How the Saffronization of India is Leading to the Cultural Genocide of Kashmir
On paper, the rise of India as a global power should be a good thing. As the world’s largest, multi-ethnic democracy, it holds a unique and diverse presence in international affairs. It is a sentiment shared in the halls of power the world over. And yet, the rise of the BJP is leading to the decline of the world’s largest democracy in favor of the world’s largest nationalist ethno-state. This shift, often referred to as saffronization due to its association with the BJP’s saffron color and Hindu nationalism, has resulted in the government’s dominance, the erosion of the multi-ethnic democratic idea, and the cultural genocide of Kashmir.
Constitution? What Constitution?
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi wins re-election next year, he will become one of India’s longest-serving Prime Ministers. (Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi have served longer) Modi will also complete the Safronist dream of eliminating secularism that protects the rights of religious and cultural minorities throughout India.
In the aftermath of the chaos of partition and the independence of India, Prime Minister Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi laid the foundations of Indian democracy, and while neither was a perfect leader, they attempted to transition India to a country that lived the values enshrined in the Constitution.
While India continued to struggle with corruption within its bureaucracy and its leaders often undermined the status of Kashmir, there was a hope that the future would realize the dream of a true multi-ethnic democracy that valued human rights.
When Modi was elected in 2014, he wasted no time in dispensing with that dream. India is a country for Hindus, and Hindus only.
His citizenship law of 2019 was specifically designed to target Indian Muslims, to make it easier for the government to challenge their citizenship, deem Muslim citizens as illegal immigrants, and make it impossible for Muslims who immigrate to India to become citizens.
The Indian constitution states that religion cannot be used as a basis to deny citizenship, and yet, that is what the law did.
Exceptions were created in the new law for members of six religious communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians – if they could prove they were from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh, while Muslims were overtly excluded from this bill.
Attacking the foundations of citizenship did not happen overnight and it could not happen without the complicit buy-in from huge swaths of the population.
Creating the myth of Hindu Victimization
Destroying a democracy cannot happen without significant support from the population. It does not even need to be a majority of the population, a significant minority faction can build a coalition that forms the bedrock of this destruction.
Hindu Nationalism, also called Hindutva, like its Western populist counterpart – offers token solutions to complex problems, amplifies cultural grievances, and maximizes anger. Modi and the BJP created a culture of Hindu victimization, while simultaneously holding all the levers of power.
It spins the mythical narrative that a great Hindu past was lost and only they can restore it and purify it from the contamination of the ‘other’.
To avoid the world’s criticism, they skirt around the genocide and pogroms of old and fully embrace vigilantism for the state to crush its enemies.
There have been long-documented instances of violence, sometimes called cow vigilantism, in which Hindu mobs attack Muslims on the suspicion of carrying or eating beef.
There is perhaps no better example of this than the Gujarat riots of 2002. Dozens of Hindu pilgrims died in a fire on a train. Though the cause has never been determined, people blamed Muslims, and a targeted campaign of violence was launched against them. Over 2,000 Muslims lost their lives and another 150,000 lost their homes.
Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time, did nothing to quell the riots, and authorities frequently did nothing while Hindu rioters murdered with impunity.
Freedom of speech – terms and conditions apply
Autocrats love freedom of speech, but only so long as that speech is used to denigrate and dehumanize its enemies. Hate speech is not a recent problem in India, but it has been increasing and amplified by the BJP politicians.
A report by the BBC documented a viral video in which a prominent BJP politician sang a song that those who did not bow their head to lord Ram would be forced to leave India, while another Hindu priest threatened to kidnap and rape Muslim women.
While India has laws against the propagation of hate speech – the courts often seldom enforce them against the ruling Hindu majority, and they often let politicians say what they want.
Speech critical of the government is censored or banned outright. When the BBC documentary The Modi Question, a series which examined the Prime Minister’s role in the Gujarat riots of 2002, it was banned in the country.
When the means of freedom of speech threaten the ruling regime, they are immediately attacked. Kashmir often faces internet blackouts, making the reporting of conditions on the ground difficult, if not impossible. Journalists are harassed and detained arbitrarily, and social media can be weaponized against minority groups.
Kashmir – a testing ground for the rest of India
Kashmir has been illegally occupied, and its culture is a victim of genocide by Saffronization. Kashmir was first the victim of Constitutional destruction with the unilateral revocation of Article 370 and 35A. The region was subjected to additional military invasion, communication blackouts and absolute lockdown, arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, and extra-judicial killings.
If the heavy hand of the Indian government wasn’t enough to forcibly dispel the Kashmiri Muslim population, it passed new domicile laws that deprived Muslims of their homes, and it prevented Kashmiri farmers from selling their produce on the international market and letting the crops rot. Finally, it reserved jobs for new Hindu migrants and enabled members of the Indian army to buy homes for the newly displaced Kashmiris.
Final thoughts – It can happen here
The fatal mistake that citizens of democratic countries with burgeoning autocratic movements make is the belief that it can’t happen here.
For those who live elsewhere in India, perhaps the trials and suffering of the Kashmiri population seem like a far-away problem. We mentioned earlier in the blog how the Citizenship Bill carved out exceptions for various religious communities, excluding Muslims. Yet, it does not even meet proper standards of safety, tolerance, and acceptance for the nation’s Christian, Sikh, or Buddhist minorities. Even Hindus who protest the ruling regime’s authoritarian policies can find themselves the victims of their government.
Policies such as the ban on the hijab and state-sponsored Hindu pilgrimages are events that demonstrate that India is rapidly abandoning secularism.
The BJP increasingly has seen secularism as a foreign concept and seeks to eliminate it. A sentiment that prominent leaders such as Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar are now openly espousing.
Hindutva organizations such as the BJP and its back bone ideological parties, including RSS, have initiated an aggressive campaign to throw the name India out the window and replace it with the more Hindu nationalist name of “Bharat”. They are also planning to abolish names of famous cities that have historical Muslim sounding names.
If the BJP and their partners in the RSS can maintain an overwhelming majority after next year’s elections, it is possible that they can do away with secularism in the Indian Constitution completely. Thus, the goals of Saffronization will be fully realized and India will become a Hindu nationalist state or Hindu Rashtra.
As things stand right now, that is the most likely outcome. As India heads toward the election, the hate speech and heated rhetoric are likely to continue unabated, and likely, the verdict on Modi will be delivered by Hindus themselves.
Here, Kashmir might serve as a warning to the rest of India. While the saffron experiment in Kashmir has been a failure. Unrest, economic stagnation, and communication blackouts have also kept the would-be Hindu migrants at bay.
Aakar Patel, former executive director of Amnesty International India stated that while India has attempted to change the demographics of Kashmir their own policies often work against them.
“It doesn’t have internet often because it is cut off by the government. There is often a curfew and restrictions of movement. Who would want to move to such a place?”
If there is any hope of restoring India’s role as the world’s largest multi-ethnic democracy it is that Indians see through the empty promises of saffronization, and see it for the authoritarian power grab that it is.