The Indian activist spoke at a conference on the current challenges facing the Church's mission in India. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which was established in reaction to the movement for independence from British colonial rule, is the herald of sectarian policies. Under the Modi government, the level of violence and intolerance has increased.
Varanasi (AsiaNews) – Ram Puniyani, president of the Mumbai-based Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, spoke at a seminar on the challenges facing the Church's mission in India.
In his address, he focused on the birth of Hindu fundamentalism and the challenges it poses today. He also slammed Hindu fundamentalists as "hooligans, drunk on fake nationalism and false pride in things in the name of religion, [and] get encouragement from the powers that be”.
For him, “the real culprits are those who support them, appreciate them, those who in the first place disseminate this ideology [of Hindutva] which is sectarian and looks down their opponents or their ideas as anti-national or anti-religion
Nationalists, he believes carry out criminal acts like the mass lynching of Muslims in the name of "sacred cows". They kill Christian clergymen after accusing them of carrying out forced conversions, even though the evidence shows that the victims had nothing to do with conversions. They silence intellectuals and critical voices who express dissent from the decisions taken by the country’s rulers, and spread hate speech to increase tensions in society for electoral purposes.
The seminar was held in Varanasi from 2 to 4 March. Puniyani’s analysis (see attachment) traces the history of Hindu nationalism from the beginning in 1925, when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organisation, RSS) group, a high caste Hindu para-military group, was founded in Nagpur.
The group took on and kept certain traits, such as an exclusively male membership, male superiority complex and patriarchy. Its ideology, Hindutva (Hinduness) echoes Hitler's Nazi ideology, based on nationalism, Brahminic values of caste and gender divisions. It aims at building a "Hindu Nation" against its enemy, the "Muslim Nation".
The underlying factor, according to Puniyani, that led some Indian elites to create the RSS is to maintain their caste privileges. The latter were under threat from the Freedom Movement and its struggle for independence against British colonial rule. The RSS was created precisely as a reaction to that movement, based on values like democracy and secularism.
Since its founding, the RSS has maintained and boosted its original "qualities". Over the years, it has set up other groups. In 1951, the Bhartiya Jan Sangh was created in cooperation with the Hindu Mahasabha, to which belonged Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s murderer. The new organisation’s manifesto called for the Indianisation of Muslims.
In 1977 the Jan Sangh joined the Janata Party, when it came to power. After the election, some of its members formed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is now led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After 1984 the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (Hindu World Council, VHP) and its youth wing, the Bajrang dal, were created.
Between 1960 and 1980 the group adopted its electoral platform, spreading hatred against minorities, primarily Muslims and later Christians.
It is against this background that in 1992 the Babri mosque in Ayodhya was demolished, to be replaced by a temple dedicated to the god Ram.
Since 1997 Christians who work in tribal areas have been driven out because their action empowers the Adivasis.
In a tragic episode that was a prelude to mass violence against Christians in 2008, Rev Pastor Graham Stewart Stains and his two sons were burnt alive in 1999 as they slept in their van in Kandhamal. The clergyman had been falsely accused of forced conversions.
In his presentation, Puniyani mentioned other incidents to illustrate the climate of intolerance that brought Prime Minister Modi to power in 2014.
His victory led to more violence. Between May 2014 and May 2015, more than 600 incidents were recorded (194 against Christians, the rest against Muslims), causing the death of 43 people.
Last but not least, Hindu nationalists have targeted education, pressing for an alternative narrative of Indian history, to be taught from an early age.
For Hindu nationalists, new school programmes are needed to "correct” or Indianise the educational system so that no one can ever speak against the untouchability of the pariahs or know that beef was eaten during the period of the Vedas.
In summary, this "is politics in the garb of religion. It sounds to be a religion but it is an attempt to impose certain tenets on the society. The values, which are feudal and pre-industrial, are picked up and imposed” on everybody.
This “was done in America in 1920s in the name of Christianity. In West Asia, many Muslim majority countries have shown this trend in the name of Islam.”
Hindu fundamentalism, with its core beliefs based on caste and gender hierarchy, is doing the same in India, even if it tries to cover everything up under a veil of cultural activism and policies against Muslims.
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)