Last August I got a mail from a “researcher from Italy”. She wrote:
“I hope you are in the best of health and spirit. I am working on my dissertation on ‘Hindu neo-fundamentalism in India: the rise of RSS and impact on the Muslim minority’. I have been following your work on social media. May I request to please assist with your learned opinion by replying the attached questionnaire.”
The heading on the questionnaire said it was for MS level research in Religion, Politics & Citizenship, University of Padua, on the rise of Hindutva, its impact on Muslims and implications.
I agreed to reply, as I felt, maybe I could correct a little the misunderstanding of Hinduism and Hindu organizations, and sent the questionnaire also to Dr. Ratan Sharda ji. He was shocked about the questions portraying her ignorance and contempt regarding RSS. I was not shocked, as I am aware how negatively Hinduism and RSS are seen in the West and even more so among Muslims.
However, after sending my replies, I had not much hope that I could have helped in correcting the wrong image. She thanked me for the detailed answers but added, “I agree to disagree with you. I know fans of Hitler exist. There is a growing neo-Nazi movement too.”
When I googled her name, which sounded Turkish, I came to the Granada Institute in Spain, where she is enrolled for the year 2019/20. This Institute claims to be connected to Padua and Piedmont universities. All students in her course have Muslim names and the promotion video is in Arabic with no subtitles.
I post here my replies to her highly biased questions.
On what grounds does the RSS organization penetrate in the masses?
RSS is an organization which wants to strengthen India again after the Muslim invaders and British colonialists had impoverished it and had tried to cut it off from its civilizational roots. Indians have a many thousand years long history, Ramayana and Mahabharata are called “myths’ by western historians but it can be safely assumed that they are history with not only much literature, but also archeological findings supporting this view. Indians have inherited great knowledge from very ancient times and see India or Bharat (as they call their country) as mother. So the appeal to dedicate time and energy for uplifting Bharat resonates with many Indians and RSS gives them the opportunity to voluntary, selfless work in an organized way. The main thrust is relief work in disasters and elevating the poor.
Does RSS radicalize millions of Hindus?
“Radicalize” has got a negative meaning because the roots (radix in Latin) of several ideologies are harmful and those who follow those roots strictly (= ‘radicals’) are therefore shunned by society. When the roots are good, it’s of course good to follow them. I wrote an article with a seemingly provocative title: “Let’s all be Hindu fundamentalists.” The fundamentals or roots of Hindu Dharma are undoubtedly good. The most fundamental one is: ‘the one source of everything (Brahman) is immanent in all. Brahman is all-pervading.’ It means, this philosophy is the best basis for following the Golden Rule, not to do to others what one doesn’t want to be done to oneself. It would be good for humanity if all humans would accept this insight which is based in truth. Even science came meanwhile to the conclusion that all is one. Scientists call it energy. The Indian Rishis claim this energy is conscious. So to your question: it would be good, if RSS is successful in making ‘millions’ of Indians follow again their Hindu Dharma more intensely. How far they are successful, I don’t know. I suspect their main thrust is action in nation and character building on dharmic lines (dharma means to do the right thing in the given situation), not teaching philosophy.
Why do some Muslims join the RSS?
I can only guess. There must be many Muslims who genuinely don’t believe that Hindus are the worst of creatures and will burn in hell (Q98.6) and have to be fought (Q8.39) and so many other bad things about “Kafirs”, which Hindus are according to Islam. Some may have the courage to join RSS which surely would be frowned upon by their clergy. Others, those who believe that it is their duty to make the whole world follow Allah, may feel that it is an opportunity to foster Islam by undermining the organization when a chance to do so presents itself.
How does Hitler remain the most inspiring figure for Hindu nationalism (militarism)?
Hitler is NOT an inspiring figure for Hindu nationalism. RSS was founded much before Hitler came to power. The appearance of RSS members, for example their drills, sticks, dress, marches, discipline, greetings, etc. may appear similar to Hitler’s Nazi organisations, and in the media, there is made a lot of this, but to conclude on that basis that RSS is inspired by Hitler is malicious. Those who accuse RSS cannot show one example of a riot or terror attack done by RSS or other Hindu nationalists, but the impression is created that ‘RSS is almost like ISIS’. It’s incredibly wrong. (Maybe I should add that even today there are indeed some Indians who know little about history (like people in the West, too, known little about history). They only know that Hitler attacked Britain, which was good for India as it weakened Britain. So they may say he was good, but they will change their view if they are informed about the holocaust of Jews and Gypsies. But such people are usually not in the RSS, as their members are better educated.)
