Understanding ‘Jim Crow Hindutva’ State


US-based sociologist Ashutosh Varshney, an expert on BJP politics has coined the term Jim Crow Hindutva to describe the current wave of Hindu nationalism fang in the country. The author compares the current brand of BJP politics with the American politics of the late 19th century with regard to race that was called ‘Jim Crow’ south syndrome.

Ashutosh Varshney is a Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. He has written an article titled ‘Jim Crow Hindutva’ in an Indian newspaper.  Here an attempt is made to discuss his article in relation to the BJP style of rule in the country.

‘Jim Crow’ is the name of a musical play depicting Black Americans in a demeaning light. It refers to a whole set of laws and practices that deprived Black Americans of their voting rights; subjected them to forced segregation, outlawed their inter-racial marriages, and were subjected to mob lynching.

Such laws and practices were institutionalized in the eleven southern states of America and came to be known as ‘Jim Crow South.’ This brand of politics lasted for over seven decades, till the Civil Rights Acts and Voting Rights Acts were given to the black Americans in the mid-1960s.

Varshney likes to equate the US ‘Jim Crow’ brand of politics with the BJP politics and cites many similarities between the two since the saffron party has gained an unprecedented majority in the Parliamentary election in 2019.

Varshney says after the second term in office, the BJP is making laws to turn Muslims into second-class citizens of India. Muslims are subjected to intense hatred by the Hindus and their mob lynching is to instill a deep sense of fear among them and make them mortally afraid of the Hindus.

The government is making laws to segregate the Hindus and Muslims and prevent their mixing and inter-religious marriages.  The problem has deepened because this is combined with violence that’s directed against the Muslim community.

Further, Varshney says the “public safety” laws are amended to give the government the power to designate any individual as terrorist or ‘anti-national’. Such a law can impose preventive detention with uncertain access to the courts. It is through such measures hundreds of Kashmiri politicians were imprisoned after the abolition of Article 370 and Article 35(a) after August 5, 2019.

In the same vein, laws prohibiting interfaith marriages are passed in the BJP-ruled states, and the ‘love jihad’ Hindu militia is formed to punish the Muslims from personal intermixing with the Hindu girls.

The BJP government through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), introduced citizenship laws, with the religious requirement excluding Muslims. As a sequel to the CAA, a National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being prepared to strip those Muslims who don’t have the right documents of citizenship that may deprive millions of Muslims of their voting rights and the benefits of a welfare state.

Varshney says the BJP government since 2019 is promulgating Jim Crow laws that the white majority did in the eleven southern states of the US.  According to Varshney, BJP-ruled India is heading for a Jim Crow situation and Muslims are being subjected to the same kind of treatment as Blacks were done in the southern states of America.

The other important point Varsheny makes is that BJP’s India is different from Nazi Germany.  Any comparison between Hindutva with Nazism is totally wrong. The all-important difference is the institution of concentration camps that was central to Nazi Germany. It had three aims: to imprison indefinitely the enemies of the state, real or imagined, with administrative approval, but without judicial permission; second, to eliminate, physically, groups of unwanted people without judicial consent and third to push the incarcerated into forced labor.

Varshney says that the Hindutva -Nazis analogy is a bit farfetched. This is because Indian Muslims cannot be compared with German Jews and their text and subtext are quite different. Further, the creation of concentration camps is a near impossibility in the post-1945 period of the world. The country that does that will be ostracized by the international community, the exception being China that’s getting away with it with regard to the Uighur Muslims due to the economic and military clout that India lacks.

So according to Varshney Hindutva –the Nazi analogy will not be a perfect example to describe the Indian situation and the more apt comparison could be the Jim Crow past of America to describe the current wave of Hindu nationalism in India.

The other point Varsheny makes is comparing BJP rule under Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (1998-20004) with that of Narendra Modi from 2014 to 2019 and from 2019 till now.

Hindu nationalism under Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought to make India more Hindu in terms of public symbolism than being anti-Muslim. Under Narendra Modi, electoral democracy coexists with Hindutva political order that’s premised on a Hindu nationalist state which is opposed to the Muslims. The current BJP government is trying to impose a legally brutal regime that may force the Muslims in India to become subordinate to the Hindus.

Thus the two BJP Prime Ministers differed in their political orientation towards their approach to promote Hindu nationalism. While the Vajpayee government was wedded to democracy and Humanism, the Modi government survives on Jim Crow Hindutva.  The last BJP rule over India was more humane than the current brand of Jim Crow Hindutva that is fascist in approach.

The final point that Varshney makes is the unreliable nature of Indian Courts and Indian media, the two pillars to save democracy in the country. These two pillars instead of being savior democracies are most often found to be tacit supporters of Jim Crow Hindutva.

Varshney says in order to prevent India’s complete transformation to the Jim Crow Hindutva; the common people must electorally challenge the BJP, particularly, in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh where the election is due next year.  People should clamor for a greater federal structure and oppose the ongoing efforts of centralization in the name of religious nationalism. People should also mount democratic protest and launch civil disobedience movements to save the country from dissenting into a full-fledged Jim Crow Hindutva state.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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