A Musical Resistance to Hindu Nationalism
February 6, 2018 | On December 15th 2017, an Indian band called the Ska Vengers performed their song “Modi, a Message to you,” a cover of “Rudy, a Message for you,” by Daniel Livingstone. They performed in front of a crowd of approximately 2,500 young adults at Magnetic Fields, a contemporary music and arts festival in Rajasthan, India. The Ska Vengers’ version of the song is bursting with criticism of Prime Minister Modi’s actions, followed by lyrics that read “You should have wound up in jail.”
At the end of the music video that accompanies the song online, Modi’s animated face is shown with two spinning Nazi swastikas in place of his eyes. Taru Dalmia, the lead male singer for the Ska Vengers, was asked by reporters if the worst case scenario would be that the band was prohibited from performing as a repercussion for the band’s outspoken political dissent. He replied “…that’s not the worst that could happen. You could get lynched.” One of the reasons why the band produced the song is the 2002 riots in Gujarat where over 2,000 Muslims were killed—an event for which Dalima blames Modi.
The Ska Venger’s musical display of dissatisfaction with the current Prime Minister is bold. Under Prime Minister Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling political party since 2014, Hindu nationalism has gained steam. Critics and supporters of the BJP have accused the band of being anti-national and communist supporters. The band’s decision to release the song and to continue to perform despite harsh critiques is indicative of an increasing resistance to the spread of Hindu nationalism.
Over 70% of India’s total population reportedly identifies as Hindu, with Islam at 14% of the population, and various other religions such as Sikh, Christian, and Buddhist making up the remaining 16%. The BJP, a right wing party, promotes Hindu nationalism through the Hindutva project, a political movement that advocates for India as a Hindu state. While the Hindutva project has received a significant amount of support from those who endorse the BJP, anti-Hindu nationalism and anti-Modi sentiments seem to have become more prevalent.
The Ska Vengers are not the only ones in India expressing their discontent with political leaders. In September 2017, a Twitter campaign was launched against Modi by @INCGujarat, using the hashtag #BlockNarendraModi, criticizing him for the aftermath of India’s demonetization, the new Goods and Services Tax (GST), and a sudden rise in gas prices. The Twitter campaign and other social media campaigning has been referred to as anti-BJP propaganda by BJP president Amit Shah.
One organization involved in taking action against political and social issues exacerbated by the rise of Hindu nationalism is the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), founded by Lenin Regnuvansh in 1996. A primary issue the organization fights against is casteism. Activism movements against caste discrimination are known as the Dalit movements, named after the caste previously regarded as the “untouchables.”
Regnuvansh, in an article he wrote for Youth Ki Awaaz, calls the Hindutva project Neo-Fascist, and states that economic deregulation has put lower castes at a disadvantage, thereby increasing the social divide that already exists as a result of the now-illegal caste system. He proposes the initiation of a “Neo-Dalit” movement against what he calls a culture of impunity. Regnuvansh considers the current government Neo-Fascist based on the assertion that it has fostered a culture of respect for authority and hatred toward differences, citing issues such as a corrupt bureaucracy, political repression, economic exploitation, and social domination. He calls for the Neo-Dalit movement to use resistance tactics via the legal system, dialogue, and education. According to Regnuvansh, PVCHR is currently creating over 200 model villages based on the concept of the Neo-Dalit movement, in order to educate and foster unity among communities of the poor majority.
While Hindu nationalism has a tendency to dominate discourse about the political climate in India at present, it is important to discuss Hindu nationalism’s counter movement as well. Even though the majority of India’s population identifies as Hindu, the resistance movement appears to be more politically and socially motivated than religiously motivated. It is historically common for a resistance movement to develop in response to a new or controversial ideology promoted by a country’s government. India’s current resistance movement is one such example, and to understand the controversy at hand, it is important to hear both sides of the story. Protest music like the Ska Vengers’ “Modi, A Message to You,” is a sure way that the perspective of the resistance will be heard loud and clear.
Hannah Luzadder is a graduate from Lewis & Clark College's international affairs program and specializes in Indian politics and policy.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror itself.
Photo by Narendra Modi for Flickr with a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.