While India’s Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Britain to sign a free trade deal, activist Amrit Wilson says the BJP government is stoking communal and sexual violence against women, Muslims, and Dalits
BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton. India’s far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi traveled to London this week to meet with top UK officials. Modi met with conservative prime minister Theresa May, and the two are pursuing a free trade deal that could bring British and Indian corporations billions of dollars. As soon as he arrived, however, protesters in the UK flooded the streets, condemning the Modi government and its ruling party, the BJP, for stoking violence against women, Muslims, and Dalits, or lower caste people. Specifically, many protesters condemned the Indian government for refusing to take action over a horrific case in the village of Kathua in the state of Jammun in Kashmir. An 8-year-old Muslim girl named Asifa Bano was kidnapped, held in a Hindu temple, drugged, and then gang raped and murdered. Several men have been accused of the attack, including a police officer.
Joining us to discuss the protests against Modi in London is Amrit Wilson. Amrit is a writer and activist. She is a founding member of the South Asia Solidarity group, which helped organize the protests, and she’s the author of several books. Thanks for joining us.
AMRIT WILSON: Thank you, Ben.
BEN NORTON: Of course. So can you speak, let’s just begin here talking about the protests. You’re a member of the South Asia Solidarity group which helped organize the demonstrations. Why did you all go out to protest Modi?
AMRIT WILSON: Well, people in London and Britain generally were, particularly people in the diaspora, were extremely angry at what’s happening in India. There is, there is a myth which has been propagated by the BJP that all diasporic Indians are pro-Modi, they’re pro-Hindutva, and they’re pro- the BJP, and we just wanted to show that this wasn’t the case. So we ‘ ve been planning these protests as soon as we knew he was going to come. And then the news of the Asifa case, of course, broke, and people felt, really, that this was intolerable. A huge number of people joined us from the diaspora and other countries of South Asia, as well.
BEN NORTON: And then can you speak more about the Asifa case? I mean, this hasn’t gotten a lot of attention here in the Western media, but this is a really horrific case, and unfortunately it’s not isolated, either. There have been similar instances of violence, particularly against Muslims and women in India.
AMRIT WILSON: Yes. I mean, rape culture is endemic in India, anyway. But this is something new, because you have the perpetrators are members of the ruling party, and after the rape, after these murders, they are then celebrated by ministers and other leaders of the BJP. So this is something entirely new, and it’s very important to see it in this way, because it’s like saying that some people really are not part of the nation. Some people simply do not have any rights. Some people can be killed. And this is an extension of what’s been going on since M odi took power. In fact, in the years before that when he BJP was becoming powerful it had started, but it got much worse after 2014, when Modi came to power.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, and for context for listeners. For the past four years since, as Amrit mentioned the 2014 election, India has been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP, which is extremely right wing. And Prime Minister Modi and the party follow, they’re Hindu nationalists who follow an ideology known as Hindutva. And under this pro – Hindutva government communal violence and sectarian violence have skyrocketed, and extremist pro-Hindutva groups, specifically the RSS, which is a paramilitary that’s linked to the BJP, and other groups have launched attacks against Muslims, Dalits, women. So can you speak about the state of accelerating communal and sectarian violence and tension in India? And how do you see this play out in the diaspora as well, Amrit?
AMRIT WILSON: Well, India has really become, what we in our organization have called it, it’s a republic of fear, because mob lynching is extremely common. There have been so many cases of Muslims being attacked on the pretext that they have eaten beef, or they have slaughtered cows. And sometimes, of course, no pretext is needed, simply because they’re Muslims. There was a case of a 15-year-old boy who was traveling on a train to do some shopping for at a Muslim festival, and he was set upon and brutally murdered on the train, and then left on a platform. You know, his body was left. And nobody had the courage to go and see what had happened to him.
So these appalling incidents have been happening in India. There is another case more recently of a man called Afrazul Khan, who was a migrant worker in Rajasthan. He was killed, he was attacked with an axe and killed, and his body was burned. And the most, one of the appalling things, was that this is all videoed by a 14-year-old boy who was the nephew of the murderer. And once it went onto the internet, it was being celebrated by Modi supporters, some of whom actually are followed by Modi on Twitter. So this is the kind of atmosphere which is ongoing in India.
BEN NORTON: Exactly. And we actually saw, in the case of Asifa Bano, this young girl in Jammun in Kashmir who was murdered, we saw that two ministers from the BJP, the ruling party, in fact attended protests that were rallied in support of the accused rapists and killers. Can you speak about this as well?
AMRIT WILSON: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there was the Hindutva march, which is the right-wing Hindu outfit, pro-Modi outfit. They organized this protest. And the two ministers came out, and one of them said that the fact that the accused had been arrested showed this was a [inaudible], as he called it, and this should not have happened, and that people should go all out to stop this prosecution. And in fact, even after the first protest, he called another protest. So there’s total lawlessness apart from anything else, and BJP supporters and leaders can do exactly what they want to do.
And as the Asifa case surfaced, we also find out that another case, in a place called Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, which is one of the large states in north-central India, which is ruled by the chief minister, a man called Yogya-.
BEN NORTON: Yogya Adityanath.
AMRIT WILSON: Right. He is the most notorious hate preachers which [inaudible] has. You know, this, in the Unnao case, a BJP leader raped a teenager, and the police took no action whatsoever. When the family put pressure on the police, and so on, the man came, and her father was beaten up so viciously that, you know, he was, he should have been taken to hospital. In fact, he was locked up in a police cell, and he died.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, and what a lot of Americans, unfortunately many don’t follow the politics in India, what they don’t realize is that Uttar Pradesh is the size of Brazil. This is an enormous state. Of course, India itself has 1.3 billion people. And it’s being ruled by, as you mentioned, Yogya Adityanath, who is a very extreme Hindu nationalist, who has repeatedly called for Muslims to be killed if they have even touched Hindu women. He has actually stoked a lot of communal violence and is involved with Hindutva paramilitary groups.
So finally, we have to conclude this part here. But I think what this is all, is interesting. What’s interesting is that this all largely relates not just to communal violence, but also it’s largely patriarchal and gendered violence. We mentioned the case of Asifa, and you have mentioned the case of Muslim men who have been accused of so-called ‘love jihad.’ So frequently it’s about controlling women, controlling their bodies, and and imposing violence in order to maintain that kind of domination. I know you’ve written a lot about, you know, the legacy of British colonialism, which was brutal and genocidal, and also the legacy of patriarchy that still continues today, throughout the world, of course. It’s not unique to India. But can you talk about the intersection of these forms of violence?
AMRIT WILSON: Absolutely. I think colonialism had its own form of repressive, repression and masculinity, which came out of white masculinity. What we see in Hindutva is also a form of masculinity which is, which is truly vicious in a sense that it’s anti-Muslim, it’s connected up with the Hindu nation, and that means that Hindu men are urged to be aggressive. And in fact, one of the icons of Hindutva, a man called [inaudible], has written that Hindu men must rape Muslim women, and if they do not do so it’s suicidal for the Hindu nation.
So this idea of masculinity and the nation are completely tied up, and it also reflects on the kind of aggresive stand which India is now taking as a country towards other countries in the region.
BEN NORTON: Well, unfortunately we’ll have to wrap it up here. But please join us for Part 2 of our discussion. Amrit and I will be discussing how the notion that the BJP is this kind of fascist party is true, in certain elements. Absolutely in how it stokes this sectarian and communal violence. But also what the BJP does is combine neoliberalism with its fascistic ideology. So please join us for Part 2. Thanks so much for joining us.
AMRIT WILSON: Thank you. Yes, great.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for the Real News, I’m Ben Norton.