Even though it was recently unmasked and forced to apologise, NPR has had Hinduphobic views for quite some time.
National Public Radio, a well-regarded public broadcaster in the United States, has found itself in the news for controversial reasons. Last week, a producer for NPR in India who is also credited or partially credited with several reports on India, Kashmir and “Hindu Nationalism” tweeted a highly intolerant and contemptuous message against Hindus. This message has been painful for Hindus for two reasons (well, the fact that I have to spell it out since many readers likely don’t even get that anymore might make it reason number three).
One, this perception of Hinduism as a contemptible culture and Hindus as sub-human whose only redemption is to convert out of their religion has been a heavy one in our past; we retain memories of our ancestors and sacred lands that fell to armies driven by such ideologies, whether in the name of Islam, Christianity, or a more somewhat secularised “civilising mission.” Two, this particular tweet comes not as an aberration from the current discourse on Hindus in Western (and parts of the Anglophone South Asian) media, but simply as a slightly uglier form of it.
It is this second concern that I wish to expand upon in this article through a close study of NPR’s “Hindu” coverage this year. I do so because it is my view that the denial and polarisation around the question of Hinduphobia has reached alarming levels, with monstrous dehumanisation at work in the minds, hearts and works of people who perhaps would not be that dehumanising, cold, cruel, racist or religious-supremacist otherwise, nor against most other people. It is my hope that the evidence I present in this case will persuade those who believe that this matter is closed and done with since the person in question has apologised and has reportedly resigned as well. NPR has not really responded to the community’s concerns beyond passing the blame to the individual producer. I believe that NPR needs to look objectively and professionally at the nature of the systemic bias, bigotry, and mediocrity in its recent India coverage with regard to its treatment of Hindus and/or “Hindu Nationalism.” I have expressed my desire to meet and help NPR with its training programs for avoiding Hinduphobia to its Public Editor.
The Rationale, Sample and Method
My goal in this analysis is to objectively lay out what NPR’s coverage of Hindus and Hinduism looks like when seen closely and systematically. I do so first of all because of a larger lack of research on this topic in media studies, South Asian studies, and Asian American studies. Scholars have examined the depictions of South Asians in US media (Shilpa Dave and Bhumi Thakur, for example), and activist-artists like Hari Kondabolu have also addressed issues of racism in pop culture around Brown, South Asian and Indian identity.
However, neither the fabulous documentary ‘The Problem With Apu’, nor various critical academic studies of media representation of South Asians have engaged with the question of how Hinduism is depicted within that broader “South Asian” framework, much less with the growing concern from the Hindu community and some scholars about Hinduphobia (the Apu documentary, and the dozens of reviews about it, studiously avoid mentioning the “H” word even though Apu’s character is depicted quite explicitly as Hindu in the series). I believe that the reason for this gap is a deep-rooted colonial-orientalist legacy in South Asian studies that views the term “Hindu” primarily as a dominance-construct like “Whiteness,” rather than as a postcolonial, subaltern identity considering the term “Hindus” include women, men, children, elders of various class, caste, and national backgrounds too; all of whom come from a history of being colonised, and othered, by colonial and postcolonial discourses too.
I believe that the trite excuse that “Hindus” are a majority in India or a successful model-minority in America (and everyone does Yoga anyway so what’s the problem), is a sign of intellectual mediocrity and laziness, and must be set aside. While one can always debate the question of what exactly Hinduphobia is, we must at least begin our study and conversation in earnest. (Note: For a useful position paper on Hinduphobia I refer readers to Professor Jeffery Long’s article which carefully separates what might be reasonable criticism of Hinduism or Hindu Nationalism from totalising destructive prescriptions which if expressed for any other human group today would be instantly recognised as bigotry and hate speech. I believe that there is such a tendency at work in some positions in the discourse today, and it is best described, following the growing acceptance in civil society and academia of the terms Homophobia and Islamophobia, as Hinduphobia).
For the sake of addressing the question of NPR’s coverage, I have examined all the articles that appeared with search term “Hindu” from January 1, 2019 to September 15, 2019 (I have also written about broader issues in the discourse of Hinduphobia from colonial times here, and examined some case-studies such as US media coverage of Indian elections, here, and the New York Times’s coverage of the Pulwama suicide bombing that killed over 40 Indians here). I examined each article for its relevance first, and eliminated a few hits that did not seem significant for study here (such as results about the “Hindukush” mountains). I looked at widely used indicators for studies of bias and representation such as labelling, headlines, use of sources, subjects used in photographs, and for widely recognised colonial-racist-orientalist tropes as discussed in the media studies literature such as Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s Unthinking Eurocentrism).
