August 6, 2018 | By Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI)
KAILUA-KONA, HI: August 5, 2018 – (OFMI*) — In an interview with Hawai’ian radio host Irminsul, South Asian Affairs analyst Pieter Friedrich discusses how Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) aligns herself with India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who are advocates of Hindutva, a philosophy which holds that Indians are Hindus and non-Hindus are foreign to India. Friedrich states, “Gabbard is spending her time working as hard as possible to bring the Hindu nationalist agenda to American soil. Her stance is not only empowering extremists in India to continue engaging in violence against ethnic minorities there, but she’s also using her political platform to deliberately conceal the reality of the situation for Indian minorities, as well as to help to bring Hindu nationalist figures who promote violence… to American soil.”
Irminsul: I love Hawai’i for so many things. One of them, as my friend Sangh likes to tell me, is because it’s a little slice of India. I’ve been to enough kirtans and ashram-related events to know what that means. But, like too much of any good thing, something happens when you open the bottom drawer of that one.
Violent nationalism is a curse and a poison, whether it manifests in German, English, or Hindi. Like a lot of hot points in Europe, it has surfaced in India, too. Like the USA, it found a place to hide under the trench coat of a majority religion. District 2 Representative Tulsi Gabbard made history when she took the oath of office with her hand on a Bhagavad Gita. Now a lot of Hawai’ians want to know just exactly who she’s representing.
Pieter Friedrich is a spokesman and activist for OFMI — Organization for Minorities of India. They fight for the rights of the many religious minority groups in India, now under siege like never before from a government emboldened by nationalism, fascism, and racism.
Pieter Friedrich: My name is Pieter Friedrich. I’m an analyst of South Asian affairs. I’m also an author, including of an upcoming book about how Hindu nationalism, an ideology which is akin to white supremacy, has been exported to the U.S. from India and is finding allies in Hawai’i , especially with Representative Tulsi Gabbard. I am speaking on behalf of Organization for Minorities of India — or OFMI — which is a group which advocates for the human rights of minorities from India, especially Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and Dalits.
Hindu nationalism is in a world of its own. It’s often labeled as right-wing because it supports social hierarchy and traditionalism, but its concept of tradition is based on historically fabricated claims that the Indian subcontinent is a land of Hindus and that being Indian means being Hindu. Hindu nationalism requires that all Indians live according to Hindu values and accept being called Hindus. It denies that Sikhs and Buddhists — whose religions were founded in the subcontinent — are separate from Hindus, even though both religions claim to be distinct. It claims that Muslims and Christians are “foreign” to India and must either accept and practice Hindu cultures and values or else leave the country.
Hindu nationalism is intrinsically violent. As an organized ideology, it promotes uniformity, militancy, authoritarianism, dictatorship. Essentially, it is fascist. Its founding ideologues, in the 1920s and 1930s, wrote about their interest in creating organizations which were modeled after the brownshirts of Nazi Germany and after the blackshirts of Fascist Italy. One of the ideologues even traveled to Italy to study fascism and to meet Mussolini.
I: Rewind for a bit. One year, a multi-colored person splattered me with a handful of brightly colored dust of some kind. It was during the Holi festival, an explosion of multi-colored bliss and craziness, that celebrates all of us in our uniqueness and love for life. And it seemed so Hawai’ian, too. We are a rainbow people, and we like it that way. So imagine my shock when Pieter told me about the perceived dangers of Valentine’s Day.
PF: Various Hindu nationalist organizations have also been involved in campaigning against the wearing of Western clothing, or the celebration of festivals such as Christmas, or even Valentine’s Day. Now, one of the leaders of one of the most prominent Hindu nationalist organizations — known as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad — this leader of the VHP, his name is Surendra Jain, on Valentine’s Day 2018, he warned, “We want to save our daughters and sisters from this type of vulgar presentation of love.”
Subsequently, various VHP activists were involved in violent attacks on malls and various stores which were displaying Valentine’s Day displays. They went in and basically destroyed these displays. They attacked couples who were seen in public celebrating Valentine’s Day. It’s actually kind of been a priority of BJP governments, and of Hindu nationalist organizations, to stage these campaigns against the public display of love.
I: Enter purity. Anachronists and idealists love to parade that one around. You aren’t one of us if you have no history as us and it has to be the history I give you. Otherness — the idea that everybody outside the in-group has no history and is therefore false and an unwanted interloper — was another unwelcome visitor in this conversation.
