Emboldened by state support, Hindu nationalists have unleashed violent attacks on religious minorities in India, writes Amit Singh (University of Coimbra, 2020-21), leading to the development of a ‘Nazi conscience’ among the country’s Hindu majority.
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Organized and sporadic violence by Hindu extremists against religious-ethnic minorities in India has shocked the world, particularly ethnic violence in Manipur. Under the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cases of mob-lynching and killings are becoming pattern in a religiously polarized Hindu India, targeted to minorities. The prominence of ethnic revival, large number of Hindu participations in such violence, and lack of their condemnation of these acts, all of these factors give rise to the question as to whether the Hindu majority has developed ‘Nazi conscience.’
The idea of Nazi conscience was originally applied in the context of the genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany, where the Nazis, along with an ordinary Germans, morally justified the murder of Jews. A general apathy to the human rights of minorities, a lack of respect towards the life of ‘others,’ and normalization of violence against them are fundamental parts of the Nazi conscience.
In the Indian context, Hindutva as a vehicle of Hindu nationalism has ignited a kind of Nazi conscience in ordinary Hindus that makes violence against religious minorities seem normal and justified. This includes witnessing daily violence against Muslim minorities and Dalits and not intervening in such acts.
The Hindutva’s political narrative of past invasions by Muslim rulers and their atrocities against Hindus in the middle ages and the partition of India in 1947 has made the Hindu majority hostile to Muslims. Constitutional privileges such as personal family rights for Muslims and religious grants anger the Hindu majority. They feel victimized and insecure, and Hindutva leaders manipulate these anti-Muslim sentiments for political victory.
Ideologically Justified Violence
The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a Hindu militant organization, has shaped Hindu nationalism into a hegemonic ideology and propagates Hindu exclusivity of religion and culture. The Hindutva ideologue MS Golwalkar asserted that the country's minorities should be treated in the same way as the Nazis treated the Jews. With its political front BJP currently in power, the RSS has succeeded in influencing the collective Hindu psyche to take vengeance against Muslims.
These calculated attempts by the RSS have been instrumental in creating a militant identity and Nazi conscience amongst the Hindu majority against perceived foreign “invaders,” such as Muslims and Christians. With each passing ethno-religious riot, the Hindu collective self is gradually being desensitized and freed from collective guilt in the observation or killing of human life. For a person with a Nazi conscience, violence is now perceived to be morally righteous.
Violence has become essential for Hindutva politics, and in this way it could be said that the Hindu majority has developed a ‘Nazi conscience.’ The Hindus have lost historical sensitivity towards religious minorities with whom they have lived for hundreds of years. The use of ‘Hindu nationalism’ in post-colonial India has actually benefited the BJP in elections. However, at the same time, Hindu nationalism has done great harm to communal harmony of Indian society. Hindus have been turned against Muslims—although, in some exceptional cases, Hindus did save the lives of Muslims.
Modi’s Hindutva state has played a key role in this process. The state has granted impunity to those involved in the lynching of Muslims and has rewarded those responsible for inciting riots. And the State has constantly harassed those who have come out in protest against Hindu intolerance and Islamophobia.
In large-scale riots, such as the Gujrat riots in 2002 and ethnic violence in Manipur, the perpetrators were Hindu extremists and victims were primarily religious ethnic minorities. Big riots, moreover, usually happen with the complicity of the state machinery and the Hindu majority. So, the majority is not just a passive onlooker but a participant in the ritual of violence.
Rewarding the Islamophobic Leader
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is notorious for his complicity in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujrat in 2002. He has built his political career on the basis of communal violence and fear. And the Hindu majority reelected him in 2019. The Hindu majority bears deep resentment against Muslims. In fact, one study reveals that the BJP gains in the polls after every anti-Muslim riot.
Under the RSS-backed Modi’s regime since 2014, anti-Muslim narratives have been strategically propagated by the government. The mainstream media has consistently cultivated a deep animosity against religious minorities. This process of vilification has normalized violence against them. The ascendency of Hindu nationalism has given Hindus ‘the power to claim, and receive, impunity for violence from elected governments.’
Muslims and Dalits have been lynched by mobs of Hindutva fanatics; violence against them is normalized and seems to be supported by the Modi government. Vijay Narayan, a political activist in Varanasi, argues that the Hindu majority is influenced by the fascist ideology of Hindu nationalism.
After the bloody partition in 1947, secularism was introduced as an alternative to Hindu nationalism to protect Indian society from communal frenzy and religious fanaticism. Indian secularism, unique in its kind, is associated with religious tolerance. Yet, ironically, the Hindu majority has never abandoned the idea that India is a Hindu nation. It has rejected traditional Hindu tolerance, an idea that enabled communal harmony among India’s diverse population.
Indian secularism has failed to prevent the rise of Hindutva and the communalization of the Hindu masses. As long as the public institutions and the mainstream media are under the influence of the Hindu nationalist government, the process of Nazification of the Hindu majority cannot be checked. Alarm about the possibility of an impending Muslim genocide is already being sounded. To achieve communal harmony, the state must rid itself of Hindutva and follow constitutional secularism. This seems almost impossible under the present Hindu nationalist government.
If the influence of Hindutva on the Hindu majority and the Hindu religion increases, the general state of human rights, especially freedom of expression and rights of religious-ethnic minorities, and secularism is likely to deteriorate. However, we must remember that religious tolerance and resistance is a part of the India’s ancient secular traditions that challenged Hindu fundamentalism thorough the various periods of Indian history. In the longer run, there is a possibility of resistance to Hindu religious bigotry that could weaken the influence of Hindutva on Indian society. It can bring secular democratic change stalling the process of the Nazification of the Hindu majority and preventing them from becoming a Nazified Hindu.
This article was originally published in The Loop and is reprinted here following slight modification by the author. The views presented here are of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sylff Association.