My goal is to simply understand if there is a diversity of representations around the word Hindu, and what sort of a story broadly speaking, is being driven about Hindus and Hinduism by NPR? Are Hindus depicted as whole human beings with agency, voice, desire, dignity and history, most of all; or as monolithic, stereotyped, de-individualised characters lacking a past, memory, or human’s right to justice and hope? Are they presented in a variety of positions, or largely as criminals and violent actors? Are their grievances and pains recorded, or is that part suppressed or erased? Does NPR’s discourse on Hindus, in other words, look like the coloniser’s fantasies of the 19th century when Europe sought to “civilise” the other, or is it closer to modern, professional journalism as befits a world where universal human rights are recognised and practiced?
Admittedly, these are broad questions, but I share them since I teach media studies and believe that a better media will make for a better world. For now, and to help us get there, I share my findings along four broad themes: a) The normalisation of “Hindu Nationalism” as the dominant message around Hindu lives today b) The normalisation of sloganistic, unexamined, and sometimes inaccurate definitions of the term Hindu Nationalism c) The criminalisation and demonisation of Hindus and Hinduism broadly, leading up to d) The dehumanisation of Hindus, the silencing of anti-Hindu violence, and the normalization most importantly of cultural, political, and possibly existential genocide of Hindus.
Hindus and “Hindu Nationalism”
|Total Number of Articles with “Hindu” references||73|
|Articles with “Hindu Nationalism” and related references
(“Right Wing,” Hindutva, Extremist and so on)
Table 1. Hindus and “Hindu Nationalism”
Forty-five of 73 articles, that is about 62% of articles on Hindus in the last year had something to do with what is often called “Hindu Nationalism.” It may be the case that this large proportion had something to do with the intense coverage of India during an election year (they even had a whole series titled “Faith and Power”), but my sense (which I will corroborate with further study) is that it is perhaps not an aberration given the widespread use of “Hindu Nationalism” as a framing-device and master-concept in media commentary and academic discourses these days. While I examine these articles more closely below, it is important to point out that the remaining 28 articles that did not explicitly mention “Hindu Nationalism” are not exactly all about neutral or positive topics either. An article on sewage in Mumbai comes up in this list (how it showed up in a “Hindu” search is somewhat surprising, but filth is a common colonial trope nonetheless).
Another somewhat surprising result for a “Hindu” search is an article on a viral video about potholes in India (the first result in fact, from September 15), though in this case it seems to have been due to a reference to “Yamraj, the Hindu god of death.” There are also more seriously disturbing news stories about crime and death in which Hinduism or Hindus feature, which I address shortly.
What is also interesting is some of the cases in which “Hindu” stories appear in Western contexts. While some of these are routine mentions of the word “Hindu” in the context of interviews or stories on Western artists, the word “Hindu” also occurs in other contexts that raise questions about appropriateness and appropriation. A report on Pop Culture Happy Hour dated 3/8/2019 on American Gods talks about “Mama-ji, a Hindu war-goddess.” While this may be a reference to another production and not an editorial judgment by NPR’s staff, the question does remain as to how “Hindu” references by non-Hindus, even fantastic concoctions of non-existent cultural forms, get normalized in US discourses while Hindu viewpoints are ignored.
One of the few cases where a proud, devout Hindu voice is represented (though the phrase “Devout Hindu” is also demonized as I show later) is a June 28 report on Stonewall which quotes Manvendra Singh Gohil as saying: “As a Hindu, Stonewall is a place of worship for me.” Otherwise, we don’t seem to see Hindus proud or happy about anything, much less Hindus standing up for civil rights, freedom, or anything decent at all (and two movie reviews about Hindus and Muslims falling in love with each other, maybe that counts too).
The first key issue I explore below though is the much-used phrase “Hindu Nationalism.”
How is Hindu Nationalism Explained?
|Date||Story||Author||How HN is explained/illustrated|
|9/01/2019||Indian science congress speakers say Newton was wrong, ancient demon king had planes (Goats and Soda)||Kamala Thiagarajan||RSS believes in propagating Hindutva as a nationalist movement. The term refers to the effort to establish a Hindu way of life and glorifying Hindu beliefs.|
|20/1/2019||Welcome to the world’s largest gathering of humans (Goats and Soda)||Lauren Frayer, Furkan Khan||State and central government are governed by Hindu Nationalists;
Hindu Nationalists renamed the city to refer to area of land where Kumbh takes place; Many pilgrims are part of Modi’s Hindu Nationalist voter base
|21/1/2019||Analysis: How the rise of the far-right threatens democracy worldwide (Business)||Pallavi Gogoi||Hindu Nationalist party.. pursued laws that hurt the minority Mulsim population. Party declared that eating beef is against idea of India.|
|11/4/2019||Polls open in the world’s largest democracy: Fun facts on India’s election||Lauren Frayer, Furkan Khan||BJP is a Hindu Nationalist party.. brought majority Hindu faith into politics & public life in unprecedented ways’/ Under BJP many states have banned beef because cows are sacred to Hindus/ Revised school textbooks/ Changed names of cities with Muslim sounding names/ Modi portrayed himself as safe pair of hands during recent violence with neighboring Pakistan/|
|14/4/2019||With Indian elections underway, the vote is also a referendum on Hindu Nationalism (Faith & Power)||Lauren Frayer||– Elevation of Hinducentric policy and discourse, Hindutva, the feeling of being Hindu, others call it Hindu Nationalism.
