Saffronisation: The Social Death of Indian Muslims

Delving deeper into the Indian fascist state and its consistently authoritarian policies



Every Muslim in India has their own backstory. Perhaps their grandfather’s neighbourhood got ransacked by Hindutva-affiliated militants, or they got called unrelenting slurs throughout their school life. From the upper echelons of society to the down-trodden, every Indian Muslim has a tragic anecdote. Vilified by the statist media outlets and ignored by international press, much of the Muslim population in India has hit the streets in cries of agony only to be tossed aside like rotten vegetables. The people of India no longer flinch hearing murmurs of a dead Muslim man taped to train tracks or swathes of bodies found floating in the water.


Indian society has been engulfed by a pond scum where the majority of the population views the existence of Muslims as a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’. For the intellectual liberal class, such deranged barbarianism was initiated with the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014; even the most educated remain blind to the harassment of Indian Muslims which was present for 70 years before 2014 that has now escalated into genocide. “New India” is but the persisting image of a post-colonial terror state haunted by its own unresolved problems, a bourgeoisie class who has promoted the death of their own people. The issue will persist as long as the fabrics of modern Indian history are not questioned. Fascism thrives on hush-hush and sweeping matters under the rug. Voices must be raised and the oppressed communities of India must unite before Muslims have been desecrated beyond rescue by the demonic forces of majoritarian tyranny.


Cows will soar in the skies before Muslims in India receive any semblance of justice. Since the beginning of 2022 alone, the Hindu ruling class has innovated a plethora of novel strategies to slash the throats of more Muslims. A customary holiday is celebrated in India every year where the next item on the list of Hindu terrorists is enforced – a ritual sacrifice where masses of people are massacred. “Happy new year!” was cheered as over a hundred Muslim women were auctioned and sold online on the Bulli Bai app, penalised for the crime of being female Muslim journalists in India. Quratulein Rehbar, a journalist who had her photograph sourced and uploaded on the GitHub app for sale mentions the entire ordeal to be a way to “degrade and humiliate vocal Muslim women”. The stage was set: the state had manufactured to further torture Muslim women.


In February 2022, the hijab ban rolled into the schools and colleges of Karnataka. As the gates were slammed into the faces of teenage Muslim girls, their voices became the sigh of Muslims, the eternal anguish of an exoticised, patronised community tortured under Brahminical patriarchy. Their own classmates, affiliated with youth wings of Hindu nationalist organisations turned against them, wearing saffron scarves. Teenagers and young students, a group which have been a leading force in every revolutionary movement, have now been indoctrinated into joining hands with fascism. Bright young minds are being lured in to join a movement which does not benefit them in any way. They vandalised classrooms and tortured female Muslim students. Youth wings, however, are quintessential to fascism. The indoctrination of youth as the future of fascism was considered central in fascist Italy and Germany, as the longevity of the regime was thought to depend on them.


In a society where pujas are held to commemorate the opening of a school, where children are forced to read Hindu mythology in language classes and caste atrocities are on the rise, the bogeyman of “secularism” was invoked to justify the decision to ban hijabs in school. Secularism in India has for a long time been a joke – “independent” India was borne out of communal strife, so religious that constitutionalists couldn’t impose total secularism in India and instead opted for different personal laws for each religion. Plotting in conjunction with the ruling forces, the High Court of Karnataka reinforced the hijab ban citing the aforementioned secularism as did the Supreme Court itself by ignoring the case entirely – hijabs were declared a non-essential religious practice.


Day after day, Muslims are instructed to approach the courts with public interest litigation in the interest of maintaining civility but the entire system proves to be working against them. In 1994, the Supreme Court re-emphasised that the Constitution prohibits the state from identifying itself with or favouring any particular religion, religious sect, or denomination in the SR Bommai vs. Union of India case. The verdict was heralded for its endorsement of Indian federalism but was also a sharp and biting commentary on the inroads of religion into politics. Bommai’s promise of fair federal play, and for action against parties and State governments violating constitutional philosophy prohibits the mixing up of religion and politics. Judicial opinions which favour a monolithic view of the Indian identity are therefore unconstitutional. Nevertheless, judicial decisions which endorse a narrow, rigid view of the Indian identity fuel xenophobic communal attitudes.


