By Gauri Gandbhir
The stripping of Indian democracy by the far-right, Hindu-nationalist government of Narendra Modi is causing uproar in the Australian-Indian diaspora.
Countering the protests in solidarity with Indian farmers and workers standing up to fascism are right-wing Hindu nationalists, who are violently retaliating against those Indians they see as a threat to Modi’s attempt to forcefully conflate Hinduism with Indian national identity (Hindutva).
In New South Wales, these rising tensions have led to two attacks on the Indian Sikh community: one on a car driven by Sikh youth in Harris Park; and another at a car rally that intended to drive past a local Gurdwara.
“The assailants identified the reason they were smashing [the car], was because of the occupants being from the Sikh community, and it came from a far-right extremist political position,” Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said on March 5.
At the forefront of this discussion is The Humanism Project, which was formed in March 2020 to raise awareness about issues impacting the Indian diaspora in Australia, the United States, Britain and New Zealand.
Dr Haroon Kasim, from The Humanism Project, told Green Left that it organised a conference last year on the impact of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and held two parliamentary roundtables about the rise of fascism in India.
The group has worked with sympathetic politicians to draw attention to this growing right-wing threat.
Greens Senator Janet Rice spoke about the human rights violations in India on February 23. “The Indian government has taken its Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level with a succession of policies that abrogate the rights of different segments of its Muslim population, threatening the democratic future of a country long seen as a potential bulwark of freedom in Asia and the world.”
In the NSW Parliament, Shoebridge criticised right-wing violence against the Sikh community and the infiltration of right-wing Hindu nationalist groups into religious education in public schools.
“How did Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is a right-wing Hindu organisation that is considered a military extremist religious organisation by the CIA [US Central Intelligence Agency], find themselves in New South Wales public schools?” Shoebridge asked on March 3.
Murat Dizdar, Deputy Secretary of School Operations and Performance at the NSW Department of Education, said that it was left to school principles to decide.
“There is a supervisory requirement from the principal or a staff member, depending on the school,” he said. “We are not prescriptive about what that looks like. We leave it to the principal to determine what it might look like for large schools or small schools.”
The Public Instruction Act 1880 mandated all public schools to provide one hour of Special Religious Education (SRE) each week, while allowing parents to withdraw their children.
SRE is dedicated to teaching a single religion, unlike General Religious Education (GRE), also part of the official school curriculum, in which students explore multiple religious traditions with qualified teachers.
Historically, SRE has been limited to Christian religious teaching, but more recently some NSW public schools have begun to include other religions.
VHP’s Australian website states that it is authorised by the NSW Department of Education to teach Hindu Dharma classes in 80 public schools as a part of the SRE program and it is seeking approval to do the same in other states.
Indian lawyer and commentator Abdul Ghafoor Majeed Noorani explained in The RSS: A Menace to India that the VHP was formed in 1964 by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh with the aim of mobilising the Hindu community in India and around the world to “rectify” alleged past wrongs committed against Hindus by Muslims.
“[In India] the VHP and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, organise weekly training and meetings for local youths, where, in addition to religious texts, the threats posed by Muslims are a recurring topic of discussion.
“Such discussions are often accompanied by a more military type of training, in which youths are instructed on how to fight. These organisations have been very effective in spreading Hindu-nationalist ideology; the organisations now command an unsurpassed grassroots network of thousands of local activists.”
According to Kasim, the VHP in NSW has been authorised to provide SRE to children as young as five in public schools and has received up to $100,000 in funding. Yet, the public does not know what exactly is being taught.
This story first appeared on greenleft.org.au