurangzeb in response to the Babri Masjid demolition. When election violence erupted in West Bengal, “nationalists” continued to defend BJP’s fake news and responding to any other unrelated Indian issue with “what about West Bengal?” Whenever I write about Indian issues, I receive forwards of posts even from poor
journalist sources like OpIndia and Tatva (seriously? At least send me a real source) with titles like “Jihadi mob…” and other misleading claims reeking of whataboutism.
Indian Liberals Are Not Hinduphobic
There is no denial that Hindus face issues because of their faith outside India. But to claim that it is as intense as Islamophobia which is often so deeply embedded that states make policies against the religion or openly call to “reform” it is incredibly incorrect. To ignore cultural implications and racism to paint every issue as “Hinduphobia” is inaccurate.
To think that dissent in India and civil unrest is not a result of their political idols’ doings is inaccurate. To think that opposing the Indian state and exercising democratic rights of dissent is against Hinduism is inaccurate. In fact, to think that the actions of the Indian government and its fanbase represent Hinduism is in itself Hinduphobic as it violates core essences of Dharma.
Indeed, there should be no opposition to Hindus voicing the issues they face because of their faith. But, if this voice only comes up to counter minorities or oppose so-called “minority appeasement,” then the blind “nationalism” of those who do it becomes clear.
Before you shift labels around or plan my next flight to Pakistan, know that these points don’t imply that I or protestors are anti-national either. Would you not want to fix your home country in a way that made it habitable for all kinds of people without hurting each other? If you think that people who are trying to make the country better are anti-national, doesn’t that make you the real anti-national?
“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, but your government [only] when it deserves it.” – Mark Twain