This week, hundreds of millions of people in India and around the world are celebrating Diwali, the festival of lights. But in the English city of Leicester, recent confrontations between young Hindus and Muslims have cast a huge shadow.
The violent disorder shook the peaceful image of the Midlands city known for its textile industry, its football team’s miraculous achievement and its large Indian diaspora.
The unrest has unsettled communities here, but this is not just about one English city. It is instead a story about how a pernicious brand of right-wing extremism originating in India is using the positive and peaceful ethos of Hinduism as a vehicle to spread hate speech and division.
Intent on pushing the interests of Hindus while throwing other religious groups from India under the bus, it is a supremacist ideology that courts the far-right while galvanising an army of online warriors to silence its critics and spread fear.
People will be familiar with Islamic extremism’s devastating global consequences, and the threat of far-right white racist groups in the US and Europe. Yet, under the guise of spreading peace and understanding, this insidious far-right Hindu ideology, known as “Hindutva”, has successfully spent decades embedding itself under the radar in India, the UK, Australia, the US and Canada.
Experts and community leaders told VICE World News that the rise of Hindu nationalism in India has led to the emboldening of Hindutva outside the motherland. With the help of a network of charities and influential public figures, it is a movement that is building links with other far-right groups and targeting Muslims and Sikh diaspora communities across the world with a toxic mix of propaganda and violence.
The first obviously outward sign that something was amiss in Leicester came when India beat Pakistan at cricket on the last weekend in August. Normally in this city, an India win sparks good-natured celebrations. Most of its Hindu and Muslim diaspora hail from India and support the team. Yet this time, crowds of young Hindus were caught on video chanting, “Pakistan murdabad” (death to Pakistan). Fighting between Hindus and Muslims ensued, with police making several arrests for drink-driving and weapon possession.
A few weeks later, on the 17th of September, a group of around 300 Hindu youths in masks and balaclavas marched into a largely Muslim area of the city shouting “Jai Shri Ram” (“hail Lord Ram”), a phrase praising a Hindu God which has been twisted into a war cry by extremist lynch mobs in India.
Around 200 Muslim youths responded by marching on the city’s Hindu area. Footage of a flag being ripped off a Hindu temple by one of the marchers went worldwide.
A flurry of fake stories on social media, including one about a Muslim girl being kidnapped, threatened to turn the tit-for-tat insults and attacks into a full-blown riot. Then the unrest spread to Birmingham. Leicester’s mayor Peter Soulsby described the social media buzzing around the unrest as “very, very, very distorting…some of it just completely lying”.
Police regained control, eventually making 55 arrests. Of the nine people so far charged six, including a 20 year old jailed for 10 months, are accused of possessing an offensive weapon, two of drink driving and one of threatening to kill. Those charged had a mix of Hindu and Muslim names. Mayor Soulsby has ordered an inquiry into the disorder and said he believes Hindutva ideology was partly to blame.
“Hindutva” (literally meaning “Hindu-ness”) was coined in the 1920s by VD Savarkar, a man considered to be the ideological father of the movement. He was active in student politics in the UK, and was arrested in London in 1910 on multiple charges, including procurement and distribution of arms, waging war against the state, and delivering seditious speeches. He wrote that to be a Hindu is to be violent, that Hindus have been effeminate for too long and that they need to be fierce, aggressive, and assertive.
Hindutva extremists believe that India, a secular country of 1.4 billion people made up of 80 percent Hindus and 14 percent Muslims, should be an exclusive Hindu nation state in which minorities must show obedience, or either be converted or removed.
The ideology says Hindus are more than just a religious group, they are a distinct and pure ethnic race, while Muslims are an inferior people who put Hindus under threat. Hindu nationalism, which is led by India’s upper castes, aims to maintain the country’s strict caste system, an ancient Hindu social hierarchy that strictly divides people in the subcontinent into four occupational communities, while ostracising those who fall outside of the system as "untouchables."