Why do RSS and BJP need each other?
RSS was founded much before BJP. BJP was born from RSS one could say. RSS may have realized it would be helpful to have political influence and to have good people who are not corrupt as politicians. It seems, one of the problems the Left has with PM Modi is, that he is not corrupt, and even is not corruptible. And of course his attempt to make India strong, as nationalism is ferociously condemned by the Left.
How does this relationship affect minorities especially Muslims?
Minorities, especially Muslims are a pampered lot in India, and they still are pampered under BJP government and the RSS supports this policy, maybe hoping that Muslims would become less radical and realize the goodness of Hindu Dharma. There are special scholarships only for minorities, no interference in their mosques (temples have government administration), special civil code, a Muslim can have 4 wives, and a lot more privileges. By the way we speak here of a 250 million strong, (Muslims themselves claim 300 million strong) “minority” in the case of Muslims. Those privileges for minorities naturally cause heartburn for Hindus. There is now a movement “equality for Hindus” which wants the laws that discriminate against Hindus repealed. So far without success. Imagine, Hindus have to plead with the government for equality in INDIA, not in a Muslim or Christian country. This is surely unique.
What is the future of Muslims, the largest minority in India, if the BJP party stays in power for another term?
The BJP has been in power for 6 years now, did it harm the Muslims in any way? No, on the contrary. The government is secular and is supposed not to look at religious affiliations of its citizen. Still, as I said earlier, minorities have privileges above Hindus, and BJP continued and even increased those privileges, in spite of the fact that Muslims demanded a separate country at the time of partition and got it (Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh).In spite of it, Gandhi and Nehru allowed Muslims to stay in India, and many stayed, while Pakistan, declaring an Islamic State, was very hard on their minorities. From above 20 percent at the time of partition, now there is only about 1 percent Hindus left. Strangely, Pakistan is not taken to task for this genocide of Hindus. Even as late as 1971 some 2 million Hindu civilians were often very brutally killed by Pakistani soldiers in Bangladesh. In India numbers of Muslims increased from 9 % at partition to some 15% in 2011 and again more in the coming 2021 census. Muslims have a faster growth than the Hindu population. Is this a sign of a minority being oppressed? Unfortunately for India, the Muslims (and also Christians) have a very strong identity feeling of first being Muslims (or Christians), unlike the Hindus, and both religious groups try to increase their numbers and influence. The BJP government surely would want them to integrate and feeling as Indians first and not pursue their religious agenda to dominate the world.
Given depression in economy due to COVID-19 besides the pre-existing global economic slowdown, will there be any impact on BJP and RSS support base?
Indians have at present great confidence in the Modi Government, also due to the handling of the Corona crisis and the subsequent economic measures. By the way RSS excelled in the crisis with hundreds of thousands meals being supplied and food kits distributed – to all needy of course, irrespective of religion. I mention it only because the negative propaganda against RSS is so massive in the west. In India people know that RSS doesn’t discriminate. Compare this with Pakistan where poor Hindus were excluded from food distribution and had to convert to simply survive. Yet no outcry in the media.
The pandemic outbreak has shown RSS-BJP narrative accusing Muslims for being the virus carriers and proliferators. For any reason, political or societal, will the Hindutva ideologues attempt correct this perception or further amplify it?
Unfortunately it was a fact that the clergy at the Markaz, where thousands of Tablighi Jamaat members had congregated during lockdown, saw the virus as sent by Allah against the Kafirs. I saw a video where a mullah even said that it won’t harm the believers and they should spread it. They dispersed all over India and did greatly contribute to the spread. Moreover, doctors complained about their behaviour, like intentionally spitting, and worse. Yet after a week or so, media or hospitals did not mention Muslims or Tablighis any longer but called them “single source spreader”. This is over. Muslims know by now, that the virus infects them, too, and Hindus surely won’t bring it up again. But when recently several pujaries of a famous temple tested positive for Covid19, Muslims compared it with the Tablighis and asked why those pujaries were not condemned. Of course it was a very different situation. The pujaries had no intention to spread it.
