The Hate that Threatens to Destroy Indian Democracy
Media channels that work as agents of hate
MASSEY UNIVERSITY, NEW ZEALAND: I am tired of writing about the politics of hate in India after each incident of violence. Each iteration of the systemic deployment of hate greatly exceeds the grotesque violations of the previous iterations.
Each account I write, of how an overarching climate of hate materialises into violent attacks on minorities and activists critical of the state, seems to repeat the same message – that a fascist state built on the logics of Hindutva enables a culture of violence.
Such accounts seem to speak to an audience already committed to a secular imaginary of India upheld by the Constitution and alarmed at the recent transformations of India at the hands of Hindutva forces.
The other audience, the one that hurls at critics labels meant to be insulting – from ‘Muslim lover’ to ‘Pakistani agent’ to ‘anti-national’ – has already foreclosed any opportunity for dialogue.
For this audience, hatred of the ‘other’ based on a politics of exclusion forms the basis of everyday existence. Consumed by hate, this segment of the population is bent on its ideology of converting India into a Hindutva state. This audience, once at the fringes of India, is growing, captured by the twin tools of violence and fear, deployed through a 24x7 propaganda machine.
On one hand, this propaganda machine seeds and circulates the ‘threat of the other’. On the other hand, it incites violence as a necessary response. This Hindutva-vadi audience drives its ratings, worked up in fear and anger.
Almost missing from this conversation are the large numbers of Indians who are I believe still decent, who value Indian democracy, and who prefer silence. I hope amid commemorations of the independence of the republic this essay will speak to you, the decent Indian, the one that bears the hope for Indian democracy.
In your silence, the forces of hate find meaning. The absence of your voice gives room to the voices of hate, legitimising them, assuring them that their Hindutva ideology has found its footing, for the large-scale conversion of India into a Hindu state.
From lynchings of Muslims and lower-caste Hindus to the murder of activists, Hindutva terror finds its anchor in the silence of your voices of decency.
The attack on student-activist Umar Khalid in front of the Constitution Club in the heart of Delhi’s highly securitised power alleys by a gun-wielding miscreant, who then disappeared into the crowd ought to wake you up from your silence. Khalid was joining other activists at an event titled ‘Freedom from Fear’.
That this attack follows the murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh and of the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, M.M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare at Hindutva terrorists’ hands ought to wake you from your stupor. That Hindutva terror forces have been circulating the names of critical voices to be targeted for assassination ought to rally you to action.
You ought to wake up for your own sake, for without your voices, these forces of destruction threaten the very idea of the republic and all that it holds sacred.
Organised violence has long been a systemic strategy of the Hindutva fringes. The attack on Umar Khalid reiterates the tropes of violence seeded in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, the Gujarat pogrom, the Muzaffarnagar riots, the murders of rationalist thinkers, and the series of mob lynchings of Muslims and lower-caste Hindus catalysed across India.
These acts of violence are threaded together with this overarching message, that difference will be categorically targeted and erased.
Through the deployment of violence, Hindutva forces seek to consolidate their total control over thought and feelings. To think differently is to invite violence, is the message. To feel differently from the Hindutva agenda is to invite the deployment of violence. Violence works as a tool of erasure, lent legitimacy by the structures of the state.
When the arms of the state publicly legitimise criminals involved in lynchings and murders, they legitimise the violence itself, and send the message that difference will be targeted through violence.
These celebrations of reactionary Hindutva forces in mainstream platforms, spaces, and infrastructures are key instruments in the politics of violence.
Violence is intertwined with fear.
First, the seeding of fear justifies violence as a response. The image of the anti-national, who is the threat to the Hindutva nation-state, animates a violent response from patriots. If you love the nation, saturated with the imageries of the Hindu mother, you rise to the call to protect the mother nation.
Second, the use of violence produces fear in those who differ from the forces deploying violence. For instance, the mob lynchings of supposed cow traffickers are a message to India’s largest minority, Muslims. Targeted attacks by Hindutva forces on critics of the state and on rationalists are meant to cultivate fear in anyone critical of the state.
The ineffectiveness of the legislature and the judiciary in holding the perpetrators to account lends further credence to the instruments of violence. If you are a critic of the Hindutva forces, you learn the message that the state is not going to offer you protection from these forces of violence.
The state-sponsored structures of violence strategically deploy the media to carry out their propaganda functions.
Media outlets such as Republic TV and Times Now are dressed up as news outlets while serving as instruments of propaganda. Manufacturing and dressing up lies as facts, these channels actively serve up the agenda of hatred. With specific campaign objectives that seem pre-determined by the Hindutva forces in some instances and emerge organically in other instances, the channels run stories driven toward spreading the culture of hatred.
The manufacturing of the anti-national other is achieved through the media talk shows, with their hashtags, staged debates, and anxiety-saturated frenzied performances based on manufactured lies.
These manufactured lies are then fed through Facebook and Twitter armies to render viral messages of hate based on disinformation.
The mechanics of propaganda works the other way too. Manufactured social media posts based on disinformation are recycled and lent the semblance of news on the propaganda channels.
The attack on Umar Khalid started with a staged hate campaign spearheaded by Arnab Goswami on Times Now. The manufacturing of information about an event held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University served to paint Khalid as an anti-national, replete with a hashtag trial, and picked up by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s hate channels.
A widespread climate of hate that continually uses violence and fear in this way undermines the very fabric of democracy.
Hindutva forces use tools of terror to continually target minorities and assert their own hegemony.
They target critical voices, simultaneously increasing the intensity and scope of the attacks. Bent on reworking a nation onto the politics of hate, the Hindutva forces in their hearts threaten the very ideas of Indian democracy.
The essential ideas of difference, pluralism, argumentation and debate that form the anchors of Indian democracy are threatened by the Hindutva forces of terror that categorically deploy fear and violence.
What can you do?
Now is not the time to be a-political.
Now is not the time for your silence.
The democracy needs your voice.
Your voice that speaks up each time you witness an incident of hate. Your voice that counters the disinformation you see being circulated. Your voice that invites reason when you witness the polarising tropes of hate. Your voice that demands that Hindutva terrorists and their sponsors be held accountable, both inside and outside the structures of the state.
The idea of India as the largest democracy needs its citizens to stand up for that which is decent.
(Mohan J. Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication and Director, Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research & Evaluation (CARE), Te Pou Aro Korero: School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing, Te Kunenga ki Purehuroha : Massey University)