Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Intolerance to criticism is fast growing in the operation of RSS-Hindutva forces.
Today, for the first time, a hard core RSS operative Kovind is the President of India. This signals what is likely to happen in India during and after his tenure. Whether or not the incumbent president would support crimes in the name of Hindutva remains to be seen.
Indian state and its regime have jointly created a nation where the ruling Hindutva forces target their critics as their enemies, threatening and killing them for their anti-Hindutva stance.
South India’s Karnataka state, where the first ever Hindutva government was elected over a decade ago, is not a dangerous place for those who criticize the ultra-fanatic politics of right wing Hindutva parties.
The Congress party which now rules is the cause of Hindutva birth in India and its fast spread not only in the capital and North but also along the Arabian Sea belt facing Pakistan, considered by strategic forces in New Delhi as India’s worst enemy.
The anti-RSS/Hindutva critics are murdered in the state. The Indian state is not taking the issue seriously as this helps spread Hindutva ideology and parties and fear among the critics.
Writers, journalists, media persons are being targeted and punished for their anti-Hindutva stance. Indian journalists are increasingly targeted by radical Hindu nationalists, activists say. In the last few years, journalists seen to be critical of Hindu nationalists have been berated on social media, while many women reporters have been threatened with rape and assault.
A prominent Indian journalist critical of Hindu nationalist politics has been shot dead in the southern state of Karnataka, police say. Gauri Lankesh, 55, was found lying in a pool of blood at her doorstep in the city of Bangalore. She was shot in the head and chest by gunmen who arrived by motorcycle. The motive for the crime was not clear.
Gauri Lankesh, who edited a weekly newspaper, was known as a fearless and outspoken journalist. She was known for her secularist criticism of right-wing and Hindu nationalists, including members of the BJP. She worked for The Times of India and later ran an independent newspaper, Lankesh Patrike, along with her brother Indrajit for several years. The newspaper had been founded by her father, P Lankesh, a left-wing poet and writer.
After a split with her brother, she left to start several publications, including her newspaper Gauri Lankesh Patrike. Award-winning filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh was her sister.
The federal government run by BJP and allies is providing the strength for the fascist Hindutva elements to go on a rampage across the nation, attacking and silencing critics as they are trying to create a Hindu state on par with the Jewish state of Israel. Now the BJP is strategically using all others parties to win elections, but later all of them would also be axed.
Ministers belonging to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also openly attacked journalists, using terms like “presstitute” (a mix of press and prostitute) to describe them.
Gauri had returned home in her car on Tuesday night and was opening the gate when the attackers shot her, police said. She died on the spot. Officials stated that they suspected she had been under surveillance by the gunmen. An investigation has been opened.
Her killing follows several assassinations of outspoken secularists or rationalists in recent years, including scholar Malleshappa Kalburgi, anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar, and author-politician Govind Pansare. The watchdog ‘Reporters without Borders’ said that radical nationalist journalists had targeted other writers, with online smear campaigns and threats of physical reprisals. “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ and anti-Hindutva thought from the national debate.
Gauri’s tabloid was known for its left-leaning views and was facing several defamation cases. She was sympathetic to the Naxalites, or Maoist rebels who have been carrying out a bloody insurgency against the government, and was involved in the reintegration of former rebels. Gauri was convicted of defamation last year for a report she published on local BJP leaders.
Gauri was sentenced to six months in jail and was out on bail and appealing the conviction at the time of her death. In an interview with Narada News last year shortly after her conviction, she criticized BJP’s “fascist and communal politics” and said, “My Constitution teaches me to be a secular citizen, not communal. It is my right to fight against these communal elements.” “I believe in democracy and freedom of expression, and hence, am open to criticism too. People are welcome to call me anti-BJP or anti-Modi if they want to. They are free to have their own opinion, just as I am free to have my opinion.”
