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Opinion

July 18, 2017

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The saffron threat

The saffron threat

The pernicious tentacles of Hindutva seem to have gripped Indian society as a whole and are threatening to tear the social fabric of one of the largest democracies in the world.

Vigilante justice seems to be in vogue everywhere. Last week, a group of men attacked and robbed a Muslim family onboard a train. They sexually harassed the veiled women and went to the extent of brutally torturing a mentally-challenged boy in UP, which is run by the fanatical Hindu politician Yogi Adityanath. On the same day, a Muslim man in Maharashtra was assaulted by the Hindu cow vigilantes for allegedly carrying beef.

These attacks are not rare. Rights groups have claimed that more than 600 attacks have been carried out by Hindu extremists since Modi was appointed the country’s prime minister. Around 149 attacks have targeted Christians while the rest have been directed against other religious minorities. The ruling BJP has failed to condemn such brutal attacks. The RSS, the Vishva Hindu Parishad and other extremist outfits are encouraging such frenzy in the name of religion and ignoring the dangers that they might cause to the social fabric.

These retrogressive forces are using a distorted interpretation of their religion to settle personal and political accounts. In some cases, a petty quarrel over a vacant seat on public transport has turned into a mob attack. Such assaults have frightened various religious minorities who have, over time, been reduced to the status of second-class citizens. No culprit has been handed an exemplary punishment so far. This has prompted the victims to lose faith in the Indian justice system.

Some historians believe the politics of hatred was introduced by the BJP, which has a few seats in parliament in 1980s while others blame Gandhi for the rise of Hindutva. According to them, Gandhi dragged religion into politics by coining political slogans that were derived from Hinduism. Gandhi is believed to have defended the caste system and subscribed to other rigid ideological dogmas of Hinduism. He would even be reluctant to eat or drink anything at a Dalit’s house. This is one of the factors that prompted Dalit leader Dr Ambedkar to embrace Buddhism.

In fact, political factors alone have not resulted in the rise of the BJP. Instead, the ideological zeal of the RSS – the largest NGO in the world, with over 60 million members – was instrumental in pushing Indian society towards the situation it finds itself in today. It was such outfits that contaminated the minds of millions of Hindus over the decades through the ideology of hate and intolerance.

The RSS set up a number of welfare projects to attract the marginalised segments of society. According to ex-MP Tarun Vijay, the RSS runs 170,000 welfare projects and the largest service network in India. These projects include hospitals, blood banks and eye banks. Tarun believes that the Vidya Bharati (VB), an RSS affiliate organisation, runs more than 25,000 schools with a quarter of a million students and 100,000 teachers. According to Akshay Bakaya, a prominent author, the VB had 12,923 educational centres in March 1997 and this figure rose to 17,410 three years later.

Hindu extremist organisations are working in a clever way. They are employing both coercive and persuasive tools to achieve their target: to turn India into a Hindu state, with religious minorities relegated to the status of the second-class citizens. In the states where they constitute a majority, they are intimidating their opponents, carrying out forced conversions, punishing the Dalits for their alleged sins and preventing Christian missionaries from preaching.

However, in the states where they are in the minority or are less influential, a pragmatic approach is being applied. For instance, a strong Hindu identity has never existed in the northeast of the country owing to a number of factors. But now, the RSS affiliates are making inroads in the remote region. In 1995, the RSS and its affiliates only had 650 educational units. Now, the number of units have risen to over 6,000.

The extremist outfit has also been imparting military training to its disciples. Its trained goons, who work for the Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad, are notorious for attacking Muslims and other religious minorities. The RSS is now even training girls between the 15 and 25 years of age and poisoning their minds with the ideology of hate. In addition to this, its disciples are keen on rewriting history books and changing the names of various places.

Although the RSS was formed to create a united India, its ideology and the rapaciousness of its affiliate groups has polarised Indian society. Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh had once declared the Maoists as the single most potent national security threat to India. However, it is the divisive ideology of Hindutva that is sapping the foundation of Indian society.

One of the cardinal principles of Hinduism is the sanctity of all living creatures. Do Hindu extremist groups not consider religious minorities to be living beings? Should they not extend this concept of sanctity to 172.2 million Muslims, 27.8 million Christians and more than 200 lower-caste Hindus?

So far, these marginalised communities have been passive and defensive, pleading with the Hindu extremists to spare their lives and let them live peacefully. But the ruthless attacks of the saffron warriors might force them to join either the Maoist ranks that hold sway in 367 districts of India or the Muslim militants that have the potential to retaliate these brutalities. If that happens, India will plunge deeper into a civil war.

Guess who is pushing the secular democracy into the lap of majoritarianism? The saffron warriors. So, it would not be wrong to conclude that these holy warriors are the single most potent threat to national security in India. India may be wary of the rising power of China and the growing nukes of Pakistan. But it is the saffron threat that poses the strongest challenge to national security in the country.

 

The writer is a Karachi-based freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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