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ICC Note:

After less than three months into BJP rule in India, the situation for Christians and other religious minorities seems certain to deteriorate. Acting according to their Hindu nationalists ideology, BJP and its umbrella organization RSS, have started to put into place necessary policies to turn India into a true Hindu nation. Many Christians and other religious minorities fear this change because it leaves them with no place in India. Persecution is rising due to this policy of Hindu nationalism. How long until the world says enough?    

8/25/2014 India (Financial Times) – Less than three months into Narendra Modi’s new Indian government, worried liberals say their fears of a lurch to the right and the imposition of Hindu nationalist values on India’s multicultural society are already becoming reality.

Members of the rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the Organisation of National Volunteers that gave birth to the Bharatiya Janata party headed by Mr Modi – have been appointed to key posts in the governing party and cultural institutions.

Nationalists have railed in public against the introduction of “western” practices such as wearing bikinis on the beach, putting candles on birthday cakes and using English in schools – all to the chagrin of fretful liberals and leftwingers.

Mohan Bhagwat, RSS chief, appeared to dismiss followers of other religions, including India’s nearly 200m Muslims, when he said: “The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva [Hindu-ness].”

That prompted Digvijay Singh, general secretary of the secular Congress party ousted in the election, to liken Mr Bhagwat to Hitler, while Congress warned of “ominous signs of communal terror, violence and polarisation”.

Among those who have emerged as promoters of the Hindu agenda is Dinanath Batra, a retired schoolteacher who complains about Persian and English poetry in Hindi textbooks and has campaigned successfully for the banning of a book on Hinduism by American Indologist Wendy Doniger.

In an interview, Mr Batra denied direct links with Mr Modi’s government and described part of his work as protecting Hinduism from insults, whether by an Indian historian who had portrayed the god Hanuman as “a tiny monkey” and “a womaniser” or by Ms Doniger, whose main purpose, he said, was to bring out the sex in Hinduism and emphasise that the widely worshipped stone Shiva lingams were simply erect male organs.

The efforts of Mr Batra and other members of the so-called “Batra brigade” to influence curriculums in schools and universities have aroused a mixture of amusement and alarm among more liberal teachers and students of Indian history.

“To say that the lingam has nothing to do with the male organ – who are you kidding?” asks Romila Thapar, a respected historian of ancient India.

Opponents of the RSS mock the nationalists’ obsession with trying to prove that the world’s great inventions all arose in India – from mathematics and pre-industrial motor cars to intercontinental ballistic missiles (the arrows of the god Arjuna) and the use of stem cells. But they also fear that Hindu fundamentalism will fracture a society already prone to outbreaks of inter-communal violence, and damage the quality of education.

“It’s basically a dangerous situation,” says Ms Thapar, whose textbooks were censored under a previous BJP government because they mentioned the eating of beef in the Vedic era (cows are sacred to Hindus) and the mistreatment of low-caste people. “You’re just going to produce a nation of zombies.”

Liberals have two broad objections to the ideology of the RSS. First, it excludes Muslims, Christians and others (but not Buddhists, Sikhs or Jains) by limiting an Indian identity to those whose ancestry is Indian and whose religion is indigenous. Second, it tends to deny Hinduism’s extraordinary diversity and seeks to confine it within the narrow bounds of its own interpretation of texts, traditions and institutions.

“This ideology is absolutely fundamental to the RSS and the BJP. Therefore they have to have a version of history that legitimises this ideology,” says Ms Thapar.

She sees Mr Modi’s rise as only the most recent of three phases of Hindutva ascendancy in the past 50 years, starting in 1977 under the Morarji Desai government and continuing for the five years of BJP rule under Atal Behari Vajpayee from 1999.

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