– Hindu Nationalism is the idea that Hindu faith and culture should shape state and its policies; it has its roots in 19th century backlash to Hindu reformers, Portuguese colonialism & Christian missionaries.
– Milan Vaishnav: concerns about India’s future as secular republic and pluralism.
– RSS, beef ban, cow vigilantes: rash of mob lynchings – 44 (36 Muslims) killed (according to Human Rights Watch)
– Hindu monks and priests have risen to power in politics & business
– Yogi Adityanath renames places
– PHOTO: “Hindu hardliners chant slogans against Muslim communities” (orange clothes /sword) –
|22/04/2019||Hindu Nationalism, the growing trend in India (transcript version)||Lauren Frayer, David Greene||DG: What is HN?
LF: Hinduism is many gods, diversity; Hindu Nationalism is political, idea that faith and culture should shape the state. It has roots in 19th century in opposition to liberal Hindu reformers, colonialism, Christian missionaries.
– M. Vaishnav: Gandhi and Nehru were founding fathers; Hindu Nationalists were really miffed, they wanted a Hindu state, and didn’t get it; Hindu Nationalist assassinated Gandhi.
|23/04/2019||India is changing some cities’ names and Muslims fear their heritage is being erased||Lauren Frayer||Photo: Mughalsarai Jn, renamed for “Right Wing Hindu leader who died there in 1968”
– Changed name of Allahabad to Prayagraj- a word that references the pilgrimage site there.
– Growing trend of Hindu Nationalism in Indian politics; renamed towns, streets, airports, train stations, swapping names that reflect Muslim heritage for Hinducentric ones. In doing so, they are revising the map of India and trying to rewrite its history. Together N and G helped write India’s Constitution
– Tanika Sarkar: Hindu values, Hindu invention, Hindu science, dumbing down (context of Science Congress )
|25/04/2019||Nearly 27 years after H mob destroyed a mosque, the scars in India remain deep||Lauren Frayer, Furkan Khan||– Syed Latifi, 80: “they were carrying three-pronged spears from Hindu scripture” (describing attack on him)
– (Ayodhya) is where Hindu faithful believe a Hindu god, Lord Ram was born; some believe a Hindu temple stood there centuries earlier, though it’s a matter of debates among archeologists (link to WIRE ‘underneath masjid are actually older mosques
– Hindu Nationalists are “those who believe India should be a Hindu nation”
|28/04/2019||In India, Ayurveda is a booming business (Faith & Power series)||Lauren Frayer, Furkan Khan||– Modi is a Hindu Nationalist who wants the country’s majority Hindu faith to play a bigger role in public life
– Priyanka Pathak (Baba Ramdev author): “quite similar to Make America Great Again; you’ve lost your country/culture/civilizational roots so what can you do to reassert my identity – buy products that reflect Hindu identity”
– That is also Modi’s message: that the Hindu faith is being diluted by globalization, secularism or immigration
|10/05/2019||Faith and Power: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India Millions in India face uncertain future after being left off citizenship list||Lauren Frayer, Furkan Khan||– Aman Wadud, Human Rights, “religion was never basis of citizenship but BJP is trying to show they’re pro-Hindu’;
– BJP seeks a greater role for Hinduism in government and public life”
– Amit Shah: “eating away at our country like termites”
– Akram Hussain, a Muslim community activist claims they’re thrown into camps
– Assam’s diversity may pose a challenge to Modi’s vision for a distinctly Hindu India Romila Thapar: Modi, if reelected, may insert religion as standard for citizenship in more subtle ways; middle class has bought whole idea of Hindu Nationalism without really thinking about it
|21/05/2019||Experts say the Indian Ocean region could the next front for global Jihad||Lauren Frayer, Furkan Khan||Expert quoted as saying ISIS radicalization is taking place in India now because Hindu Nationalists are in power (story on Hindu mother who’s daughter converted and joined ISIS)|
|23/05/2019||Indian Prime Minister Modi wins reelection||Lauren Frayer, Rachel Martin||LF: Hindu Nationalist party was accused of using hate speech and fear as campaign tactics; lot of attacks on Muslims by supporters of Modi’s Hindu Nationalist party
RM: Was that central to his campaign?
