Has the Hindu majority developed a ‘Nazi conscience’ in India?

Emboldened by the support of the State, Hindu nationalists have unleashed violent attacks on religious minorities in India. Constant state propaganda and communal violence have led to the development of a ‘Nazi conscience’ among the Hindu majority, which now perceives violence to be morally righteous, argues Amit Singh

Organised, sporadic violence by Hindu extremists against religious-ethnic minorities in India, Manipur in particular, has shocked the world. Under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mob-lynching and killings of minorities are becoming commonplace in a religiously polarised nation. The prominence of ethnic revival, the large number of Hindus participating in such violence, and the subsequent lack of condemnation, all beg the same question. Is the Hindu majority developing a ‘Nazi conscience’?

The idea of a ‘Nazi conscience’

Referencing ordinary Germans' moral justification of the mass murder of Jews during WW2, 'Nazi conscience' describes general apathy towards minorities' human rights, lack of respect for the lives of 'others', and the normalisation of violence against them.

'NAZI CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP,  Auschwitz-Birkenau
Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photograph by the author

In India, Hindutva – Hindu nationalism – has bred such a conscience in ordinary Hindus, which justifies and normalises violence against religious minorities. Hindus inflict daily violence on Muslim minorities and Dalits. Few care to intervene.

'Nazi conscience' describes general apathy towards minorities' human rights, lack of respect for the lives of 'others', and the normalisation of violence against them

The Hindutva political narrative condemns past invasions by Muslim rulers and atrocities against Hindus in the Middle Ages. The partition of India in 1947, too, has rendered the Hindu majority hostile to Muslims. Constitutional privileges such as personal family rights for Muslims and religious grants anger the Hindu majority. They feel victimised and insecure – and Hindutva leaders manipulate these anti-Muslim sentiments for political gain.

Ideologically justified violence

The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a Hindu militant organisation, has shaped Hindu nationalism into a hegemonic ideology that propagates the exclusivity of Hindu religion and culture. The Hindutva ideologue Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar asserted that Hindus should treat the country's minorities in the same way as the Nazis treated the Jews. With its political front BJP currently in power, RSS has succeeded in influencing the collective Hindu psyche to take vengeance against Muslims.

These calculated attempts by the RSS have helped create a militant identity among the Hindu majority against perceived foreign invaders such as Muslims and Christians. With each ethno-religious riot, the Hindu collective self is gradually desensitised and freed from guilt at watching humans killed. If you have developed a Nazi conscience, you now perceive violence to be morally righteous.

Successive ethno-religious riots have desensitised the Hindu majority to violence, to the point that they no longer feel guilt at watching Muslims being killed

Violence has become an essential aspect of Hindutva politics. In this way, we could say that the Hindu majority has developed a ‘Nazi conscience’. The Hindus have lost historical sensitivity towards religious minorities with whom they have lived for hundreds of years. Hindu nationalism in postcolonial India has benefited the BJP in elections. However, at the same time, Hindu nationalism has done great harm to the harmony of Indian society. Hindutva ideology has turned Hindus against Muslims – although, in some exceptional cases, Hindus have saved the lives of Muslims.

Role of the State

Modi’s Hindutva state has played a key role in this process. State-sanctioned impunity for those involved in the lynching of Muslims has rewarded those responsible for inciting riots. And the State has constantly harassed those who have come out in protest against Hindu intolerance and Islamophobia.

In large-scale riots such as those in Gujarat in 2002, and during the ethnic violence in Manipur, the perpetrators were Hindu extremists, and the victims primarily religious ethnic minorities. Big riots, moreover, usually happen with the complicity of the State machinery and the Hindu majority. Thus, the majority is not merely a passive onlooker, but freely participates in the ritual of violence.

Rewarding the Islamophobic leader

Modi is notorious for his complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. He has built his political career on communal violence and fear. And the Hindu majority, which re-elected him in 2019, bears deep resentments against Muslims. In fact, one study reveals BJP gains in the polls after every anti-Muslim riot.

Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built his political career on the basis of communal violence and fear

Since 2014, under the RSS-backed Modi regime, the government has strategically propagated anti-Muslim narratives. The mainstream media has consistently cultivated a deep animosity towards religious minorities. Such constant vilification has normalised violence against them. The ascendency of Hindu nationalism has given Hindus ‘the power to claim, and receive, impunity for violence from elected governments’.

Mobs of Hindutva fanatics have lynched Muslims and Dalits. Violence against these minorities is normalised; indeed, the Modi government even appears to support it. Vijay Narayan, a political activist in Varanasi, argues that the fascist ideology of Hindu nationalism is what is driving the Hindu majority.

Failed secularism

After the bloody partition in 1947, to protect Indian society from communal frenzy and religious fanaticism, secularism was embraced as an alternative to Hindu nationalism. Indian secularism, unique in its kind, is associated with religious tolerance. Yet, ironically, the Hindu majority has never abandoned the idea that India is a Hindu nation. It has rejected traditional Hindu tolerance, an idea that enabled communal harmony among India's diverse population. Indian secularism has failed to prevent the rise of Hindutva and the communalisation of the Hindu masses.

Alarm

As long as public institutions and the mainstream media remain under the influence of the Hindu nationalist government, Nazification of the Hindu majority will continue unchecked. Alarm about the possibility of an impending Muslim genocide is already being sounded.

To achieve communal harmony, the state must rid itself of Hindutva, and embrace constitutional secularism. But under the present nationalist government, this seems almost impossible.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.

Author

photograph of Amit Singh
Amit Singh
PhD Candidate, Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra

Amit's doctoral research is focused on the conflict between human rights and religion, centred on Hindu nationalism, Hindu populism, secularism and freedom of expression in India.

His research interests are right-wing extremism, populism and human rights, and he has written several research articles and books.

Amit is a Sylff fellow at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, Japan, holder of a Slovakian national scholarship, and a research associate at the Centre for the Study at the Indian Languages Society in India.

He regularly writes opinion articles and appears in public debates.

Personal website

He tweets @AmitKingNorway

The Conflict of Freedom of Expression and Religion: A Case Study from India, by Amit Singh

The Conflicts of Freedom of Expression and Religion: A Case Study from India
People's Publication Literature (2018)

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