PF: One of the particular campaigns is known as the Love Jihad campaign. These BJP and RSS organizations propagate this idea that there’s been a conspiracy by Muslim men to seduce Hindu women, so they go about seeking to break up interfaith couples, or what they believe are interfaith couples. Another priority, a policy priority, of elected BJP governments, has been to send out what are known as Romeo Squads, which are basically moral policing squads who go out and break up couples that are seen engaging in public displays of affection.
I: This is the point that the late Frank Zappa would have called ‘the crux of the biscuit’ — Islamophobia. At least one half of the monster that broke Gandhi’s dream of Greater India into two parts. Tulsi Gabbard’s love affair with Islamophobia has been a clear and obvious motivator of her public comments and political actions since at least 2001. It’s also why she’s been ready to run to the bosom of Donald Trump if it meant a cabinet position after the results of the 2016 election. Two dyed-in-the-wool Islamophobes figuring out how to take the world — one infidel purge at a time.
PF: As Hindu nationalism has risen and strengthened in India, the situation for non-Hindu minorities in India has swiftly deteriorated, especially over the past 30 or 40 years. This really has its roots dating back to 1984, when Sikhs suffered a genocide which was orchestrated and sponsored by the Indian State. Subsequently, after that incident, that genocide in 1984 of Sikhs, other minorities began to suffer violence. In 1992 to 1993, Muslims suffered a genocide and about 2,000 Muslims were slaughtered in the streets. In 2002, Muslims again suffered a genocide, this time in Gujarat while a BJP government was in power, and the head of the government was actually Narendra Modi, who later became Prime Minister of India.
Subsequently, in 2008, Christians suffered a pogrom. They also regularly face violence, and disruption of their worship services, and just general intimidation.
In a report issued by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom — which is an entity of the U.S. State Department — that group warned that impunity for these various pogroms, these various genocides against Muslims, against Christians, against Sikhs in India, really has its roots and is undergirded by impunity for the genocide against Sikhs in 1984. That impunity for that genocide in 1984 has empowered extremists in India to commit further atrocities against other minority groups. So, the Commission wrote,
“The failure to provide justice to religious minorities is not a new development and has helped foster a climate of impunity. In 1984, anti-Sikh riots erupted in Delhi. Over four days, nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed, allegedly with the support of Congress Party officials. Few perpetrators were ever held accountable, and then only years after the fact. In the late 1990s, there was a marked increase throughout India of violent attacks against members of religious minority communities, particularly Muslims and Christians, including incidents of killings, torture, rape, and destruction of property. Perpetrators were rarely held responsible.”
So, basically, this is the story. Impunity compounds and create impunity, and the more often these extremists get away with killing non-Hindu minorities, the more often they kill non-Hindu minorities.
I: Commit that name to memory — Narendra Modi —because, as his violent nationalist movement rose in India, somewhere, on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, a rising political star of her own was preparing a visage of flower leis and smiles to become his ally. Next time on the Kona Way — the crowning of Representative Tulsi Gabbard, the rising of a Hawai’ian resistance, and the rebranding of hate in our own backyard. I’m Irminsul. For KONA LPFM 100.5, you’ve been listening to the KONA Way.
Last time on the KONA Way, we talked about the rise of violent Hindu nationalist fascism, and how it was finding inroads to Hawai’i . Today, we’ll get to its most vital port of entry here — Representative Tulsi Gabbard.
With that began the rising star of the self-described progressive, smiling and saluting her way into the good graces of Narendra Modi and a political, cultural movement that flies right in the face of Hindu and Hawai’ian values. Enter the connection with the advent of Donald Trump.
PF: Since 2016, the U.S.-India relationship has actually significantly deepened — since Trump, President Trump, took office. The BJP, and members of the BJP, both in India and in the U.S. — where there’s a prominent group known as Overseas Friends of BJP — they’re huge fans of Trump. BJP-affiliated diaspora groups in the USA have hosted fundraisers for him, and Trump is really increasing the economic and trade partnerships, and the military joint exercises, and other alliances and other linkages between the U.S. and India. In particular, the U.S. has recently become India’s second-biggest arms dealer, and in 2018 it actually increased its arms sales to India by five-fold.
The U.S. refusal to engage in dialogue with India about human rights and religious freedom issues, however, is only empowering Hindu nationalism and increasing the threat to India’s minorities. The U.S. is becoming a central gathering point for BJP and RSS diaspora groups to support Hindu nationalism in India.
