- But history has taught us that this moral decline will pass. Just maybe not in my lifetime.
This article is about the funk that I have been experiencing for the last few years, more so, the last few months – it is like a roiling and rolling ache caused by the happenings in the land of my birth. Or more precisely, because of Modi and Yogi Adityanath’s India. It’s about India that I do not recognize and India that is hurtling full throttle towards self-destruction of its moral fiber. I do not know if Modi’s India will survive the country’s well-earned moral standing on the world stage, but I do know that history will not be kind to those who are supporting the BJP regime and its vapid and toxic rewriting of India’s secularism and its history.
I was remarking to my mother on the phone the other day that what we are witnessing in India, and indeed many parts of the world in terms of the rising right-wing extremism is but a churning of civilization that every few decades or a century rattles the complacency of its peoples. Unfortunately for us, this recent turning of the wheels comes not even a century later, after World War II. We are witnessing the same macabre dance of nationalism vs the otherness, xenophobia, and religious superiority over ethnic minorities that characterized Hitler’s Germany. Modi’s India is a case study on this front.
The news about Bilkis Bano turned this dull ache again and reinforced it with a sharp stab of guilt and anxiety. Guilt because I am here, far away, and can’t do or influence anything happening in India. And anxiety because I am Indian, and I worry about its future and its march towards totalitarianism. Democracy has become a farce in my view – when a majority elects a leader or a party based on religion and its propaganda. How can that be called democratic?
It is ironic that on the 76th anniversary of India’s Independence, 11 men who were given life sentences for the brutal gang rape of Bilkis Bano as well as the murders of 7 members of her family during the infamous Gujarat riots of 2002 were released from jail under a remission policy. They were greeted with a public display of jubilation and celebrated like soldiers returning from the frontlines by right-wing groups.
The butchering of Muslims in Gujarat was heinous, especially because it was state-sponsored. Bilkis was only 21, and five months pregnant, when her Hindu neighbors raped and assaulted her and other Muslims, including her mother, and murdered several others. It took her years to even get the police to lodge a complaint. She faced death threats and moved homes numerous times. Finally, at the intervention of India’s highest court, she got justice, and 11 men were convicted. That is, until now.
Let us also not forget that Bilkis is but one among the countless other Muslim men and women who are getting the wrong end of the judicial stick. I recently read a Twitter feed that 26 Muslims have been booked by police in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh for offering namaz in a house. They are not allowed to offer namaz outside, not in the malls, not at railway stations, and now, not even in their own homes. Where is India going with this? As if beef ban was not enough, now there is the lynching of Muslims allegedly because of beef eating and the ‘love jihad’ – the news coming out of India is endless gloom.
The civil uprising over the draconian Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) of a couple of years back was a refreshing sign of hope as were the sit-ins by farmers and students. But I know that Modi will prevail in the next general elections as well — not because he has brought “Achche Din” (better days) to India, but because the majority community in India is silent and silence is always the worst form of complicity. Silence means you are aiding and abetting a small minority of Hindus by not speaking up, not challenging your government and by accepting the propaganda that is fed to you via state-controlled media. With India’s richest billionaire Adani’s hostile takeover of the only professional cable news left – the NDTV — it’s just a matter of time before Modi turns it into another Putin media. Under him, oligarchs like Shah, Adani and Ambanis will be the only power centers in India.
My faith in India’s secularism was shaken long before I came to the U.S. It started with the demolition of the Babri Masjid. And as I am writing this, I am also recalling the barbaric and heinous riots in Bhagalpur, Meerut, Banaras and countless other cities and the Bombay blasts post-Babri demolition. Successive governments at the center and in the states were impacted by this – including Uttar Pradesh where I was born decades ago in Varanasi – yes, the city now represented in Parliament by the Supremo Uno. And I want to note the notorious Muslim leadership at the time – Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Abdullah Bukhari and Syed Shahabuddin — who did not help the situation with their toxic rhetoric as well as inaction.
A brief look back at these tumultuous years starting with the demolition of Babri Masjid in the early 1990s, up until Modi’s second term win at the center, the biggest winners have been the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and their political wing, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party. The biggest losers? Not the Congress Party or any other political party. Instead, it has been the moral decline of India’s large middle class (mostly Hindus) which suddenly realized its power to make or break governments. And its belief in its ability to usher in a Hindu Rashtra. For that, the BJP needed to keep stoking its fear of Indian Muslims, the very group that the Hindu majority harbored a secret hatred since partition, if not before. I am generalizing here of course — not all Hindus deplore Muslims and vice versa.
I will be honest — I first heard of Narendra Modi after the Godhra riots. Before that, as a journalist whose primary focus had been on arts and culture and human-interest feature stories, I made sure to understand the political scenes, but not enough to follow the rise of a Gujarati within political circles, who was married but called himself a brahmachari. But after the Godhra riots and the subsequent actions and inactions of his government in Gujarat, the world took notice – the U.S. and other countries even imposed travel bans on him. But the majority of Hindus in India noticed and embraced him in elections in 2014 and again in 2019. That seemingly penniless brahmachari now dons million-dollar suits, uses a luxury fleet of aircrafts and engages in non-stop public relations campaigns where he is applauded for his strict regimen of doing yoga and eating “satvik” food, his oratory, his penchant for hugging world leaders, and his green-lighting the atrocities on Muslims via anti-Muslim legislations.
I read somewhere that the political motivations underlying the Gujarat government’s decision to free the convicted rapists are political: the state goes to the polls again in December. And nothing works better than stirring communal hatred. This is another Pulwama for Modi and the Gujarat government. Meanwhile, those who have shown some spine against Modi and his government by speaking out have been and are being suppressed under draconian Laws. Journalist and social activist Teesta Setalvad and former Gujarat Director of Police R.B. Sreekumar remain in judicial custody by an order by the Supreme Court, which said they wanted “to keep the pot boiling for ulterior design” in connection with the Gujarat riots cases. I shudder to think what else will happen after the general elections in 2024.
Of course, my fellow community members in the U.S. continue to mirror their Indian counterparts in maintaining this silence, and in some cases actively supporting Modi’s agenda. Remember Sadhvi Ritambhara? The fiery and extremist who excelled at thundering her virulent hatred against Muslims and Christians at rallies across the country, especially before and after the Babri Masjid demolition. Guess what? She will soon be visiting the U.S. again, thanks to the HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) as a speaker for a series of satsangs and pravachans in various American cities, including Atlanta.
She has always had a willing audience among expat Indians. Her speeches have been described as “the single most powerful instrument of whipping up anti-Muslim violence” in India. Her organization Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of VHP has openly incited and participated in violence against Muslims and Christians. In 1992, during the runup to the Babri Masjid demolition, her speeches calling for a Hindu war against Muslims were made into audio tapes and sold heavily. And she has willing listeners here in the U.S. – who will applaud her rhetoric, while silently waiting for “achche din” to arrive in India.
Kuhu Singh lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities. Bidding adieu to journalism a decade ago, she nonetheless loves to write and express her very strong opinions on social media and blogs and sometimes in a few Indian publications. She is a Senior Digital Marketing Manager for a broadcast retail company. Race relations, diversity, and social issues fascinate and roil her into action. She volunteers her time with certain political organizations and community organizations.