Her death has been widely condemned across India. Protests have been planned in several cities including Bangalore, Mumbai and the capital, Delhi. Karnataka state’s Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of Congress party was one of the first to respond to her death, calling it an “assassination of democracy.” Later speaking to media, he said the murder was well planned by the criminal gang. Noted writer K Marulasiddappa told the BBC: “The attack on the select writers is apparently happening because they can mold public opinion… There is a pattern in the way assailants come on motorbikes, kill, and vanish.” “There cannot be any personal reasons attributed to her death because she had no personal enemies. So, the possibility is only political.”
The news has made top headlines in Indian media, with editors and journalists condemning her murder and paying tribute to her work.
Modi’s double speak
A little more than a year since Narendra Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP swept to power in India, there are fears that religiously motivated violence may be on the rise. Some say the BJP has bred a culture of intolerance towards minorities that has left even Hindus nervous of speaking out.
Just before Christmas the church of St Sebastian in Delhi was gutted by fire – one of five churches in the capital to have been attacked in the past year. The pastor of St Sebastian’s, Father Anthony Francis, didn’t believe the police theory that the fire was caused by a short circuit so started gathering evidence himself. Only when he showed officers a film of oil on top of puddles of water in the wrecked church, did they start an arson investigation? But no-one has been arrested in this case, or about the four other church attacks.
The congregation of St. Sebastian, meanwhile, gathers under plastic sheets suspended from a nearby community center.
India’s much larger Muslim minority has also been under tremendous pressure. In fact, they are literally on the run with the RSS targeting Islamic laws.
In the months leading up to last year’s election, violence flared between Muslims and Hindus in the town of Muzaffarnagar, 100km (62 miles) north of Delhi, leaving more than 60 people dead. No one cares about the deaths. While no riots on that scale have occurred since smaller incidents are common. “Just like those riots, now Hindus in the villages are trying to drive Muslims out of the villages – repeated attacks have created an atmosphere of fear,” says Mohammad Jamshed, whose brother-in-law, Deen Mohammad, was left paralyzed in the sleepy town of Kairana, not far from Muzaffarnagar, in May.
In a bitterly ironic twist, it happened as protesters held a demonstration to demand police action to stop violence against Muslims. “I stopped to watch and was hit by a bullet fired from inside a police car,” says 18-year-old Deen Mohammad. “I felt numb, walked a few steps and then fell. Then I started vomiting blood.” He fears he will never walk again.
Police say the bullet recovered from Mohammad’s body is not a type they use, but they are investigating complaints that officers used excessive force that day.
The previous month a Muslim laborer in the nearby village of Shamli was returning home from Delhi by train when a gang of about 10 Hindu men beat him brutally with rods in the groin, before stealing his money and pulling his beard from his face by the roots. “The police have not done anything except register a complaint. And now when I go out, I fear that something like this may happen again,” says the man, giving his name as Faizan, aged 26.
Stories such as these usually go unnoticed by the media. They seem to some all the more worrying when seen alongside derogatory comments about minorities from some BJP politicians. “Each Hindu woman should mother four children to protect the predominance of Hindus,” said one extremist Hindutva MP, Sakshi Maharaj. “Should the country be led by sons of Ram [a Hindu god] or by sons of bastards?” asked the country’s Minister for Food Processing Niranjan Jyoti – implying that non-Hindus were bastards. Another MP, Giriraj Singh said, “Those opposing Modi will have to go to Pakistan.” Later he was appointed to be minister for micro, small and medium enterprises.
According to the Minister for Minorities Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the only Muslim face in the government:”You cannot judge the government by isolated incidents of violence or isolated statements by some ministers.”
Narendra Modi himself has presented a moderate face of Hindu nationalism since becoming prime minister, but he let the communal elements go on a rampage. “Our government will not allow any religious group belonging to the majority or the minority to incite hatred against others overtly or covertly,” he said in February, under pressure to respond to the church attacks.
But recently-released statistics on inter-communal violence for the first half of 2015 indicate that there has been a 30% increase compared with the same period of 2014 – a total of 330 attacks, 51 of them fatal, compared with 252 attacks, of which 33 were fatal, in 2014. The Muzaffarnagar riots mean that the statistics for 2013 were even worse, however.