The “true Indian” concept is reinforced when Indian Muslim women are treated as foreigners on their own land. Hijab bans occurred in concurrence with orientalist depictions of Muslim women published online. Muslim women became the next emancipation project for the Hindu state, helpless victims who needed to be rescued from the clutches of the heartless, racialised Muslim man. Frantz Fanon, an eminent political philosopher explains in his book A Dying Colonialism (1959) how unveiling the Muslim woman became an object of erotic interest for the colonial powers – “The colonisers are frustrated by a veiled woman as she limits her availability to be fetishised.” In the same way, that the French, British, and American colonial administrations all over the world viewed brown Muslim women as pitiful objects, India has adopted a colonial mentality where they view the Muslim population as their colonial subjects: racially inferior and in need of saving. To see judicial systems agreeing with this logic provides insight into how neo-colonial India is; the entire criminal justice system created by the colonial authorities was retained uncritically by the Indian elite.


Muslims wrongfully believed that after the intense propaganda campaigns targeted the young Muslim girls who were exiled from their schools, the latest abuse would cease. Of course, they were incorrect, the hijab ban was merely a preview of the civil strife that would ensue throughout the month of Ramadan. Globally, Muslims celebrate Ramadan as a time of togetherness, feasting, joy and celebration with families. For Indian Muslims, it is the month they get slaughtered on the pyre. Various Hindu terrorist organisations, from Bajrang Dal to Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had their goons hit the streets with a signature saffron flag in their hands and chants of “Jai Shree Ram” while brandishing swords.


Stones were pelted at mosques from Goa to Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal and loudspeakers blasted music during prayers. In Karauli, Rajasthan, 40 homes were set on fire while the police watched. Elsewhere, the police ganged up on youth and strangled them. Meanwhile, vendors and construction workers were lynched to death on the suspicion of carrying beef. A “halal ban” and then a “meat ban” was introduced around the time of Ram Navami. Muslim meat sellers had Hindus storm their shops demanding non-halal meat and then assaulting them if they refused.


Every few days, a new video would surface on the Internet where saffron-clad sadhus would screech on a TV screen about ending the Muslims forever, receiving no penalty whatsoever. Mahant Bajrang Muni Unasin, a renowned Hindu saint, called for the mass rape of Muslim women in April 2022, raising the slogan of “Jab Mulle kaate jayenge, Ram Ram chillaenge!” (When Muslims are killed, we will scream Ram Ram). Men belonging to Shri Ram Sene would gather in hordes in broad daylight, pledging to rape Muslim women and behead Muslim men. Muslim houses in Jahangirpuri along with Shaheen Bagh, both in Delhi, were bulldozed, a war finally being declared on the Muslim population of India and yet- Muslims still received accusations of “land encroachment”. A blitzkrieg of propaganda was broadcasted on the local news to prove Muslims to be invading villains who destroyed the precious temples of Hindus, as a sort of tumour contaminating the purity of Indian heritage. Death turned into an everyday affair. If the mouth of a Muslim taxi driver was found stuffed with sand and murdered then it was nothing but a distraction – he would be blamed and the narrative would be termed “wrong on both sides”.


At this point, it is fair to infer the violence will not be stopping this time around. Hindus were on a trial period two years before, in 2020, when Muslim protesters were being detained off of numerous college campuses all before a large-scale pogrom consumed a slum in Delhi. After their pogrom was declared a success, they have continued to fund divisive politics. With further right-wing polarisation of the public, a narrative has been concocted of Hindus being in danger somehow. Therefore, leeway has been given to right-wing groups to attack the establishment of mosques.


The historic Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh is currently under attack by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), who seek to demolish the mosque under the premise that they found a supposed shivling in the wuzu khana, a place of ablution in mosques. The Supreme Court agreeing to hear the case set an important precedent – all places of worship were now up for debate, regardless of what laws such as the Places of Worship Act, 1992, ordered. To preserve communal peace, Parliament introduced a bill in 1992, reading: “An Act to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” In simpler terms, the Places of Worship Act, 1991, says that the character of a religious place cannot be changed from what it was on August 15, 1947 – the day India gained independence. The legal system has forgone its own precedent. has surrendered to the Modi regime & India has become a lawless land whose sole purpose is the genocide of Muslims and the creation of a Brahmin Hindu state in South Asia.