LF: (avoids?) Right, he was elected on economic promises, Pakistan’s Imran Khan was among first to congratulate.
|23/05/2019||Modi wins in landslide election, a victory for Hindu Nationalists||Lauren Frayer, Sasha Ingber||Signals India’s support of ‘strongman leader and his Hindu Nationalist ideology’;
Modi’s party was accused of using hate speech and fear tactics..
Hindu Nationalism has reached new heights in the country.
Hindu Nationalists have increasing influence.
|24/05/2019||Voters in India allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stay in power||Rachel Martin talks to Sadanand Dhume||SD: Right-Wing cultural populism.. without reforms danger is ‘passion (of youth) will be channeled towards religious nationalism and suspicion of religious minorities’|
|26/05/2019||What Narendra Modi’s victory means for minorities in India||Susan Davis interview with R. Ayyub||SD: Hindu Nationalist party that wants to establish India as a Hindu nation.
RA: Life is a nightmare in India right now because NM has unleashed a kind of a lynch mob in India that wants to establish a Hindu state. Lynchings on the streets of Muslims for allegedly eating beef. President of BJP called Muslims ‘termites and infiltrators and migrants who need to be wiped out. We’ve all been saying that if Modi comes to power it will be an attack on India’s soul, can’t go populist strongman way.
|30/05/2019||Savarkar’s India (Throughlines)||Staff||“Right-Wing Hindu Nationalist Narendra Modi has won re-election.. as political philosophy of Hindu Nationalism gains ground we look back at one of its architects” -Links offered: “Man who thought Gandhi a sissy” (Economist); Hindutva (Jyotirmaya S); Hindu Nationalism (Jaffrelot); Violent toll of Hindu Nationalism (New Yorker/Eliza Griswold) – (no opposing view; Walter Andersen etc.)
– RSS emphasizes military discipline and Hindu scripture; involved in anti-Muslim riot
|15/06/2019||In India and Pakistan, cricket fans are gearing up for their favorite world cup match||Lauren Frayer, Abdul Sattar||“Pakistani militants attacked Mumbai”; “In 1991 Hindu extremists dug up the cricket field”; Khan has requested peace talks, but Modi has so far refused (“HN” not directly mentioned but note equivalence made in otherwise cheerful cricket story between digging up ground and large-scale civilian massacre)|
|8/02/2019||India bans ‘Triple Talaq’ custom that Muslim men use to divorce their wives
(several Kashmir reports, use “Hindu Nationalist” phrase for government or Modi
|Lauren Frayer||“Hindu Nationalists are in power.. fear that rights of Muslims and other religious minorities are not being respected… we’ve had a spate of lynchings of M men in the streets”|
|15/08/2019||India’s Modi defends moves in Kashmir as lockdown continues||Furkan Khan||– Imran Khan’s Tweet accusing Modi of “ethnic cleansing of Muslims” and warned of another “Srebrenica-type massacre”
– India’s “HN govt”
|17/08/2019||Understanding Kashmir||Scott Simon interview||– Suvir Kaul, Prof at UPenn: RSS- formed in early years with a very explicit agenda to Hinduize India and to put minorities in their place”|
|21/08/2019||“This is it. I’m going to die”: India’s minorities targeted in lynchings||Lauren Frayer, Furkan Khan,
|-“Hindu Nationalists revise mainstream Indian norms along Hindu lines”
– Rana Ayyub: “India’s Hindu majority tacitly supports not murder but some discrimination against Muslims” “hey, this household has beef in their fridge, let’s go attack them”
– Prabhir Vishnu Poruthuyil, Business Professor: “upper-caste Hindus” in corporates don’t respond/ “similarities to American lynchings of 19th century”
– HRWATCH: surge in lynchings, 44 murders, 100s more injured in “religiously motivated” attacks, most victims are Muslims, others are Lower Caste Hindus and Christians
-“most of the attackers are devout Hindu men, known as ‘cow vigilantes’” some of them claim ties to the BJP
Table 2. “Hindu Nationalism”
NPR’s story on Hindu Nationalism began in early 2019 with ridicule (a report on a Science Congress where some speakers made ludicrous comments) and reached a climax of sorts with epic-genocidal-fears (reports quoting Pakistan Prime Minister Khan’s tweet accusing India of “ethnic cleansing” and “Srebrenica style massacre” (where 8,000 men and boys were killed). In between, we see several experts say more or less the same things about the threat that Hindu Nationalism presents to minorities and the ideal of India as its “founding fathers Gandhi and Nehru” envisioned it and so on. Examples of “Hindu Nationalism” are mentioned like a “surge in lynchings,” revision of citizenship lists, changing place names, and so on. But on the whole, it is not difficult to appreciate that there is neither clarity, nor basic grasp of historical information, in what is essentially a repetition-machine. The vague platitudes include statements like:
– Hindu Nationalists want to revise mainstream Indian norms along Hindu lines. (emphasis added)
– Modi is a Hindu Nationalist who wants the country’s majority Hindu faith to play a bigger role in public life
– BJP is a Hindu Nationalist party.. brought majority Hindu faith into politics & public life in unprecedented ways
There is also one statement (from the April report on Ayurveda and cow excreta) which sounds rather precise, but I really wonder if it can be substantiated by NPR:
“That is also Modi’s message: that the Hindu faith is being diluted by globalization, secularism or immigration.”
