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Transcript: Critically Interrogating the Hinduphobia Narrative 25 Aug 2021

Transcript: Critically Interrogating the Hinduphobia Narrative 25 Aug 2021

Critically Interrogating the Hinduphobia Narrative: Transcript of Lecture at Massey University CARE Institute on 25 August 2021.


[Kinakota kataha?Maori] I am professor Mohan Dutta Director of the Center for Culture -Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) and I’m delighted to share with you my thoughts on Hindutva, the ideology of hate that forms the basis of ongoing Islamophobia and attacks on Dalit and Christian minorities in India, and connected to the circulation of hate, here in the diaspora. This is part of a broader ‘end the hate’ lecture series and connected with CARE’s ongoing work with voices of communities at the margins of India, and of the Indian diaspora here in Aotearoa. We are particularly interested in role communication and the ways communication is used to hold up- this infrastructure of hate and to circulate it. So what I will <<unintelligible>> attend to today, is the notion of Hinduphobia. Which is a manufactured concept. A concept that articulates the fear of the Hindu as a communicative device in order to prop up, legitimise and circulate Hindutva. So I will critically interrogate that narrative and look at the different elements of that narrative that hold it together. And in doing so, I will draw upon a key communication concept. Now I will go over this once again later in the talk as well. The concept is communicative inversion which is the turning of materiality on it’s head. The turning of empirical evidence on its head through umm communication resources, umm infrastructures and communication frames.

So to begin with, let’s unpack a little bit what I mean by Hindutva, how I define it and how I see it connected to the politics of hate. now, Hindutva is an ethnonationalist ideology that constructs India as a Hindu nation. It imagines India as a Hindu nation, so that if you look at images of India constructed in the ideology of Hindutva, these images demonstrate the map painted in saffron or demonstrate the umm Mother of India, who is superimposed on the backdrop of the map. And the idea behind its ethno-nationalist ideology is that India is Aa Hindu nations, where its Muslim and Christina minorities don’t really have a place. So this informs the infrastructure of hate, that holds up Hindutva. The hate is disseminated through ongoing ‘othering’ of Christian and Muslims, and particularly with an emphasis on targeting muslims and is in that sense deeply rooted in the circulation of Islamophobia. So in the image that you have on the screen, this is one of the outfits of Hindutva, the Bajrang Dal. [insert image 1]

And you see, the images here of the trishula, which is a weapon tat is then metaphorically, communicatively displayed as sort of a trope for taking back India to its Hindu identity, for returning the glory of Hindu India. And simultaneously erasing it’s muslim margins. Now this ideology of Hindutva in this sense then, has to construct Hinduism in a particular way, as a religion that offers the basis for the imagination of the Nation. This goes fundamentally against umm the ahh Constitutional imaginary of India as a secular, socialist, democratic republic, because it manufactures the image of India on the very basis of Hinduness and its Hindu identity.

So to carry out this politics of hate that forms the infrastructure of umm Hindutva, the language of Hinduphobia is manufactured. Hinduphobia as constructed by the proponents of Hindutva is the fear of, the hatred toward, racism toward hindus. And it is precisely weaponised in order to legitimise, I would argue, the apparatus of Hindutva. So, umm in other words, the production of the Hindu being the target of attacks, the hindu being the subject of racism and intolerance and hate and violence, becomes the basis for a legitimising the process of othering, the process of producing umm the other, but it also becomes a way for silencing any critique of the apparatus of hate that underlies Hindutva. So we have seen within the context of India and particularly so within the diaspora, since the election of Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP, and particularly the election of Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister that the process of generating Hinduphobia. The construction of Hinduphobia has actually become salient. Hinduphobia has been weaponised in order to target any critique of Hindutva. And in order to in that sense, legitimise the climate of hate, we have seen since 2015, various forms of targeted attacks that have been directed at muslims and these forms of attacks, have all been, often been, justified by umm Islamophobic umm discourse. Along with that then we have seen an ongoing process of undoing umm history to redo it.

