Extremism is not a new phenomenon. It has existed for centuries, and will continue to exist for a long time. Globally, the issue of extremism faces minorities, racial, religious or ethnic. In India, Muslims are facing very hard times with Hindu extremists calling for genocide against them. This begs the question: How did this happen, and what does the future of non-Hindu minorities in India look like?
Hindu Mahasabha, one of India’s oldest political organizations was founded during a time of conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India . The group’s mission, according to their official website, is to declare India “the National Home of the Hindus.” The group states that if they gain power, Indian Muslims will be forced to migrate to Pakistan and the Indian education system will be changed to fit Hindu values.
No doubt, the group’s controversial ideology means it is a marginal political force, having their last presence in Parliament in 1991. According to Gilles Verniers, an assistant professor of political science at Ashoka University, however, their “strength is not to be measured in electoral terms.” Over the past 8 years, Hindu Mahasabha appear to have expanded in numbers and influence based on the size and frequency of their meetings.
As Hindu Mahasabha has grown in recent years, the organization has become more outspoken. In 2015, Sadhvi Deva Thakur, who was a senior member, caused widespread controversy when she told reporters Muslims and Christians should undergo forced sterilization to control their population growth. At last month’s conference, several speakers called on India’s Hindus to “defend” the religion with weapons. Another called for the “cleansing” of India’s minorities, according to footage from the conference.
What sparked media outrage and attention was a recent conference held by right-wing Hindu activists in December of 2021. Hundreds of activists, as well as monks rose to take an oath that they would change India, constitutionally a secular republic, into a Hindu nation, essentially a theocracy, even if this required spilling the blood of fellow Indians. “If 100 of us are ready to kill two million of them, then we will win and make India a Hindu nation,” said Pooja Shakun Pandey, a leader of Hindu Mahasabha, referring to the country’s Muslims. “Be ready to kill and go to jail.”
Additionally, in December, crowds of India’s Hindu-right confronted Muslims praying on the streets in the city of Gurugram, just outside of Delhi. They prevented Muslims from praying, while shouting and disrupting the peace.
What is being done?
Now, what is being done by the government to prevent such a genocide? The short answer is: essentially nothing. To elaborate, under several sections of India’s penal code, hate speech is prohibited, including a section which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts” which are targeted towards religious beliefs. According to Vrinda Grover, a lawyer, any group inciting violence is barred under Indian law. “Police, states and the government are responsible to ensure [inciting violence] doesn’t happen,” she said. “But the state, through its inaction, is actually permitting these groups to function, while endangering Muslims who are the targets.”
“This is the first time I find myself using the term ‘genocide’ in Indian politics,” Verniers said, referring to the comments made at the conference held in December. “They have tacit support in the form of government silence.” Pandey’s rant and some of the other calls for violence were the “worst form of hate speech,” according to Verniers. This lack of government action is probably due to Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist leaning agenda. Grover further adds that criminal laws are “weaponized” in India, anyone who challenges the government and those in power will be crushed by the law, but those that pander to it will be spared. “Muslim lives in India are demonized,” she said. “The Indian state is in serious crisis.”
Though the fate of Indian religious minorities is uncertain, the media attention has sparked mass outrage, which may pressure the Indian government to act and somehow maintain internal peace.