My sense is that Modi really hasn’t talked about “Hindu faith” in this particular manner at all, and has often taken the opposite view, that Yoga needs to go out and help the whole world through International Yoga Day and so on. In fact, most of his rhetoric in the past few years has been on nationalism (“India First!” and “Make in India” and so on) rather than about “Hindu faith.” He does signal his Hindu practices with photo-ops doing Yoga, meditating, and so on. But to assume that his message is about globalisation diluting his Hindu faith sounds like a cut-and-paste move from some other nation’s religious fundamentalism story.
These vague comments about what “Hindu Nationalism” must be is indicative of an absence of nuanced engagement with what is actually happening in India, and lack of understanding of what is being said directly and without preconceived academic notions that sometimes equate something that is simply “Hindu” with being “Hindu Nationalist” (as the notorious New York Times article on the Sari did). But since these narratives are often connected with the real crimes and tragedies that take place in mob-violence events, it is important to take them seriously.
My view is that if we sincerely wish to understand the truth-claims of this sort of discourse as a whole, we must focus on the key claim being made here: that Modi, BJP and RSS are all primarily invested in a violent “religious” expansion project of some kind, and that it is religious belief of a Hindu nature, that is the cause of this violence and so on. That claim inevitably gets us into main concern here, which is not so much what is or isn’t “Hindu Nationalism,” but really what is being said about and done to Hindus, in the name of this supposed journalism about “Hindu Nationalism.” But before we turn to that, we must note at least some obvious problems in what is being said here about Hindu Nationalism too.
Frayer tries to make a distinction in one report along the lines that Shashi Tharoor and others have of late made between Hinduism and Hindutva. That is a commendable effort. She says that Hinduism is “many gods, diversity,” good so far, and that Hindu Nationalism is political, the idea that faith and culture should shape the state (though most early “Hindu Nationalist” figures, as far as I know, seemed more concerned with Hindus surviving imperialist Christians and Muslims who wanted them to convert or die, actually). Then, she adds, Hindu Nationalism has its roots in the 19th century in opposition to liberal Hindu reformers, Portuguese colonialism and Christian missionaries. Let us be generous and say that she got the Portuguese and British mixed up. But the key issue here is the framing. According to this conceptualization, “liberal Hindu reformers” and colonizers and missionaries were all in the same, “good guys” category. This view is not inconsistent with the bizarre ways in which some scholars of South Asia studies have performed twists and turns and laments over the past few years in order to keep their bugbears looking alive enough. In any case, Frayer ends up doing what the “Hindu Nationalists” keep saying too, which is that their origin, and present course, are all fundamentally anti-colonial in nature. So, either Frayer has unwittingly complimented them as anti-colonials, or more likely, she has decided the colonisers and missionaries and their collaborators were actually the good guys.
Criminalisation and Demonisation of Hindus
|Date||Story||Author||How HN is explained/illustrated|
|5/01/2019||Women entering a sacred temple spark protests in India||Lauren Frayer||“I tried to get close to it… Hindu men are stopping cars, checking for women under age 50.”
“Hindu Priests later did purification rituals after visit.” (TROPE: “purity”, common mistranslation of Sanskrit terms to imply Nazi-racial association)
|26/01/2019||Rohingya refugees create music to memorialise culture for future generations||Sasha Ingber||“His neighbors in Buddhist & Hindu villages nearby would call him to perform Jatra. But that didn’t mean that he, as a Muslim minority, was accepted.”
Akbar: “They always used to call me blackie.”
