Here are some mainstream words that describe real attitudes that perpetrate discrimination, suffering, abuse, and sometimes death, on innocent people for no fault of their own: Misogyny. Racism. Xenophobia. Homophobia. Misanthropy. Islamophobia. Casteism.
Now here are some made-up words describing fictitious concepts created in the service of a larger made-up world: Jabberwock (a monster made up by Lewis Carroll in the world beyond the looking-glass). Quidditch (a game made up by J K Rowling, played by the witches and wizards at Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter series). Hinduphobia (anti-Hindu bigotry made up by right wing Hindu ideologues to justify a Hindu rashtra).
Those first real words name attitudes marinated in a virulent trifecta of fear, hatred/prejudice, and contempt. They come from active revulsion towards a particular community, and the individuals in it. The term ‘Hinduphobia’, on the other hand, is a facsimile of such an attitude. It is the charge of such emotion, made from such emotion. It is a word looking for a target, handy for demonising critics. As far as I can tell, the concept of Hinduphobia was forged out of the Hindu Right’s suspicion that everyone is a) openly or secretly sneering at Hindus for the specific reason that they are Hindus and b) oppressing Hindus out of this contempt and bigotry. The Hindu Right has decided to label its own insecurity as someone else’s bigotry.
The idea of anti-Hindu sentiment, a niche school of thought before the 2014 general election campaign, is now an engine of the Hindu Right’s cry of aggrievement. It’s a useful double-edged sword, both a potent emotional binder for insecure Hindus seeking more social and political power, and a way of creating opponents against whom this Hindu nation can unite.
Are you reporting crimes committed by self-styled godmen? You’re Hinduphobic. Do you think that smashing Brahminical patriarchy’ is a worthy cause? You hate Hindus. Do you oppose the idea of a Hindu rashtra replacing India’s secular republic? You’re a Hindu-hating antinational. Are you dismayed by the hate speech and communal speech of various BJP leaders whipping up religious violence? Are you not falling in line at the sound of the phrase ‘Hindu sentiments’? You’re an anti-Hindu bigot. You’re a Chrislamocommie (note: also not a thing) disguised as a fake Hindu. Do you find the present BJP leadership to be a global embarrassment? You’re ashamed of Hinduism.
Talk about tilting at windmills. Talk about straw man arguments.
The charge of Hinduphobia holds that people who criticise the fundamental Hindu right wing, do so not because they oppose its sociopolitical positions and ramifications, but because they abhor the Hindu religion and Hindu individuals. It is applied indiscriminately to anyone who offers a critique of social inequity such as caste, which happens to be part of Hindu tradition. It is applied to those who offer a political critique, such as of a Hindu rashtra, which happens to be a goal of the Hindu Right. The fact that these critics oppose any other stripe of theocratic, majoritarian state structure, and inequitable social structures, in favour of a secular, pluralist notion of India, is virtually erased.
Online, it is now an almost knee-jerk reflex to paint a critic of the Hindu Right as a ‘rice bag convert’ (or ‘Communist’ or ‘Muslim-lover’ or ‘Italian slave’ or ‘Westernised elite’) wolf in Hindu sheep’s clothing. It is common to paint a distaste for militant assertions of religious and social dominance as a ‘hatred of Hindu symbols and values and traditions’. In other words it is easier to accuse people of hate and dismiss them entirely, than to admit that they have a point and engage with their arguments.
Hate is having a moment globally, emboldened by a sense of community easily created online. It is having a moment by sticking horns and fangs on reason, science, secularism, social equality and pluralism, and turning them into Frankensteins that can be marketed as a threat. It is having a moment by distracting people from far greater threats—to their livelihoods, to their health, to their quality of life, to their personal freedoms—towards balloons dressed up as monsters, at whom it is satisfying to throw darts.
It takes two to play the game, of course. The conceit of ‘Hinduphobia’ as a threat to the survival of Hinduism (eyeroll) can only work if enough of those charged participate, equally reflexively, in it—if only by trying to prove their innocence. The Congress Party is currently tying itself up in knots trying to out-Hindu everyone else, to absolve itself of the charge of being not just anti-Hindu but pro-Muslim.
Sometimes it’s better to take a little burn than to sacrifice your identity. It is possible to be so busy retreating from a flame at your feet that you forget that you’re backing into a whacking huge blaze.