So Hindutva needs to construct a particular narrative of India, which is the narrative of Hindu India with Hindus being the original people of India, the indigenous people of India. In order to  do so, Hindutva needs to do two things. One is to deny the empirical evidence um that documents various migratory patterns, um that constitute the history of ah India.(9.10mins) And um, second it needs to the produce a history based upon imagination. And constructs um India in ah the image of its traditional Hindu culture, the Sanatan culture, which is a primordial, non-changing and eternal in that sense. So, this communicative construction relies upon this process of continually undoing history, and connected to that, then the continual production of communicative erasures. The muslims and the history of muslims in India, Christians, have to be continually erased from this discursive space of India for India to be imagined in the notion of uh, Hindu State. And this then, this narrative is held up by an entire digital infrastructure of hate that continually produces the other, continually challenges history and in order to do so manufactures ideas, communicative tropes, such as um, history of India, historically has been written by the British, or um, the history of India has been written by the Marxists and this has resulted in Indian history being distorted. So that particular communicative inversion is essential for Hindutva to then prop up its notion of Hindus being the only indigenous people of India.

And, within this infrastructure then of hate, what is critical to know is its interplay with white supremacy. Ah Hindutva aligns with forces of white supremacy in its um targeting of muslims, in tis perpetuation of Islamophobia. And in fact we have seen this historically in terms of the linkages between Hindutva ideologues and um fascist ideologues, Nazi ideologues, and then playing out within the contemporary context to um references to Hindutva and principles of Hindutva, made by a number of white supremacists. So, in the backdrop of this politics of hate that is carried out through these communication tropes that are continually erasing history, erasing empirical evidence, uah in order to construct this imagination of India as a hindu notion, in the um Hindu Nation, we see also ongoing attempts to silence voices of dissent and voices of critique. And this is where Hinduphobia comes in.

Hinduphobia, the fear of the Hindu and uh um hatred of the Hindu is put up as a concept then, to silence voices and particularly so in the diaspora. So uh to the extent that academics, activists in the diaspora offer critiques of the uh Hindutva narratives, or to the extent that uh empirical work of academics interrogate the narratives of Hindutva, they become the subject of attack, and that is um, held up by the communicative device of Hinduphobia. So, Hinduphobia or the notion of fear toward the Hindu is used to silence voices that actually question the real hate that is perpetuated by Hindutva toward Dalits, muslims and Christians, um, in India. Um, it is used to attack any form of dissent that interrogates and questions the monolithic narrative of Hindutva. It has been used in various forms um uh to imprison protestors actually connected to notions of security. So, uh those that question Hindutva and interrogate its narratives are security threats to the safety of the nation and that narrative then, is used to target protesters and dissenters. Um and we have seen, on an ongoing basis the state base in India with a number of protesters continuing to be in jail for questioning um the othering process that is being carried out by the Bharatiya Janata Party to produce this um ah Hindu nation.

This is also evident in attacks on academics, particularly academics that have been concerned about Hindutva, whose empirical work has demonstrated the various defects of Hindutva, and whose scholarship challenges the narratives of Hindutva. So, for instance we have seen how powerfully this narrative of Hinduphobia has been deployed by um Hindu students, or groups that are framed as Hindu students, as if there is a monolithic organised identity of Hindu students at Rutgers University to target Professor um Audrey Truschke. What we see, happen in that process is that um narrative of Hindutva, the appeal of Hindutva, is connected to the narrative of Hinduphobia then to articulate that academics that are questioning that particular communicative construction are spreading hate toward Hindus. That kind of simplistic labelling then, works as a basis for organising in attempts to silence voices. Similarly critiques in the diaspora, those academics, activists of Indian origin, um that have interrogated the forces of Hindutva, that have expressed concerns about the depletion of democracy in India have found themselves as targets of these attacks. I have witnessed this in my work here in Aotearoa in terms of interrogating the Hindutva narratives here in Aotearoa. And uh, what is at the heart of uh that attack once again is to frame those academics, and again when you have those of Indian origin, as foreign influences, influenced by the west or as Marxist academics committed to destroying the vision of India. So the point here to remember of course is that what is actually happening is that, you know, academics activists are questioning the vision of the Hindutva India, which is a vision based upon the notion of hate and othering and disenfranchising of minorities. But that is again, this is an example of communicative inversion where that is turned on its head to attack and silence those voices.