Will the passage of controversial and contradictory citizenship law trigger a mass exodus of Indian Muslims to Europe and other welcoming countries?
I wonder how Westerners and Muslims can so gravely misunderstand the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and call it controversial and contradictory. India should be praised for it. It does not affect in the least the Indian Muslims. It gives preferential citizenship (already after 5 instead of 11 years) to the minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Minorities means: Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. So where does it affect Indian Muslims? They claim that Muslims are also persecuted in Pakistan, like Ahmediyas, so they should be included. But shouldn’t Muslims sort out their differences, after they got a separate country with Ahmediyas agitating for it in the forefront? But some Hindus are generous enough, or should I say naïve enough, to ask the government to include those persecuted Muslims, including a prominent Hindu Guru to defuse this non-issue, for which leftist students and Muslims burnt the country from last December. The destruction culminated in the Delhi riots end of February which were planned with the help of a Muslim Delhi politician who was a member, after the riots suspended, of the ruling AAP. The West screamed that Hindus massacre Muslims which was the opposite of the truth. As far as I know, a case has been registered against the WSJ for changing “Allah ho Akbar” cries into “Jai Shri Ram” cries, trying to give the impression that Hindu mobs went on rampage.
Yes, after Hindus suffered unprepared badly the initial brunt of the attack, they hit back. Probably due to this it was brought under control rather quickly. The brutality of some of the killings by Muslims was bloodcurdling. A report on the riots is out, Bloomsbury had committed to publish it, but after massive leftist outcry on social media, strongly supported or initiated by William Dalrymple, Bloomsbury withdrew from its commitment. Another publisher, Garuda, stepped in. So much for the tolerance of the left eco-system.
Regarding the exodus of Muslims to Europe, everyone is free to leave, but Indian Muslims are conspicuously absent in the migrant wave in Europe, whereas Pakistanis are among them. Why? They know that they are comfortable in India, even if they don’t say so. And some (the radicals among them) may feel they have still an agenda to fulfill – the agenda to bring India under Muslim rule. This is not an assumption by me. This “unfinished agenda” has not only been declared by Muslims in Pakistan, but also by radicals within India.
One more point, Pakistani Muslim can get Indian citizenship like other nationalities after staying in India for 11 years. I heard on the radio (on 22.8.) that Pakistanis top the list of Indian citizenships. This may make it even clearer that India was burnt for a complete non-issue.
What else is likely to follow these constitutional amendments affecting the Muslim’s citizenship status in India?
No constitutional amendment will affect the citizenship status of Indian Muslims. It is a mischievous propaganda. Indian Muslims are safe in India, but attempts are on since long, not only since the BJP came to power, to identify illegal migrants from Bangladesh or Myanmar, whose numbers go into many millions. Muslims tend to be protective of their ummah, more than their country. So the recent riots may have been done with the intention to signal to the government: don’t touch illegal Muslims.
The BJP had also promised in its election manifesto to bring in a Uniform Civil Code. Whereas the Hindus had to adjust to a new Civil Code in the 1950s (earlier, Hindus also for example had occasionally more than one wife, but since 1956 can have only one), Muslims were allowed to continue their own civil code. When the BJP government recently abolished Triple Talaq, which I assume every Muslim woman would be happy about, their clergy was unhappy. So if the government moves towards a uniform civil code, it can be expected that there will be a lot of noise that “Muslims are persecuted in India” which of course is not the case. Which country allows minorities to have a parallel civil code? Incidentally, Muslims don’t have any objection to the Common Indian Penal Code.
Are other religious minorities also alarmed by the rise of Islamophobia in India? Does any of them see being the next?