And even the events of Muzaffarnagar pale in comparison with the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 when Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister. Then, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in clashes after 60 Hindu pilgrims died in a fire on a train.
There are other forms of discrimination, as well as outright violence, which are harder to measure. “It’s not just whether you go and kill Muslims and chase them out, it’s not just about burning someone’s house down, it denies them jobs, it denies them places to stay, it’s making them live in terror,” says Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy. “While Modi pretends to be a statesman and travel to various places and is pressurized to speak the language of diversity, the goons have been unleashed on the ground.”
Even middle-class urban Indians like herself, she says, are now wary of criticizing the ideology of Hindu nationalism. “It’s not just Muslims or Christians, perhaps the people they hate the most are the ones who are standing up for a different way of looking at the world, and therefore need to be silenced.”
Father Anthony says the burning of his church “was like burning India’s constitution,” with its guarantees of religious freedom. “I fear that if the country becomes a Hindu nation, goes on the track of Pakistan and starts using laws such as the blasphemy law to target minorities, what kind of country will we have?” he asks. “That will be a real injustice; it won’t be a blessing, it’ll be a curse on the nation.”
Indian media fanaticism is dangerous as it is generating hatred against sections of the society not only for making more profits but to keep a wedge between communities for political reasons that these days benefit the Hindutva parties.
Indian broadcasting is flourishing, and TV and radio outlets are proliferating. There were more than 180 million TV homes by 2016, many of them connected to direct-to-home satellite and cable services. A TV digitization drive is under way.
There are nearly 800 licensed satellite TV stations. Around half of these are news-based outlets, and news programs often outperform entertainment output. Doordarshan, the public TV, operates multiple services, including flagship DD1, which reaches hundreds of millions of viewers. Multi channel satellite TV is a huge hit. Major platforms Dish TV, Tata-Sky, Sun Direct, Big TV and Airtel Digital TV have millions of subscribers. State-owned Doordarshan runs a free-to-air platform, DD Free Dish.
Music-based FM radio stations abound. But only public All India Radio can produce news programming. AIR stations reach more than 99% of the population.
India’s press is lively, and there are around 12,000 newspaper titles. Driven by a growing middle class, newspaper circulations have grown, and new titles compete with established dailies. Self-censorship is encouraged by prosecutions brought against journalists who are deemed to be overly critical of the government, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Violence against media workers is encouraged by a climate of impunity, says Freedom House.
There were more than 462 million internet users by 2016 (InternetLiveStats.com), making India the world’s second largest online market after China. But the online revolution has been slower to take hold in rural India. Facebook is the leading social network. Twitter is used by celebrities, journalists, and politicians. Some of them have a mass following.
There is no systematic filtering of the web. But the authorities have clashed with leading social networks over censorship of content deemed to be offensive. Rules require internet companies to remove “disparaging” or “blasphemous” content if they receive a complaint from an “affected person.”
The authorities routinely suspend internet services in Indian-administered Kashmir during times of tension.
Journalism is nothing without courage. Democracy is nothing without dissent.
Silencing the critics by brutal techniques is a grave offense. It is happening in Kashmir where Muslims are being targeted by the government openly to silence them from their demand for sovereignty.
One has o no idea as to where exactly the nation is going now what exactly the RSS-BJP duo is going to do with the nation. PM Modi, a hard core RSS operative, pretends he is not aware of any such RSS divisive plan. The way Indian media lords, particularly the English-Hindi TV channels, create fear and hatred by debating certain issues to make India feel tremendously great is indeed unfortunate as such gimmicks will have disastrous impact on the future of the nation and youth.
If Indian regime promotes the Hindutva criminal elements to kill anyone who is not in agreement with the Hindutva agenda is the crudest way of approaching freedom and democracy. Having reached the top most posts in the country now both president Kovind and PM Modi should reflect upon if they are aware of, the difficult path India has passed through to knit a cohesive society of all religions and views and launch a new society without hatred and fear.