But Hindutva is not just an idea. It’s a movement armed with its own all-male, volunteer, paramilitary wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS was once modelled on the Nazis and banned in India three times in 1948, after one of its members assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, in 1975, and in 1992, after they destroyed a 400 year old mosque. Its mission statement criticises secularism in India and the “endless appeasement of Muslims”. It is a group that many believe has the primary aim of turning India into a country where Muslims are either treated as second class citizens, banned or removed.
This is no underground movement hiding in the shadows: Hindutva extremism operates from a position of political power.
Now five-million strong, the RSS has helped shape the school curriculum and national politics. India’s right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined RSS’ youth movement as an eight-year-old volunteer and was permanently inducted into the organisation in the late 1960s. He moved up the RSS ranks, eventually becoming chief organiser in Gujarat, an Indian state with a population of 62 million. In 1987, RSS assigned Modi to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), now India’s ruling party, which traces its roots to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the political wing of the RSS. He was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, the year of one of the deadliest instances of anti-Muslim violence in India. More than 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims, allegedly with the help of the RSS. As a result, Modi was banned from international travel to countries including the UK and US.
Since Modi’s election in 2014, right wing extremists in India have been linked to a steep rise in violence and discrimination including beatings and lynchings of Muslims and new citizenship laws restricting their rights. The ideology has even seeped into Bollywood, India’s film industry, where Muslim actors have been frozen out and Hindu nationalists have protested against depictions of Muslim-Hindu love. In 2020 a member of India’s ruling party called for a police investigation because a Netflix series, A Suitable Boy, showed a Hindu girl kissing a Muslim boy.
Earlier this month, multiple videos of Muslims in India being publicly flogged went viral. There was a video of a religious singer in saffron clothes making a frenzied call to war on Muslims to the 15,000 Hindus at a religious gathering in India. “Get the machetes used to cut open coconuts,” the singer Dharmendra Pandey’s voice booms in the viral clip. “Women are requested to sharpen your kitchen tongs. Modi ji will announce India to be a Hindu nation any day, and he would want his Hindu brothers to step out with weapons if they see rioting or terrorists. “Are you all ready?” Pandey asks, as thousands respond with a resounding “Yes.”
To many outside India, Pandey’s speech will sound incendiary. But for activists in India, these events are becoming alarmingly mainstream.
Pandey told VICE World News he fears that in India, Hindu identity and culture is under threat and that Muslims are going to somehow “overtake” the country’s nearly one billion Hindus. These extremists believe Muslims will dominate Hindus by converting, marrying and having children with them. “We have historically defended our religion with arms. I’m not affiliated to any Hindu nationalist group, but you can say I’m an unofficial foot soldier for Modi and our dream of a Hindu nation,” said Pandey.
Open calls like Pandey’s, rife with Islamophobia, Hindu supremacy and encouraging military-style preparedness, reflect a nationwide trend of escalating hate speech and disinformation. Islamophobic conspiracy theories around population control end up becoming stringent laws in India. There are regular reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Police in Delhi said they would investigate a rally organised by the Indian right wing organisation, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) where officials called for the boycott of Muslim-owned shops and the beheading of Muslims who attack Hindus. This week, at a VHP event in Manesar just outside Delhi, the Joint Secretary of the VHP, Surendra Jain, whose Twitter feed is an Islamophobe magnet, also called for a boycott of Muslim owned shops. He said Muslims wanted to “convert the whole nation” but that “this is a Hindu nation, and will remain a Hindu nation”.
When asked, Hindu nationalists, who were quick to emphasise the Hindu-ness of the UK’s first Asian Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, are careful to try and distance themselves from violence and hate speech. Alok Kumar, International President of VHP in India, an organisation with branches globally including in the UK and US, told VICE World News: “Hinduism accepts all religions, including Islam” and that VHP “accept secularism, which means people of all religions as citizens have equal rights”.
