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Rise of the Hindu Taliban?
by Amulya Ganguli Bookmark and Share

Even as the veiled women fundamentalists of a religious seminary in Islamabad are threatening video shop owners and setting a deadline for the introduction of Shariah laws in Pakistan, their Hindu counterparts in India have also become active, underlining a retrogressive tendency towards the Talibanization of the entire subcontinent.

What has angered the Hindu groups are some of the recent marriages between Hindu girls and Muslim boys. The extent of the concern among these outfits can be gauged from the fact that their chief patron, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), even brought out a compact disc depicting the supposedly baneful effects of such cross-community weddings.  

Although the BJP had to withdraw the CD when the Election Commission accused it of spreading communal hatred to garner votes during the Uttar Pradesh elections, at least one saffron commentator referred to the underlying concerns expressed in the CD even as he acknowledged its crudity.

One of marriages that drew the ire of the Hindutva groups followed the elopement of a Sindhi girl of Bhopal with a Muslim boy. It led to the 'kidnapping' of the boy's brother by the police, evidently to put pressure on the groom. But when the Mumbai High Court intervened, the 'abducted' person was released.

The police were also ordered by the court to provide protection to the bride and the groom. But by then a Hindu "Kanya Suraksha Samity" (Committee to Protect the Daughters of Hindus) had been formed with the BJP's blessings.

Since Bhopal is in the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, incidents like the abduction of the groom's brother, which was officially denied by the police till the man's presence in custody was filmed on a mobile phone, and the formation of the vigilante committee could take place seemingly with the tacit consent of the authorities.

But what these incidents indicate is that secular India is becoming susceptible to the kind of regressive attitudes which are associated with countries like Saudi Arabia, where there is not only a General Presidency for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, but also a so-called religious police or Muttawwa, which roams the streets looking for and punishing violations of strict Islamic laws on the segregation of the sexes. Afghanistan under the Taliban, too, had a Ministry for Fostering Virtue and Preventing Vice.

If the saffron brotherhood has set up similar organizations in India to watch over unmarried Hindu girls, the reason is the same extremist mindset based on a warped interpretation of the mutual exclusivity of religious communities, driven by an intense animosity towards the other sects.

Since this attitude has the Sangh Parivar's covert support, evident from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's wish that the 'evil' of Muslim conspiracies shown in the banned CD should be widely disseminated, instances of attacks on Hindu-Muslim couples are likely to increase.

When the views of one such couple from Surat in Gujarat were aired over Rupert Murdoch's Star News television channel in Mumbai, the studio was attacked by a group, which called itself the Hindu Rashtriya Sena. By then, the boy and the girl had left the building and gone to the police on the advice of the television authorities since the girl was a minor.

The new outfit has obviously modeled itself on the better known Shiv Sena, which has earned a name for itself because of its acts of hooliganism such as digging up the cricket pitches meant for India-Pakistan games or targeting couples on the occasion of Valentine's day for acting in contravention of the Sena's definition of Indian culture.

The attack on the Star News office was followed by the burning of the effigies of film stars Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty after the Hollywood hero kissed the recent winner of the Big Brother reality show in Britain at an AIDS awareness function.

Again, the intolerance displayed by the Hindu groups (a lawyer has filed a petition in a Jaipur court against the two 'offenders' for hurting Hindu cultural sentiments) recalled the anger vented against a woman minister in Pakistan for embracing a male companion after a paragliding show in Europe.

There is little doubt that the BJP's relentless anti-Muslim, and also anti-Christian, campaign has bred an atmosphere of intolerance in India, which frequently erupts into violence directed against individuals with the police looking on as spectators, mainly in the BJP-ruled states.

While in the case of Christians, the focus of the Hindu extremists is usually on preventing suspected conversions, which led to the murderous assault on the missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa a few years ago, the propaganda against Muslims concentrates on their alleged links with terrorism, their preference for cow slaughter, and their suspected high rates of population growth, which threatens, according to the saffron outfits, to reduce Hindus to a minority in their 'only' country.

All these allegations, coupled with the charge that the Muslims are not sufficiently patriotic since they refuse to sing the Indian national song "Vande Mataram" (Hail to the Mother), as it includes references to Hindu idols, are continuously voiced by the BJP and other saffron groups, provoking a sense of animus against the minorities.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)
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