So Hinduphobia offers the basis for organising and mobilising um forces, Hindutva forces in the diaspora, connected to Hindutva forces in india, to silence the critiques of what is going on in India at this particular point and particularly in terms of um, the various structural ways in which muslims are being disenfranchised. So, I now want to come to the notion of the narrative structure. narrative structure is the structure of a story. So what is the narrative structure of Hinduphobia. Well, the narrative of Hinduphobia relies on five key elements. The first is it needs to use this articulation of hate toward Hindus, and I will unpack that a little bit in the context of racism and racist experiences by um people from the south Asian subcontinent and how that is then turned into a construction of hate toward Hindus. Then, the second point, and that is a connected point, this notion of safety. So, justice based concerns about safety of minority communities um in multiple multicultural contexts and particularly then academic spaces have been weaponised and deployed to raise questions of safety for Hindus very much within the umbrella of the agenda of Hinduphobia serving Hindutva.

There are references made to incidences of hate, and we will look at how these incidences of hate actually are narrativized, storied in particular ways to prop up the agendas of Hindutva. Ah also targeting critiques and those um um scholars that interrogate Hindutva as a spreading western hegemony, and then deploying the narrative of decolonisation and postcolonial theory and cultural studies, talking about concepts such as emic research, in order to silence the critiques of Hindutva. Al of this is based upon that concept of communicative inversion, and in my work what I argue is communicative inversion is the process of turning uh the material, the empirical into its opposite and it becomes possible through a range of symbolic resources, a range of communicative uh devices that are deployed uh to do so. Discursive or communicative strategies um are mobilised in order to turn materiality on its head and this becomes the basis of imagining the articulation of a nation. So for Hindutva, communicative inversion forms the basis through which it can imagine the Hindu nation in the contemporary context, so the Hindu as the victim. And what is really powerful here, if you look  at um the context of contemporary India is that it is a Hindu majority state and yet within that context, it is the Hindu that is produced as a victim in order to hold up the infrastructures of Hindutva. In that sense, the strategy here is quite similar to the strategy of white supremacy, particularly the ways in which white supremacy deploys the  communicative inversion of vulnerability, where the white race is vulnerable because um it is being taken over by diverse communities and diverse cultures. And that becomes then the basis for hate.

So there is actually a similarity in terms of the ways in which this particular communicative inversion of grievance gets worked up and worked into um the project of Hindutva. Therefore, within this context, any kind of protest against the infrastructure of Hindutva, against the hateful imaginary of India as a Hindu nation, based upon principles of exclusion. Any kind of protest against that is seen as a pathology, is seen as a threat, to uh the security of the nation, and you have to understand this within the context of the communicative devices that construct that nation, that I was talking about earlier. Which is the very communicative device that imagines India as a saffron nation, and to the extent that India and Hindus, and particularly Hindus organised within the structure of Hindutva becomes synonymous, any kind of protest against that becomes um a threat to the security of the nation.

So, one of the first strategies of Hinduphobia is its deployment of racism and particularly its capacity to invert the narrative of racism to construct Hinduphobia. And I will argue that this is actually one of the key elements in the production and circulation of Hinduphobia. [Insert graphic 3] First let’s look at the facts, right. within a large number of western contexts if you look at the evidence in the US, in the United Kingdom, we also look at if we look at studies in Australia and here in Aotearoa in New Zealand, racism is experienced by South Asians as a broader community and racism is certainly experienced by Indians. There is ample empirical evidence to document that. This racism is often based on appearance, is based on how you look. It is often based upon speech, and um, accent, diction, language and visible communicative practices. It is based upon cultural practices, practices such as uh food, practices such as eating habits, so say for instance you have seen in multiple contexts the racist construction of the Indian that smells of curry. That is deployed as a strategy to discriminate.