To comprehend the Hindu right, it is first imperative to realise how they view Islam in history. History textbooks are under threat – a distorted education is being fed to the brains of youth to convince them of the foreign threat of Muslims to their civilisation. An average member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) perceives the former Mughal rulers of South Asia to be foreigners who conquered the Hindus and invaded the land. By their logic, all Muslims have been forcefully converted and Hinduism is the most “indigenous” religion of India, a view resembling that of the British. In British imperial writing, the Mughal empire was portrayed as a Muslim regime, India a conflict-ridden salad of religions. Laying emphasis on the discord between the groups, the British justified imperial reign. A portrayal of India belonging to two irreconcilable powers was created, and independence activist Bal Gangadhar Tilak readily accepted the proposal. In the early writings of Tilak, the high-caste Hindu faith defined the Indian nation, and non-Hindus constituted its hostile ‘other’. Since it was Hinduism that constituted the national identity, the Mughal state was conceived as an extraneous force, foreign and oppressive for the Indian people. Historian Stanley Wolpert quotes in his book Tilak and Gokhale: Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India (1961):


“ The common factor in Indian society is the feeling of Hindutva. I do not speak of Muslims and Christians at present because everywhere the majority of our society consists of Hindus. (...) There may be different doctrines in the Hindu dharma, but certain principles can be found in common, and because of this alone a sort of feeling that we belong to one religion has remained among people speaking different languages in such a vast country. This feeling of being one is still alive in different provinces.”

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Moving forward to the last lap before Indian independence, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar rose as a prominent believer in this previous Hindutva ideology now revered by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). With some justice, he can be described as the inspirational force behind the resurgence of militant Hinduism in contemporary India. Savarkar was born into a Brahmin Hindu family and joined the Hindu Mahasabha. During the Second World War, he popularised the slogan “Hinduise all Politics and Militarise Hindudom”. The Hindus, he said, are not only a nation bound by the same culture but also geography, blood, country and history. Indian Muslims and Christians, though, are the progeny of converts from Hinduism. To become part of the nation, it was essential for them to accept Hindu culture and shed their bigotry. They must start looking at India not only as their Motherland but also as their Holy Land, he said. All countries assert a national identity, but Hindutva insists that this identity must come with assimilation into a dominant culture. Two years after Savarkar’s seminal work was public, the RSS was created by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and endorsed the ideals of “Hindutva” openly.


Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, better known as the RSS, is an extremist Hindu organisation often likened to the Nazi Party of Germany. It is an ideological source of various Hindu groups. It came into existence in 1925 in the Western Indian city of Nagpur with an affirmed objective to make India a Hindu nation. Its main motto is ‘Hindu, Hindi, and Hindustan’. The RSS has grown steadily over the last 10 years, not necessarily after 2014 when the BJP came to power, said Arun Kumar, national publicity chief of the RSS. Over the last 10 years, the RSS sakhas and membership had doubled, he said. “Five to six lakh people attend the daily sakhas (branches). Both the sakhas and the membership doubled.” Dismantling Global Hindutva, a conference of South Asian academics, found that in 2020, RSS had almost 585,000 members and over 57,000 branches or sakhas. The Sangh is comprised of various Hindu nationalists which are grouped together to be a part of the larger Sangh Parivar. The most prominent ones include the political wing (Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP) , a trade union wing (Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh), women’s wing (Rashtriya Sevika Samiti), student wing (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, ABVP), and economic wing (Swadeshi Jagaran Manch). The Print, an Indian news outlet, estimates that 3 out of 4 ministers in the ruling BJP are members of the RSS, including the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.


Savarkar and his ire proclaimed grandly about uniting India under one identity of valiant Hinduism. Despite their delusions of grandeur, they could not accept India’s diversity or its many thousand communities which could not be consolidated into one. Assimilation was his dream for he believed any other identity was a threat greater than the British. Later, RSS would play into his delirium, organising communal riots decade after decade – Gujarat, Hashimpura, Bombay, Muzaffarnagar. By promoting and playing into sectarian politics, the RSS and its Sangh off-shoots including the BJP bent over backwards to fragment India into bits and pieces. The RSS, after all, colluded with the original British colonisers of India. Ram Puniyani, a professor, writes in his book Religion, Power, and Violence: Expression of Politics in Contemporary Times (2005) that distorting Hindutva as a nationalist school of thought was an attempt “to pass off a pre-independence political trend represented by the RSS as a legacy of the anti-colonial struggle whereas, in reality, the RSS was never part of the anti-imperialist struggle. On the contrary, since its inception in 1925, the RSS only tried to disrupt the great anti-imperialist struggle of the Indian people against the British colonial rulers.”


