Theresa May and Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit, 2016. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Theresa May and Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit, 2016. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Over a thousand people protested outside Downing Street last week as India’s Prime Minister Modi visited Theresa May, Amrit Wilson explains why

As Indian prime minister Narendra Modi lands in the UK, the details of two horrific rape cases in India have emerged. Huge protests are rocking India and in London angry people of Indian origin are taking to the streets to protest against Modi’s policies.

It would be wrong however to see these cases as simply part of the violence against women which has been endemic in India. In Kathua, in Jammu and Kashmir state, an eight-year-old Muslim girl was abducted, drugged and brutally gang-raped and murdered in a Hindu temple by a group of men. According to the charge sheet of those arrested, it was planned and executed in order to terrorise the nomadic Muslim Bakarwal community to which she belonged and drive them out of the region. The attempt to lodge the charge sheet against the accused at a local court was followed by violent protests in their defence by a pro-Modi Hindu rightwing outfit, the Hindu Ekta Manch. Two BJP ministers attended the protests and urged the crowd to obstruct the prosecution of the accused.

In Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, where the chief minister is the BJP’s notorious preacher Yogi Adityanath, who has a record of hate speech, a 16-year-old girl was raped. Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a BJP member of the legislative assembly, has been arrested. When, after almost a year of inaction by the police, the family protested,the girl’s father was brutally assaulted by Sengar’s supporters, the family say, then he was arrested and died in custody.

In the face of mass protests Modi finally broke his silence over these events. He condemned the “incidents” and promised justice to “daughters” – although refusing to use the word “rape” – but has failed to recognise the culpability of his own supporters. The reason is clear: as feminist lawyer Vrinda Grover points out, “the Hindutva hate brigade is the BJP’s core constituency”. It is Hindutva, the ideology of the BJP and of the family of rightwing Hindu organisations it belongs to, which is today attempting to profoundly transform India into a monolithic Hindu nation from which minorities and dissidents are forcibly excluded.

The preachers of Hindutva, who are feted not punished, are responsible for an epidemic of brutal mob-lynchings of Muslims. Sometimes they are justified on the pretext that the victims have consumed beef or slaughtered cows. Sometimes simply being a Muslim is enough to invite violence. 15-year old Junaid, for example, was beaten to death on a train when out for Eid shopping. Afrazul Khan, a migrant worker, was killed with an axe and his body burned while a 14-year-old filmed the horrific scene.

At the same time the BJP has actively promoted the supremacy of upper castes and attacks on Dalits, who are still largely confined to poorly paid, dangerous and stigmatised menial occupations including manual scavenging. Most recently the government has attempted to dilute existing legislation supposed to protect Dalits from atrocities. In protests that followed, nine people were killed and thousands arrested. Targeted violence against Dalit activists continues.

Meanwhile there has been a series of assassinations of dissenters, among them the courageous feminist journalist Gauri Lankesh who was shot as she returned home from work in Bangalore in September last year.

These developments are not a matter of uncontrollable religious hatred but a systematic move towards a fascistic Hindu state, led by a modern neoliberal party, which has its share of billionaires and hedge fund managers.

The writings of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the revered icon of the Hindu right make Hindutva ideology and the notion of a Hindu nation crystal clear. In the context of rape, for example, he writes that the rape of Muslim women is justifiable and that not to do so when the occasion permits is not virtuous or chivalrous, but cowardly.

Such writings legitimised the rapes and murders of Muslim women in Gujarat in 2002, and the recent Kathua child-rape case. As feminist academic Tanika Sarkar wrote about Gujarat, “the pattern of cruelty suggests three things: One that a women’s body was a site of almost inexhaustible violence, with infinitely plural and innovative forms of torture. Second, their sexual and reproductive organs were attacked with a special savagery. Third, their children born and unborn shared the attacks and were killed before their eyes.”  

As Modi arrives in London alongside his supporters, he will be greeted by thousands of protesters from the Indian diaspora. As the South Asia Solidarity Group, one of the key organisers, reminds us that “India is turning into a republic of fear but people across India are resisting this courageously. Their voices need to be heard – we are protesting here to support them, and to give Modi the message loud and clear that he is not welcome.”