Santa Claus was set on fire this Christmas. Before being consumed by flames, he was attacked, hit by sticks, his beard pulled. As they beat him, they kept chanting, "Santa Claus Muradabad" ("Down with Santa").
This time, the mob in Agra, hometown to the Taj Mahal, burnt an effigy. But the temperature of hate against non-Hindu minorities is rising in India. Next time, it won't be an effigy that's lynched and burnt.
The mob proudly identified itself as the "Bajrang Dal," a militant affiliate of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, the mothership of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party. Its members acted on a toxic combination of ignorance, a desperation for the television gaze and the knowledge that attacking minorities in Modi’s India - both Muslims and Christians - has zero consequences.
As vengeful sectarian is emboldened ever further, India’s tiny Christian minority, just 2.3 percent of the population of an overwhelmingly (79.8 percent) Hindu country join its 200 million Muslims as the target of the majoritarian mob baying for the creation of a Hindu Rashtra (exclusivist theocratic Hindu nation) dreamt up by the RSS to replace constitutional democracy in India.
On Christmas Day, goons disrupted services in Haryana, a tiny state bordering Delhi. They stopped the prayers and forced the Christians to chant "Jai Shree Ram," ("Victory to Lord Ram") their war cry, which is now a shorthand for majoritarian bullying and was once an innocuous greeting in Northern India. The police in the BJP-ruled state looked the other way, not even bothering to lodge a complaint.
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Following Christmas Day prayers, vandals smashed up a statue of Jesus at a historic church in the same state. Three days before, a church was vandalized in Karnataka’s Chikkaballapur.
Days before, a Hindu religious congregation made up of saffron-wearing extremists made chilling calls for Muslim genocide in Haridwar, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. The genocide calls were recorded on video, and those making them could be plainly identified.
"Every Hindu" was exhorted to pick up weapons to "protect" their religion from Muslims. "There is no more time…there’s no other way…there’s no solution apart from" getting ready to kill them, the speakers declared.
"Nothing is possible without weapons. If you want to eliminate their population then kill them. Be ready to kill and be ready to go to jail. Even if 100 of us are ready to kill 20 lakhs [two million] of them [Muslims], then we will be victorious, and go to jail," one of the speakers said, adding she was prepared to be "maligned" like Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, but would still "pick up arms to defend my Hindutva from every demon who is a threat to my religion."
The hatemongers made a hair-raising comparison between 'culling' Muslims as part of a "cleanliness drive," drawing a parallel with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swach bharat abhiyan, his "Clean India" campaign. They praised the ethnic cleansing model used by Myanmar against the Rohingya.
At a Hindutva rally in New Delhi, whose footage went viral at the same time as the Haridwar hate fest, attendees raised their arms in a straight arm salute and swore an oath that "Till our last breath, we shall fight, die for and if need be, kill, to make this country a Hindu Rashtra, a Hindu-only nation." At both meetings, the parallels with Nazi Germany were unmistakable.
One attendee commented defiantly after the footage had spread over social media: "No one can stop India from becoming a Hindu Rashtra."
Even worse, the politics of hate have become so mainstream in India now that for two days not a single leader of the opposition condemned the calls for genocide which had already gone viral on WhatsApp; finally, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted a condemnation. The police reluctantly registered a complaint which failed to name a single person despite all the extremists being identifiable.
This is the same India where a Muslim comedian was jailed for a joke he didn’t even tell. The police claimed that he could have told a joke which would be offensive to Hindus.
The RSS makes no secret of the fact that Muslims, whom it blames for the partition of India in 1947, should be second-class citizens with no claims to the public square. And they celebrate Modi for propagating their views.
Extremists valorize him for the 2002 riots in Gujarat where 1000 Muslims died in riots under his watch as the state’s governor. Ever since Modi took office as prime minister, Muslims have been lynched for possessing beef, their traditional occupations of leather and butchery criminalized and public prayers disrupted.
Hindutva extremists have stopped and disrupted Friday public prayers in Gurugram, a city adjoining Delhi which is ruled by the BJP, for months. They have forced Muslims out of administration-mandated designated prayer sites by chanting Hindu religious slogans and spreading cow manure on the ground. The police, present in large numbers, look the other way; not a single formal complaint has been registered.
Hindutva terror is not recognized in India and, as Modi sets the benchmark for the treatment of minorities, other political parties are all falling in line with the majoritarian project. In an increasingly radicalized India, no political party seriously contests the ideas of Hindutva, unwilling to take the BJP pushback painting them all as "minority appeasers" and "anti-nationals," i.e. fifth columnists.
The Hindu Rashtra is already here in India: only the burial rites of the Constitution, which promises equality to all citizens, have to be conducted. Modi is the high priest of the Hindu Rashtra: he repeatedly puts his faith on public display, scrapping the norms that preserve premiers as heads of a secular republic. Recently he invited cameras inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Kashi Vishwanath temple in the ancient city of Varanasi, in his constituency, and televised his prayers.
Hindutva makes much of Hindu historical grievances and promotes a feeling of victimhood in the overwhelming Hindu majority. In the speech Modi made at the temple, he produced an attack line that drew on a highly demagogic and revisionist take on events more than 300 years ago. He attacked the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and said for every (Muslim) "invader" Aurangzeb, India had also produced a (Hindu) "savior," Shivaji, who fought Aurangzeb.
Modi’s conflation with Shivaji was crystal clear, as was his challenge: With all of India’s history being reframed as binary contest between Hindus and Muslims, choose sides. There was never and will never be coexistence, no middle ground.
After seven years of attacks on Muslims, the RSS has now added a new enemy to the lexicon of grievance: Christians.
Christians are in the extremists’ gun sights on the basis of the allegation that they induce poor Indians to convert for a bag of rice ("rice bag Christians" is a pejorative favored by right-wing trolls). BJP-ruled Karnataka, where Christians make up less than two percent of the population but suffered the third largest number of anti-Christian hate crimes in India, the state assembly passed a "freedom of religion" bill, universally known as the "anti-conversion bill."
It mandates imprisonment of three to five years and a fine of 25,000 rupees in the case of a "forced conversion," whose definition is vague. There are specific punishments for converting a minor, woman or a member of the lowest Hindu castes or instances of mass conversion. A contentious survey of churches ordered by a legislative committee before the law was passed was called off for lack of evidence of any forced conversions.
According to the Indian Constitution citizens have the freedom to "profess, practice and propagate" any religion. But during seven years of Modi, eight BJP-ruled states have passed these discriminatory laws, with the lead unsurprisingly taken by Uttar Pradesh, governed by the monk Yogi Adityanath, popularly seen as Modi’s political heir and who has a weighty record of hate speech against Muslims.
As the Hindu Rashtra progresses apace, calls for genocide no longer shock. It is business as usual. Indian democracy is disintegrating, and it’s time for the world to wake up and respond, before it is lost, irretrievably, and at an inconceivable cost.
Swati Chaturvedi is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist. She regularly contributes investigative stories and analysis to NDTV.com and Gulf News, and is a frequent political commentator on television. She is the author of "I am a Troll: Inside the BJP’s Secret Digital Army" (2016). Twitter: @bainjal