‘Hindu Lives Matter’ Emerges as Dangerous Slogan in India

The killing of a Hindu tailor by two Muslim men in Rajasthan, India has sparked chilling calls for revenge against the country’s already marginalized Muslim population.

Kanhaiya Lel’s horrific death, June 28, has intensified sectarian tensions which have been long supported by Hindu nationalist supporters Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Lal’s Muslim assailants recorded themselves slitting his throat, AP reported, quoting police. A second video of Lal’s attackers was then uploaded in which they accuse him of insulting Muhammad. Modi was also threatened. Lal appeared to have been targeted because he seemed to express support of derogatory remarks made about the Prophet by former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma in May, which sparked international condemnation as well as a demand from India’s Supreme Court that she apologize.

Instantaneously, the government reacted. The internet was temporarily blocked by government officials, and public gatherings were banned to stop religious unrest. Two men were then arrested for terrorism. The killing was swiftly condemned by Muslim politicians as well as Islamic preachers. Indian home minister Amit Shah tweeted that federal police would thoroughly investigate “the involvement of any organization and international links.”

On June 30, people pay respects to Kanhaiya, a Hindu tailor who was murdered by two Muslim men.

Sajjad Hussain/AFP—Getty Images

But in the days since, ‘Hindu Lives Matter’ has emerged as a rallying cry, particularly on social media, where the slogan took the form of a hashtag and was tweeted thousands of times. Pranitha Subhash, a South Indian actress posted an image on Instagram that featured the phrase. Political experts call that dangerous, risking the amplification of a heinous but isolated crime into an assertion of systemic violence against Hindus, who make up some 80% of India’s 1.2 billion people

“Just because two members of that community commit this type of crime you cannot paint the entire community with the same brush,” says Dhirendra Jha, a political journalist in India and author of Shadow Armies – Fringe Organizations & Foot Soldiers of Hindutva “This is not good for Indian democracy.”

Prior to Modi’s election in 2014, elected governments had taken greater care to emphasize India’s religious diversity—with Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other groups—as a virtue of its secular democracy. Modi’s policies, rhetoric and violence against Muslims (which make up about 14% of India’s population), have seen a dramatic increase in their number. Between May 2015 and December 2018, Human Rights Watch reported attacks on at least 44 people—36 of them Muslims—and many of them led by so-called cow protection groups that often have ties to right-wing Hindu groups. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government has bulldozed Muslim homes and businesses, propagated the “love jihad” conspiracy theory that Muslim men are trying to convert Hindu women to Islam, and chipped away at the political autonomy of India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir.

Learn More What a Rising Tide of Violence Against Muslims in India Says About Modi’s Second Term

“The thing with a message like Hindu Lives Matter, is that it has to be read within this broader infrastructure of messages that are calling for Muslim genocide,” says Mohan Dutta, professor at Massey University in New Zealand, who has researched anti-Muslim hate in India.

Dutta created a 2021 study about how Muslims experience Islamophobic content online. It found that, since Modi’s election victory in 2014 and 2019, “the hate on digital platforms in India and in the Indian diaspora has proliferated exponentially.”

“The content of digital hate driven by Hindutva,” the report notes, referring to an ideology promoting Hindu hegemony, “has been directed at India’s religious minorities, Muslims and Christians, as well as oppressed caste communities.”

Dutta believes that language mirroring is the best way to express oneself Black Lives MatterThe slogan is falsely implying that Hindus in India are being systematically oppressed. It has its roots in opposing racist structures. “It’s ironic that a majoritarian structure takes that hashtag to deploy hate towards India’s Muslim minority community, which has consistently been targeted by hate,” he says.

At a time in which Hindus were openly calling for the genocide and murder of Muslims, the slogan Hindu Lives Matter was born. Last year, a leading member of a right-wing Hindu political party said “”If 100 of us become soldiers and are prepared to kill 2 million (Muslims), then we will win…protect India, and make it a Hindu nation.” BJP’s Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath has frequently made violent remarks about Muslims, saying in 2017 “if they kill even one Hindu, we will kill 100.” “If you think about the various stages of genocide—from dehumanization to the actual calls for violence—what we are seeing right now in India, is that all of those stages are playing out,” Dutta says.

Angana Chatterji of the University of California Berkeley, is an academic who notes that although the Rajasthan murder was horrendous in its particulars, the context of Hindu nationalist violence targeting unarmed Muslims must also be taken into account. “Systemic violence by state institutions and Hindu vigilante groups against Muslims are bound to commence cycles of violence,” she says.

‘‘Hindu Lives Matter’ presumes those lives have been overlooked. Hindu lives have not been overlooked in a Hindu majoritarian state,” Chatterji says. “This is a revisionist fabrication of history and the present.”

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