Hindutva and Nazism: How Europe’s Far-Right Influence Extends Overseas

Featured Image: New Frame

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In the world’s largest so-called democracy, you wouldn’t expect to see signs of rising fascism and a dark, morbid side to a religion that prides itself on being pacifistic. You wouldn’t expect to see the ideology that led to one of the most horrific stains on humanity blended in with a country that values community above all else. So, from an outsider’s point of view, the intertwinement of Hindu Nationalism and Nazism is shocking, at the very least. However, to someone who understands the deep-rooted intergenerational conflict between Pakistan and India, Muslims and Hindus, Kashmiris and their oppressors — this isn’t anything new. Since the re-election of Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP), it seems as if all this nationalistic greed erupted at once. That isn’t the case. To fully understand how we’ve gotten to this point, we have to know where we currently are. The BJP (won this election in a landslide), is a far-right Hindu extremist group. Founded in the 1980s, after it broke off another far-right political organization known as the Akhil Bharatiya Jana Sangh (the BJS), which was a political arm of another nationalist organization commonly known as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the party holds radical views concerning religious minorities and those below the upper class in India.

Hindutva — Hinduness in English — is the popular form of ethnonationalism in India, popularized by a Nazi sympathizer, a co-conspirator in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and hero of India’s right-wing, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Hindutva organizations, such as the RSS and its sibling parties (The BJP, the VHP, etc.), have been called out for their Nazi and fascist undertones since their inception. Some like to shy away from the label of fascism, and others prefer to simply call it “a more radical form of nationalism.” Whatever they choose to name the hatred they hold, it doesn’t change the fact that Hindutva, at its core, is rooted in fascist thinking. It does not attempt to conceal its influences in its correspondence while filling the heads of Indians still bitter about the Islamic rule during the Middle Ages with anti-Muslim sentiments. 

What is the RSS, if they don’t hold any political power like the BJP, or the BJS did? Founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a man who was staunchly pro-independence from the British Rule, and pro-segregation between Muslims and Hindus, the RSS is an alt-right volunteer organization and works as the leader to the “Sangh Parivar” (the family of the RSS), who are involved in every facet of Indian society. Rejecting Mahatma Gandhi’s willingness for unity between Muslims and Hindus, they took responsibility for his assassination, and the multiple riots that were incited between the faiths in the early twentieth century, claiming it to be a display of “Muslim aggressiveness and Hindu self-defense.” The morbid fascination that senior members of the organization held with fascist regimes, especially those of Mussolini and Hitler, is apparent in the propaganda they spread to the youth of India, the policies they control, and their plots to eradicate anyone considered impure. A radical and dangerous organization such as this shouldn’t hold the power it does, but without the RSS, there is no India.

The Venn diagram between Hindutva and the European alt-right is practically a circle.

This is apparent in the obsession with Aryan purity, the attempted cleansings of anyone deemed inferior (Dalits, lower caste Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians), and the coming to power democratically. As German and European societies had been antisemitic long before the arrival of Hitler, one can argue that the idea of Brahminical supremacy, ethnonationalism, and hate had been lodged into the minds of Hindus before India had even existed. Though the roots of Hindutva lie in Nazi ideology, there was no explicit anti-Jewish sentiment in India beyond respecting Hitler’s extreme methods to preserve the Aryan race and hoping for a similar fate to come upon the Muslims when the Anti-Jewish legislation in 1938 had passed. RSS leaders, notably Golwarkar, had gone onto even giving support for the state of Israel, contradictory to how he admired Hitler’s purging of the Semitic races — and believed “Hindustan” should follow in his footsteps. A spokesman for the Hindu Mahasabha in 1939 had once said, “Germany’s solemn idea of the revival of the Aryan culture, the glorification of the swastika, her patronage of Vedic learning and the ardent championship of the tradition of Indo-Germanic civilization are welcomed by the religious and sensible Hindus of India with a jubilant hope.”

The concept of Hindu superiority isn’t only limited to India but spreads wherever there are Hindus. In the West, religion gives Indian people, especially those of darker skin, a secure method of self-identification that dodges systemic racism where we have a world of whites on top, and forces Black people below. Hinduism to white people is associated with an orientalist, hippie, free love vision of ancient civilizations, while Islam is demonized in their eyes, and India is seen as a poor and developing country. Profiting off anti-Blackness, Indian people begin to thrive economically in the country and are made to associate themselves with something outside their culture, to become the perfect model minority. Religion is used to outmaneuver the race-based system by becoming the face of the “progressive society” title and rearranges the identities of immigrants of color, burning them into the melting pot that is the Western world.

