The Violent Toll of Hindu Nationalism in India


Source: The New Yorker


On April 1, 2017, Irshad Khan, a slight twenty-six-year-old with glossy black hair and the faint shadow of a beard and mustache, helped his eighteen-year-old brother, Arif, and their father, Pehlu, load two cows into the bed of their white Mahindra pickup truck. The Khans were heading from a cattle market in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, to their village of Jaishingpur, a four-hour drive away. Muslims and lower-caste Hindus, or Dalits, live side by side in the village, harvesting mustard from fields of yellow flowers. The village, home to six hundred people, is relatively well-off, and has grown more prosperous, as Delhi has mushroomed into a megacity of twenty-seven million and the price of land surrounding the city has skyrocketed. Some Muslim families in the village, including the Khans, are wealthy traders who transport goods like sand and vegetables to the cities around Delhi.

That afternoon, Irshad climbed into the truck alongside his father and brother. Cows are sacred to Hindus but Irshad had made this trip dozens of times since he was a boy. He’d heard rumors of potential trouble for Muslims at roadside checkpoints, where members of a militant Hindu youth group called the Bajrang Dal were intimidating Muslim traders in the name of protecting cows. Still, Irshad wasn’t nervous. “We had no fear at all,” he told me recently. “We were coming from a government-organized fair, and buying and selling cows is a legal business.”

The militant Hindu nationalism that the group espouses is not new. Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Gandhi, on January 30, 1948, was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or R.S.S., a violent right-wing organization that promotes Hindu supremacy. Members of the Bajrang Dal are the movement’s foot soldiers, deployed in instances of mob violence or for targeted attacks against Muslims and other religious minorities. Founded in 1984, the group was part of a movement to destroy the Babri Masjid, a sixteenth-century mosque located in Ayodhya, India, which was built by the emperor Babur. (The mosque was ultimately demolished during a violent R.S.S. rally in 1992.) Since its early days, the group has formed some twenty-five-hundred cells across the country. I first reported on these cells, called akhadas, in 2005, in Dharavi, Mumbai, Asia’s largest slum, where, in the name of protecting cows, the militants recruited impoverished Hindu boys to their violent cause. Paul Richard Brass, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Washington, has called the Bajrang Dal “a somewhat pathetic but nevertheless dangerous version of the Nazi S.A.”—or the Brownshirts, the Nazi Party’s first paramilitary organization.

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