Exploding the Myth of “Hindutva Terror”
There is a new kid on the block. (S)he is called “Hindutva Terror” (aka “Hindu Terror”). Chances are you have heard the word before; Chances are you have got annoyed, perhaps just a little bit angry and moved on. Chances are you have never paused to think who – and what – is this “Hindutva Terror”? Until a few days ago, I was in the group of people who – when they heard the word – would get a little annoyed, perhaps a little angry and then move on.
Then last week, alert reader (and a good friend) Anupam pointed me in the direction of this cover story in “Outlook” on “Hindutva Terror”. In my hurried & brief response on the blog, I wrote:
The article is grandly titled “Hindu Terror” but does not explain how these acts were motivated by “Hindu” beliefs or “Hindu” traditions. There are also a few references to “Hindutva” but no attempt is made to explain the term “Hindutva” or what it means according to the authors…
I also promised him and Sanjay a detailed response soon. Earlier today morning, as I re-read the “Outlook” cover story, I realised why “news” necessarily has to be “sensational” – because that is what sells. But this post is about putting things in perspective, not about sensationalising them.
*** CAUTION: Long Post ***
Lets get back to the Outlook story. While the article was neither the first on this topic (nor will it be the last), it was “bolder” than most; more interestingly, it ended with a cryptic sentence (emphasis added):
Only when the CBI puts all the pieces together will the entire Hindutva terror picture emerge, if at all.
The by-line of the 2000-word long report, co-authored by Smruti Koppikar, Debarshi Dasgupta and Snigdha Hasan was “Hindu terror is a reality, yet India refuses to utter its name”.
It came on the back of an article by Praveen Swami on “The Rise Of Hindutva Terrorism” (also in Outlook) published in May. It is probably a good idea to look at the latter first. Praveen Swami’s report was based on the arrest of Devendra Gupta, a “pracharak” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) along with his “political associates” Vishnu Prasad and Chandrashekhar Patidar on suspicion of planning the attack at Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.
Up until that point, the blasts in Mecca Masjid (followed by the attack in Ajmer) were generally thought to be the work of Islamists. Praveen Swami had himself mentioned this possibility in his earlier reports on the blasts (emphasis added):
Thursday’s bombing of the saint’s shrine at Ajmer — the third in a series of attacks on Muslim religious institutions after the 2006 bombing of a Sufi shrine in Malegaon and this summer’s strike at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad — have been characterised as attempts to provoke a pan-India communal war. But the bombings also reflect another less-understood project: the war of Islamist neoconservatives against the syncretic traditions and beliefs that characterise popular Islam in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Most media reports of the time – relying on various “sources” – mentioned how the attacks appeared to be linked and how they seem to have been executed by the same group. Most of the suspicion was directed at HuJI- Bangladesh.
The arrest of Devendra Gupta in Rajasthan was therefore “news” in more senses than one. Praveen used that arrest to focus attention on what he called “little-understood threat of Hindu-nationalist or Hindutva terrorism.”
Sadly, in the 2500 words that followed, he neither defined nor explained what he meant by “Hindutva terrorism”. What we got instead was speculation…and a lot of not-always-relevant history. As an example (of speculation):
…former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh announced that he had evidence of the involvement of members of the Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of the RSS, in acts of terrorism. For reasons that are unclear, though, this evidence was not used to prosecute members of the organisation or any other suspects.
The one name that crops up in all these reports is Abhinav Bharat. A lot has been written about Abhinav Bharat as also its “links” with RSS. Yet no firm evidence has been offered to date regarding this assertion or the “links”; neither do any of the charge-sheets make this claim (to the best of my knowledge). Tellingly, none of the reports explain why an organisation with “links” to RSS would conspire to kill the top leadership of the Sangh.