The worst and most brutal display of utter disregard for human lives India has shown is in Kashmir. From the alt-right radicalization and victimization of Kashmiri Hindus to the blaming and mass murders of Kashmiri Muslims, there is no forgiving India for its crimes against Kashmir. Using the exodus of the ’90s, where Kashmiri Pandits were exiled due to the rise of militancy and left to go to India as refugees, the country didn’t hesitate to immediately place the blame on the Kashmiri Muslims. They claimed that they were behind the attacks on the homes of Hindus, ignoring the fact that many KMs had hidden Hindus in their homes and supplied them with the means to leave the state safely just for the purpose of spreading Islamophobic rhetoric into the ethnic group most closely related to their Muslim counterparts. During the days of Partition, the RSS and extremists had massacred thousands of Muslims to drive them to West Punjab (Pakistan), while also killing Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs who were treated as collateral damage. This violence against Muslims in Kashmir isn’t anything new, going past pre-British Raj, and is still something continuing in modern-day India. Indian Occupied Kashmir is the most heavily militarized place on Earth. Atrocities committed by the Indian Army, such as rape, murder, and missing children who’ve fallen into either of the former go by unnoticed by the citizens of India, who claim that Kashmir is an integral part of their country, instead choosing to automatically divert the conversation to Pakistan’s horrific treatment of Hindus.

To India, the death of a Kashmiri Muslim is nothing but a casualty in a fight for land. To India, the death of a Kashmiri Pandit is nothing but an opportunity.

Maximiani Julia Portas, better known as Savitri Devi, was a spy who committed espionage on the Allied Powers, and later went on to lead the underground Neo-Nazi movement in the 1960s. Unsatisfied with Christianity because of its closeness to Judaism, her interest in New Age spirituality grew, and it led her to Greek Hellenism and of course, India’s Hinduism. Her devotion to Nazism came from an intense longing for tradition. She was aggressively pro-eugenics and believed the natural order of humanity had been corrupted from progressive thinking. She complained about the basic rights that she thought that not every human was deserving of, specifically humans who threatened the idea of Aryan supremacy. Portas was a complete hypocrite in her thinking, as she was a vegan and a radical animal rights advocate, believing in a death penalty for those who did not respect nature and animals. She spent her life cherry-picking from Pagan religions, specifically from Greeks, Egyptians, and Hindus. “A Warning to Hindus”  was written in an attempt to awaken upper-caste Hindus so they would not meet the same fate as Hellenistic Greeks, influenced by V.D Savarkar’s concept of Hindutva. In her book “The Lightning and the Sun”, Portas attempts to wave Nazism into the fabric of Hindu philosophy, dedicating the story to Adolf Hitler himself, “the God-like individual of our times, the Man Against Time (a reference to how in the book, Hitler is a considered an avatar of Vishnu), the greatest European of all times; both Sun and Lightning: Adolf Hitler, as a tribute of unfailing love and loyalty, forever and ever.” Savitri Devi Mukherji’s ashes were shipped to the American Nazi Party in Virginia, and placed in the “Nazi Hall of Honour.”

Anders Behring Breivik, from Norway, wrote a 1,518 paged manifesto titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence”, and in those 1,518 pages of the manifesto, India is featured in a whopping 102 of them. Within those pages, he applauds the Hindus who do not tolerate the current “injustice” and attack Muslims when things get out of control, his only criticism being that they should rid the country of the “Muslim Problem” once and for all. He listed the websites of the BJP, the RSS, and the VHP as resources for further info.

“It is essential that the European and Indian Resistance Movements learn from each other and co-operate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.” -2083: A European Declaration of Independence

Later after publishing the manifesto, Anders Breivik went on to murder 8 people via van bomb and shot 69 participants of Norway’s Youth League summer camp. The calls for a strictly Hindu India are not getting any weaker. Hindu Nationalism can’t be overthrown by simply voting Congress, the very same party responsible for the 1984 genocide of Sikhs, but by a change in Hindu society. The symbol for a Canadian alt-right group claiming to defend “Canadian values” and “combat radical Islam” is represented by a red maple leaf rising out of a lotus flower. 150 Hindus had marched with the group to protest a school board’s policy to accommodate Muslim students wishing to pray at school.

How have we fallen to the point that the symbols that represent Hinduism at its purest be used synonymously against Muslims? The very same Muslims who live in our country, our neighborhoods, and our families? It started with the swastika — how much further will we let this go? Is it not up to us, as Hindus, to say “not in our name”? In this duration of nationalistic politicians claiming our livelihoods are endangered by the existence of minorities, have we ever considered that we might be the ones putting our religion in danger by defaming ourselves the way we do? Or have we become so desensitized to the idea of Muslim death, and the idea that fascist thinking might be the very cement that holds up our Mandirs? It’s in our names that the foundation of Hindutva holds up, and it’s our moral duty as followers of the Sanatana Dharma to rid our culture of the infectious plague that is Nazism.