Can you picture a protest against a political figure in today's tolerant and liberal world which involves a sacred symbol of his religion being used on the backdrop of a Nazi flag?
Try picturing it. A red and white Nazi flag, projected over the face of a huge building, with each great religion's core symbols, one by one, trivialised and desecrated. Try picturing a cross with a compassionate Jesus on it morphing into a Nazi swastika. Try picturing a crescent moon and star, or the holy kaaba, featured there and morphing into a Nazi swastika. Try picturing a Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, or any other revered religious or cultural symbol being used in that manner; with an image of a man with a sword looming over it at that.
Whatever the cause or issue being protested, no one would see such an act as anything other than an act of religious hatred, a distasteful exercise in hate speech rather than intelligent discourse that needs to be cherished as an exercise in free speech.
Now picture a red and white Nazi flag, with the Sanskrit Om in it.
It morphs into a swastika, in a rigid, cold, Hitlerian font. A picture of Narendra Modi, the democratically elected Prime Minister of India, appears besides it, with a sword in his hand.
This image is not hypothetical, but real. It was projected by an activist organisation, ironically fancying itself to be "against religious hatred," on to the side of the British Houses of Parliament.
It was not condemned, let alone even perceived, by many critics of Modi as an act of religious hatred. It was seen by them as just protest. It was shared on Twitter by political leaders in India without any criticism and by activists and academicians.
And yet, for the rest of us who live in the real world where we strive to keep our attitudes of kindness and respect for all cultures and religions alive in our thoughts and words, the brazen hatefulness of using the Om in such a manner is obvious.
I have said this before. Hinduphobia is the last legally sanctioned, academically anointed, culturally approved form of racism in society. A good liberal mind will not even think of using a symbol from Islam or other religions in a statement against one of its members. But it will not even see the nastiness of this dark and evil fantasy world imagery against Hinduism. It's just normal.
It will make its excuses. We know them. It's only against Modi and Hindutva, not Hindus. Oh sure, we are against all religious hatred, Hindutva, and er, Hindutva, and er, oh, now those intolerant Jains in Mumbai too. There is no racism against Hindus. Hindus are 80 per cent of India.
The irony is that these excuses have never been held up to the light of doubt or inquiry by these self-certain beacons of liberalism. We fear too much certainty, they say, when you disturb their highly certain conclusions about the Nazi-RSS or genocidal Modi, as if somehow, all doubt and scepticism needs to apply only against those who point out how dangerous racist and odious their supposed anti-Hindutva antics have become.
All struggles against systemic injustice, falsehood, and hatred have to begin by questioning the seemingly normal and self-evident commonsense about it. Right now, there are two different kinds of worldviews when it comes to Hindus and Hinduism. A minority view, in a numerical sense, is the dominant view, because this is a privileged minority, of Indian upper classes, media celebrities, and Western academics and activists. It holds Hindus and middle classes in India as essentially the enemies of the poor and the oppressed, while trying hard to convince itself and others that it is liberal and tolerant and progressive.
The view of the people, the vast middle classes and soon to be middle classes, steeped in their culture of devotion, their idea of religion as festivity, celebration, love, does not make sense to this tiny, privileged, overheard and overseen minority at all. They have naturalised their colonial era legacy of hatred for Hinduism and Hindus, and have refused to listen.
Since they will not listen, or understand, and we will not stoop to their level of religious hatred disguised as liberal anti-religious hatred activism, we must get to the source of the problem.
At its intellectual source, much of this ignorance and hate comes out of a failure to decolonise the 19th century myth of the Aryan invasion. What else can explain claims like "the wandering of ancient Vedic people gave rise to the Nazi concept of annexation"; or the incessant association of the ancient religion of India's people with one more mass death cult far removed from India and its civilisation? Every misused Om and Swastika, every assault on every "dot," every act of Photoshop war where an Islamist killer has to be dressed up with a Hindu goddess's image, every shrill false accusation against Hindus as the invaders and occupiers of India, all come from this colonial collaborators' myth of the Hindu/Nazi invasion of India.
Let us name the emperor's naked truth now. The Hindu/Aryan/Nazi fantasy is the ideology of an intellectually and morally impoverished cult with overarching totalitarian ambitions. It tolerates no questioning, and is invisible to its privilege, feels persecuted and oppressed even though it owns the word, and quite a bit more of the world too than the Hindus it loathes. Take for example one more petition that came our way from South Asian historians in the West about how history is being saffronised by the Modi government. We have to stop at least once and ask: Where? Where exactly has it happened? We have heard you terrorise your naïve Western liberal friends and impressionable Indian readers for several years now about this. But whose version of history is being taught in India today, with its Aryan invasion origins, and invisible Hindus?
You have nothing to say about this question except to fudge around that "Aryan origins" are now unimportant, and to mock the credentials of anyone who questions the fact that you have been complicit in an enormous colonial hoax for over half a century after colonialism officially ended. You hide behind a selective system of skewed debate where you elevate only the nuts and amateurs from the other side as your supposed opponents, and ignore the formidable scholarship that already exists against your anointed canon.
You are lost, admit it. You don't know Hinduism even though it was all around you, and nurtured your ancestors, and gave you the privilege that today hides your inability to learn, grow, and do one decent thing.
The Om abuse is the last straw. We have been putting up with a lot more fashionable hatred than any other community in the world today. I think it is time for ordinary Hindus to complete the decolonisation of the mind and public life that a decadent cultural elite has failed to do, and it is time for Prime Minister Modi to recognise that Hindus are a part of his country and constituency too. He has tried being identity-blind in his development discourse and agenda, and after decades of divide-and-kill vote bank politics, it was a welcome strategy for inclusiveness and growth. However, he has to recognise that he has to step up and speak for his people, whether they are Muslims, Christians, Sikhs - or Hindus. And when one of the largest communities he represents is insulted so brazenly, perhaps with the cooperation of a foreign government he is going to go and meet, a rethinking of priorities is in order.
Would he have gone quietly without an apology from the British government if any other Indian religious group was insulted like this?
I think the Modi government needs to start addressing the concerns of Hindus as it would of any other group. Identity-blind inclusiveness cannot be blind to injustice and hate that exists systemically against one particular group alone. This is not about appeasing "hardliners" or succumbing to some predetermined Hindutva agenda. His base includes too many liberal Hindus to be satisfied with something as simplistic at that. But it is time to assume leadership for all of your nation and people, Mr Prime Minister, and not just assure us with your personal reverence and spirituality.
The free reign that has been given to hate speech against Hindus all this time has to be stopped.