Thank you for asking me to participate on this panel. I feel extremely honored to be here. As I told Hamzah, I am neither a scholar nor an academic. I also have not worked for think tanks, although I often participate in their events. For the past 12 years or so I have been a social activist which makes my language somewhat different from those who are researchers or professors. Almost everything I share anywhere is based on what I have personally lived through and which has made me what I am today. That gives me a very different vocabulary, one that is often more emotional and often quite angry. It would hardly pass as quantitative analysis, with advanced statistics having been the only course I ever flunked in graduate school. For me tragedy is much more individual,, and this is what I usually talk about. Salma has been on a couple of panels with me while I was talking about Kashmir and she probably remembers this very well.
You asked me to talk about Hindu Extremism and how it has promoted discord and conflicts in South Asia and affected countries such as Pakistan. I have been trying to wrap myself around this topic for the past two days because it is so very broad. But once again I decided the only way I can put it in some sort of context is by telling some of my own personal observations over the 16 plus years I lived and worked in India and then in Kashmir.
I moved to India shortly after 9/11. Right after the first bombing of Afghanistan to be more precise. I had opposed the War on Terror, and felt it was as good a time as any to say Good Bye to the US for good. I decided to move to India because I had been working there off and on for years and it was a familiar place, or so I thought.
Over the years the same impressions India has been creating about itself in the West had led me to believe that I was going to be safe ideologically from what was unfolding in many other parts of the world. I had fully bought the story of it being a secular democracy, based on Gandhian philosophy, and meaning no harm to anybody ever, neither friend nor foe. I of course knew very little about internal or regional conflicts at the time. I had also blissfully ignored some early signs of Hindutva mobilization amongst the Indian diaspora in the US, raising much money for the BJP. I also ignored having been told by an Indian trade delegation that a brochure we had printed for a US India trade council should not have the color green as its background and be changed to saffron, else we would not find doors open to us in India. Our graphic designer in the US had looked at the Indian flag and selected the color green. .
It was a huge shock for me upon arrival to find an India that had just dispatched all of its troops towards the border with Pakistan in the wake of the Parliament attack, and it looked as though the country was getting ready for war with its neighbor. Shrill, patriotic and war mongering frenzy was surrounding me everywhere and many were hoping India’s nuclear arsenal would finally teach Pakistan a lesson. It was impossible to overlook the communal undertones in the ranting and raving. Some journalists at the time were questioning the true intent behind the attack with a few suggesting privately that it may have been orchestrated by Indian agencies so India could formally join the War on Terror.
My next experience was travelling to Gujarat while finishing up a custom dispute I had worked on before I left the US. There I witnessed post genocidal conditions after communal riots had broken out and thousands were slaughtered by Hindutva zealots with Narendra Modi at the helm. It was very much the way I had always imagined the Kristallnacht in Germany which of course was the beginning of the Holocaust and the extermination of almost all of Europe’s Jews. Something Hindutva zealots and the RSS never tire to describe as “the Germans having had the right idea.” I don’t think many people witnessing the scenes in Gujarat have ever found the right words to describe all or any of it. It was simply too gruesome. I will never forget any of it. And to this day I will never be able to digest that one of the architects of the pogrom is the Prime Minister of a country that is now a strategic partner of the US.
This was also the first time that I felt this all-pervasive anger in the streets of India. The anger that gets suppressed for short periods of time but only to explode at the slightest of trigger, and more often than not ending in communal riots of one sort or another. I witnessed this anger day after day in the neighborhood I lived in, whether it was directed towards Dalits, Muslims, people from the Northeast, or even animals. Often the anger turned into rape, often committed by gangs of young men, and this is something most foreign and all Indian women fears whenever out at night or moving about in more deserted places.
Later while working on tribal issues in Assam, I saw how the RSS had spread out everywhere, pretending to be social workers while convincing some tribals, who were mostly Animists or Buddhists, that they had actually been Hindus all along and had to return to their religious roots before being able to benefit from developmental schemes. That is also when I first saw demographic change systematically planned and implemented by the Indian State and its agencies. In predominantly tribal areas where Schedule 6 of the Constitution had guaranteed tribal autonomy, Nepalis who had served in the Indian Army and their families were resettled in huge numbers so the districts would no longer meet the demographic thresholds to be considered tribal majority. Of course throughout Assam and other parts of the Northeast religious hatred towards Muslims was constantly being stirred up, with all Muslims being portrayed as illegals from Bangladesh, and most recently leading to the segregation of Muslims and others considered foreigners in concentration camps built for those not able to prove their citizenship. Sadly when protests broke out in Assam over the new citizenship laws, making it possible for undocumented non-Muslims to remain in Assam and other parts of India while only Muslims cannot, the protesters were not demanding a role back of the discriminatory law, but wanted it to be even more stringent and cover all groups and not only Muslims. Meanwhile Hindutva zealots, the RSS, and religious hatred increasingly reign supreme in a state that used to be proud of its own language, unique culture and diversity. Obviously neighboring countries like Myanmar and Southwestern China have not been unaffected by the communal frenzy. In fact. India is one of very few countries never having criticized Myanmar for its treatment of the Rohingya and instead having begun persecuting as possible terrorists those who had escaped the violence and settled as refuges in places like Jammu.