We have seen this play out for instance within the context of housing policies where Indians facings struggles in ah renting apartments because of prejudiced worldviews of um renters. And this also certainly can be seen within the context of white supremacy and particularly white supremacist attacks on Indians and incidences of hate that we have seen within various contexts. You know, in the US, we have seen hate in the United Kingdom. We have seen hate in Australia. Now this is also in some ways connected to Islamophobia because post 9/11 where um the climate was actively mobilised to produce Islamophobia, um and and and and, that was visibly directed at people that were brown skinned many Indians say for instance in the US experienced the hate, and again this is documented because they were assumed to been Muslims. Now, they might or might not have been uh Muslims. And certainly again, those Indians that were visibly different or that might have bene understood to be Muslims visually and that included, uh, Sikhs for instance, were more likely to face these attacks. So in fact, um if you see the experiences of racism and the critical evidence documenting racism, experienced by Indians in the diaspora, particularly within the context of um countries that have um ah white majority, the racism is often directed at skin colour and there is hardly any evidence of systematic targeting of Hindus or Hindu faith.

Now within the context of cultural practices, because that’s a broad umbrella, there are evidences of hate that um for instance have been directed at eateries, or within the context of  (maori name for place) dairies, that are often owned by Indians and uh there have been incidences of hate that have been targeted at temples. But these also need to be read as a borader constellation of cultural practices which also include attacks on a Gurdhwaras,  where Sikhs worship, attacks on mosques. Certainly, we saw in the Christchurch attack that a large number of worshippers that went to the mosque were actually from ah South Asia, brown skin people. So we really need to look at the ways in which racism, and the empirical evidence on racism that actually exists across multiple western societies, is deployed by the Hindutva forces to manufacture the narrative of Hindutva.

The second element, and that is tied to this is the notion of safety. And how, the concept of safety for Hindu students, the safety for Hindu academics, ah to voice their Hindutva ideology, becomes the basis for organising. And once again, to achieve this, material practices are inverted. So say for instance, historic events are inverted. Um multiple Hindutva related organisations um in different parts of the world, often for instance will use the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, as an example of, um Muslim attack on Hindus. If you actually look at the history and the context of the war, and this is within the context of the partition, and then uh, sort of um, the struggle, the linguistic struggle of Bengalis in Bangladesh, um, against the ah hegemony of uh Pakistani governance, and you really if you think about the Bangladesh struggle of 1971, it is called {Pashandalon ???} it is a struggle over linguistic identity and that is um inverted entirely and constructed as um hatred toward Hindus, in order to prop up an example of um Hinduphobia.

Similarly, a range of contemporary practices um are or contemporary events are ‘framed as’ attacks on Hindus, whilst simultaneously erasing the actual violence experienced by Muslims in India carried out by the Hindutva force. Be it in the form of um lynchings, be it in the form of of uh mob based harassment, be it in the form of uh this uh State directed Citizenship Amendment Act, and those are erased and obfuscated as ah Hindus as victim is produced. So erasing oppressions is a key element of this communicative inversion where caste, oppressions of caste, Islamophobia, gender oppressions, are continually erased in order to produce the narrative of the Hindu India. And then, any critique of this hate, that is continuing uh to grow rapidly in India, particularly in the uh last six years, is turned into, as a threat to safety. So um, a student can write, say a student is in a classroom, and um, the politics of Hindutva is being discussed, a student can write in and say, that I’m feeling unsafe in the classroom.

So safety is weaponised in order to silence legitimate critiques. And this week we often see the forms of organised attacks so the Rutgers, uh uh, the attack  that happened on professor Truschke, uh, a big part of that attack was carried out through the language of future students. With future students writing in, look I feel unsafe, coming to Rutgers because um Hindus um ah, are not treated in safe ways here. And all of this, within the context of, if you go back to my earlier examples, within the context of um, Professor Truschke’s work, ah directly interrogating, uh that narrative construction of um Hindus as the only indigenous people of India and excluding uh Muslims and the history of Muslim syncretism and Muslim participation in the um construction of India’s imaginary.