Notably, upcoming in September 2018 in Chicago, there will be this World Hindu Congress organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America. Now, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America is the U.S. branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of India, which has just been declared by the CIA as a “religious militant group.” This World Hindu Congress in September in Chicago will feature as its keynote speakers — Narendra Modi, who is the Prime Minister of India and a BJP and RSS member; Yogi Adityanath, this BJP ruling leader of Uttar Pradesh; and Mohan Bhagwat, who is the current Supreme Leader of the RSS.
In essence, the rise of Trump, along with his alt-right supporters, is offering fertile ground for extremist Hindu nationalists groups to feel safe to act openly on American soil rather than just in India.
I: So what about the duties of our new representative in Congress? Apparently, the concerns of Hawai’ians are a ways down the list. The homeless in Hawai’i can wait, while the needs for people like Bashar al-Assad topped the list.
PF: Of course, those who’ve been following Representative Tulsi Gabbard, know about how personalities such as Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and even David Duke of the KKK have all sung the praises of Gabbard. That’s no surprise considering that these alt-right or white supremacists figures also sing the praises of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and of the Hindu nationalist BJP.
David Duke, for instance, is quite a fan of Hindu nationalism. One of Richard Spencer’s business partners actually runs a publishing company called Arktos Media — which is the largest alt-right publishing house, and which has repeatedly organized meetings with RSS and BJP leaders in India, as well as published books which praise and promote the RSS, BJP, and Hindu nationalism in general.
Tulsi Gabbard is certainly reaping the rewards here in the U.S. for her alliance with Hindu nationalists from India. For instance, the pro-BJP diaspora, which is quite extensive and quite wealthy, has been funding her. In 2013, the co-founder of Hindu American Foundation, which is a group linked to the RSS, hosted a fundraiser for her at his home. In 2014, she spoke twice at events organized by the Overseas Friends of BJP — one in Los Angeles and one in Atlanta. Campaign finance reports reveal that she has received thousands of dollars in campaign donations apparently — speculating here — but apparently in return for her enthusiastic embrace of these Hindu nationalist outfits. At these events, actually, at these Overseas Friends of BJP events, she even took the extra step and went the extra mile, donning sashes adorned with the logo and the name of the BJP, proudly wearing Hindu nationalist attire as she attended these Hindu nationalist events.
I: What’s the benefit here? Cui bono? As with all politicians, especially those on the rise, they have their benefactors in mind — first and foremost. Is the payoff in donations? In her secure tenure in office? Or is it somehow toward the nagging alleged ties to one or more dangerous cults here in the West? We may never know, mostly because Representative Gabbard has been surrounded by yea-sayers and protectors in her official abode which build a wall between her and her constituents.
PF: So it appears to us that Gabbard is spending her time working as hard as possible to bring the Hindu nationalist agenda to American soil. Her stance is not only empowering extremists in India to continue engaging in violence against ethnic minorities there, but she’s also using her political platform to deliberately conceal the reality of the situation for Indian minorities, as well as to help to bring Hindu nationalist figures who promote violence — such as the head of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat; as well as this controversial, despicable even, BJP politician from Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath; as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — she’s working hard to bring personalities like this to American soil.
So, what does all this mean for Indian communities in Hawai’i and for constituents of Representative Gabbard living in District 2? What it means is that the Congresswoman from Hawai’i is putting more effort into representing the interests of foreign nationals from India who have massacred minorities than she is into representing her constituents.
It also means that she’s violating the core values of Hawai’i . I won’t try to pronounce the Hawai’ian phrase, but the state motto of Hawai’i roughly translates as, “The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.” So, my question is — our question is — can one stand for righteousness while standing shoulder to shoulder with the fascist elements of Hindu nationalists of India? That’s our question.
I: Pieter Friedrich and OFMI, along with the countless members of India’s minority religious communities, are fighting a hulking monster. A monster with a morbid, threatening cousinry around the world in the guise of identity, theocratic, and fascistic movements all promising a brave new monochrome world. It seems to be the way of history.
Elvis Costello might say, “People get bored with too much peace, love, and understanding.” But to have a major lance man for the new hate hail from Hawai’i , the blue state, the rainbow state, the place of paradise, dreams, and right living — it’s worse than a sick joke. It’s marked us forever, leaving a burning question in the minds of people who have come to know us as something good and whole. Do we know mana? Do we know truth? Or is it just easier to fall for a pretty face and move along with our business?
I’m Irminsul and this has been the KONA Way. For KONA LPFM 100.5.
Organization for Minorities of India was founded in 2006 to advance individual liberties of Christians, Buddhists, Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, and all Mulnivasi people of South Asia by encouraging secularism, progressive human rights, liberation of oppressed peoples, and universal human dignity. Visit OFMI.org for more information.