Deeply disturbed by the true nature of the Hindu state in so many different parts of India, I had grown much disenchanted with the country before even moving to Kashmir. There of course I lived through ten years of absolute terror committed on the people by the Indian state, a communalized army, and the military occupation. Most of you know about the atrocities being committed there because they have now been relatively well documented, and because Pakistan has been speaking about the human rights violations at every possible forum for years. I could talk for several days about what I witnessed personally, and some of the people I knew who have been killed or tortured. All of it has been going on for decades, but for much of the past having raged as more of a political than a religious dispute.
The nature of the dispute changed completely when the BJP under Modi came to power both in Delhi and in IIOJK in 2014. All over sudden the rhetoric everywhere had changed and the lives of Kashmir Muslims were no longer worth preserving. And this is an important point to make. With Modi assuming power, it was not only a government having changed. It was an entire nation becoming fueled by lethal Hindu majoritarian aspirations, almost from one day to the next. It was the ordinary people, like it had been ordinary people in Gujarat, who were now baying for the blood of Kashmiris. It was everywhere, on television, in print editorials, and in the behavior of troops on the streets of Kashmir. Pakistan was no longer just a troubled neighbor but a place that needed to be defeated once and for all, so that the true Bharat spanning every nook and corner of the entire subcontinent could be restored. Kashmiris were attacked throughout India, Muslims were lynched at the mere suspicion of having slaughtered a cow, Hindutva terrorists were released from prison with some being elected to Parliament. It felt like a Saffron tidal wave. Jammu which had already become radicalized and heavily dominated by the RSS since the uprisings of 2008 was now able to openly organize Hindutva flag marches through neighborhoods with Muslim populations. The marchers were fully armed with swords and trishuls. And of course the history books were being rewritten, describing the Valley of Kashmir as the original abode of Hindus with Muslims being nothing but an aberration. When a small Muslim nomad girl was abducted and brutally gang raped before being killed, much of the country thought it was a lie and an attempt to smear Hindus of Jammu. Nothing has happened to the killers.
All of it finally culminated in the illegal annexation of Kashmir by India in August of 2019 and the abrogation of articles that had guaranteed a measure of autonomy for the Kashmiris, and more importantly some protections for their religious and ethnic identities. Now we are witnessing the implementation of new land laws aimed to accelerate ethnic flooding by Hindus and more than likely resulting in Muslims of the region becoming a minority. This of course had already been successfully done once by the Maharaja in Jammu in 1947 when his troops and Hindu fanatics slaughtered up to two hundred thousand of Jammu Muslims and driving out just as many, making it a Hindu majority region. Today it will be done through administrative action instead of slaughter.
With all of this happening how can Pakistan, a legal stakeholder in the Kashmir dispute, be unaffected and remain uninvolved? Similarly, after unilaterally altering the entire region by turning a former state into Union Territories, China has already reacted militarily to protect its interests and territory from an expansionist India that feels no longer bound by any bilateral agreements. Moreover, night after night, Indian channels debate the need for India to take over Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, both of which India claims as its own territory. And the Hindu nation is cheering on a government that promises that it will conquer what belongs to India at the earliest, with defense analysts and generals saying the army is merely waiting for the orders.
And now comes the detailed dossier prepared by Pakistan and proving India’s sponsorship of terrorist activities inside its country. Anybody having lived in India and especially Kashmir and following the aims and activities of Indian agencies throughout the region would never ever doubt any of what has been presented in the report. After years of watching what Indian agencies are capable of in Kashmir and then blaming it all on its neighbor in its neverending propaganda war against Pakistan, there is no doubt in my mind that all of it and much more is the absolute truth. Just as an example I personally came to know about the Indian Territorial Army recruiting local boys in Kashmir for the purposes of exfiltrating them from Northern Kashmir into Azad Kashmir to later bring them back as “Pakistani infiltrators” for the purposes of convincing the world of continued state sponsored terror by Pakistan committed in Kashmir.
Lastly, closely watching RAW’s increasingly supporting RSS and anti-Pakistan linked think tanks and advocacy groups throughout the West, one is only beginning to understand the challenge India’s hybrid war represents on every level and the need to strike back where it counts. I personally hope that the accusations will be presented to all international bodies that matter so that India can stand exposed for what it is and not what it persistently tries to project about itself.
I could go on, and of course most of this is known to everybody on the panel and everybody listening in. I have gone into such detail because I feel the writing has been on the wall for so many years, and what the Modi government has been implementing is just the culmination of everything that had been happening for so many years before and in so many different places. Hindutva was always there from the very beginning. What is new is the close marriage of Hindutva Extremism with intelligence agencies and both acting in tandem to create havoc throughout the region. And at the root of it is both a majoritarian and an expansionist philosophy envisioning a South Asia dominated by India and more specifically Hindus. It is a fictional historical claim not dissimilar to that of the Nazis who spoke of creating a Lebensraum for the German race, or the Zionists who use the bible as the moral justifications for expansion of territory. And nobody seems to care enough again.
With all this in mind, I feel the time for trying to strike a balance while speaking about regional tensions is gone. In fact it seems unconscionable to me when South Asia Departments in Washington are trying to do that. There is a right and a wrong, and one has to choose. Watching what is happening in India silently or without intervening is criminally enabling, regardless of what may be happening in the South China Sea.
I urge IPRI and others to keep compiling facts and figures for all of us to use wherever we can to present the correct narratives about India to the world. Too much of the history of the region wass written by the occupying power and those drunk on Hindutva supremacy fantasies. It needs to be exposed and stopped now.