So along with the ah, this kind of articulation of safety, any kind of theoretical critique is presented as  western hegemony. Um and as someone who writes about decolonisation processes (where?) this is one part I find particularly powerful because uh critiques of whiteness, whiteness as an infrastructure that holds up white ideology as normal and normative and simultaneously erases diverse voices at the margin. That critique is incorporated into this narrative of Hindutva to label any critique of Hindutva as western so um duh empirical evidence for instance that documents that uh people migrated into uh what is considered as India from um other parts, and um, that formed uh part of the formation of um the Hindu civilisation in India, now that empirical evidence is constructed as western, as a western construction. Now what that enables is that it enables Hindutva then to articulate the notion of the Hindus as the indigenous people of India while excluding Muslims and Christians, and actually it legitimises this politics of hate. And it simultaneously erase uh the adivasis of India, who continue struggle within the context of um the states’ colonial practices.

And then, Indians that critique these forces of Hindutva and their consolidation of narratives in monolithic terms are labelled as Marxist or Communist threats, so the production of um the Indian critique as um sort of um product of westernisation, as a product of Marxist theory, then actually works to silence um critiques of Hindutva. Now one of the things I want to point out are the similarity and commonality of the threat ah kind of narratives of Hinduphobia that we see here, and um, attacks on critical race theory, um ah by white supremacists that we see uh in the context of um the US or multiple European countries that we are seeing right now. These critiques being Marxist ah being against the interests of the nation, being divisive, are deployed as strategies to hold up um sort of the hegemony of um these forces of hate.  So, this component is an important irony so, because on one hand of the paradox here, so on one had if you look at Hindutva and its critique of um western hegemony, it is ah taking a position that um the west has historically read India, it has the history wrong. And therefore, Indians need to write their own history, of course, particular version of Indians who belong to the ideological camp of um Hindutva. Simultaneously as it does so, it actually copies um the strategies of white supremacy, white supremacist hate.

The next element is the co-option of decolonisation, so if you think about decolonisation as the struggle against colonial forces and particularly connecting it to the question of um indigenous struggles, it is ongoing indigenous struggle against settler colonial forces, and then, consider the language of decolonisation here has been operated in order to establish Hindu hegemony. So, the notion of indigeneity is really critical here, in how it is reworked by um Hindutva and how it is being deployed here. So, erasing the notion that um um India as a country is built upon migration and that includes um Hindus who are sort of came to be as ah a product of, constituted by forces of um migration, as did Muslims in India, now that history is reworked in order to articulate that Hindus were the only indigenous people of India.

And, there is a critical point here, that if you think about the question of indigeneity that is always connected to the question of time. You use a point of time to think through who is indigenous. So for that agenda of the uh the Hindutva forces, the point of time that is used is connected to this notion that Hindus have always been the people of India and then the Muslim invaders came into India, so those were the others that came into India. And um, then um colonising forces of the British came into India that brought in Christianity. So the Hindu nation, in that sense um has to be imagined through the othering of these forces that came in. Of course, in order to establish that, um the empirical evidence has to be undermined, this theory of migration has to be um dismantled. And to dismantle that, Hindutva draws on the narrative of um decolonisation, from the tools of decolonisation. And in doing so it also produces a particular kind of cultural essentialism in its projection of Hindus and Santana Dharma that goes back to time, eternity that is non-changing, that it permanent that just passes on. And of course that again goes, against the notion of cultures being dynamic, cultures being transformative, cultures being changing. And there are many sort of entry points to looking at this.

Even if you look at history of emergence of Hinduism and uh movements within Hinduism with significant questions like the question of the cow. And the relationship with the cow, which for the Sangh has become, for the Hindutva forces, become a key element in their narrative, there actually have been historical records that talk about you know the various forms of agrarian relationships with cows. And the various practices related to cows and not the monolithic practices that constitute um communicative infrastructure that prop up cows as sacred and therefore organise um the violence on Muslims around the politics of um the cow. Or similarly you consider the question of eroticism in various forms of Hinduism and the flows, and um, disjunctures, the fragments, the different forms of practices now Hindutva seeking to assert its monolithic uh definition of Hinduism um has to undermine and <<unsee those>>.

So, it has to produce a cultural essentialism which actually if you look at it is a mirror image of the strategies of the coloniser, so in that sense it actually replicates the whiteness of colonialism where culture is an essence, culture is unchanging, culture is not transformative, not dynamic. Um, in order to um set up its hegemony. So in fact, rather than, being an anchor to decolonisation, Hindutva reflects fundamentally the principles of colonisation. The basic notion of um, culture as essence unchanging that has been used by colonialists historically.

