I see similarities between Zionism and Hindutva — an extremist Hindu-supremacist ideology which promotes creating a single Hindu identity. In short, Hindutva advocates strive for a Hindu ethnostate.
I’ve seen discussions about the similarity of the two ideologies before. But as I’m seeing booming popularity for Zionism and Hindutva in diaspora communities, I want to think about them more deeply.
I vaguely knew about the Global North’s perception of India before moving from there to Winnipeg. While my interactions with folks at the university and my previous part-time job do not represent the opinions of the entire Global North, it’s concerning that so many people assume that I’m Hindu and I speak Hindi.
India is home to diverse religious, linguistic and ethnic groups. There are 23 official languages in India, and Hindi is only one among them, alongside my mother tongue Malayalam which is spoken by over 34 million people. While many people in India are Hindu, Pew Research Center estimated in 2021 that there are over 172 million Muslims in the country as well.
The assumptions people make about my identity primarily are a result of years of representation of certain types of brown folks in Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
While popular culture plays an important role in bridging the gaps between cultures, I take issue with universalizing Northern Indian culture to all of India. Bollywood movies and their musicals do not define India, just like how poverty porno Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t. India is not a monolith.
In simple terms, I was taken aback by how North Indian and upper-caste Hindu-centric these perceptions were.
Castes decide people’s social class. The upper castes are close to the temples and other powerful social structures, so the further you are from these structures, the more you will face discrimination. Some lower-caste Hindus and Muslims in India face social and residential segregation.
Friendly Winnipeggers I’ve talked to aren’t solely contributing towards the persistent perception of Indian cultural identity as an upper caste Hindi-speaking Hindu. Of course, British colonialism in India and the imperialist history of the Global North have played a part in these perceptions.
What aids this misconception are the acts of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that align with the interests of upper-caste Indians.
The hyper-nationalist and hyper-religious perception that people associate with the entirety of India became a prevalent part of Indian cultural identity after the BJP was sworn into power under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Modi’s Hindu-nationalist regime has been committed to Islamophobia ever since.
Religious conflicts between the Hindu and Muslim populations of the country predate India’s independence from the British, but the partition of India in 1947 led to a Muslim majority in Pakistan and a Hindu majority in India, which led to the deaths of between 500,000 and 2 million people.
This religious tension only grew in independent India.
One of the major historical events that defined the violence of Hindu nationalism was the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque — originally constructed in the 16th century — on Dec. 6, 1992 in the city of Ayodhya. According to Hindu belief, Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Rama. The land dispute between Hindus and Muslims is rooted in the Hindu belief that the mosque stood in the birthplace of Lord Rama. This land dispute over the mosque began during colonization, and the divide between the communities abetted the British Empire’s divide-and-conquer rule. It’s impossible to fully recount the massacres, violence and injustices that happened over these years.
32 years later, on Jan. 22 2024, a Ram temple was inaugurated where the mosque once stood. The consecration of the temple is the result of years of Hindu nationalist extremism spread onto every Indian’s life.
I see so many parallels between the spread of Hindutva and Zionism.
The partition of India resembled the “two-state solution” proposed by the British that would have divided the country into Palestine for the Palestinian people and Israel for the Jewish people. In both cases, the British intruded.
Granted, Israel and India are two very different countries. What they have in common is the intrusion of the British. The British Balfour Declaration of 1917 advocated for the creation of a Jewish state in historical Palestine, which subsequently aided establishment of the country in 1948.
Israel has faced resistance over claiming a religiously significant piece of land. Much like the dispute over Babri Masjid, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all consider Jerusalem sacred. However, in 1980, Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem as the country’s capital even though it was an international city under occupation.
This law was declared null and void by the United Nations Security Council. I think this would have helped create a Jewish ethnostate by introducing lack of accessibility to Jerusalem for Christian and Muslim believers, creating religious and political exclusion.
After almost 90 years of colonial extraction, when the English left India, the country began to find a place in the globe. In 1988, India became one of the first countries to recognize the State of Palestine and remained a strong ally in the Palestinian struggle for many years.
However, the influence of extremist Hindutva groups like Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the latter of which had the killer of Mahatma Gandhi in its membership — much like how Irgun Zvai Leumi shaped the Israeli state, I think it changed India’s global political image.
Writer and activist Amrit Wilson has noted that the rewriting of history is at the heart of Hindutva. Like Zionists, Hindutva parties are always finding shaky “evidence” to support their claims that ancient Islamic sites are Hindu in origin. Zionists often claim that Palestine was “a land without a people” for instance. People fear-monger that “Hindus are in danger” and make the blatant Islamophobic claim that Hindus only have India, whereas Muslims could move to an Arab country. This is similar to the Zionist claim that Israel is the only safe country for Jewish people.
These troublesome historical and ideological parallels between Zionism and Hindutva manifest in a dangerous alliance between both states. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India is the main purchaser of Israeli arms, and Israel is the tenth largest country in arms exportation. The construction of an ethnostate comes through violence, myth making and, clearly, military and political collaboration between the countries.
I’m concerned about the safety of my Muslim and lower-caste friends back home and Hindutva thriving in diaspora communities. My cultural identity cannot become synonymous with neoliberal, ethnoreligious, nationalist right-wing Hindutva.
These are ideas that we have to fight on all fronts, globally.