It is ridiculous to accuse Hindus of Islamophobia. Do you “accuse” someone who is afraid of a bully or do you admonish the bully? Moreover, phobia means irrational fear, and fear of those who take certain aspects of the Quran and Hadith seriously and plan to act upon them, is not irrational but real. It is estimated that 80 million (a low estimate) Hindus were killed by Muslim invaders only because they were Hindus, and the invader could proudly attach a Ghazi (killer of Kafirs) to his name. The story of the partition is also not told correctly. Yes, Sikhs and Hindus also killed Muslims, but it started from the Muslim side and the greatest brunt was borne by Hindus. Even in independent India, Muslims started almost all the riots (there was a question in Parliament and the reply was ‘above 90%’, am not sure about the exact number), including the one in Gujarat. Muslims burnt 59 Hindu women, children and men in a train and then only the reaction came from Hindus. Recently in Bengaluru, a Muslim mob went berserk due to a Facebook post which was in turn a reaction to a worse FB post by a Muslim demeaning a Hindu goddess in an unacceptable way. 60 policemen were injured. Wikipedia speaks of a “clash” without mentioning the religion of the attackers. I don’t think other minority communities are alarmed, rather, they also wake up to the danger that some Muslims openly dream of a “Kafir-free / Hindu-free Hindustan” (heard in speeches at Shaheen Bagh protests in February 2020). Hindus were always respecting plurality, but they probably never expected that other traditions are demanding uniform belief in one book. Christians want a Christian India and give also trouble to Hindus (by what they call charity), but recently they joined Hindus in condemning love Jihad because Christian girls are also victims.
How far can RSS network with resurgent neo-Nazi parties in Europe and the US?
What strange question. I am absolutely convinced that RSS has nothing to do with neo Nazi parties and they surely won’t work with them. It would be against their Dharma, to ally with those who are xenophobic. RSS is however friendly with indigenous faith groups which look to India for guidance, as India is the only land where the ancient tradition has survived the onslaught of the two “only true” religions and is still alive. Again, such attitude would be called leftist in the West, wouldn’t it?
Besides white supremacists, how organized are Hindu extremists within Indian diaspora abroad?
To put white supremacists and “Hindu extremists” into the same category is unacceptable. Look at the record of white people who believed they are superior and have the right to enslave the rest. And how brutally they did it. Just look into the record of the British and Portuguese in India. They brought terrible suffering over the Indians. Hindu extremists, as I said earlier, are good people who see the Divine in all and therefore respect all. In their case, it is “the more ‘extremist’, the better”. Due to the massive unfair vilification of Hindus and India by the international media, nowadays more Hindus abroad realize that something is very wrong and they got organized for certain issues, for example to change the unfair depiction of Hinduism in the syllabus in the US. Why are the attacks mainly on India, though it is one of the most peaceful nations on earth? Why? My guess is, because India still has preserved wisdom. It knows what life is about. How to live life in the best way. Indian philosophy empowers humans. It doesn’t make them into sheep. So this last ancient culture is unwanted by certain powers who want to make humans uniform to one ideology. And since Brahmins have preserved this knowledge, they are vilified most. It’s in the interest of all humanity that Hindus are successful in preserving their culture and tradition.
What role can the Indian diaspora play in strengthening the BJP-RSS?
Maybe countering unfair media reports in their country. Indians abroad are basically ambassadors for India, not for a political party. And they undoubtedly are one of the better liked, if not most liked immigrant group due to their open-mindedness, decent behavior and intelligence, which again is due to their upbringing in Hindu Dharma.
Whether various challenges facing India have gotten better or worse in the past five years, a time frame that largely encompasses the term of the current Modi government?
- During the current Modi government a few long outstanding issues have been resolved, like the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya for which Hindus have fought (and many have died) for 500 years, ever since Muslim invaders destroyed the temple on Ram’s birthplace and built a mosque there. The biased reports on India were obvious, when western media mentioned only the destruction of the mosque but not the destruction of the temple. So this is now resolved with the start of the construction of the mandir.
- The fact that Kashmir was integrated into India fully by making Article 370 and 35A infructuous was also a major challenge which was last year on paper accomplished during the Modi Government, though challenges remain, as it is for the first time that Muslims who had become the majority in a previous Hindu area by converting, killing and expelling Hindus, were told that the Islamisation cannot go on as planned. There is resistance from ‘radical’ Muslims and from Pakistan.
India suspended all diplomatic engagement since Modi’s hold on power became stronger. Do Indians see Pakistan as a bigger threat than before or feel more confident that Delhi can defeat it in a military campaign?