Yet, as was evident during the Leicester unrest, despite their declarations of equality, Hindu nationalist organisations appear to have a blinkered attitude when it comes to how Muslims and Hindus behave.
Days after the unrest in Leicester, VHP sent a letter to then-Prime Minister Liz Truss blaming the entire episode on “Islamic extremists and hoodlums”. It said that “by nature Hindus are a peaceful, law-abiding people”, while describing Islam as “an ideology of hate, aggression and violence”.
Kumar said: “Hindus have never been violent. A false picture has been created about the Hindus, and this has created Hinduphobia against the RSS, VHP and to a large extent, the BJP. The fear of Hindus is unwarranted and not real. The perpetrators are those with vested interest, which includes Islamic forces, Naxals [Maoists] and certain sections of Christians. I would say that causing fear of Hindus has become a fairly big problem for Hindus everywhere. This world is no longer running on the basis of truth, it’s all about perceptions. And we have to set these perceptions right.”
While Hindu-Muslim discord in South Asia goes back centuries, and was exacerbated by the British colonisers, today, Hindu nationalism has evolved into a cocktail of militant mobilisation, intensifying hate, and sophisticated forms of propaganda that demonises Muslims and other minorities. Right now, a group of Hindu scholars is writing a new constitution for “Hindu Rashtra”, or a Hindu nation, in which other religions will not be allowed to vote.
“India, for all practical purposes, has become a Hindu rashtra (nation),” said journalist Mohammad Ali, who won the Daniel Pearl Award for his reporting on Hindu nationalism in India. “You see this in the political disenfranchisement of Muslims, how the ruling party doesn’t have Muslim representations, and how dissent by Muslims is being criminalised. Hindu nationalism is the guiding factor to run the nation, and not the constitution,” Ali said.
In Leicester, the creep of Hindutva has been more subtle than in India, but it’s been noticed. Despite Leicester’s previous image of relative religious harmony, tension around people’s faith has been bubbling under for years.
Sharmen Rahman, a local Labour councillor in the city, said: “While these events in Leicester have been deeply shocking, there have been indications that this legitimisation of Islamophobia and denial of other minorities has been happening here for a while now.”
Shockat Adam Patel, who volunteers at MEND, a community group that fights Islamophobia, said: “As somebody who has lived in the city for over 45 years, there is certainly an undercurrent, a shift in attitudes between the Muslim and Hindu communities here. Since the rise of the BJP, we have seen a shift in attitude, and the calling of [Hindu] preachers to the UK who are openly hostile towards the Muslim community, to the levels of calling for the sterilisation of Muslim men.”
The situation is so alarming some in Leicester’s Hindu community have decided to put their heads above the parapet and speak out.
“I grew up in Leicester and I used to sometimes hear about the extreme views of the RSS, that India is only for Hindus, even though it's a secular country and it was far from what my parents stood for. They really didn't want anything to do with it,” said Rita Patel, a local Labour councillor who works with other women from across religions to build peace.
Patel said this right-wing extremist ideology is only held by “a minority of a minority of a minority” of Hindus in the UK.
“The vast majority of the Hindus that we live with are my best friends, my neighbours, members of my family,” said Labour councillor Ruma Ali. “They don't have these extreme views. They're just like me and you.”
But like all extremism Patel said it needs to be weeded out wherever it exists. “It blights us all. We have no space for this kind of rubbish.”
She said extremists may have had a direct hand in the trouble on September 17th. One man present as Hindus gathered before the march into the Muslim area told her people were exploited by a minority egging them on. “He said there were three or four young men riling up the others, telling them they should show the Muslims what they were made of.”
Patel said the recent street disorder tells a deeper story. “Young people going out on the streets is actually the thin end of the wedge. I think the real insidious stuff that we have to be scared about in the long run is how these ideas take root quietly, silently, and how they pervade society and people's perspectives. There is an element of young people being exploited by far-right, fascist ideas. Some of the youngsters have been fed this stuff through social media, and various people pushing this ideology.”