So, this notion that is used discursively to argue that it is only Hindus that can talk about Hindus. So this turn to ‘by Hindus for Hindus’ and of course, within this, what is really powerful to witness is that you have to ask, who is the right Hindu to theorise about Hindus. And it is the Hindutva Hindu who can really rightfully theorise about the Hindu. So, the cultural insider is a particular kind of cultural insider. And again, you know, you see, how this draws, and makes a caricature of decolonisation movements and particularly movements of indigenous communities. Um in ah ah settler colonies that continue to argue for ah [tina ranga tina tanga?] as we say here in New Zealand, concept of sovereignty that indigenous communities ought to have sovereignty over the processes of knowledge production. So that fundamental argument is taken and turned into its caricature in order to um ah carry out the agendas of Hindutva…in a way that serves very much the colonial infrastructure of knowledge production. So, in this process also what is erased is the history of collaboration. Um that the ideology of Hindutva held with the coloniser. So historically in the context of India’s freedom struggle and its decolonisation struggle, its anti-colonial struggle, we need to remember that the forces of Hindutva went aligned with forces of British colonialism, but that history of course is eased in order to put up this seduction.

Simultaneously erased are notions of indigeneity, even uh within the context of um ah contemporary struggles of indigenous peoples in India, India’s Adivasi people with land, with ownership, of uh, natural resources with access to their livelihoods and habitat, in fact a lot of those struggles are framed in simplistic are terms as being Maoist struggles, or as being Marxist struggles to threaten the uh security of the state. So, what is really powerful here is consider the ways in which, actually within this narrative infrastructure the real decolonising struggles of India’s Adivasi people are continually erased, obfuscated. But also become the sites for police military and state violence. So, this becomes the basis for ongoing colonisations of colonisation of indigenous peoples within India. um ah, and erasure of the experiences of those indigenous communities. And often in the form of Adivasi people being targeted um through initiatives of education. So Hindutva runs its <<unintelligible>> educational initiatives to pretty much uplift uh the indigenous uh. So in parts of India where I have done my fieldwork I found the forces of  Hindutva at work through schooling systems targeting  indigenous people and indigenous communities. So, uh there are ongoing processes of colonisation at work.

So you know, what is really powerful here, and worth  noting is that the language of decolonisation is actually being deployed uh to carry out colonisation. To assert um uh colonial culture and erase um uh Adivasi cultures and the diversity of Adivasi cultures. And this is also tied to um the ongoing colonisation of indigenous land, and the erasure of indigenous struggles for dignity and so if we look at this entire infrastructure of decolonisation what we see here is decolonisation to serve the narrative of um Hinduphobia is actually um a communicative inversion of decolonisation theory, in order prop up this infrastructure of hate. So what I have done, today is looked at the notions of Hinduphobia and its narrative structure. Particularly in the ways that it has been deployed to silence critiques of Hinduphobia. The ways in which the language of safes paces, the language of de-westernisation, the language of decolonisation that forms the basis of social justice struggles are actually being deployed to hold up this infrastructure of hate in the diaspora. and connected to the hate in India. So looking forward and I want to wrap up, what can we do to disrupt these communicative inversions.

The first point is that we all have to be aware of the ways in which these communicative inversions are being carried out. We have to look at the ways in which hate flows. I want to come back to one of the key points that I noted earlier, that the Hindutva hate actually intersects with white supremacist hate We have to look at those closely. Too often in liberal, multicultural societies we tend to um ignore these kinds of forces in the migrant diaspora and often in fact because of our ignorance and lack of education, we tend to fund these forces as exemplars of multiculturalism. And uh we actually in that process perpetuate the infrastructure of hate and hold it up. In that sense there’s also a key element here in terms of pedagogy in terms of our politicians, to closely look at hate and the ways in which hate flows globally, and the previous agendas of hate intersect with each other. Thanks for listening to this talk in subsequent talks we will look at particular incidences and show some examples of how these communicative structures work….





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