Hindutva’s growing threat to Muslims and Peace in India

The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India highlight the dangerously vulnerable situation of India’s Muslims and how Hindutva — the Hindu fundamentalist movement — is determined to ethnically cleanse the country of its Muslim population. Hindutva not only poses a clear and present threat to Muslims, but also to India’s legacy of democratic pluralism. It considers Islam as a foreign religion, blames Indian Muslims for all the country’s ills — even for the 1947 partitioning of India. In short, Hindutva espouses a wholly Hindu-ized India.

Even back in January 1993, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the most cosmopolitan and commercially powerful city of India, could not guarantee the safety of its Muslim population, who live mostly in urban slums. "More killed as Muslims flee Bombay riots," read a typical headline in The Times. That year, the extremist rightwing party Shiv Sena (Army of Shiva) and its activists descended on Mumbai’s slums with marked electoral lists, intending to carry out an anti-Muslim terror campaign. The situation was so volatile that many among the city’s business and civil rights leaders felt only the imposition of martial law could save Muslims from wholesale slaughter.

Unfortunately, Western media do not routinely cover the growing issue of how many Indian politicians are calling for a Hindu-ized India and who habitually spout hatred against India’s minorities, especially Muslims. In fact, Western media prefer to focus on "Islamic" fundamentalism, while turning blind eyes to the growing threat of Jewish, Christian and Hindu fundamentalism.

Hindutva is an alarming case in point as it presents a mix of extremes, including religion, nationalism and selective historical discourse. It has even found sympathizers within the ranks of expansionist Zionism.

What both groups have in common is the adoption and advocacy of violence as a primary means of achieving their oppressive political and ideological agendas. Wherever such a potent chemistry of hatred is found, pluralism and democracy are put under severe strain and the inevitable result is widespread destruction, death and misery.

Yet both groups enjoy the support of Western imperial powers, chiefly the United States. And both are fanatically committed to a policy of annihilative strategies against those they perceive as "the enemy" — Zionists against Palestinians (and the rest of the Arab world for that matter), and Hindutva against Islam (not only in India but Pakistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh as well). Needless to add, perhaps, is that both zealously propagate false theories about global "clashes of culture" and "the end of history as we know it." The rhetoric is repetitive and depressingly familiar.

Events leading to the total destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ajodhya (in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) on December 6, 1992 by the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters symbolize the rise of Hindutva as a movement.

The Babri Mosque was constructed in 1528 during the reign of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. During the British occupation, a number of Hindu leaders began publicly promoting their belief that the Mosque stood on the site of the god Ram’s Janambhoomi (birthplace).

In December 1949, an image of Ram was secretly installed on the premises; the Babri Mosque was then closed down by the government, even though Hindu holy men were still allowed to worship there.

Nearly four decades later — on February 1, 1986 – the expropriated mosque was fully opened to Hindu worshippers. In 1989, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sanctioned the laying of a foundation stone on the mosque site for a future temple to Ram.

The following year, BJP leader L.K. Advani led a "rath yatra" (chariot march) against local Muslims, causing massive bloodshed. Then in April 1992 all the buildings, trees and graveyards around the Babri Mosque were demolished and a temporary Hindu shrine was built. Finally, on December 6 of that year, the Babri Mosque itself was completely destroyed.

Fast forward a decade to March 2002: the Kar Sevaks (supporters of Hindutva) gather at the Babri Mosque site to install a prefabricated structure in preparation for building a permanent temple to Ram. This time, a higher Indian court bans the project, averting a major crisis and more bloodshed.

In his book "Understanding the Muslim Mind," Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, writes about the bitterness among India’s Muslims over the Babri Mosque demolition, the invasion of Kashmir, the rise of the BJP and Hindutva, and the growing threat of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan.

The challenges facing any responsible, courageous and accountable political leadership in India to keep social peace are gigantic. Muslim participation in India’s public life — which is currently almost zero — is a must if they are to be treated as equal citizens. India’s Muslims can no longer afford to retreat into Islamic rituals without also participating proactively in daily political life.

In fact, it is the very lack of political leadership among India’s 135 million Muslims that is allowing Hindutva almost free rein to achieve its genocidal policies. The rapid rise of made-in-India Islamophobia is a continuous threat to the survival of Muslims there and this situation cannot lead in turn to a peaceful resolution of the self-determination crisis over Kashmir. India could benefit significantly from grassroots Muslim empowerment, and consequently achieve a greater level of constructive social pluralism.

In his book, "Jihad, Hindutva and The Taliban: South Asia at the Crossroads," Prof. Iftikhar H. Malik writes: "The de-Indianization of Pakistan and Bangladesh is as dangerous as is the de-Islamization of India. Their security and identity-related concerns will be better met through a greater awareness of their historical pluralism and shared contributions towards a larger human harmony. This has to come about by withholding the transformation of textbooks to suit discretionary needs, a responsible use of media and a greater debate on collective advantages to be had from a vigorous and fresher regionalization, without of course, surrendering sovereignty. Regional co-operation will not only preclude any more possibility of ‘balkanization’ of this immensely plural and populous region, it will also usher South Asia into a long-cherished era of peace and stability."

In a recent open letter to President-Elect Barack Obama a Coalition of Concerned Indian Americans says "We are particularly sensitive to the status of Muslim and Christian minorities in India who have been facing growing hostility from Hindu nationalist groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and their various affiliates, in several states of India. Unfortunately, every terrorist incident directed against the people of India, like the heinous attack on Mumbai last week, seems to only strengthen the hands of these groups, who relentlessly propagate religious stereotypes and commit violent acts against minority communities with impunity. We are writing to you to share our deep concerns in this regard, before your administration shapes its policy priorities towards India."

India has only one asset worth preserving and nurturing and that is its people – all of its people, including Muslims. It should also reach out honestly and sincerely to its two Muslim neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and start now – before it is too late — to achieve stability and peace for everyone.