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Hindutva and its influence in Aotearoa

10 July, 2023

Interview by Spike Keith, adapted by Mahdhi Osman-Penrice. 

Content warning: Mentions sexual abuse. 

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the fascist ideology, Hindutva, has been growing in India and internationally. Photo: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Hindutva, an extremist ideology that advocates for Hindu supremacy and the persecution of Muslims, Sikhs, women, and other minority groups has grown inside India and abroad within some Indian diaspora communities. 

Founder of Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians and 2023 Green Party candidate Dr Sapna Samant told 95bFM’s The Wire that Hindutva is not Hinduism, and is a “fascist ideology disguised as a rigid form of Hinduism”. 

“They are inspired by the fascists in Europe in the 1920s. Musolini and Hitler are their idols.” 

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi who leads India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Hindutva has been receiving increasing government support.

The BJP party was founded by what Dr Samant calls the “mothership of Hindutva”, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right, paramilitary volunteer organisation.

Dr Samant highlighted that Hindutva is prominent in India because of Modi’s history with the RSS.

“Modi has volunteered with the RSS since he was a child. He is deeply indoctrinated by their ideology which is Islamophobic, misogynistic, and anti-everything that is not Hindu. Now he is Prime Minister he applies that ideology.” 

The RSS was found culpable in directed attacks against minorities, including the 2002 Gujarat riots. These riots resulted in the death of over 1000 people who were predominantly Muslim. During the three day massacre, Muslim women were raped and many people were left homesless. 

Modi, who was the chief minister of the state at the time was accused of condoning the attack. 

He was legally cleared of wrongdoing by a task force appointed by the Supreme Court of India in 2012. But a three-volume report published by the Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) headed by esteemed high court judges found that the "complicity of the state government is obvious". The US State Department endorsed these findings, stating that the attacks were premeditated and that government officials were complicit. 

Dr Samant said Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism, the “Gujarat Model,” was a large part of his campaign to become prime minister. 

After Modi took office in 2014, there has been a high prevalence of violence against Scheduled Castes (Dalits), Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis), and religious minorities. In 2020 over 50,000 crimes against members of Scheduled Castes and nearly 8000 crimes against members of Scheduled Tribes were reported. 

A November 2021 briefing by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service disclosed that there is “almost certainly a small number of individuals and groups in New Zealand who adhere to Hindutva identity, motivated by violent extremism”.

Dr Samant gave the example of the Hindu Council of New Zealand as a group motivated by anti-minority ideology in Aotearoa.

“If you examine their constitution you will see they are based on the Vishva Hindu Parishad, another right-wing organisation based on Hindu nationalism, connected to the RSS.”

Dr Samant said the council excludes minorities who live in Aotearoa, because they don’t fit their ideology. 

“They want Indians to be an upper class Hindu, who is vegetarian, and very obedient of white supremacy.”

Last year the Indian-Muslim community in Aotearoa asked chief censor David Shanks to review the classification of the film ‘The Kashmir Files,’ over concerns it may inflame Islamophobic sentiment.

This was due to the antagonisation of Muslims and the reinforcement of harmful stereotypes in the film, as well as being directed, written, and produced by Islamaphobic director Vivek Agnihotri.

The chief censor decided to increase the film's rating from R16 to R18, due to the level of violence and cruelty depicted.

The Indian High Commission published an open letter, criticising the chief censor's review, claiming he was being subjected to “tremendous political pressure” to ban the film.

Dr Samant said this set off white supremacist groups, who shared Islamaphoic tweets and misinformation, claiming the Muslim community were trying to ban the film. According to Dr Samant, MPs including ACT’s David Seymour and National’s Melissa Lee also got involved, supporting Hindutva groups claims. 

She affirmed that the classification process of films is “not the Indian High Commission’s business.”

“It is a normal democratic process. We perceive that as foreign interference”. 

This is not the first time the Indian High Commission has involved itself in conversations regarding the spread of Hindutva in Aotearoa. 

Massey University academic Professor Mohan Dutta was accused by the Indian High Commission of being “selective and one-sided in depiction of the truth,” in his research into the spread of Hindu extremism in New Zealand and its connection to Islamophobia. 

Dr Samant warned that Hindutva’s influence in Aotearoa and abroad is often not noticed, as followers use coded language that only those in the community understand. 

“It’s invisible, mainstream societies don’t see it.” 

She said there is a risk of violence here in Aotearoa, similar to what we have seen in Australia between the Sikh and Hindu communities.

But Dr Samant said she is mostly concerned about the spread of disinformation and foreign interference. 

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air