Further, it remains unclear whether the arrested were acting on behalf of Abhinav Bharat (or indeed RSS) or independently of them. Swami’s report itself mentions the dissensions within Abhinav Bharat:
In June 2007, Purohit allegedly suggested that the time had come to target Muslims through terrorist attacks — a plea others in Abhinav Bharat rejected. But, evidence gathered by the Police suggests, many within the group were determined to press ahead…
And while Praveen Swami writes in some detail about Lt Col Purohit’s “plans to bring about a Hindutva state”, he does not say whether these were endorsed by the Abhinav Bharat leadership, or the RSS or another “Hindutva outfit” or indeed by any formal group or organisation. Back in February though, he had suggested the possibility of these individuals acting autonomously (emphasis added):
Matters are complicated by the fact that some of the operations attributed to Abhinav Bharat may not have had much to do with the group — even though its leading luminaries claimed responsibility for the attacks.
No wonder “despite the formidable mass of evidence it gathered, the Maharashtra investigation ran into a wall”. And while the arrests in Rajasthan are significant, they may not have much of an impact. As Swami says himself “(the arrests) may have removed a few bricks” from the “wall” but thats about it.
What Swami lacks by way of firm evidence though, he more than makes up by way of detail. So you have paragraphs after paragraphs devoted to members of Abhinav Bharat, their lives (and deaths) and sneaky statements in-between passing off as “facts”. To wit:
…the controversial Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which operates a Hindu-proselytisation programme targeting adivasis (tribals) in southern Gujarat…”.
No references, no facts, no evidence. Just one innocuous sentence that is sneaked in. You might have missed the highlighted bit in the article if you had blinked. Thus having set the stage, Praveen moves on to a discussion of “What lessons ought India to be learning from the story of the Hindutva terror network?”
Still no clarity on what exactly is this “Hindutva terror network”? Is this a few disgruntled members of Abhinav Bharat, with some people from Bajrang Dal thrown in? or is this something more sinister that goes deep through Hindu social organisations and political groups such as the RSS, Bajrang Dal, Vanvasi Parishad, and numerous other associations and institutions? No clarity on that.
Praveen then cleverly shifts the focus from the policies (and politics) of the past 60 years to find the roots of “Hindutva terror” – in Bal Gangadhar Tilak!
Influenced by the dramatic impact of terrorism in imperial Russia, the Hindu nationalist leader, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, became increasingly drawn to violence as a tool to achieve Indian independence. A year after the searing 1905 revolution, which compelled Czar Alexander II to grant basic civil rights, Tilak exhorted his followers: “The days of prayer have gone… Look to the examples of Ireland, Japan and Russia and follow their methods.“
But how different is this statement of Tilak from the one made by Mahatma Gandhi?
To bring about such a state of things we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is, the ability to bear arms and to use them…If we want to learn the use of arms with the greatest possible despatch, it is our duty to enlist ourselves in the army.”[ link and also here ]
How easy – and perfectly natural – would it be to add Tilak’s opening line to the above remarks by Gandhi?
The days of prayer have gone… To bring about such a state of things we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is, the ability to bear arms and to use them..
But I digress. Back to the article. After a brief mention of a “number of mysteries (that) remain to be resolved”, Swami says, “The arrests over the past weeks notwithstanding, the threat remains real — and must be snuffed out.”
What threat? From whom? From Abhinav Bharat? From RSS? From Bajrang Dal? Or from Hindus acting on their own – without any sanction (either from any group or associaton or institution) and without any legitimacy (which part of the “Sanatan” tradition advocates killing of innocents?).
Praveen prefers to remain mute on this matter. Instead he mentions more names and more groups:
Last year, in June, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti operatives were held for the bombing of the Gadkari Rangayatan theatre in Thane (Maharashtra)…Members of the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha, affiliated to Hindu Janajagruti, were held for staging a bombing in Panani.
Earlier, Bajrang Dal-linked Rajiv Mishra and Bhupinder Singh were killed in a bomb-making accident in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP).
But were these people acting as part of a grand scheme of things? Sanctioned and blessed by a supra-organisational authority or were these autonomous acts of terror? No answers to such questions. Partly because they do not make “news”…and possibly because we do not know – yet.
More worrying than the lack of details and unanswered questions though are the insinuations and attempts at subtle persuasion. E.g. here is Swami writing earlier in the year about the German Bakery Blast (emphasis added):
Last week’s bombing of the German Bakery in Pune has brought the ugly story of Abhinav Bharat — the Hindutva terrorist group Purohit helped found — back from the obscurity to which it was consigned by the Mumbai carnage, which took place just days after the trial in Nashik began.
