United States Commission on International Religious Freedom – Role of Hindutva / Hindu Extremist Groups

Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – April 2019

Various nationalist groups in India have expanded the ideology of Hindutva, or “Hinduness,” which has three pillars—common nation, race, and culture—and forms the basis of an often times exclusionary national narrative with a singular focus on the rights of Hindus.

The views espoused by individuals belonging to these groups and the activities they undertake vary widely. Nevertheless, both moderate and extreme forces within the Hindutva movement point to the rise in the Muslim population from constituting 10 percent of the national population in 1951 to 14 percent in 2011, which in their view necessitates “mitigation” against the growing Muslim community.

While some Hindutva groups want greater influence of Hindu principles in the state’s decision-making process, more extreme elements have stated they would like to see all non-Hindus expelled, killed, or converted to Hinduism. Some members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and have used discriminatory language about religious minorities.

For example, in 2018, state-level BJP member T. Raja Singh was charged by the police for hate speech after stating that “every Hindu should carry weapons like lathis [clubs] and attack other communities’ members if they said anything wrong.”

The influence of Hindutva groups goes beyond politics and government. For example, Hindutva groups have expanded the scope and size of religious schools—which often teach intolerant religious ideology in non-governmental private educational systems — to nearly four million students, and have tried to distribute books promoting religious intolerance in public schools.

Some groups have student youth wings, such as the RSS’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which have used intimidation and violence in colleges to silence their secular or non-Hindu classmates and shut down events that challenge their viewpoints.

In general, both the federal and state governments have done little to condemn the use of inflammatory language, even if it incites violence. And state action to rename numerous cities—such as Faizabad and Allahabad from the names that had been given during the Mughal period — has been perceived as an effort to erase or downplay the influence of non-Hindus in Indian history and as an attack on Muslims within India today.

Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – April 2019

Based on these concerns, in 2019 USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). While the Indian government repeatedly has denied USCIRF access to India, the Commission welcomes the opportunity to openly and candidly engage with the government—including the chance for a USCIRF delegation to visit India—to discuss shared values and interests, including international standards of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights.

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