Popular in online ‘trad’ groups are images of Parshuram, an angry Brahmin defender of the faith in Hindu mythology.

By / scroll.in

The road to the Hindu Rashtra runs through the history of Vatican city, a participant proposed in a live audio discussion on Twitter Spaces on January 11.

The topic of the discussion was: “HinduRashtra w/o Trads – Possible? How would it look?”

Hindu Rashtra is an alternative polity that Hindu supremacists aspire to. According to them, it will be created by dismantling India’s secular Constitution and commandeering existing institutions to give primacy to Hindus.

Trads, as a handle called ParthaSarthi, who was hosting the Twitter Spaces discussion put it, “are basically traditionalists who are conservative Hindus who believe in the original Hinduism mentioned in the shastras”, or religious scriptures.

This shadowy section of the Hindu Right burst into the national spotlight in January, when the police in Delhi and Mumbai arrested six people for allegedly organising mock online auctions of Muslim women on an app called “Bulli Bai”. Online networks of Trads were said to have orchestrated it. They were also believed to be behind a similar “auction” held last year on another app called “Sulli Deals”.

Days after the first arrest, the audio discussion on Twitter offered a glimpse of the Trad worldview.

“The pope is ruling us, because our Constitution is not our own, it is given to us by Christians,” said ParthaSarthi. According to her, it was meant to serve the “goals and propaganda” of foreign institutions.

A Twitter user going by the name of Agni offered an alternative. “The basis of Hindu Rashtra will be smritis and shrutis [traditional Hindu tenets],” he said. “If that is not the basis, it will be a Western concept.”

Ironically for a group that aspires to weed out western concepts from India, some drew inspiration from western models. A user called NikBruh cited the creation of Vatican City in 1929 under Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, as a possible prototype for the Hindu Rashtra. The treaty recognised the Vatican City as an independent state under the jurisdiction of the pope.

“The Vatican city was created in 1929 under the Lateran treaty – similarly, I am not asking for an independent area but within the realm of cooperative federalism we can have a small area where I will be given the freedom to profess my religion,” NikBruh said. “This could be Ayodhya, Kashi or Haridwar.”

He argued that conditions were ripe in India for a new political order. “It is only possible when there are tensions in society,” he said.

Most conversations in Trad groups, however, were far from academic in tone.

Over the last three months, Scroll.in has been tracking these conversations on Twitter, Clubhouse, Reddit and Instagram to piece together a picture of India’s Trads. It isn’t just fascist Italy from which they seek inspiration. They also draw upon the world of the American Alt-Right to give expression to their violent fantasies of subjugating Muslims, Dalits, women and sexual minorities.

Impatient for a Hindu Rashtra, they abhor India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for not pursuing the goal seriously enough.

Sexual violence
Those arrested in the “Bulli Bai” case were part of an online group calling itself the Trad Mahasabha. Five out of six were upper-caste young men. The sixth was an 18-year-old woman from Uttarakhand.

In April, a Mumbai court granted bail to three out of the six accused, observing that they were of “tender age” and needed counselling.

While the police have been on the trail of those responsible for the “Sulli Deals” and “Bulli Bai” apps, other online ecosystems still generate similar hateful content.

Many of these are private Reddit groups. Two groups, DesiInterFaith with 26,200 members and InterfaithxxxOfficial with 8,100 members, are open to any curious internet browser. On a regular browser, the DesiInterFaith page says “This content has been restricted in your country in response to a legal request.” But the page is still available when surfing in incognito mode.

The rules of the group warn users not to incite hate and violence, not to post pictures of one’s “mother and sister” and not to share pictures of genitalia.

Most group members appear to have ignored the warnings. Proposed “Hindu Rashtra Laws” are largely to do with sexual dominance over Muslim men and women. The most graphic posts describe sexual violence against Muslim women, including stripping and gangraping them in public.