In private, Hindus sympathetic to the ultra-right have been saying the bombings demonstrate the moral legitimacy of Purohit and his Hindutva terror project.
He does not say just how? and which Hindus? And then almost lets the cat out of the bag – perhaps unwittingly:
Few investigators believe that the organisations — or other Hindutva cells — mounted the operation.
In which case Praveen, is it not a bit disingenuous to talk of “Hindutva Terror” as if it is some superbly organised and coordinated movement to destabilise India?
Some of you would remember that he subsequently changed his view on the Pune blasts and pointed the finger at Indian Mujahideen. But the “damage” was probably done by then. After all public memory is notoriously short and first impressions do count.
Back to the more recent “Outlook” cover-story. As I mentioned earlier, the article’s byline was: “Hindu terror is a reality, yet India refuses to utter its name”. Strangely, within the first few lines, the gears shift. The reference moves from “Hindu terror” to “radical Hindu nationalist groups”
…the trail finally led to Gupta and pointed to radical Hindu nationalist groups instead. Says Rajasthan Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Kapil Garg: “We have arrested some people of that religion (Hinduism) and we’re dead sure we’re on the right track.
In Hyderabad too, the CBI team believes it is on the right track, finally, in the Mecca Masjid bomb blasts case. Four men belonging to radical Hindu groups were arrested
Significantly none of these “radical Hindu nationalist” groups have been charged in any of the attacks (to the best of my knowledge) . So again, were these attacks carried out autonomously or were they sanctioned by those at the top and with their full knowledge? And if it is the former, is it fair – or accurate – to labels these acts as “Hindutva terror” or “Saffron terror”?
As Offtsumped wrote in “Cookbook on dealing with Orwellian Media Tactics” (back in 2008), here is why the application of these phrases is patently wrong.
- Reason #1 – To date there is not even a shred of evidence to conclude that there is a conspiracy to commit acts of Terror by any organization let alone one that swears by Hindutva
- Reason #2 -Even if we were to indulge the theory floated in the media, to date there is no factual basis to establish that those who have committed these acts of Terror have sought moral sanction from Hindu Dharma
It is critical to make this important distinction.
- There is a variety of Terrorism that swears by tenets of Islam and goes to great length to quote from the Quran and Hadiths to seek moral sanction for its actions
- It does not exclusively target one community and is generally secular in its choice of victims
To date we have not been presented with any claims of responsibility by anyone by claiming moral sanction from any tenets of Dharma or any remotely hindu oriented doctrine of ancient or modern origin.
Let me add some more points to those raised by Offstumped above. Where are the texts and manuals of “Hindutva Terror”? Or are these just in the mind of the alleged perpetrators? And what about the public statements by RSS about its members and individuals who have been accused of involvement in these acts?
As it was becoming evident that (Sunil) Joshi (main accused in Ajmer and Hyderabad blasts) was going down an aggressive path, the RSS publicly distanced itself from him. [ link ]
Have these been noticed – and reported?
One report did carry the other view-point. In Rediff, Krishnakumar wrote:
(Deepak Joshi, BJP legislator) shies away from dubbing the phenomenon as Hindu terrorism.
“It is not organised to begin with,” he says, “And it does not have the sanction or approval of an organisation like the RSS.”
But the article had other subliminal messages that were subconsciously imposed:
The Malwa region is predominantly tribal. Indore…does not have much of an Adivasi presence. But Dhar is 75 percent Adivasi, Jhabua is nearly 100 percent Adivasi. Balwani, Khargon and Khandwa are 50 percent Adivasi.
The Hindus form the second biggest community
Notice anything funny? The last time I visited Malwa, the Adivasis in the region did not identify themselves as Christians or Muslims…so why this mischievous sentence? In the meantime, new labels continue to be invented. In the words of Hon Home Minister Sh Chidambaram:
We don’t call it Hindu terror… The groups seem to subscribe to an extreme fundamentalist Hindu philosophy.
