Hindutva Pop: The Soundtrack of India’s Anti-Muslim Movement

Bcheeky beats, poorly synchronized visuals and jarring edits haven’t stopped engineer-to-singer transition Prem Krishnvanshi from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh becoming a YouTube and social media sensation. The message of his music that resonates more than quality. Krishnvanshi is one of the few artists that is becoming increasingly popular in India, producing a relatively new, grudge-filled genre of music commonly known as “Hindutva pop”.

hinduva It is a term used to describe Hindu nationalism, the over a century-long supremacist movement that sought to establish Hindu hegemony in India. Hindutva pop songs, which have become ubiquitous in recent years, typically praise the ruling right-wing government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The words spew hatred against Muslims, India’s largest minority community, who make up nearly 200 million of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

Read more: With Religious Tensions Worsening in India, Understanding Caste Is More Urgent than Ever

Recently, Hindutva pop has also been accused of inciting violence. Syed Zubair Ahmad, founding editor Muslim MirrorAn independent media outlet that covers violence against Muslims in India believes that music normalizes the dehumanization of Muslims in India and encourages listeners to use violence. “They get people used to the violence that accompanies these songs.”

Hinduo kaa hae Hindustan, Mullo jaao Pakistan” (India is the land of Hindus, Muslim preachers should go to Pakistan) A line from one of Krishnavanshi’s hits, which he took from YouTube’s official channel but could not completely remove it from the platform as it continues to be re-uploaded. others.

A common refrain of Hindutva pop songs is that the Muslims in the country are disloyal and working for the interests of Pakistan, the neighboring Muslim-majority country that has been at odds with India since it left India more than seventy years ago.

“Secularism is our country’s problem,” Krishnvanshi tells TIME. “Everything I sing is, in a way, a response to the extremist ideology propagated by some Muslims. It evokes division, not our songs.”

Read more: Is India Heading for an Anti-Muslim Genocide?

“I see it as my duty to raise awareness about our history. Our real history is not made up,” he explains, referring to the widespread right-wing belief that school-taught Indian history overemphasizes Muslim kings rather than Hindu emperors. “I believe my nation and Hindutva are very important to me and I want to talk about these issues.”

But my aim is not to hurt Muslims,” ​​he said. But Krishnvanshi’s words speak for themselves.

Insan nahi ho salo tum ho Kasai, boht huwa Hindu Muslim bhai bhai(You are not human, you are a butcher, enough Hindu Muslim brotherhood) he shouts in another song.

Krishnvanshi’s music videos often appear as a tribute to BJP, Modi, and Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed monk and ardent Hindu nationalist leader known for his anti-Muslim tirades. Adityanath rose quickly through the party ranks to become the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, in 2017, before being re-elected in 2022.

Krishnvanshi is proud to sing about the two most popular and powerful men in present-day India. “Yes, I sing about Yogi and Modi,” he says. “Songs that praise them become instant hits.” Appropriately, Krishnvanshi received recognition and praise from the state for his songs.

“These singers have the full support of the government,” says Ahmad. “This is a win-win situation for both. The singers promote their leaders and their policies, and in return the government provides them with support and approval.”

A growing mass culture

Krishnvanshi isn’t the only singer to thrive with the rise of Islamophobia in India. In the vast northern regions of the country known as the “Cow belt”, home to conservative Hindu nationalism, Hindutva pop is in great demand both online and offline.

Laxmi Dubey is one such singer of this rapidly developing group. Born in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, he started out as a small-time reporter for a local daily newspaper before turning to music as a profession.

Wearing a turban and smearing vermilion powder on her forehead, Dubey can be seen singing wildly in saffron, a color often associated with Hindu nationalism. His aggressive vocalization, phrasing, and body language made him a star in Hindutva circles, as he was frequently summoned to events held by right-wing ideologues in many states.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done,” Dubey says without apology when asked if TIME’s songs are overburdened. “I have never said anything against any religion. Yet I have always supported my religion,” he says.

like her songs Har Ghar Bhagwa Chayega With over 65 million views (Every House Shall Turn Saffron), it openly calls for Hindu domination in India. In that song, he sings in Hindi, which roughly means “The enemy will crumble before the Hindu lions … India will be Hindu, only saffron will fly high”.

Dubey claims that these songs do not target any society, but that the music triggers violence against Muslims in the country.

harbinger of pogroms

Earlier this April, on the eve of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, 25-year-old Abrar Khan heard voices as he prepared to break his fast with his family in the bustling city of Khargone in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Loud from speakers at Talab Chowk, a busy road junction. A large procession of right-wing Hindus waving swords and sticks had stopped there to celebrate Ramnavmi, a Hindu festival celebrating the birthday of the god Ram. The frantic crowd stood in front of the nearby mosque and played provocative Hindutva pop over the loudspeakers. They then began to break into nearby Muslim homes and set several of them on fire, including Khan’s.

Read more: Anti-Muslim Hostility Destroyed My Home

“I narrowly escaped, but I couldn’t save my house,” Khan told TIME months after the attack. “My house is located in the main area, so it was the first house they entered. When they entered my house, I quickly escaped and managed to save my life.

“They were constantly playing these provocative songs over the DJ speakers before they attacked our homes,” he said. “It was apparently a pre-planned event,” he added.

Khan also said he believes the crowd is actively supported by local authorities. “There didn’t seem to be any attempts to stop them. In fact, after the violence, the authorities arrested dozens of Muslims and demolished their properties instead of catching the perpetrators.”

Ayesha Khan, a Muslim woman from the region whose house was burned in the violence, expressed similar concerns: “We live in fear as the Katabatas and the government punish us alike. To whom shall we go for justice?”

While the rise of Hindu nationalist violence has caused unrest and fear among Muslims, many believe that the phenomenon of Hindutva pop music worsens already strained relations between communities. “These songs clearly touched the minds of the majority, who looked at us with suspicion. Even my Hindu friends are now full of hatred towards me. They did everything related to Hindutva, even the Independence Day celebrations,” Khan said.

Ghazala Jamil, an assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told the Council on Foreign Relations in July, “During Modi’s first five years, there were constant attacks on Muslim individuals, which made the community feel under siege.” . “The idea was that if you’re a Muslim, you can be attacked anytime, anywhere.”

Read more: What Does the Rising Wave of Violence Against Muslims in India Say About Modi’s Second Term?

Rights activists and experts based in India see a correlation between the rise of Hindutva pop music and recent violence against the Muslim minority community. Aasif Mujtaba, a minority rights activist and founder of the Miles2Smile Foundation, a nonprofit that serves Rohingya refugees and survivors of religious attacks across the country, believes that hateful songs are increasingly becoming the prelude to attacks on Muslims in India. “A definite pattern is clearly visible,” he says.

In Khargone, where survivors like Mujtaba, Khan and Ayesha have lost their homes, following the violence perpetrated against the minority Muslim community, he says provocative songs by artists like Laxmi Dubey, Prem Krishnavanshi and others that incite Hindus to commit violence have been played.

“These songs are so provocative,” he says, “once you play them at the DJ, and the violence will instantly resonate in the streets.” Mucteba says the use of such hateful songs has been observed all over the country before and during the attacks. “You no longer need an instigator to incite violence. “Just set the tone, tune the track, and hate will be wafting as these songs openly call for violence against Muslims.”

“These singers help the government advance their narrative,” says Ahmad. Muslim Mirror“Muslims are not wanted and are responsible for all the mess the country is in.”

“Considering that there is rarely opposition to this new mass culture in the country,” he adds, “it looks like we’re in big trouble.”

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