Western-Tolerated Fascism: the Case of Love Jihad and Hindu Nationalism
As featured in Edition 40, available here.
BY JAZIR MOHAMMED (2nd year - History and Politics - Nottingham, UK)
India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, around 200 million people. Yet it has arguably one of the worst crises of Islamophobia in the Global South.
In recent years, hundreds if not thousands of Muslims have been routinely attacked in the street, had their businesses shut, and faced police brutality, with others killed in mob lynchings. Women have been sexually harassed online in the form of disgusting ‘online auctions’. Various sections of the Hindu nationalist movement have been reprehensibly calling for increased persecution and even genocide of Muslims with impunity. Ludicrous conspiracy theories have flourished, such as Muslims being the main spreaders of Covid, as well as the infamous Love Jihad thesis -- whereby Hindu nationalists deceitfully claim that Muslims are on a supposed mission to forcibly lure Hindu women into marriage en masse with the goal to make India a Muslim-majority nation.
In a country where more than 90% of all marriages are arranged, largely between people from the same religious community, this groundless conspiracy has not only fuelled the Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) vigilantes’ ambitions, but has incited demagogic responses by establishment politicians who have exploited this fallacy to further their campaign of hatred. Many BJP-ruled states have passed so-called “anti-conversion laws”, which, whilst seemingly about tackling coercion and maintaining religious freedom in marriage, are implicitly another attempt to criminalise and subjugate Muslims.
The Indian state is laissez-faire towards prevailing mob rule and hate crimes, but ferociously leviathan to anyone who dares challenge it. Such growing authoritarianism has not just been exemplified by harsh government retaliation towards protest movements against the controversial citizenship bill and the farmers acts, journalists have been detained under sedition laws too. Progressive activists have been charged under the McCarthyite UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act) simply for espousing anti-establishment views. To understand this looming crisis of persecution and democratic decay we need to look at India’s distinct political economy and the role of the international community in facilitating this.
India is a land of great diversity and culture, a crucial bedrock for the development of modern civilisation. However, it is a land of great paradox. It has the third highest number of billionaires, yet 70% of people live on less than $2 a day. It has a ‘superpower’ economy, ranking sixth in GDP, yet 77% of its wealth is concentrated in 10% of its population. There’s minimal welfare provision, despite India being the third largest spender on the military and investing heavily into space exploration. The world’s largest ‘democracy’ is in the midst of rampant cronyism and autocratic chauvinism.
These examples are very much the contradictions of a neoliberal capitalist system vehemently adopted in the 1980s to replace the former developmental state established after independence. Despite India’s supposed intentions to ‘liberalise’ the market and strengthen liberal democracy, the turn to the anarchy of the market has instead left it with a brazen oligarchy, in which large swathes of an autocratic middle class (the rest being politically apathetic) are willing to sacrifice democratic ideals if doing so means greater prosperity. India’s politics since liberalisation have created a huge vacuum, which allows parties to increasingly attract voters on very sectional and identity-based lines. The demise of the Congress party inevitably saw the bold rise of the BJP and the wider Hindutva movement.
What has been the response from the supposed bastions of liberty and tolerance? Human Rights violations serve as a crucial pretext for strained relations between the West and Russia and China, whether it be Putin’s assassinations of dissidents abroad, or the detainment of Uyghurs in China. In stark contrast, the West’s reaction to its own puppet states violating their well-esteemed liberal-democratic principles seems to be highly negligent, if not grossly comedic at best.
Not only did Biden turn a blind eye to this crisis, he invited India to his very own ‘Summit for Democracy’ giving Modi the platform to spout his erroneous rhetoric of how the democratic spirit, as well as the rule of law and pluralistic ethos, were “ingrained in Indians”.
More worryingly, Silicon Valley tech firms like Meta and Twitter have been horrendously complicit in the mass transmission of fake news and hate speech targeting Muslims and minorities. As Rana Ayyub correctly points out, this spread of misinformation is simply just the “cost of business” for the social media despots.
It is evident that democracy, and freedom for India’s minorities, can only prevail through changes in the wider international system.
Image - Unsplash (Gayatri Malhotra)