Of course neither Sh Chidambaram nor the reporters bothered to explain what exactly is this “fundamentalist Hindu philosophy“. Until I read this, I had always thought of fundamentals of Hindu philosophy in the great tradition of Vendata. Sh Chidamabram probably has other ideas.
Some of the news-reports on this topic are so thin on substance that they read like press releases. E.g.
All these arrests are an indication that investigators are slowly shifting their focus to the once neglected ‘Hindu terror’ groups and are waking up to the potent threat of ‘Hindutva terrorism’. Even though evidence of such groups existing has been there since 2002, investigative agencies have always turned a blind-eye towards them. Timely action on part of investigators could have helped saved many lives and prevent certain blasts.
Interestingly (and somewhat tellingly), none of these reports or their authors make any attempt to explain their understanding of “Hindutva”. And so there is no way for us to judge ourselves whether these acts are a manifestation of something called “Hindutva terror” or whether these are “terror attacks by Hindus”? Nuance is already a casualty in mainstream media.
Significantly, the “Outlook” report mentions another label for Abhinav Bharat:
The 4,528-page chargesheet filed in the Malegaon case calls Abhinav Bharat an “organised crime syndicate”
I repeat, “organised crime syndicate” – not a political group, not an RSS affiliate. Although this Rediff report appears to contradict even that assertion:
A special court in Mumbai on Friday dropped the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) invoked against Sadhvi Pragya Singh, Lt Col S P Purohit and nine other accused in 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case, saying none of them is part of an organised crime syndicate.
Even more troubling than the labels themselves is the fact that till date, not one of the accused has been convicted – and I am not just talking of “Hindu radicals” but also of “Islamist* terror suspects”.
Is our criminal investigation apparatus really so inefficient that it has been unable to apprehend and convict even one terrorist in the last several years (the last conviction – if you leave aside Kasab’s case – was in the Parliament attack case from 2001).
Does it really take 10 years to complete an investigation? Or are these delays because of political pressures and with an eye on electoral equations? Is the bogey of Hindutva terror being raised with an eye on vote-banks? Is there more to it than what we are led to believe?
But the most important question that these arrests (and the attacks) raise is the one that on one dares speak about: Why do Hindus – who numerically constitute the majority in India and whose fundamental beliefs rest on tolerance and compassion for all beings – feel compelled to indulge in acts of terrorism?
This is a volatile question – one that MSM will never ask – or will pretend that it is not important. But if Hindus are convicted in these attacks – then the question has to be asked – and need to be discussed if such attacks are to be pre-empted and avoided. Why does a Hindu in Hindu-majority India feel drawn to violent means to address his/her grievances? Why does the Hindu feel besieged in India?
This was the question my friend Sanjay indirectly asked on the blog, “In keeping with the spirit of this blog and especially of Satyameva Jayate, it would be worthwhile to investigate the raison d’etre and claims of organizations like Abhinav Bharat”. In September 2008, I wrote the following in response (pl see comment #4) to a discussion on conversions:
A “Hindu” in India today feels besieged…he feels he is slowly being encircled…that his voice is not being heard and his concerns are not shared…
This perplexes him as he has always believed this is his motherland, his “natural” home, the birthplace of his faith…and yet, he feels unsafe in large parts of Bharat-bhumi…in Maharashtra (if he is from UP/Bihar), in Assam (likewise), in Kashmir, in Orissa…
He feels not only his life and personal safety but also his belief system is being attacked – slowly but systematically…
He feels exasperated that he has to preface every grievance that he may have by stressing his “secular” credentials – lest he be mistook for a “Hindutva-wadi”…He feels embarrassed to mention his faith in public discourse…and constantly feels that he is being forced on the backfoot…
At some point, this feeling gives way to anger – spontaneous, unplanned and unpredictable…and we all wonder where and how did this happen…
This is what you saw in Kandhamal…and in Jammu…unforeseen reaction of people who feel that their back is against the wall…
Is their logic to this? Probably not…but is the feeling real? It does appear to be…
This comment was echoed a month later by “reason” on Offstumped’s post (referred to above):
The Hindu feels threatened in India: There are several talking points – the speed at which this Melagaon blast was cracked compared to the absolute inaction following repeated blasts all across India, the very real sense of outrage Hindus felt at being repeatedly targeted, and the ignominy of secularists always at a rush to create justifications for those bombings – one editor wrote a piece in a foreign journal following the 2005 Mumbai train bombings to say that the bombs targeted upper class coaches that ‘Gujaratis’ travel in.
