Hate from the homeland: The deepening rancour among the desis in Oz

Within the Indian diaspora Down Under, critics of Hindutva as well as dissenters to the jingoistic patriotism of the current dispensation have been at the receiving end of intimidation

Still from the BBC documentary 'India: The Modi Question' (image courtesy: BBC)
Still from the BBC documentary 'India: The Modi Question' (image courtesy: BBC)

Vivek Asri

Mohan Jay Datta teaches at Massey University in New Zealand and has been a vocal critic of Hindutva in his academic work. In August 2021, one of his research papers, titled ‘Cultural Hindutva and Islamophobia’, was published. Some of the so-called Hindutva organisations were teaching children to hate Muslims, he mentioned in the paper.

Within days, he and the university began receiving abusive and hateful messages. ‘The attacks on me, the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), Massey University, and on academics globally writing on and debating about the pernicious effects of Hindutva, are reflective of the hegemonic communicative infrastructure of Hindutva.

At the heart of this hegemonic infrastructure is the silencing of dissent’ and an attack on academic freedom, he wrote.

Within the Indian diaspora in Australia and New Zealand, critics of Hindutva as well as dissenters to the jingoistic patriotism of the current dispensation have been at the receiving end of intimidation for the flimsiest of reasons.  

Rajeev, Sapna and Vinay (not their real names) agreed to share their experiences on condition of anonymity. All three live in major Australian cities, are reasonably successful and well-regarded in their professional communities. All have faced harassment and even death threats from Hindu extremist groups.

Rajeev, a creative artist, revealed that the collaborators on an exhibition he was putting up backed out at the eleventh hour. They were unnerved by a steady stream of messages warning them of ‘consequences’ if they participated. He discovered a boycott campaign on social media, not just with rude comments about him but also threatening people associated with him.

He has filed a complaint with the Australian police, and copies of the complaints are with the National Herald.

Swapna, an entrepreneur, faced rape and death threats after she refused to remove a mural on her wall depicting Hindi deities eating. The mural apparently offended Hindus because they claimed it portrayed the deities as meat eaters.

“I was receiving messages from different people, some of which included threats to cut my head off. They claimed to know where my parents live in India and said that they wouldn’t be spared. My business received hundreds of negative reviews in a matter of hours,” she recalls.

“It’s strange that someone’s sentiments were hurt by a painting on my wall, and for that, they were ready to kill me,” she says. In the past two years, numerous such incidents have been reported from various parts in Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Haroon Qasim, who has also been at the receiving end in Australia, says that it is a complete ecosystem that forces people to remain silent. A study conducted by the Islamic Council of Victoria, he points out, had tracked the campaigns originating in India and estimated that more than half of all hate speech worldwide originated in India and was amplified by the diaspora.

Most of the victims in Australia/ New Zealand have been small business owners, doctors, teachers and journalists. There is no room for discussion, dissent or debate. Vinay was working as a journalist in a well-known media house in Australia.

There was a conference on human rights attended by activists and experts from around the world. The conference also deliberated on human rights violations in India. Once his report was published, complaints began pouring in and hundreds of people sent similar chain mails calling him a traitor.

The editor was unnerved enough to take down the report written by Vinay and edited by other editors. In protest, he resigned, says Vinay. “The president of an Australian organisation affiliated to the BJP told a friend of mine that they would ruin me,” Vinay recalls, and a vilification campaign was carried out on social media.

“By polarising the Indian community along religious lines, they seek to secure political power by claiming to be the true representatives of the Hindu community,” explains Dr Qasim.

Many of the narratives driven by such groups are in explicit breach of the racial and religious tolerance laws in Australia. They are also in breach of existing defamation laws.

Dr Qasim says these laws need to be used more extensively and more effectively to counter such polemical groups. There is no legal remedy, however, for the trauma the victims have gone through, for jobs they have lost and the personal and financial losses they have suffered.

(Vivek Asri is a journalist based in Australia)

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