Skip to main content

Proposed monuments of Hindu icons to "transform" secular India, unnerve minorities

By Indulata Prasad*
Statues – big statues, the largest in the world – are being built all across India. Like many public monuments, they attempt to convey history in a concrete form. But India’s new statues convey something else, too: the power and vision of one dominant group – and the vulnerability of others.That’s because India’s biggest new public monuments all pay tribute to Hindu gods and leaders.
As a scholar of social change in India, I see statues as a projection of a nation’s values at a particular moment in time. For many Muslims and other religious minorities, then, these hulking public monuments of Hindu icons send an ominous message about their status in society.

Rising Hindu nationalism

The mammoth public shrines to Hindu nationalism are a pet project of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. Since taking office in 2014, Modi has used his power to promote Hindu nationalism, a polarizing ideology that sees Hindus as India’s dominant group. Yet India is a constitutionally multicultural country with the world’s second largest population of Muslims – comprising over 170 million people.
Twenty percent of its 1.3 billion people are Muslim, Christian or another religion.
By 2021 India, which is already home to the tallest statue in the world – Gujarat state’s 597-foot-tall “Statue of Unity,” commemorating Indian independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – plans to unveil two more record-breaking monuments, both portraying icons idolized by Hindu rightists.
A 725-foot bronze likeness of the god Ram planned for Uttar Pradesh state will soon surpass the Statue of Unity in size. And in Mumbai construction has been halted on a 695-foot-tall likeness of the medieval Hindu warrior Shivaji, pending the results of an environmental review.
Guinness World Records also recently judged Tamil Nadu state’s 112-foot depiction of the face of the Hindu god Shiva as the world’s largest bust statue.
All this is happening under Modi, who is up for re-election in monthlong general elections.
He was voted into office in 2014 on a platform of “development for all.” Promising to boost the economy in a country where nearly 22% of people live in poverty and millions go hungry, Modi and the BJP won an historic parliamentary majority over the center-left Indian National Congress, its main competitor.
Since then, India has improved in international “ease of doing business” rankings, passing regulations that improve commerce and the protection of property rights.
But some of Modi’s boldest moves to improve cash flow and boost public revenues, including a 2017 tax reform initiative and a ban on saving in certain high-value currencies, have failed. Unemployment has risen under BJP rule, particularly in rural areas, and the national economy suffered during the “demonetization” process.
Over the last five years, under Modi’s administration, India has also seen a startling rise of Hindu vigilante violence.

Indian vigilante ‘cow killings’

The attacks – often called “cow protection” – are sometimes deadly assaults that target Muslims and other Indians who, unlike many Hindus, do not consider cows to be sacred.
Hindu militants killed at least 44 Indians and injured 280 in about 100 attacks between May 2015 and December 2018, according to the international not-for-profit Human Rights Watch. Most of the dead were Muslims in states run by Modi’s political party.
The prime minister and his BJP have faced criticism for being slow to condemn anti-Muslim violence and for prioritizing legislation to safeguard cows, not the victims of vigilantism. Cow protection violence has also crippled India’s beef and leather industries, since they are primarily Muslim-run.
Muslim men who date Hindu women are another common target of vigilante violence, as are students, journalists, academics and artists perceived to be critical of Modi’s leadership.
The Hindu nationalists’ crusade against pluralism takes place even as the Modi administration cracks down on civil liberties. Between 2014 and 2016, 179 people were arrested on charges of sedition for protests, critical blogs or anti-government posts on Facebook, according to government crime statistics.

Fears of religious minority groups

This is the cultural context that has Muslims worried over India’s statue-building spree. The BJP is not the first party to build public monuments celebrating only one segment of Indian society.
From 2007 to 2012, a top politician named Mayawati built numerous memorials and parks across Uttar Pradesh state commemorating leaders from India’s marginalized Dalit class, formerly known as the “untouchables.” Mayawati, a Dalit, commissioned statues of herself, her political mentor Kanshi Ram and other Dalit icons who fought against India’s caste system.
It was the first time such grand homage had been paid to the Dalit leaders who crusaded against India’s deep-rooted caste system.
But the US$800 million price invited scrutiny, and the courts have asked Mayawati to repay some of those funds.
India’s election commission also insisted that Mayawati’s statues be shrouded ahead of state elections in 2012, saying the visibility of the then-chief minister and her party symbol might sway voters.
In contrast, resistance to India’s giant new statues has been muted. And Hindu nationalists are pushing for more public commemoration of their faith.
In November 2018, tens of thousands of Hindus gathered to demand the construction of a Hindu temple in the Indian city of Ayodhya – at the same spot where, in 1992, Hindu zealots demolished an ancient Muslim-built mosque.
The proposal to build instead an enormous statue of Ram in Ayodhya is widely seen as an effort to placate Hindu nationalists in their decades-long quest for a Ram temple.
Fearing a repeat of the deadly violence that destroyed the ancient mosque, some local Muslims fled the city last November.

Indian elections

Indians will decide whether to give Modi another five years when they vote this spring in the world’s biggest election. Recent polls show Modi and his BJP leading in a race in which several competitor parties have allied to defeat him.
The prime minister’s public approval got a 7% boost, to 52%, after India’s brief but sharp escalation of recent tension with neighboring Pakistan, a majority Muslim state.
Border disputes are a classic move for a strongman leader during election season. Paying homage to Hindu nationalist icons in the form of giant public monuments, however, is something different. Modi is transforming secular India, one statue at a time.
---
Assistant Professor, Women and Gender Studies, School of Social Transformation, Tempe Campus, Arizona State University; has researched on land rights and India's Dalits. This article was first published in The Conversation

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Union budget 'mum' on relief to marginalised communities facing climate change impact

Counterview Desk  ActionAid, an international advocacy group which claims to work for a world without poverty, patriarchy and injustice, has wondered if the Union budget 2023-24, which is being acclaimed for providing succour to the middle classes, has anything to offer to the India's poor. In a statement, it said, while the budget may have "prioritised inclusive development", the financial outlay for ensuring it "does not show the zeal as hoped." Stating that the Finance Minister said Rs 35,000 crore revenue would have to be "forgone" due to a reduction in personal income taxes, "fiscal prudence is not enough to expand public employment, social security, welfare, education and health expenditures considerably." "The need of the hour is to raise revenues through the reduction of revenues forgone and innovative mechanisms such as wealth tax on super accumulation of wealth", it added. Text: The Union Budget 2023 has given significant

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Lack of welfare schemes, BSF curbs force West Bengal farmers to migrate far away

Counteview Desk  In a representation to the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, a senior West Bengal based activist has complained that villagers living near the border with Bangladesh are forced to migrate to as far away as Mumbai and Kerala because of lack of government sensitivity towards their welfare in original villages. Giving specific instances, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), said, if the Border Security Force (BSF) had not put any restriction on agricultural activities, and if villages had properly implemented welfare schemes, these people would never migrate to other States. Text: I want to attract your immediate attention to the inhumane condition of the migrated workers of Gobra village, Swarupnagar Block in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal to seek your urgent intervention to protect the rights of these people. Gobra is a village situated near the Indo-Bangladesh Border where the border fencing is about 500 meters i

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen