Hindu militias are growing in India, targeting not only Muslims and Christians, but also dissident Hindus, according to political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot during a recent New York lecture.
Jaffrelot, of Science Po in Paris, presented a paper at a Columbia University seminar in late March, attended by RW, which argued that “Hindu terrorism” is emerging as the result of the coalescing of two different schools of thought. The first school can be traced to the Hindu political leader Savarkar, who attempted to militarize Hindus in the 1930s and 1940s, engaging in violence that culminated in the assassination of Mahatma Ghandi in 1948. After Ghandi’s death, the RSS, which was founded in the 1920s, became the main Hindu nationalist, establishing 48,000 chapters throughout India.
After 1984, the Savarkar influence began to reappear in the RSS with the growth of militias known as Bajrang Dal, which trained in camps and were responsible for the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in 1992. These militia training camps modeled themselves on both militant Muslims and Israelis. After the mosque attack and the ascent to power of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, the militias turned their attention to issues over Kashmir and targeting Christians and their evangelizing activities; in 1999, Bajrang Dal activits were alleged to have killed an Australian missionary.
The militias also engaged in “controlled policing,” attacking artists, including Muslim and Hindu painters, and other dissidents and even the celebration of Christmas. The flashpoint of these attacks was the anti-Muslim riots in Gujurat in 2002. “The Bajrang Dal resort to violence in ways that the RSS can’t …. What we’re seeing is a kind of legitimation of Hindu terrorism, and Savarkar is being rehabilitated in this,” Jaffrelot said.
These Hindu nationalist groups see India as being in a time of crisis, as there have been terrorist bombings linked to Indian extremist Muslim groups every few months. In turn, new militias are forming that turn to terrorism, as seen in a recent Bajrang Dal attack on a mosque. The fact that active members of the Indian army are joining these militias and that they are not disowned by the RSS suggests a different situation from that of 1948.