Dwindling resources for teenagers and young people in Leicester has created fertile ground for alienation, according to locals. “You've got lots of young people with very little opportunities,” said Rahman. “If you take away opportunity, you take away financial stability, and you take away hope, it means when you are confronted with an ideology such as the Hindutva stuff that’s coming over here, it’s more likely young people will cling onto it.”
A toxic online soup of hate speech and fake news came from all sides throughout the unrest in Leicester. But it was pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim posts, often using the hashtag #HindusUnderAttack and claiming “Hinduphobia”, that littered public discourse most. Journalists reporting from Leicester found themselves under a barrage of unfriendly fire, mainly from Hindu nationalists using the hashtag #HindusUnderAttack, accusing them of bias against Hindus. Anyone who refused to heap all the blame on Muslims was targeted online.
Religious hate crime data does not back up the notion, put forward by extremists, of rampant Hinduphobia in the UK. Between 2020 and 2021 there were 5,627 religious hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales. Just under half of these crimes, 2,703, were committed against Muslims, 1,288 against Jews, 521 against Christians and 166 were against Hindus. In Leicestershire, between 2019 and 2021, there were 246 religious hate crimes recorded against Muslims compared to 34 against Hindus.
Analysis found Leicester’s incendiary social media situation was actually being fueled from 4,000 miles away. Over half of the 200,000 tweets about the disturbances – and most of those which were divisive and inaccurate – came from Twitter accounts based in India, such as the thinly disguised Hindu nationalist propaganda site Opindia.
Opindia has been criticised by Stop Funding Hate for its anti-Muslim content, its attacks on journalists and its links with the RSS. Despite being nowhere near the action, Opindia’s editor in chief, Nupur Sharma, who describes herself as an “accidental journalist” and has 537,000 followers on Twitter, was quick to wade into the Leicester incident and blame Muslims, spread misinformation and attack the reporting of journalists on the ground.
Hindutva propaganda is a relentless online global machine that only becomes apparent when it’s scrutinised. In 2019 EU DisinfoLab revealed the existence of a huge network of fake local news sites set up purely to spread right wing, pro-Modi and anti-Pakistan misinformation. According to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation investigation, 265 of these sites in 65 countries were registered to the Delhi-based Srivastava Group, which caused controversy after inviting several right-wing members of the European Parliament to Kashmir in 2018.
Last year, VICE World News reported that BJP members were using Clubhouse and other social media forums to bully Muslims. Like white racists, their social media output shows an obsession with Muslim grooming gangs and the “fake news” left wing media. Hindu nationalists have appeared on the far-right Canadian channel Rebel Media.
The Hindutva movement does not only act like white-dominated far-right organisations, it also builds ties with them. During the Leicester unrest Hindutva propagandists and far-right white racists found themselves comrades in arms.
Far-right activist Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, Robinson posted a video while out walking his dog. On it, the founder of the English Defence League said he was trying to gather football fans to march to Leicester to protect Hindus, telling people it was an emergency because Muslims had been found with guns, which the police later said was a lie.
“Did you see what’s happening in Leicester with the Muslims? Hindus are under attack and I think the rest of the country needs to stand with them.”
Not long after, Sharma announced she had teamed up with Robinson to do an interview for Opindia because “it's time to call out the blatant Islamic violence in Leicester against Hindus and understand how this malaise came to be in the UK.” She later said she would defer releasing the interview due to fears Islamists would use it to attack Hindus in the UK.
The connection between Hindu nationalists and far-right groups in Britain and elsewhere “are abundantly clear in online spaces” with “online activists often reinforcing one another’s Islamophobic rhetoric”, said a professor based in the UK, an expert on Indian politics, who agreed to speak only if their identity was protected, for fear of reprisals from Hindutva’s online trolls, who have a vicious track record in targeting academics.