(No reference to Rohingya massacre of Hindus but Hindus depicted as racist)
|12/02/2019||I rue the day we ever became farmers: In rural India, a struggle to survive||Lauren Frayer||Sathe: ‘government gives tax breaks to big business and plays up controversies over Hindu temples and such – all for votes. But look at us we’re dying here.’ (TROPE: History textbooks, K. Mayo: Priests as stealers of food; Hindu rituals as food waste)|
|5/02/2019||Neomi Rao, Picked for DC circuit court, faces scrutiny over earlier views on rape (Politics)||Carrie Johnson||“For example, a few weeks before Trump announced Rao’s nomination for DC circuit at a White House ceremony for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, R penned…”:
(Once again, “Hindu” search brings up “rape” headline, in this case, by casual reference to Hindu festival as marker)
|18/02/2019||Tensions between India and Pakistan are high after bombing in Kashmir||Lauren Frayer||LF: “Here’s what it sounded outside my home (Bharat Mata Ki Jai slogans): So that was a Hindu procession that erupted into chants of Mother India and expressions of sympathy ‘martyred’ that’s a quote- soldiers”
(TROPE: Hindu funerals often appear as exotic objects in Western reporting, from Gandhi to Jayalalitha; can be form of dehumanization when pain is overwritten with editorializing like the case here)
|7/03/2019||Forming a 385 mile human wall, and 5 other ways women are changing the world||Malaka Gharib||“to protest a religious ban that prevented women of menstruating age from entering one of the country’s sacred Hindu temples’ (Article does not mention earlier human wall protest done by Hindu women who did not want sacred land colonized through tourist-activism)|
|29/03/2019||As Gully Boy inches Indian hiphop into the mainstream, its underground soldiers on||Dhruva Balram||“… told from the Sikh perspective, when that period in Indian history is often cast from an upper-caste Hindu lens; rarely is Sikh story taught or seen in mainstream media.”|
|31/03/2019||More flamingoes are flocking to Mumbai than ever before. The reason could be sewage||Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Lindsey Feingold||Unclear why this story appears with the “Hindu” search word, but “sewage” is a common colonial-racist trope for Hindu society (E.g. Katherine Mayo’s Mother India, Slumdog Millionaire)|
|13/05/2019||Why it’s hard to ban the menstrual shed (Goats & Soda)||Danielle Preis||Cause of death is often smoke; ‘the practice, called chaupadi, is linked to Hindu beliefs around religious purity and the idea that menstruation is spiritually polluting… woman will avoid temples, prayer rooms and kitchens’;
Mohna Ansari (HRC member): “tricky to prove woman was forced to sleep in shed when many women do so out of societal pressure and their own fear” and “deep rooted belief”
Police: “they are afraid with the God, not with police”;
Subeksha Poudel, Sr manager for Communication at Possible Health, a health care org: “if you’re labelling and treating girls as impure, it’s the same treating them as untouchable’ comparing to the caste system; colloquially Nepali’s use the phrase “to become untouchable” for menstruating women;
“People believe that illnesses may have a spiritual cause, and a shaman may be the first person called when someone else falls sick. Drawing upon Hindu traditions, a shaman may say illness is because of menstruation rules being broken and angering God.”
Belief is most homes have a prayer room so God inhabits the home”; local government is doing. “God outside, menstruating women inside” campaign “with endorsement of shamans” and constructing outdoor community temples; with no symbolic representation of God inside the home, government hopes women can sleep inside. Govt. will refuse to give birth certificates to practicing families.
|10/06/2019||Indian court convicts 6 men in rape and murder of 8-year-old girl||Sushmita Pathak||“They are all Hindus. The victim was a Muslim girl.”
“When police went to file charge sheet accusing the Hindus, some Hindu lawyers tried to physically block them”
“Crime was a plot to drive away the tribe, involved in a spat over land with the Hindu-majority community Kathua”;
“She was held captive in a local Hindu temple”’
|29/07/2019||India’s Me Too Moment: One year on (Goats and Soda)||Furkan Khan, Sushmita Pathak||“outpouring unlike anything conservative, patriarchal India had ever seen” (appears in search due to newspaper named Hindu but included as it is in the search, and consistent with Hinduism and Patriarchy trope)|
|6/08/2019||Removal of special status roils Muslim-majority Kashmir||Lauren Frayer||LF: but that’s what Muslim Kashmiri’s fear – that their culture will be diluted by Hindus moving in”|
Table 3. “Hindu” in NPR
Despite the one occasion on which Frayer attempts to distinguish between Hinduism and Hindu Nationalism, what we find in the whole conversation on Hindus here is an easy conflation of the two terms, and of course, the collapse of both into a demonization pattern. In some instances, we find phrases like “devout Hindus” being used for murderers and criminals, presumably because they want really hard to believe that whatever crimes happened in India these past few years involving Hindus and Muslims took place because of Hindus being too driven by their faith (interestingly, one report on the daughter of a Hindu woman who converted from Hinduism to Islam and joined ISIS that appeared around the time of the Sri Lanka church attacks side-steps the question of radicalization as being related to “devout” religiosity there, and instead blames the “Hindu Nationalist” government as one of the factors driving ISIS recruitment in India).