A video posted a year ago shows a woman being battered and gangraped. The caption reads, “If you’re wondering how Muslim women are going to be treated under Hindu Rashtra, here is a glimpse.”

InterfaithxxxOfficial, which can be viewed on a regular browser, has similarly explicit posts. Any woman who refuses to chant “Jai Shri Ram” is threatened with rape. A video of sexual assault posted on March 29 is shared with the caption “Bajrang Dal goons followed your sister to home from the CAA protests.”

It is a reference to the protests that spread across the country in December 2019 against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which fast tracks Indian citizenship for refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, except if they are Muslim. Many Indian Muslims feared it was a prelude to stripping them of citizenship. Muslim women led many of the protests that ensued.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in Uttar Pradesh appears to have set off a similar flood of explicit content depicting how “BJP and RSS goons are celebrating post election result”.

A third group called SlavesofHR (Hindu Rashtra), which has 800 members, was created in February 2022. The moderator here asks members to propose rules for a Hindu Rashtra. Many posts feature women wearing a hijab and ask users to suggest how they should be treated. A barrage of sexually violent scenarios follows in the response.

Pictures of hundreds of women have been used in these posts, presumably without their consent. There are also pictures of Hindu men’s genitalia, usually with religious symbols on them.

‘Trads’ versus ‘Raitas’
As the Uttar Pradesh elections approached, the main topic of conversation switched from violent misogyny to how to ensure the BJP lost.

In the Hindu rightwing ecosystem, there is usually a distinction between those calling themselves Trads and those they brand as “Raitas”. The latter includes members of the organised Hindu Right who have become part of the mainstream of India’s political life, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP.

The nickname “Raita” comes from the Hindi idiom, “raita phailana”, to create a nuisance. Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are frequently called “Nagpuriya chaddis”, a derogatory reference to their headquarters in Nagpur.

Trads believe groups like the BJP have forgotten their Hindu roots in order to capture political power, and are therefore standing in the way of a Hindu Rashtra. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was frequently called “Maulana Modi”. In the Trad worldview, the Hindu nationalist leader appeases Muslims, Christians and Dalits.

Members of the IT Cell, the BJP’s publicity wing, are also considered Raitas. “They [the Trads] shifted all their focus on the UP polls,” a member of the IT Cell, based out of Maharashtra, told Scroll.in. He surmised that Trad groups must have spent hours across platforms to share anti-BJP propaganda.

Among other objections to the BJP campaign, the Trads resented the revamping of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor just before the elections. In their opinion, Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath had turned a religious place into a tourist spot.

The Twitter Spaces conversation on January 11 spent considerable time lamenting how the current crop of leaders fail to meet the Trads’ political goals and how they may be edged out. “These political leaders are in the way of our Hindu Rashtra,” said Sooraj, one participant. “If we speak more they [the BJP and its supporters] will become weak. So that is what we should do online. Twitter is a very powerful space for speaking.”

A Twitter user called Gagan mused on how a political alternative to the BJP may be organised. “If a political umbrella is made under Trads, like it has for Islam…” he said. “If we develop politically then we can start getting the numbers.”

The short-term strategy was to make sure that “Pandits”, or Brahmins, voted None of the Above in the Uttar Pradesh elections.

As news of the BJP’s election victory emerged on March 10, many Trad accounts were despondent.

“Now traditional hindu must realise that they are in minority, therefore work on protecting the tradition,” tweeted a handle called Niyodhak on March 10. “Now empowered by election results in the name of social development, tradition will be targeted.”

Twitter handles used by BJP supporters struck back. “At least from today, realise your error. Join the party and the Hindutva movement and make it stronger,” tweeted an account called Spirit of Hindutva.

Despite their victory in the Uttar Pradesh elections, IT Cell members are not resting easy. “They will come back and be active during the upcoming Gujarat and Himachal elections.” said a second IT Cell member

Indeed, the despondence seemed to pass soon and Trad accounts quickly recovered from their disappointment enough to mock the BJP again. A Reddit post from mid-March mocked the results: “Hindus lining up to vote for BJP so they can give 1000 crore grants to madrasas even harder.”