“You have those aligned with Hindu nationalism who would post their support for Trump, and dismiss Democratic politicians, and express their support for the Israeli state and Zionism, and criticism of Palestinians. Similarly, although perhaps to a lesser extent, you can see far-right online activists express their support for Hindu nationalist politics, especially in relation to Islamophobia. Often it’s a relatively small number of activists making an awful lot of noise.”
Despite these extremist views, far right Hindu activists are embedded and influential in British society, according to the professor.
“The tensions seen in Leicester recently, and the politics underpinning them, have not come out of thin air. There’s been an institutional presence of Hindu nationalism in the UK stretching back decades,” said the professor. They said the scale and confidence of Hindutva outside India has also grown considerably since the election of Modi in 2014 and his re-election in 2019.
“Many people might have been reticent or even secretive about their sympathy to Hindu nationalist ideology in the past, but this is much less the case now. It has spread more widely and been normalised in various ways. Groups have emerged, especially over the past decade or so, that might position themselves as more benign community groups and representative organisations, which are in fact intrinsically concerned with propagating a Hindu nationalist agenda.”
The charity Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the overseas wing of the RSS, has been established in the UK since 1966. There are HSS branches across the world. On its website the HSS aims to “promote spiritual development” and “love for the whole of humanity” “regardless of race, religion or creed”. Yet in 2002 an investigation by the British broadcaster Channel 4 found that HSS was helping Sewa International, a Hindu aid charity once praised by Prince Charles, to illegally fund RSS extremist violence in India, including the slaughter of Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
A report in 2004 found that despite Sewa’s claim to be a nonsectarian, non-religious, non-political and purely humanitarian organisation, the main purpose of fundraising carried out by Sewa with the help of the HSS “was to channel money to extremist RSS fronts in India”. The report said that while the British public thought it was donating money for humanitarian relief after the Orissa cyclone in 1999 and Gujarat earthquake in 2001, the money was actually going to RSS extremists.
The HSS, which has been praised by former Home Secretary Priti Patel, was also criticised by the Charity Commission after a speaker at a 2014 summer camp it organised was filmed telling children that Islam was “the world’s worst religion” and that the number of good Muslims "can be counted on fingers". Another group, the National Council of Hindu Temples UK invited Tommy Robinson to speak at a conference in 2016.
Hindu nationalists have developed close links with some UK politicians. Conservative MP Bob Blackman, executive secretary of the influential 1922 Committee and long time friend of Hindu nationalist groups, blamed Leicester’s violence solely on Hinduphobia and Muslims. In 2017 he was forced to defend himself after hosting extremist Hindu preacher Tapan Ghosh in parliament. Ghosh has praised the genocide of Rohinga Muslims, called on the UN to control the birth rate of Muslims and appeared in photos and videos alongside Tommy Robinson.
One of the claims of Hindutva organisations and its supporters is that “Hinduphobia”, rather than Islamophobia, is the real threat. It is their version of White Lives Matter. They say authorities ignore the plight of Hindus because they are not seen as worthy of sympathy as Muslims. Moreover, rather than Muslims being the targets of religious persecution, according to the Hindutva mindset, they are often the perpetrators.
Claims of Hinduphobia in India peaked this year in May, when a spokesperson for the BJP party, Nupur Sharma (a different person to the Opindia writer), claimed the Prophet Muhammad was a paedophile on a national TV debate. Along with angering India's Muslims, it also hit a raw nerve among India's key Muslim-majority nation trading partners across the world, who demanded India apologise. The BJP immediately fired Sharma, and said it didn't support hate speech.
Across India and its diaspora, support for Sharma among far right Hindu nationalists reached fever pitch. Anti-Hinduphobia protests under the banner of “Hindu Lives Matter” broke out. Some were led by the VHP. One of its gatherings featured slogans saying Muslims “have two places: Pakistan and the graveyard."
Unfortunately this extremist ideology is spreading across the globe.
