Conservative News Service, Feb 14, 2000
Hindu Extremism On The Rise In India
NEW DELHI, India (CNS) -- Hindu fundamentalist groups in India are trying to curb the activities of other religious groups and control the "expressions" of those not conforming to their world view, according to analysts here. As examples, analysts point to Hindu attempts to change the Indian constitution in ways that would curb artistic free expression and restrict the right of minority Christians and Muslims to preach and practice their religion freely.
"Increasing intolerance among the Hindu fundamentalist organizations, which pose a grave threat to democracy, are an indication of the rise of fascist forces in India," said politics professor M. Mohanty of Delhi University.
"What happened with European fascism is now happening with the Hindus," he told CNSNews.com.
Kanti Bajpai, professor of international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, agreed, telling CNSNews.com that "the rise of right-wing politics in India is far more advanced and violent than in Austria."
More than 80 percent of India's nearly one billion people are Hindus. Muslims form a sizeable minority of around 15 percent, while just 2.5 percent are Christians.
Although Hindu fundamentalist leaders have formally denied responsibility for attacks on minority religious communities, their propaganda is characterized by threats of violence.
In Orissa, where Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were murdered 13 months ago, the local government passed an order last November prohibiting religious conversions without the prior permission of the local police and a district magistrate.
The order, an amendment to the 1967 Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, stipulates that a citizen wishing to convert must undergo a police inquiry to explain his or her reasons.
India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has passed a bill restricting the building and use of places of worship. It is awaiting the approval of the Indian president.
The western state of Gujarat recently lifted a ban on government employees being members of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (national self-service organization, or RSS).
The RSS, which claims to be a socio-cultural organization, is the main think tank of several fundamentalist bodies in India, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The RSS functions as the principal guardian of Hindu ideology.
An RRS member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. It has been banned three times since independence for its activities.
Also in Gujarat, lawmakers soon will debate a draft Freedom of Religion Bill, which makes it a criminal offense to use force or fraud in converting a person from one religion to another.
Hindu fundamentalists forced an Indo-Canadian movie director, Deepa Mehta, from filming a movie that reportedly depicted an upper caste Hindu widow falling in love with a lower caste laborer as well as widows being forced into prostitution by those in the upper castes.
Taking exception to the storyline of "Water," activists said it "tarnished the image of the country and Hindus."
Actress Nandita Das, who stars in "Water," said the fanatics were misleading people and causing trouble for the whole society "in a country known for its unity in diversity."
Political scientist Mohanty warned that the greatest danger to India's "extremely strained social fabric" may come not from Sikh or Muslim separatists, but from Hindu fundamentalists.
The vice-president of the ruling BJP, J.P. Mathur, said Hindus were known for their tolerance, but that "Muslim fundamentalism has now forced us to raise our head and counter it. It is all because of the survival of the fittest."
India has a long history of violence between the Hindu majority and Muslims. Recently, Christians also have been targeted.
The New Delhi-based United Christian Forum for Human Rights has documented more than 120 attacks against Christian individuals, churches, and schools, allegedly by Hindu fundamentalists, in the past year. Half of the incidents have occurred in Gujarat.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Delhi, Alan de Lastic, said extremists were employing a national-level strategy to try to stem the influence of Christians.
"It is more pronounced in states where there is a government affiliated to the Hindu ideology and a small Christian population," he said.
A resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism has taken place over the past decade, beginning with an RSS television campaign in the late 1980s to forge a self-conscious collective Hindu identity.
In 1991, present Home Minister L. K. Advani undertook a historic "chariot journey" from a Hindu temple in Gujarat to the legendary birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.
The symbolic journey helped transform the BJP from marginal group with just two seats in parliament a decade ago to the ruling party today.
In 1992, Muslims became the main targets of Hindus with the destruction of a mosque built in the 16th century on a site some Hindus believe a Hindu temple once stood.
International politics professor Bajpai compared the strategy used by the RSS to that of Joerg Haider and the Freedom Party in Austria.
"The right here too advocates extreme and flagrant positions and then retreats and recants as a way of disarming critics and opponents - and succeeds only too well."
The fundamentalists had also used the fear of "outsiders within" to build a support base.
"Immigration has been one way of doing this, but more important here has been the portrayal of religious and ethnic minorities as aliens whose loyalty to the nation is questionable," Bajpai explained.
"Measures need to be taken to curb this trend, otherwise it will destroy the multi-cultural fabric of India," warned Mohanty.
Hindu Fundementalism Index