If not “devout Hindus,” sometimes even just plain “Hindus” get blamed. For example, Rana Ayyub’s quote on August 21 does not say it’s “Hindu Nationalists” but Hindus to blame (“India’s Hindu majority tacitly supports not murder but some discrimination against Muslims” “hey, this household has beef in their fridge, let’s go attack them”). Now this perception may be consistent with the theory which has been built in several Western news media outlets since 2015 that Hindus are like the Whites of India and Muslims the African Americans (a theory which of course also demands that all mention of a Hindu past before the arrival of Islam is silenced; like in the case of the Allahabad renaming report which totally avoids admitting that it was a name change back to the older name!).
The key question I examine now is what is really happening around the use of the word “Hindu.” For that, it is useful to go wider than the stories in which it is specifically “Hindu Nationalism” that is talked about. In the following table, I look at reports that name and/or blame Hindus (or a particular construction of Hindus and Hinduism) in relation to crime, violence and suffering, and also point out how some examples are prevalent “tropes” about Hinduism since colonial times that can be found dominating across media.
The picture of the “Hindu” that emerges in these stories is not particularly in contrast with the “Hindu Nationalist” one in terms of accuracy, and in terms of negativity. Hinduism and Hindu identity are evoked (and not even “Hindu Nationalism” here) as a cause or centrally relevant issue in stories about Indian soldiers’ funerals, the timing of a US political appointment, a musician’s experience of racism in Myanmar, farmers’ poverty, death due to smoke inhalation in Nepal, and the rape and murder of a child. While these reports can each be examined through fact-checking for veracity and one can argue about where the “Hindu” label was appropriate and where it might be gratuitous (and a comparative study of labels for crimes concerning other communities would also be useful), here, I draw attention to the broader discourse, and the use of recognizable colonial-orientalist tropes in several reports. Why is an indigenous cultural tradition (broadly calling itself Hinduism) sought to be portrayed as the cause, or at least an “angle,” in so many stories that deal with violence, depravity, and oppression? Conversely (as I show in the next section), why is there a profound omission of reports about the same community being demonized here as victims of violence, depravity, and oppression?
For one thing, it is clear that there is a double-standard at work already (and one that goes back to racism and religious-supremacism from colonial times): the quietly normative way in which Frayer privileges the claim of Kashmiri Muslims to exclusivity if not purity in the last example is a telling contrast to the systematically different ways in which Hindus are perceived in the media to this day. Frayer has no qualms at all apparently accepting this view of Hindus as “contagion,” as somehow by their very presence (if it happens that is, 370 change notwithstanding), “diluting” the Muslim culture of Kashmir. Picture this sentiment with the terms reversed, and you will see, hopefully, why it is so profoundly wrong (and if one believes that such a claim is okay because Kashmir is the “only Muslim majority state in Hindu majority India,” well, one can also get perspective perhaps by noting how many Hindu majority and how many Muslim majority and Christian majority countries there are in the world).
The Silencing and Dehumanisation of Hindus
|Date||Story||How HN is explained/illustrated|
|15/02/2019||India vows ‘befitting reply’ after attack on security forces in Kashmir||Claims that alleged suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar “nursed resentment for troops in the region after being beaten by troops when returning from school according to his mother Fahmeeda Dar BUT does not mention his video statement declaring Hindus as impure, polytheistic, cow-piss-drinkers. Also mentions that ‘Angry Hindus took matters in their own hands Friday, shouting ‘Attack Pakistan, Attack.” And that “Some protesters torched vehicles and threw rocks at Muslim neighborhoods.”|
|19/02/2019||Tensions rise in Kashmir after suicide car bomb, gun battles||Does not mention JeM suicide bomber’s statement declaring Hindus as impure, polytheistic, cow-piss-drinkers.|
|26/02/2019||India strikes Pakistan village in retaliation for attack in Kashmir||Mentions “evictions and harassment of Kashmiris, who are mostly Muslim, across Hindu-majority India.” Does not mention JeM suicide bomber’s statement declaring Hindus as impure, polytheistic, cow-piss-drinkers.|
|22/04/2019||Hindu Nationalism, the growing trend in India (transcript version)||Expert Milan Vaishnav: “Hindu Nationalists were really miffed, they wanted a Hindu state, and didn’t get it.” Whitewashing of Partition violence against Hindus as just “Hindu Nationalists being miffed.”|
|23/04/2019||India is changing some cities’ names and Muslims fear their heritage is being erased||No acknowledgment that many of these names and places mark erasure of Hindu heritage, and that some name changes are actually merely a change back to pre-Islamic Hindu names. No mention of Confederate-flag type concerns about several medieval mosques looming over destroyed Hindu temple ruins in Kashi, Mathura, and several other places. Prayagraj twisted and presented as name of one site within Allahabad and not more plainly as older Hindu name.|
|25/04/2019||Nearly 27 years after Hindu mob destroyed a mosque, the scars in India remain deep||Muslim victims of Hindu violence personalized, no Hindu victims of Muslim violence (terrorism or mob) featured in this or any other story. Post-demolition riot victims noted as mostly Muslim but no actual figures on how many Hindus also died. No mention of Hindu casualties post-demolition terrorist bomb blasts by Muslim extremist groups such as Mumbai 1993.|