In August, Indian Muslims living in the US were horrified to see a bulldozer, a symbol of Muslims being oppressed in India, at a Hindu parade in Edison, New Jersey. In India, bulldozers have been used to knock down homes of Muslims in response to unrest over anti Muslim remarks made by government officials.
“We hear news from India of bulldozers breaking Muslim activists homes and mob lynchings almost every day,” said Minhaj Khan, the former president of the New Jersey chapter of the Indian American Muslim Council. “The mindset and ideology of Hindutva is being rolled out here on this land, and it’s not right.”
After the incident, Khan, a father of four who’s lived in the US for more than 20 years, and other Indian-American Muslim activists met New Jersey’s governors team, legislators, mayors, and federal agencies. The organisers of the parade issued an apology and the incident was widely condemned by New Jersey officials.
A democratic committee in Teaneck, New Jersey even passed a strongly worded resolution calling out Hindutva groups. It said: “Hindu nationalist groups in the United States operate as tax-exempt organisations (Hindu American Foundation, Sewa International, Infinity Foundation, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, Vishva Hindu Parishad of America and many more) that have direct and indirect ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an Indian right wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation whose ideology are part of Nazism and European fascism.”
The Hindu American Foundation’s executive director Suhag Shukla responded to the resolution by calling the committee “Hinduphobic.” That’s also what her organisation called the US Representative Ilhan Omar after she tabled a resolution for American legislators to condemn human rights and religious freedom violations in India.
“When we see a bulldozer going through the streets of Edison, that is a sign every bit as blatant as a burning cross at a KKK rally. And it is designed to instil fear in the hearts of Indian Muslims and their families,” said Audrey Truschke, a South Asian history professor at Rutgers University who tracks Hindutva movements and is actively involved in raising awareness against them. She thinks the Edison bulldozer incident is a wake-up call for Americans to learn about Hindutva hate.
In America, academics raising the alarm on the spread of Hindutva have come under threat. Last year, Truschke was about to head on a 6-mile hike when she got a call from police in New Jersey. They said her university had received a dangerous phone call that they were investigating. “They threatened to kill me and 13 other Rutger professors.” Truschke is one of the most trolled and threatened South Asian academics in the U.S. She said 13 South Asian-descent academics had signed a letter supporting her earlier in the year. “I guess the call referred to them.”
She’s received multiple credible death threats in the last 18 months, one of which was traced by investigators to India. “When I decided to study pre-modern South Asia as I did more than 20 years ago, I had no idea this would lead to contact with the police. I have had extra security at my home. I often have armed protection when I speak publicly in the United States. It is pretty disconcerting to need someone with a gun to talk about your areas of scholarly expertise, yet that’s where we are at.”
American scholars, legislators and US authorities who call out Hindutva hate or discrimination are often branded “Hinduphobes,” and threatened with law suits. “Hundreds of academics face what I face. I face daily trolling. I get hate mail on a variety of social media platforms, both publicly and privately,” said Truschke. She said the trolling and hate mail is designed to wear her down, embarrass her, and dissuade other academics. “The message is clear. Speak up about Hindu nationalism and we’ll treat you like we treat Audrey Truschke. And I think that intimidation is relatively successful.”
In the reporting of this piece, multiple Hindutva experts refused or cancelled interviews with the VICE World News reporting team citing online trolling and threats. Last year, the North America-based South Asia Scholar Activist Collective created a troll survival guide called “Hindutva Harassment Field Manual.”
Truschke said Hindu nationalist groups have been mounting attacks on scholars and academic freedom for three decades roughly in the United States. During this time they have become embedded in American society.
More than a dozen US-based Hindu nationalist groups have assets worth close to $98 million, according to their tax fillings detailed in an anonymously authored report, due to fears over its editor being targeted, circulated widely by academics. “I am highly concerned about the spread of Hindutva in the West. In places like the US and the UK, Hindutva groups have operated with almost no oversight and total impunity,” said Truschke.