Caste and the conservative
Dalits as a social group are almost as reviled as Muslims. On January 31, for instance, a Twitter account called UnSecularTrad shared a post labelling the BJP a “Bhim Jihadi Party”.

On March 11, a day after the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh, a handle going by the name of Harshit Mishra tweeted, “Bharata is in a situation today when you don’t have an option to choose a true Dhaarmika leadership. You choose BJP – that endorses Periyar, Phule, Ambedkar, appeases Muslim, imposes reservations, fosters caste divide – things precisely that plagued it. What’s the celebration for?”

During the Twitter Spaces discussion on January 11, a handle called Aapka Bhai had said reservations were a hurdle to capturing power and the BJP would only increase the percentage of reservations. He suggested another route. “The position we can capture is the judiciary, as there is no reservation in the judiciary yet,” he said.

Several posts by Trad accounts reiterate the importance of the varna system, which places Brahmins at the apex and Dalits at the bottom as “untouchables”. Dalits, according to Trads, should not be allowed to enter temples and only Brahmins should be allowed to be priests.

In recent months, some of the more explicit posts directing hate at Dalits have disappeared from social media platforms. Earlier, photographs of blue cockroaches being “exterminated” were a recurring feature of such posts.

Dalits, along with Muslims, are accused of being ungrateful for the subsidies they get. Several posts also accuse them of “defiling” clean spaces.

Going by some Trad accounts, Dalits become particularly objectionable when they become politically aware of their rights and identities. One Twitter user complained his Dalit friend and he used to make fun of Ambedkar in their youth, but now he had turned into a “bhimta” – a slur used for Dalits.

Needless to say, BR Ambedkar is a particular target of malice. One Reddit account says only Brahmins can be Buddhas, referring to Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. Another user agrees, because “a slave can’t comprehend enlightenment”.

Punishing women
While a particular kind of violent misogyny is reserved for Muslim women, Hindu women who disobey Hindu patriarchal norms – such as covering their heads with a ghunghat and bearing children – must also be punished.

Feminists are anathema. On Instagram, a handle called Dharm Rakshak speaks about how feminism is not about equality but about rigging the system against men. Apart from directing a few choice expletives at them, he also shares a photograph suggesting feminists should be led to gas chambers to be incinerated.

A Twitter Spaces discussion that was held on January 11 tackled the puzzling question of women’s emancipation. “Women should be empowered, she should not be pressurised or be traumatised” began one participant, who went by the name of Dr.Sachin [email protected] Doss. “But that does not mean that she opens all her clothes and goes out on the streets. Kapdo se swatantrata thodi na hoti hai [one cannot be emancipated from clothes].”

A Twitter handle called SailorSaab had stronger views on the subject. On March 16, he commented on a video where women are singing a number of songs, including Hum Dekhenge, which became popular during the CAA protests: they would continue with “this nautanki (drama) as long as they don’t get thrashed for good.” On March 17, he was of the opinion arranged marriages had been branded abusive “because women have been educated and empowered.”

A Twitter handle called RusticReborn believes girls should not be educated and that they should marry young, before they are overqualified for the marriage market. “It’s another reason for delay in a girl’s Marriage,” he lamented in a tweet on March 18. “We can limit our greed. Keeping a daughter’s education limited to an extent might help all.” In other tweets he explained how women lacked loyalty, which was a masculine trait.

Not surprisingly, they are against all sexual minorities, believed to be destroying families and society. “Excuse me, may I know where the LGBT pride parade is at?” asked a Trad account, by the name Dharmrakshajji, in an Instagram post on January 30. The comment was shared with the picture of a man holding two massive guns, a saffron gamcha and evidently headed towards a massacre.

This article first appeared on scroll.in