|5/08/2019||India says it will integrate disputed region of Kashmir with the rest of the country||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted.|
|5/08/2019||In unprecedented move, India revokes Kashmir’s special status, sparks fears of unrest||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted.|
|6/08/2019||Removal of special status roils Muslim-majority Kashmir||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted. (One Kashmiri Hindu, Sunil Kowal, is quoted as being happy he can go back, but Frayer adds that this is what Kashmiri Muslims fear)|
|7/08/2019||Pakistan warns of war after India’s move to end Kashmir’s special status||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted.|
|8/08/2019||Tensions continue high over Kashmir, with 500 arrests and a communication blackout||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted.|
|15/08/2019||India’s Modi defends moves in Kashmir as lockdown continues||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted.|
|17/08/2019||Understanding Kashmir||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted. Expert Suvir Kaul quoted as saying RSS was formed to Hinduize India and put minorities in place. Anti-Hindu massacres by Muslims from that period such as Moplah and Direct Action Day not noted.|
|21/08/2019||“This is it. I’m going to die”: India’s minorities targeted in lynchings||Competing views on “lynch mob” panic in media by Swati Goel Sharma might be relevant, never cited. No mention of Hindus, especially lower-caste Hindus, being killed by Muslim mobs in recent times.|
|28/08/2019||Kashmiri’s dispute India’s claim that it is returning to normal||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted.|
|31/08/2019||Nearly four weeks into India’s clampdown, Kashmiris describe protest, jail, uncertainty||Massacre and forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus not noted.|
Table 4. Absences: Exclusion of Mentions of Anti-Hindu Violence and Bigotry
We have noticed two trends so far in NPR’s coverage of Hindus; the first is the over-representation of the “Hindu Nationalism” or “Faith and Power” claim common in academia and media today, and the second is the frequent association of Hinduism with crime, violence and suffering, either as an explicitly causal claim, or just by casual mention. There is however, a far more important theme that must be addressed here, and that is of absence. The study of absences in media often reveals a lot more about power and identity than sometimes what is actually being said too. It is important at the outset to understand what kind of absence specifically we are talking about here too; too often, Hindu community leaders in the U.S. tend to argue that Hindus deserve better representation in the media because we are successful, law-abiding, “model minority” and so on. Media, in turn, view that, as they do Hindu lives anyway, with contempt. Who likes vanity anyway?
The key issue here though, at least for me as a media researcher, is not about “better press” for Hindus, but about a stand against dangerously dehumanising propaganda. Members of the Hindu community, and the media professions, really need to pause and consider the insanity of this runaway train of Hindu-labelling that is going on today in mainstream media. It is a pathology, and while I do not indulge in conspiracy theories or speculation about intent, I do have to say it is as I see it about consequence. The consequences of propaganda are horrifying; whether it is of religious propaganda in medieval times or modern propaganda in the early 20th century. And Hindus, believe it or not, have been victims of this consistently through history, and if one were to get past the deliberate media silencing, we might see that this goes on today as well.
Conclusion: Hinduphobia Today
How NPR’s coverage of Hindus sustains a climate of media Hinduphobia is best understood by recounting how Hindu representation operates at three levels. At the first level, we have the basic issue of journalistic professionalism and competence. Are reporters and editors open to debate, new views, and change, or are they caught up in defending their own preconceived notions, slogans, and, well, bigoted beliefs about some fellow human beings? We have seen several examples in NPR’s coverage that suggest that this dimension is somewhat lacking in NPR. There is no diversity of views among the experts they bring in, nor is there a clear understanding of what is happening in India beyond ivory-tower labels. At the second level, we see the play of the media manifestation of what Edward Said calls the “restorative citation of antecedent authority” (and Stuart Hall calls the problem of “old movies” that keep being made again and again). Under the seemingly objective, contemporary, drive to report on modern-day India, Nepal, and other countries, we see the presence of what are old colonial tropes about the other; some of these tropes are broadly colonial and racist in nature, and some are quite specific to old missionary propaganda about the Hindus who resist conversion (“priests,” “idols,” and so on). Finally, at the third level, we need to understand Hinduphobia as not just a media phenomenon, but a real-world problem, a political phenomenon. And this, we can do, only if media and academia get over their willful suppression of information about violence, organized and otherwise, against Hindus and for simply being Hindu at that.
At the moment though, our society is resisting that change intensely, and by resorting to ever more increasing denial, and dehumanisation. This is violence, and it must end.