Pakistan’s policy is still the same since 1965: “Make India bleed from 1000 cuts”. India tried hard to be friends with them, and was probably quite foolish in this attempt. For example, after the 1971 war, India released over 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war without any condition. Since Pakistanis and Indians are basically the same people, for long Hindus believed or were made to believe that Pakistanis would see sense and stop the enmity. Many Hindus don’t realize that religion can have such strong hold on people that they are ready to despise all those who don’t believe in their religion as Kafirs, including their ancestors. In my view, RSS belongs also to those groups who have the hope that Muslims see the goodness of Hindu Dharma. I wished they are right. But from my own example, (having been brought up in a dogmatic religions which sees others as heathen who land up in hell), I know that brainwashing in childhood goes deep. And Muslims in India (Pakistanis are basically also Indian Muslims who claimed they cannot live with Hindus and therefore needed their own country) are extra brainwashed by their clergy to guard them from going back to their tradition. So maybe Pakistan is now seen more realistically by India. And since BJP does not depend on the Muslim vote bank, they don’t have the compulsion to be extra friendly to Pakistan.
Do Indians believe their country is playing a bigger role in world affairs under Modi and if so, is this reason enough to justify far-right policies and activism?
Yes, Indians feel that under Modi their country is far more respected than earlier and it will play a bigger role. I wished “far-right policies and activism” were defined with examples. Is the attempt to stop full Islamisation of Kashmir “far right”? Is the support for a Ram Mandir 500 years after its destruction and the killing of thousands of Hindus who opposed this destruction ‘far right’? Moreover, the restraint of Hindus was exemplary. They waited for decades for a court verdict. Is including the poor into the banking system far right? Giving them gas cylinders, free hospital care, free rations for 6 months during the pandemic, building millions of toilets… is it far right? Is advocating Yoga far right? Or helping startups and trying to skill India? Is honoring one’s tradition and going to temples far right? Why is only India singled out? Don’t other heads of states go to Church or mosque respectively? It’s high time to define the ‘far right’ of Indian politics. The Western lens does not apply here.
What’s the future of Jammu & Kashmir after the repeal of Article 370?
It depends on the Muslims. Hindus are ready for good will, but recently within a week 3 municipal councilors of the BJP were killed in Kashmir. Naturally several others resigned. It is the same policy that drove out 500,000 Hindus in January 1990 when selective killings of Hindus by Muslims had started. Kashmir was the philosophical head of India for many thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Mahabharata war from 5000 years ago. Kashmir Shaivism is a most profound philosophy. All this has disappeared in the last 700 years, ever since Muslims came from Afghanistan. Incidentally the first Muslim sought shelter and was granted it. Nobody could have imagined that Muslims would only consider Muslims as equals and all others as inferior.
What has been the role of WhatsApp, Facebook and Youtube etc. besides the cable news channels vis-à-vis rise of Hindu extremism in society and the BJP policies in the government?
Social Media gives a voice to people who had earlier no voice. Further it gives information that earlier was suppressed. So it plays an important, positive role. What you call “Hindu extremism” was always present in the sense that there were always Hindus who knew about the great, beneficial value of their tradition, but under the Muslim and the British rule, Hindus were demonised and even under Nehru, Hindus had to lie low, as Hinduism was portrayed as primitive, exactly what the British wanted Indians to believe. Yet there were always people who read the ancient texts (there are still some 40 million of them according to an estimate of Bibek Debroy, in spite of the burning of libraries and the loot by foreigners), but they had no voice. Even now this voice is feeble, as Twitter, Quora, Facebook quickly censor posts that talk about Islam in a factual way, but have no objection to the grossest insults on Hinduism. A professor of Jawahar Nehru University was recently suspended for 10 days by Twitter for quoting a verse from the Quran. I also have direct experience of this discrimination by social media. Unfortunately, facts are often ignored and opinions pushed. The Left is rather efficient and probably well-organsied in pushing their views.
What according to you are some of the key challenges posed to India’s neighborhood and friends given the way a majoritarian state is being developed in India?
India’s neighborhood is wooed by China and India, so they are in an enviable position. However, a “majoritarian state” (the new buzzword) is dangerous only if the state has an expansionist agenda. For China this is the case, but not for India. The challenge for the neighbouring states lies in deciding wisely with whom to ally.
By Maria Wirth