In a significant assertion, which will anger Hindu nationalists but bring some relief to the religious minorities, especially Muslims, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs has said that the perception that there are “threats to Hinduism” in India is “imaginary”. The Home Ministry said this in response to a query filed by Mohnish Jabalpure under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Dismissing claims of Hinduism being in danger, Ministry official V.S.Rana stated that it has no record or evidence concerning any so-called threats to Hindu religion” and described the allegation as “hypothetical”.

Nagpur-based activist Mohnish Jabalpure, who had filed the question on August 31, reportedly commented: “This is the first time a key functionary of the MHA has said that any query pertaining to ‘threats to Hindu religion’ is imaginary and admitted on record that they have seen no records to support any such speculation.”

It is significant that the questioner was a resident of Nagpur (in Maharashtra) the birthplace of Hindu nationalism.

The Home Ministry’s reply cuts at the root of the Hindu nationalist lobby’s contention that Hinduism faces a threat to its existence in its very birthplace, namely India, and that strong steps are needed to stop the proliferation of the Muslim population and to stem direct or indirect attempts to convert Hindus by proselytizing religions like Christianity and Islam.  But what kind of impact the Home Ministry’s statement will have on the politics of India and Hindutva politics in particular, is hard to say immediately. But it will certainly ruffle some feathers.  

That Hinduism is in danger in its very birthplace, India, has been a core belief of Hindu nationalists since the 1920s. It had its roots in the controversial but short lived partition of Bengal on Hindu-Muslim lines (between 1905 and 1911), and the formation of the Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906. Hindu nationalism was further stirred by the Khilafatmovement in the 1920s against the end of the Caliphate after the defeat of Tukey in World War I. The Khilafat movement had been made an Indian national movement by the Congress under Mahatma Gandhi. Hardline Hindus feared that such support would give a fillip to Islamic proselytization and Muslim power in India. They believed that Islam was a greater challenge to the Hindus than British hegemony.

The RSS and its ally, the Hindu Mahasabha, got a shot in the arm in 1940, when the Muslim League formally demanded the carving out of Pakistan, a homeland for Indian Muslims.Accusing Mahatma Gandhi for “appeasing” the Muslims by agreeing to the partition of India, an RSS/Hindu Mahasabha worker, NathuramVinayak Godse, shot him dead on January 30, 1948.

However, since the majority of Hindus were under the spell of Gandhi and supported secular socialist ideologies at that time, the Congress government of independent India could ban the RSS and keep it out of the political arena for decades. But the 1990s brought about a sea change. The gradual decline of the Congress party and other secular parties over a period of time, led to the growth of a new Hindu-based ideology marketed as a panacea for India’s many ills.

In a way, the rise of the Hindu lobby was also a reaction to the rise of Islamic power on a global basis due to the Middle Eastern countries’ oil wealth and the Islamization of arch rival Pakistan under Gen.Zia-ul-Haq.

In today’s India, secular parties have been pushed to the background and the center stage is occupied by BJP led by the assertive Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For the first time in the history of post-independence India, Muslims are being politically marginalized in North India, especially in Uttar Pradesh which has a sizeable Muslim population. The BJP had not put up a single Muslim candidate in the last UP State-level elections. Seeing the success of the BJP’s strategy of avoiding Muslims, other parties too have taken to a “soft Hindutva” line. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also set a trend of not holding “Iftar” parties.

Hindu hardliners have been portraying Muslims as silent supporters of Pakistan, and in BJPruled states, some Muslims have been forced to say “Jai Shri Ram” (hail the Hindu God Sri Ram) to demonstrate their loyalty to “India”. A number of Muslims have been lynched in BJP-ruled states either for not saying Jai Shri Ramor eating or storing beef or taking cows to the market for sale or slaughter.

Many States have raised the red flag over Muslim-Hindu marriages on the allegation that Muslim men deliberately entice Hindu girls to Islam by pretending to love them. This is branded as “Love Jihad” and the police and judiciary are used to break up such marriages under Anti-Conversion laws. All this based on the well-publicized notion that Hinduism is in danger in Hindu-majority India from well-funded “foreign” religions, particularly Islam.                      

The popular Hindu nationalist theory is that Indians had been forcibly converted to Islam by the Muslim rulers of the Medieval period, who were of Central Asian (Turkic), Afghan and Persian origin. While some  rulers had used force, the modern research-based theory is that inequities in Hindu society had been the main reason for conversion.

Writing in Gulf News on September 28, 2020, Ashok Swain, Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Sweden, points out that Hindus have been in total control of economic and political power in India since 1947. The Brahmin, male-dominated RSS has done everything to protect and preserve the evils of the 3000 years old caste system among Hindus,” he contends.

India has miserably failed to integrate the Dalits, tribal groups and lower caste groups into the mainstream. The RSS-ideology of the BJP does not allow it to accept the inclusive secular state where every citizen has certain rights irrespective of caste, religion, or gender. While it (Hindutva) expands with the help of tokenism its social base across caste divisions for political reasons, it still does everything to preserve social segregation among Hindus and the domination of upper caste over lower caste, Dalits, and tribal population,” Swain says and adds that though the Indian constitution bans discrimination based on caste, it does not abolish the caste system as such.

Dr. Swain quotes B.R. Ambedkar, as saying: “As long as caste in India does exist, Hindus will hardly intermarry or have any social intercourse with outsiders and if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem.” Marriages among Hindus tend to be a sanctified ritual solemnized by families, so marriage as an institution continues to strengthen the caste system.

Dr. Swain points out that though inter-caste marriages are allowed in Hindu Marriage Act, only 5.8% of Indian marriages were inter-caste as per the 2011 census. Even, among the Hindu Diaspora, marriage outside caste is rare.

Marrying outside established caste boundaries is taboo. The United Nations Population Fund estimates, 5000 women and girls get killed by their family members every year, Dr.Swainsays. He cites National Crime Records Bureau data which reveal that the rate of crimes against Dalits has increased significantly. The National Dalit Movement for Justice reported a 72% increase in the attacks against Dalits during the lockdown period in April and May 2020 compared with the same two months in 2019.

When progressive Indian and non-Indian academics in the US recently declared their intention to organize a seminar on fighting Hindutva globally, Hindu nationalists in the US and India dubbed the event anti-Indian and ‘anti-national’ and demanded that it be called off. Participants were also threatened with violence.





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