In America, Hindu nationalists have become involved in defending the Indian caste system outside of India. The Hindu American Foundation has sued the state of California for trying to protect marginalised Hindu castes from being discriminated against at work, threatened to sue universities for doing the same, and organised push back on how Hindu casteism is represented in school textbooks.
In the US, there are over 200 local HSS chapters in 166 cities, with an estimated 8,880 participants in its weekly youth and family programming, according to open tax records and its annual reports. In 2020, HSS was involved with 426 other organisations and impacted more than 45,000 families. On its US website, HSS says it is “inspired by a long lineage of Hindu movements in India, including the RSS, which have helped rejuvenate the society and take Hindu civilization forward.”
Hindu nationalism is also making waves over the border in Canada. In 2020, during the pandemic, some city councils in Canada allowed the Islamic call to prayer to be broadcast briefly each day during the month of Ramadan. While most people saw it as a sensible idea, there was also a wave of anger on social media about “Muslims taking over” from the far right, including some Hindus. When Ravi Hooda, who sat on a school board in Toronto and was a member of the local HSS branch, tweeted various insults, such as the idea would soon lead to all women being “dressed head to toe in tents”, he was criticised by the anti hate speech NGOs. This sparked a blizzard of tweets defending Hooda, mainly from Hindutva bot accounts in India.
In Toronto in June, Ron Banerjee, director of the Hindu Conference of Canada, called for the genocide of Muslims and Sikhs in a YouTube interview. “It is awesome what Modi is doing. I support the killing of Muslims and Sikhs in the Republic of India because they deserve to die.”
In Australia and New Zealand, the brunt of Hindu extremism is aimed at the Sikh community. Last year, Sikhs in Sydney expressed dismay about “online hate factories” run by Hindu extremists after Sikh students were attacked with bats and hammers.
In 2020, Vishal Jood, 25, a student from Hindu-majority northern India, in Australia to study management, was arrested by New South Wales police on a dozen charges over suspected hate crimes against Sikhs in suburban Sydney. Police linked him to a spree of anti-Sikh violence. “Attempts to undermine Australia’s social cohesion will not be tolerated,” Alex Hawke, then the minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs, said in a statement about Jood, who pleaded guilty to three charges, including violent assault, and spent six months in prison before being deported back to India.
Like Muslims, Sikhs, who make up under two percent of India’s population, have a history of persecution in India. The country saw a resurgence of this during the 2020-21 farmers’ protests, which overturned the Indian government’s controversial farm laws that many said were unconstitutional for putting poor farmers at the mercy of big businesses. A majority of the protesters were Sikhs, and several Hindu nationalist groups accused them of being separatists and terrorists for defying the Indian government. They were viciously clamped down on by the government.
For a convicted thug, Jood’s homecoming to India last October was a jarring contrast to his treatment by the Australian criminal justice system. Garlanded and feted, Jood was taken home in a celebratory rally. Indian news outlet Times of India reported that Jood’s state chief minister and local politicians had “lobbied hard” to get him home.
In April this year, 13 academics who were fellows at the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne, collectively resigned because they accused it of having too close links with the Indian government. “The tone or format of some events and activities on India have carried the flavour of propaganda, celebrating the current Indian government and its dominant culture and language, while overlooking or downplaying the current regime’s oppression and marginalisation of Indian minority, dissenting and critical viewpoints and identities,” said the letter.
In New Zealand, when Mohan Dutta, a Hindu professor at Massey University, expressed fears over the rise of Hindu nationalism in the country, his concerns were met with derision by the New Zealand Hindu Council and a deluge of abuse from Hindu extremists. Dutta approached the police about the online hate he was receiving, such as “If you were in India you would be burnt”, although police admitted there is little they can do as the worst abuse originated in India.
“In India, Hindutva is the political norm now,” said Truschke. “India is very close to being a one party system. It's arguably not even a democracy anymore. So Hindutva ideologues are so emboldened, it’s their utopia, and dystopia for everyone else over there.”