And a month later (Nov ’08), Radha Rajan concluded her article on ‘Hindu terrorism’ – see the writing on the wall with these words:
…fears of Hindu nationalism have brought this nation to the brink of self-destruction wreaked by jihad and the evangelical church, aided and abetted by India’s secular anti-Hindu polity. Sadhvi Pragya, Sameer Kulkarni, Maj. Upadhyay, Lt. Col. Purohit signal the determined rise of Hindu nationalism.
Hindu terrorism? Call it what you will – but see the writing on the wall. The war shall continue.
More recently, an astute observer of Indian politics echoed similar feelings (paraphrased to protect privacy):
…should (the Hindu) watch without reacting the terrorism against Hindus..and the erosion of their rights..(e.g.) the Sachar Report which underpins a whole ministry and its strategies? Are we going to defend the Hindus by Ahimsa and means of non-violence? Are the rules different for different religions?
In Kerala, young Muslim men are being trained to become jihadis (ref the recent chopping of the hand of the Prof). With the full connivance of Congress and CPM, the banned groups have resurrected with new names. Things are worrying ..perhaps there are others who are silently watching ..but some of us feel compelled to act..If self-defence is considered terrorism, what would you call offensive and unprovoked terrorism? Terrorism breeds terrorism. Will our stance be to show the other cheek if slapped on one? Are be becoming gutless and silent people who simply suffer? Patriotism cannot be silent and submissive.
It is not just people who are being killed, humiliated, abused and denied right to peaceful existences – but all the traditions, the parampara, the religious icons…(even) the territorial boundaries are being debased and compromised. How does one react to this? Allow ourselves to become the sacrificial goats? How does one react when pushed to a corner?
Think about it…Think hard about this…because if this feeling of outrage, this sense of denial, this sense of being under siege is real…and becomes widespread, the future looks grim…
A leadership that has failed us on multiple counts will not be able to face this tsunami of deeply-felt rage and frustration…and things might rapidly – and violently spin out of control. And if we stay mute, we will be silent accomplices to this act of destruction…As I wrote before, “This is the time when inaction is not an option and indifference will be suicidal.” It is time to speak up..and take a stance.
Comments and thoughts welcome, as always.
P.S. As for Abhinav Bharat, I would simply repeat the conclusion from B Raman’s article, “Anti-Muslim Reprisal Terrorism?”
Do these arrests strengthen the case for a ban on the Bajrang Dal or any other organisation to which they might have belonged? Or do they at least call for a characterisation of such orgainsations – even if they be of Hindus – as terrorist organisations? To characterise an organisation as a terrorist organisation and to take legal action against it – and not merely against its members – two types of evidence are required. Firstly, that its constitution or manifesto advocates the resort to violence amounting to terrorism for achieving its objective. Secondly, that it has been involved in repeated acts of pre-meditated violence which amount to terrorism. One has to wait and see whether such evidence surfaces during the investigation.
Muslim Anger Vs Hindu Anger by B Raman
Praveen Swami lets the cat out of the bag by Offstumped
The Hunt for the elusive un-Hindu terrorist by Offstumped
‘It’s counter-Islamic terrorism, not Hindu terror’ (Ram Madhav in conversation with Sheela Bhatt, Rediff)
UPDATE: Apologies but this link appears to be broken| क्षमा करें परन्तु यह लिंक इस समय उपलब्ध नहीं है | पाठकगण श्री अमिताभ त्रिपाठी द्वारा किया गया इस लेख का हिंदी अनुवाद इस लिंक पर पढ़ सकते हैं: “हिन्दू आतंकवाद के मिथक का पर्दाफाश” http://bit.ly/a718qu धन्यवाद अमिताभ!
Please continue to share your view and thoughts on this thread which I opened to reduce comment overload: Exploding the Myth of “Hindutva Terror” – Part 2