Writer and activist Amrit Wilson talks to Counterfire’s Shabbir Lakha about the BJP’s violence and the growing protest movement against the Hindu supremacists
We've seen a rise in human rights abuses and ethnic violence in India in recent years. Could you give us an idea of what's happening, and why you are organising the demonstration on 15 August?
India is regarded by many people in this country as a place of peace and tranquility, and there is on the whole an unquestioning acceptance of the notion that India is quirky perhaps, but still the world's largest democracy. The reality is very different. The current BJP regime is a fascistic Hindu-supremacist government. Over the last two years there have been a series of horrific attacks on Muslims, Christians and Dalits, often under the pretext that they have consumed or stored beef, transported cows or that they are involved in inter-religious relationships (which are branded as ‘Love Jihad’) or inter-caste relationships. They have taken the form of lynching, stripping, flogging and burning to death, and they are being carried out by Hindu supremacist gangs close to the government.
These attacks are happening all over India but particularly in the states across India where the BJP is in power, in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and even in the outskirts of Delhi. Alongside this there has been a rise in rapes and violence against women, targetting of organised workers and silencing of those who dissent. There is also massive resistance and our demonstration is about showing solidarity with that resistance and also about demanding justice for those who have been killed and their bereaved families.
Many have pointed to India's Prime Minister for this. What do you think?
Narendra Modi is well known for having presided over the genocidal attacks on Muslims in Gujarat in which 2,000 were killed and over 200,000 were displaced.Modi's politics havenot changed and cannot change. He is a lifelong member of a fascist organisation the RSS, the parent body of the BJP, which is modelled on Mussolini's Black shirts and whose leaders saw Hitler’s treatment of the Jews as a model to be emulated.
The RSS now dictates policies to the central and state governments, including, as in Israel, a complete rewrite of history books to glorify Hindu nationalism and vilify all Muslims, including the Mughal emperors. RSS members are increasingly given key positions in government. Recently the BJP was boasting about the new President being a Dalit. Not only was he a token Dalit but he was a long serving member of the RSS who had never spoken out about Dalit issues.
Meanwhile the retiring Vice-President, Hamid Ansari, has been attacked in highly Islamophobic terms by Modi for daring to suggest that Muslims felt increasingly insecure in India. In Uttar Pradesh one of India's largest and most important states, the man appointed as Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath has a record of hate speech and several criminal cases pending against him. He is known to have said that he 'will not stop' till he turns 'UP and India into a Hindu state'. Since he became Chief Minister, Hindu supremacist gangs which include a violent youth organisation founded by Yogi himself have been burning Dalit homes and attacking and killing Muslims.
All this is happening against a background of extreme inequality. Last Friday there were reports that at least 63 children had died because of a shortage of oxygen in the previous five days in the state-run hospital in Yogi Adityanath's own constituency. Children are continuing to die because of the absence of facilities in hospitals for the poor. Yogi has tried to justify the recent deaths, saying it is ‘normal’ for children to die in August. Meanwhile, the Modi government and its captive media is focussing on whether or not pupils in Muslim schools will recite Hindu nationalist slogans for Independence Day, and have outrageously called the children’s deaths a ‘distraction’ from these ‘real’ issues! The people are responding with a powerful left-led movement demanding Yogi's resignation.
What other kinds of resistance have there been to the BJP government?
The resistance is coming from all sections of society. Students protests have been raging for more than a year, sparked by the death in Hyderabad University of a Dalit student Rohith Vemula. Vemula committed suicide unable to bear the relentless persecution by the 'upper-caste' university authorities. At the same time there have been unprecedented protest marches by Dalits, often in alliance with Muslims.
In the last month there have been huge protests by ordinary people against mob lynching, which for many of us in Britain bring back memories of the Iraq war demonstrations, both in terms of their numbers as well the fact that they are under the banner #NotInMyName. The bereaved families whose members have been brutally killed are resisting too, with remarkable courage and resilience. In Jharkhand, for example, the wife of Asghar Ali a man dragged out of his car by a Hindu supremacist mob and burnt to death has refused to accept his body till the killers were brought to justice.
In November all India's trade unions (excluding that affiliated to the ruling BJP), representing hundreds of millions of workers, are planning nationwide protests culminating in a blockade of parliament. Shortly afterwards peasant organisations across the country are also planning an indefinite sit-in at the Parliament to protest the corporatisation of agriculture which has led to an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. And right now in the week running up to Independence Day on 15th August, protests are rocking India, against the Modi regime and its crushing of basic democratic rights - even the right to life!
South Asia Solidarity Group which I belong to, together with a number of British Dalit organisations and other groups is protesting in solidarity with these struggles in India. We will be marching under the banner 'Resist the Republic of Fear, March against Mob Lynching'. We will carry posters with the faces of some of the many lynched and murdered by the Hindu supremacist mobs.
What has been the Indian government's response to these protests in the UK and are the Hindu supremacist groups active in the diaspora?
There has been an attempt to brand protesters as anti-nationals, this is done routinely in India and also to those who protest in solidarity outside India. Our response is that it is the government which is trying to divide the Indian nation in terms of religion and caste. As for diasporic groups in Britain the Hindu Right is well established here. It sends substantial funds back to its parent organisations in India and it is supported by a number of MPs, Tories like Treasury minister Priti Patel who has been effusive in her praise and admiration for the RSS and Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East. Blackman is trying his best to prevent the implementation of a law against caste discrimination (which is rife in the diaspora) along with the Hindu Right groups who are trying to block because they say it will bring Hinduism into disrepute. Any criticism of the current Indian government or Modi is being portrayed by the Hindu Right organisations as anti-Indian.
In the run-up to the General Election, for example, the National Council of Hindu Temples (UK)was eulogising Theresa May because, among other things, she had visited the Swaminarayan temple and met representatives of overseas wing of the RSS and other Hindu Right bodies like the Hindu Forum of Great Britain. They were then asking voters to choose between the wonderful May and Corbyn who 'snubbed PM Modiji's Parliamentary address' and who supports thecaste legislation.
What can the Indian diaspora and people in Britain do to offer solidarity?
People should realise that what is happening in India is the rise of full-fledged fascism and a politics which has its roots in colonial divide and rule policies on the one hand, and is embedded in neoliberalism on the other. This nuclear armed fascist state, a close ally of the Trump administration, and of Israel, is responsible for daily killings, not only in Kashmir (where there has been a spate of horrific blindings of children and adults by the Indian army) but all over India. This is not an issue for the diaspora alone. It must be confronted by all progressive people, through solidarity protests, by supporting the caste law in Britain, by making sure the Labour Party takes a strong stand against human rights violations in India and by opposing Britain’s arms trade with India. This is a regime which is trying to create an ethnically cleansed state. We must make this a major political issue in Britain and internationally, campaigning wherever we can to expose the BJP's Hindu supremacist regime.
Join the demonstration on 15 August, 7pm at Tavistock Square.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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