Hindu extremists are not often the first thing to come to mind when thinking about India, but the rise of right-wing Hindu extremism in the last few decades has gradually changed that. "Saffron terror," as the movement has been dubbed, has seen a steady increase as Hindu nationalists wage brutal, repeated attacks on non-Hindu minority religious groups of India, namely Muslims and Christians.
The excessively violent attacks, aided by government cooperation and complicity, range from live burnings and dismemberment to the destruction of mosques, trains, and government buildings. Who are these Hindu extremists, and what are their motivations? It turns out that, even though they ground their claims in religion, Hindu violence is about politics – especially in a nation where the ruling government adopts an openly nationalist ideology that privileges Hinduism over all other religious systems. Read on to discover the facts and history behind the dark world of Hindu extremists.
India's Central Government Openly Supports Nationalist Ideologies
It's no secret that India's government, the Bharatiya Janata (BJP), intermingles with the doings of the nationalist groups (such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS) held responsible for the various explosive attacks and loss of life that have raged through the country for the last fifteen years. The party's official ideology as of 1989 is called Hindutva, which roughly translates to "Hindu-ness." The ideology seeks to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values, or, as it's boldly announced on the BJP website, "Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology."
There have been countless rumors of BJP party officials paying off members of the violent RSS group, as well as incidents in which BJP members serve as silent bystanders during horrific acts of aggression. For example, in the violent outbreaks in Gujarat in February of 2002, Muslim victims were violated, subject to physical abuse and slain while police and BJP officials averted their eyes, or - even worse - joined in.
Government compliance is one of the reasons the nationalists have been so successful in their crusade against non-Hindus in India. On many levels, the BJP aids the continued siege of terrorists, even going as far to alter school textbooks and lessons in order to emphasize Hinduism.
The Gujarat Riots Wiped Out Thousands In A Battle Between Muslims And Hindus
A devastating and controversial event in India's history of Hindu terrorism were the Gujarat Riots of 2002. A battle between Muslims and Hindus, the riots were reportedly sparked when a train carrying mostly Hindu pilgrims caught fire under peculiar circumstances, and 59 people perished, mostly Hindus. An investigation found 31 Muslims guilty of the crime, despite the fact that the actual cause of the fire was never definitively proven. And thus began the riots between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat.
Three days of brutal violence erupted, ending in upwards of 2,000 casualties, with an estimated 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus wiped out. The Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time, Narendra Modi, was then accused of allowing and inciting the riots. Additionally, police and goverment officials were accused of releasing information about Muslim-owned businesses to Hindu nationalists in order to fuel the fire of the riots.
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Hindu Terrorists Are Targeting Christians Along With Muslims
As with many terrorist groups that are associated with religion, the Hindu nationalists tend to rain fury down upon those who follow differing faiths. In recent years, state governments have been passing laws to limit the ability of mostly lower-caste, or Dalit, members of society from converting to Islam or Christianity because if a poverty-stricken citizen of a lower Hindu caste converted to another faith, it could potentially disrupt the power structure held in place by upper-caste Hindus.
Even more, it seems that there is a correlation between the increase of these anti-conversion laws and violence against non-Hindu groups. Even though the Indian Constitution explicitly grants the right of freedom of religion, it hasn't stopped nationalists from severely infringing on Indians' rights and causing terrible violence in the process.
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Hindu Terrorist Groups Have Higher Body Counts Than Those Of Extremist Muslims In The US
During the aftermath of 9/11, America, as well as a large portion of the world, became obsessed with the trope and threat of the Muslim terrorist. Unfortunately, for many the word "Muslim" had become synonymous with terror, and it became difficult to remind people that there was terror outside of Islam. In a Scroll In article by Aakar Patel, he attributed this to the "narrative in the media, which has neatly conflated terrorism with Islam and Pakistan."
However, the numbers in India prove that Hindu extremists have been committing terrorist acts in India at rates unheard of in the US. This is especially true since Narenda Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. Yes, that is the same Narendra Modi who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the riots of 2002.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Is India's Most Widespread Hindu Nationalist Group
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the RSS, is one of the original organizations affiliated with the Sangh Parivar, whose ideology is dedicated to selflessly serving India - in other words, nationalism and terrorism.
The RSS has been strongly implicated in the 2007 explosive attack on the Mecca Masjid mosque, which resulted in 58 people wounded and 14 losses.
Eventually, RSS leader Indresh Kumar was intercepted and interrogated thoroughly regarding the blast of the 400-year-old mosque. While the authorities have never conclusively determined who was responsible for the attacks, this is one of many horrific incidents associated with the RSS and their tactics.
Hindu Terrorism Is Extremely Difficult To Combat Due To Political Reasons
With such overt violence and the shocking number of lives lost, one might think that the world would be a little more proactive in addressing Hindu extremists. However, it's a delicate situation that is largely political.
As mentioned previously, the government in India is often in cahoots with these extremist groups, and although India has improved on the scale of global corruption, it's still a long way off from resolving a lot of these problems.
Additionally, it's tricky for other world powers such as the United States to intervene, as India is an important ally to the US for several reasons. First, the US, like India, has a hostile relationship with neighboring Pakistan. Second, India's proximity to China means that bolstering India's strength can serve to undermine Chinese efforts to gain too much influence in Asia.
However, international and domestic pressure to guarantee human rights in India could potentially combat the rise of Hindu extremism.