July 14, 2022 12:08 pm
“Saffron will arrive in every home, the dominion of Rama (incarnation of the god Visnu) will re-emerge”: is the intro of a song that has become popular in recent months in India. The song lasts two minutes and can be found on YouTube played by forty-year-old Ved Vyas. He calls for “saffronization” (saffron orange is the color of Hinduism), a political ideology that in India supports the supremacy of Hindus over all ethnic and religious minorities. This anti-Muslim musical genre is Hindu pop, now spread like wildfire throughout the country. Right-wing government sympathizers use the Islamophobic lyrics of the songs to send an unequivocal message to minorities: “Leave India”.
Inspired by bias towards Islam, racist music emerged in India especially after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya janata party (BJP) came to power by winning the 2014 parliamentary elections. Vyas is the president of the youth section of the Bjp of his city, Bikaner, in the northwestern state of Rajasthan. His first song, released in 2014, sang the praises of the BJP and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Thanks to this song Vyas has gained some popularity. The singer rejects accusations that his music is infused with hatred of the Islamic community.
“It is my attempt to contribute to Hindu culture (sanskriti) and Hindu knowledge (samvita),” he says. This need arose when he realized that the people of the village “were forgetting them”. “My songs are sung in many parts of India,” continues Vyas. “If the lyrics incited violence or hatred, there would have been riots, but it didn’t happen. Nobody got hurt ”. Vyas says he is not alone in his mission: there are many followers who support his cause and offer help. “I don’t sing for money, it was never my goal,” he adds. “There are those who offer to help me for free and those who continue to support me because he understands what I am doing and why I do it”.
Street hymns and knives
Islamophobic songs are not limited to expressing the need to “saffronize” India. There are dozens of songs by right-wing popular singers who openly invite Muslims to leave the country. These threats are directed at the religious minority which makes up 14 percent of the Indian population.
In a seven-minute piece titled “India belongs to Hindus / pimps gone to Pakistan” (Hindu ka hai Hindustan / dal jao Pakistan) starring 25-year-old singer Prem Krishnvanshi, Indian Muslims are accused of being “traitors and supporters ”of the neighboring and rival nation of Pakistan. The song features a photo of Asaduddin Owaisi, one of India’s leading Muslim politicians in the background. The text begins by praising Narendra Modi and Ajay Singh Bisht, known as Yogi Adityaanath, a Hindu monk who is now prime minister of the populous state of Uttar Pradesh. Another famous song is entitled “You are not human beings but butchers / enough with the brotherhood between Hindus and Muslims” (Insaan nhi ho tum saalo, ho tum kasaayi / boht ho chuka hindu-muslim bhai bhai). The lyrics of these songs have become real street anthems. The followers of the right march through the Muslim neighborhoods, armed with swords, singing the songs of Hindu pop.
Many fear that music could become a means of instigating violence against the Muslim community
Krishnvanshi, an engineering graduate, lives in Uttar Pradesh and says the Adityanath government appreciates his music. His songs about him, he says, are addressed “only to those who live in India and love Pakistan”. The young singer said he wanted to stop writing controversial songs: “I realized that they could hurt someone’s feelings.” But the last song he released is titled “The Taj Mahal is the temple of the Hindu deity Shiva”. The Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, was built by a Muslim king in 1632 in memory of his late wife Mumtaz Mahal. The monument has recently come under discussion, after supporters of the Hindu right claimed that the tomb is actually a Hindu temple.
Ahmed, a well-known music expert and researcher from Delhi, argues that Hindu pop songs are meant to denigrate the country’s Muslim minority. “Islamophobic songs have the backing of institutions,” he says. But racist songs, according to Ahmed, will not have an impact on the Indian music industry, which has such huge resources that it cannot be easily affected or damaged. “Music is art, and I don’t see art here. I believe that the Indian music industry will not be affected, even if Hindu pop will have an impact on the harmony of the community ”. According to Ahmed, “some individuals try to profit from this narrative of nationalism and the condescension of right-wing politicians.”
Kavi Singh, a 23-year-old singer with nearly a million subscribers to her YouTube channel, says she wants to raise awareness of the nation’s state of mind with her songs. Singh highlights issues such as the vindication of ancient temples that were “torn down” and “converted into mosques” by Muslim kings during their reign (1206-1526). The singer says she took up this profession after a suicide bomber blew up a paramilitary police vehicle in the Indian part of Kashmir in February 2019.
In the beginning, he says, his songs promoted harmony between Hindus and Muslims. But he changed his course after realizing that Hindus were “targeted” in their own land. “Recently,” he continues, “I was returning with colleagues from the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, and two trucks tried to push my car into an overhang. I don’t know if the truck drivers were Muslim, but the neighborhood where the accident took place is predominantly Muslim ”. Singh is convinced that the privileges of Muslims in India should be limited: “Why should minorities have more rights? Pakistan and India were created on a religious basis with the partition of British India, so that Muslims could live in Pakistan and Hindus in India. Hindus should have more rights in our country ”. She says she supports the government, and criticizes it when she deems it necessary. “In a song I express my admiration for the decision to repeal article 370 of the constitution which recognizes the special status of Kashmir because, in a sense, Kashmir looks like another country,” she explains.
As the popularity of these racist songs continues to increase, many fear that music could become a powerful means of instigating violence against the already severely persecuted Muslim community. Ahmed fears Hindu pop videos could fuel religious violence. “With videos, you go to another level”, he concludes, “and you reach a wider audience”.
(Translation by Davide Musso)