How do we kill the cancer eating away at Hinduism?
Sectarian bloodlust has turned a section of Hindus into mirror images of that which they most despise.
The internet is a weird and wonderful place, a hothouse of oddities, where one is likely to stumble into some truly unique and bizarre specimens of humanity.
A couple of years back as I was laying out the table of contents for a digital journal on South Asian art and culture, one of the volunteers, out of the blue hurled a slur at me, calling me a "dhimmi". Nonplussed, I asked her what she meant.
She said I was a "dhimmi" for including two Sufi writers in the upcoming issue of the mag. "Dhimmi" is an Arabic term that refers to its non-Islamic embracing population that has the ignominious dishonor of living in Islamic conquered lands.
After this followed a deranged rant about Sufis who were actually jihadis in disguise attempting to infiltrate the mag and disseminate the message of Shariah, just like they had done in past centuries all over Asia.
At the outset, I thought she was pulling my leg but soon realised she was dead serious.
Bluntly, I informed her that she was in need of therapy and should seek professional help.
To my relief, she declared she was leaving the project since I had strayed from the path of "dharma" by including Muslim voices in the journal.
Strangely enough, the woman had never set foot on Indian soil. Her demented worldview, and that of her online companions, had been formed entirely through interactions with rabid Hindu supremacist groups on social media.
As the magazine grew popular and drew accolades for its content, it came under frequent attack from bigots who couldn’t bear the sight of Muslim and Sufi authors or articles that were critical of Hindu supremacist ideology.
It was also unsuccessfully hacked into a couple of times. Distinguished authors who had written for the mag and members of the editorial team including myself were subjected to online slander and abuse.
Around the same time I also started receiving nasty threats from a blocked number on my cell phone, which was reported to local law enforcement authorities.
Many of the unhinged abusers on social media, especially among the diaspora, are followers of a rabble rouser based on the east coast of the US, known for goading his troll army into threatening and intimidating Indian-Americans, academics and journalists perceived as being "anti-national", reminiscent of the Mcarthyist witch hunts of decades past.
In a way it was the end of my political innocence, my first real encounter with the profound hatred that permeates the Hindu right, a hatred that bound them together like no religion possibly could.
My lifelong fascination for the profound depths of Indian wisdom traditions was now tempered with the knowledge that a sizeable number of Hindus used their faith as an instrument of hatred and exclusivism, driving a wedge between "believers" and "non-believers" much like the Islamists and Evangelists they constantly railed against.
The visceral hatred and all-consuming bigotry rendered their notions of god and divinity a bad joke, turning them into a mirror image of the Islamic fundamentalists they despised so much.
In her book I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army, journalist Swati Chaturvedi claims that trolling is an organised political activity and trolls are the social media equivalent of a crazed mob out to lynch, maim or burn as part of a planned pogrom.
Some of the most vicious trolls on twitter are followed by PM Modi himself, and some were even invited to meet him at the official residence.
She says, “I was also taken aback by the sheer ordinariness of the trolls. Here were people abusing, slandering and indulging in communal incitement, making rape and death threats, yet treating it like a 9-to-5 call centre job.”
Another journalist, Rana Ayyub, recently posted a screenshot of an NRI who had been abusing her with sexually explicit messages. As luck would have it, his employer saw the tweet and fired the pervert who was then promptly deported back to India.
Barkha Dutt has not been so lucky. None of her abusers has been brought to book so far.
“I have been called a whore, a ‘randi’, ‘c***”, bitch and ‘presstitute” on Twitter and other social media platforms so often that now I barely notice it. It is not unusual for me to get tweets that go like this: “Tum agar randi bhi ban jaogi, phir bhi tujhe koi nahi ch*****” (even if you become a prostitute, no one will have sex with you). My mobile number has been shared publicly on multiple online platforms urging people to send me abusive and threatening messages”.
Online abuse by NRI and desi trolls often translates into real life lynch mobs on the streets of India. In recent years, self-styled gau rakshaks or cow vigilantes in the Indian heartland have raped women, killed Muslims and flogged Dalits, all in the name of protecting the "holy cow".
Sectarian bloodlust has turned a section of Hindus into mirror images of that which they most despise. Recently a mob in Pakistan beat a university student to death over blasphemy on social media.
As if to follow suit, hundreds of shops were set on fire in a small town in Odisha, India over an "offensive" facebook post on Lord Ram.
In late February of this year, a seminar at Delhi University was set upon by a thuggish mob in the hundreds — members of the ABVP, the student wing of the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya SwayamsevakSangh, to which Modi belongs.
The mob rushed the auditorium, throwing rocks and vandalizing the premises. The next day, students and teachers conducted a silent protest march that was again attacked by the thugs. Prasanta Chakravarty, a professor of English, was beaten up by a large posse and ended up in the hospital with injuries to his abdomen, ribs and lungs.
The Delhi police did nothing to stop the miscreants on both occasions and online thugs cheered on their counterparts on the ground.
The RSS, known for its patriotism and nationalism, ironically was largely subservient to the colonising power under the British Raj. Photo: Reuters
Hindu nationalists are active among the global Indian diaspora, including the large Indian communities in the United States, UK, and elsewhere.
These activities have included large-scale fund-raising, propaganda, and lobbying efforts, through Indian Hindus and increasingly their white counterparts.
More recently, right-wing groups like the Republican Hindu Coalition and others have actively courted Donald Trump and Trump has returned the favour by heartily endorsing them.
Hindu supremacist rhetoric is virtually indistinguishable from the white nationalism espoused by the Alt-Right or radical Islamism in Pakistan or parts of the Middle East.
Working class white Americans in the heartland are led to believe that "traditional American values" are under threat by growing numbers of colored people, alien immigrants and conspiratorial Muslims and Jews.
In India, a similar message is being delivered by the Sangh Parivar: the country belongs to the Hindu majority, but it is being stolen — aided by corrupt "secular" parties — by Muslims and Christians whose loyalty lies in foreign lands. Islamist demagogues are prone to demonizing their minorities and railing against seculars in the same manner.
The RSS, known for its patriotism and nationalism, ironically was largely subservient to the colonising power under the British Raj and opposed the mass movements for India’s freedom in every phase of the struggle.
Little surprise then that it attracts hordes of cowards who stalk and abuse women and spread incendiary hate speech, while hiding behind anonymous handles and the safety of their electronic devices.
Many Hindus in the diaspora and their self-appointed representatives tend to live in a nostalgic time warp, preferring to imagine their country of origin through rose-tinted glasses as some normative ideal inconvenienced by hard truths like rampant sectarianism, the abomination of caste, sexual violence, staggering social inequality and muzzling of dissent and free speech.
The unhinged and lumpen elements among them regularly attack and abuse those who reject the majoritarian Hindu worldview, goaded on from behind the scenes by their more "respectable" counterparts, among them doctors, engineers, lawyers and executives in multinational corporations.
Hindus would be well advised to take a leaf out of the book of one of their role models, a spiritual giant of the 20th century, Swami Vivekananda: “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.”
Indeed, had it not been for these demons, a substantial segment of Hindus, self-appointed representatives of Hinduism, India would not be stuck in the dark ages.