RSS founder Hedgewar was arrested and jailed for one year due to being part of the Khilafat movement. His incarceration was his last contribution to freedom. Hedgewar discouraged his cadre to participate in anti-colonial struggles such as the Quit India Movement or the Salt Satyagraha. A year-and-a-half after the Quit India movement was launched, the Bombay government of the British Raj noted in a memo, with considerable satisfaction, that “the Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.” They were proud of staying subservient to the foreign rulers, of opposing any effort of the Indian people to break free. Madhavrao Sadashivrao Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, reacted to the 1942 Bengal Famine by retorting that the people cannot waste time accusing others of the degraded state of society. RSS mouthpiece, the Organiser, stood against the tri-colour flag of India on the eve of Independence:


“It will never be respected and owned by the Hindus (...) The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.”


Without a doubt, the RSS, Hindutva, or any of their ilk had no connection to the freedom struggle. The Sangh was an organisation of inactive people with nugatory sentiments. A few months after independence, the infamous Nathuram Godse shot Gandhi three times point-blank. Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Indian statemen received a letter from an assassinated RSS member detailing how members of the RSS were instructed to tune in to their radio sets beforehand for the momentous occasion. Days later in 1948, they were banned as an organisation but continued operating underground. 1949 arrived and the constitution was in the process of being drafted. Once again, the Organiser published editorials objecting to the new developments – “But in our constitution, there is no mention of that unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat… To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits, that means nothing.” While the creators of the Constitution were framing the law for a just society, RSS was reliant on the ancient documents of Manusmriti, an ancient legal text of Hinduism dictating a discriminatory social system. Here, Hindutva leaders offer insight into their reactionary mindset; they considered the Smritis to be quintessential to the Hindu lifestyle, even for the most unorthodox.


The Indian Constitution, despised by the RSS, was in large part the construction of Dr BR Ambedkar. Ambedkar was first and foremost remembered in history as a visionary social reformer advocating against the age-old institution of caste. Being an intellectual despite not being upper-caste, he was always a thorn on the side of the Hindu Establishment. He writes in the Annihilation of Caste (1936) that Hinduism inherently institutionalises discrimination by the caste system in the most inhuman ways. One can not be a Hindu until one belongs to a certain caste. Ambedkar tried to reform Hinduism in his younger days, but he realised that his efforts were futile as upper-caste Hindus feel pride in their caste, unable to hand over their caste purity and socioeconomic privileges derived from their caste.


He spits on the face of material like the Manusmriti for its codification of caste – the same Manusmriti RSS heads over heels in love with. Manusmriti is an ancient legal text or ‘dharmashastra’ of Hinduism. RSS posits Manusmriti as the law of the land because caste helps them maintain power. Hindutva was, in the beginning, supposed to be “open to all”, yet the Hindu Mahasabha party to which Savarkar belonged never admitted non-Hindus. The leadership of the RSS consisted entirely of Brahmins, and Savarkar himself practised caste endogamy while marrying off his brethren. Mohan Bhagwat, the present RSS chief addressed a public meeting in Pune about three and a half years ago, and defended the caste system, implying that if there had been only one caste instead of four, it would have spelt disaster for the country.

Seventy years after the constitution was written, it is the writ of Manu that prevails in many areas of our country.

Hinduism today is not Hinduism. It is Brahminism. The Hindutva logic rotting the country of India can be traced back to centuries of Brahmin, upper-caste rule. Brahmins, who rule Hindutva, declare any culture which cannot conform to their version of spiritual purity as rotten. In reality, Hindutva believes in Brahmins as a “master race” while punishing anyone who does not worship their feet. Contrary to popular belief, P.B. Sawant, a former judge of the Supreme Court found that only 5% of Muslims in India were forcefully converted. It was the casteism of the Manusmriti-inscribed system that created an irreparable rift among the people of South Asia. Anand Teltumbde, a Dalit scholar, explains the Hindu hatred of Muslims to be rooted in their hatred of those depressed classes and castes who converted to Islam as an effort to escape the clutches of the caste system. An analysis of Muslim representation in India's Lok Sabha in May 2019 found that 85% of Indian Muslims originate from a lower caste. Deep down, Hindu nationalists fear Islam, or any other religion, as a threat to the caste system. Hence, they shut doors on hijabi Muslim girls in the same way they have restricted Dalits from education since ancient times. They lynch Muslims on the suspicion of carrying beef as they shame Dalits for eating beef, vegetarianism being an aspect of Brahmin identity. Muslims have essentially been racialised into a lower caste, subjugated under a Hindu culture which they cannot fit into.



Highlighting the role of caste is imperative to the matter of Islamophobia in India. Communal violence cannot be uprooted by simple electoralism when the casteism nurturing anti-Muslim Hindu discourse is institutionalised into every aspect of Indian society. The Modi regime in 2014 is not the starting point of the hullabaloo. Hindutva has seldom been condemned by status-quo political parties like Congress. Riots would occur during Congress rule. The activities of Hindu extremists are reinforced day by day by the capitalist state when Hindus chanting death threats are allowed to roam free while social justice activists are incarcerated without bail. While RSS spearheads the movements against Muslims, the wider social stratification accepted by average society allows it to go on without protest.


The road to fascism is paved by ignorance, by lack of questioning. RSS was allowed to gain the power to commit human rights abuses by the leaders of a post-colonial nation advocating soft concepts like “liberal democracy” instead of revolutionising institutions altogether. The state’s democratic systems operate on the principle of non-violence and “law-abiding citizens”. Instead of providing justice for all, what takes more importance in a liberal democracy is free elections and a functioning legal system. Reform will tend to centre less around afflicted people and more around if social order is maintained, starvation and misery be damned. The true success of Hindu fascists lies in never letting their action significantly alter or violate the “law of the land”, rather letting free the logic of bourgeois-democratic law to its extreme extent of communal fascism. Fascist elements cannot be wished away by dialogues or civility. They must be attacked at the root in whatever way possible.


For all the quips and insults political parties shoot at each other, they are all collaborators in this rudderless nationalism. Ambedkar’s most poignant criticism of the Constitutional Assembly was their lack of willingness to abolish the poison of Brahminism. Congress did not pay much emphasis on the interest of the lower classes or minorities and when he mentioned Gandhi, Ambedkar said that he gave many quotes and sayings, but no views and suggestions that were helpful for the development of the un-trodden. He was of the view that there should be reorganisation and reconstruction of society departing from following the sacredness of the Shastras. His words were not heeded with caution, and now Brahminical thought is consuming India whole.


“How do you expect to succeed, if you allow the Shastras to continue to mould the beliefs and opinions of the people? Not to question the authority of the Shastras—to permit the people to believe in their sanctity and their sanctions, and then to blame the people and criticise them for their acts as being irrational and inhuman—is an incongruous way of carrying on social reform (...) realise that the acts of the people are merely the results of their beliefs inculcated in their minds by the Shastras and that people will not change their conduct until they cease to believe in the sanctity of the Shastras on which their conduct is founded.


There is no doubt; in my opinion, that unless you change your social order you can achieve little by way of progress. You cannot mobilise the community either for defence or for the offence. You cannot build anything on the foundations of caste. You cannot build up a nation; you cannot build up a morality. Anything that you will build on the foundations of caste will crack and will never be a whole.”


BR Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste



“Our freedom is fake.” The creation of India in 1947 was a handover of power, not liberation. As ruling politicians grasped for power, Muslims were socioeconomically weakened by partition. India did not feed the children or educate the masses. Instead, riots were plotted against Muslims by the ruling class of India. Total economic collapse could not halt the media’s war against Muslims. Hate was allowed to fester, actions weren’t taken to mitigate damage. Caricatures of Muslims were and continue to be drawn in political cartoons for humour as they were and are murdered in cold blood. Indian citizens developed antipathy and insensitivity to the death of their own people. Genocide is a process, started not by gas chambers but by an anti-people neoliberal government. As majoritarian resentment increases, organising the common people in solidarity is the sole solution. For the oppressed Muslims and lower classes of India, Hindu nationalism is a vermin, a remnant of colonial times – British rulers replaced by Brahmin Hindu ones. Peace-loving Indians must work to stop the complete annihilation of not just the Muslim population but all the minorities of India. If anyone belongs to India, it is those brave patriots who fight for a nation built on equality.


 

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