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Hindutva pop: The rise of India’s hate music scene

Hindutva pop: The rise of India’s hate music scene
7 min read
In-depth: As attacks against India's Muslim community escalate, a popular genre of Hindu supremacist songs have provided a new soundtrack to the nation's religious violence.

“Saffron will reach every household, the rule of Ram [Hindu lord] will re-emerge” — these are the introductory lyrics of one of the songs that has gained popularity in recent months in India.

The two minute song, available on YouTube, calls for the ‘saffronisation’ of India, a political ideology advocating Hindu supremacy over other ethnic and religious minorities, and is sung by a 40-year-old Ved Vyas.

This genre of anti-Muslim music, known as Hindutva pop, has spread like wildfire in India. People with affiliation to the right-wing government use Islamophobic lyrics to send an unequivocal message to India’s minority communities: ‘Leave India’.

Inspired by prejudice for Islam, hate-music in India mainly emerged after Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power by winning the parliamentary elections in 2014.

Vyas, a resident of Bikaner in India’s northwest state of Rajasthan and a President of BJP Youth Wing of his city, gained name and fame in 2014 after he released his first ever song in which he praised BJP and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Vyas, in a conversation with The New Arab, rejected claims that the music he composes is seeped with hatred for the Muslim community.

“It is basically my attempt through which I try to contribute towards Hindu Sanskriti (culture) and Samvita (pure consciousness),” he said, adding that the need arose after he realised that the people of his nation were “forgetting Indian culture and consciousness”.

“People in many parts of India sing my songs. Had my songs preached violence or hatred then riots would have taken place almost everywhere but nothing such has happened. No one has been harmed,” Vyas added.

Protesters burn an effigy of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a demonstration against religious violence and attacks against the Muslim community in New Delhi on February 26, 2020. [Getty]

Vyas told The New Arab that he is not alone in his mission, as people in large numbers support his cause by offering free services. “I don’t sing to earn money from the songs I produce and neither has it been my motive,” he said. “People offer services free of cost and keep asking me regularly if I need any contribution from them because they understand what and why am I doing it,” Vyas added.

Islamophobic songs are not confined to those advocating for the saffronisation of India. Dozens of soundtracks sung by popular singers inclined towards right-wing ideology openly call for the exodus of Muslims and issue threats to the minority community, who make up just 14 percent of the India’s population.

In a seven-minute song titled, “Hindu Ka Hai Hindustan/Dallo Jao Pakistan [India belongs to Hindus/Pimps go to Pakistan],” sung by 25-year-old Prem Krishnvanshi, the singer accuses Indian Muslims of being “traitors and the supporters” of the neighbouring, and rival, nation of Pakistan. The song also displays the picture of one of the prominent Muslim politicians and member of Indian parliament, Asaduddin Owaisi, in the background.

The lyrics of the song begins with the praises for Narendra Modi and a Hindu monk who now is the Chief Minister of India’s highly populated state, Uttar Pradesh, Ajay Singh Bisht popularly known as Yogi Adityaanath.

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The lyrics of songs such as this one and another popular one called “Insaan Nhi Ho Tum Saalo, Ho Tum Kasaayi/Boht Ho Chuka Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai (You are not humans but butchers/It is enough of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood),” have become street anthems for right-wing supporters, who chant these verses while passing through Muslim dominated neighbourhoods in a large caravan while displaying swords in their hands.

Krishnvanshi, an engineering graduate resident Uttar Pradesh, who says he was recognised for his music by the Adityanath government, said that the songs he produces are, “meant only for those who live in India and love Pakistan.”

Krishnvanshi said that he no longer sings songs that are controversial. “I realised that the song could have hurt the sentiments of others,” he said, adding that the latest song he has released is called “Taj Mahal is the temple of Hindu deity Shiva”.

The Taj Mahal in India, one of the seven wonders of world, was built by a Muslim king in 1632 in the memory of his bellowed wife Mumtaz Mahal after her death. The ancient monument recently made headlines in India after right-wing Hindu supporters claimed that it was a Hindu temple.

Ahmed, a Delhi-based renowned music expert and researcher, explained that Hindutva pop songs are intended to vilify the minority community. “Saffronisation or Islamophobic songs have got an institutional support,” he told The New Arab.

Hate songs, Ahmed said, will not impact the Indian music industry as it has such rich resources that cannot be easily dented or damaged. “Music is an art and I don’t see art in these songs so I believe the Indian music industry will have no impact on it but on the other hand it definitely will affect communal harmony,” he added.

Ahmed said that “singular people are basically trying to benefit themselves with the help of this nationalism narrative and appeasement”.

Kavi Singh, a singer who has nearly one million subscribers on her YouTube channel, said that she sings in order to make government aware about the mood of the nation, and highlight issues such as reclaiming ancient temples that were “raised down” and “converted into mosques” by Muslim kings during their reigns.

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Singh claims to have stepped into the profession of singing after a suicide bomber blew up a paramilitary police force vehicle in Indian side of Kashmir back in February 2019.

She said that she initially began singing songs in favour of Hindu-Muslim harmony, but later changed the theme after observing that Hindus were being “targeted” in their own land.

“Recently two trucks tried to throw my car into a deep gorge when my colleagues and I were returning from Ayodhya city in Uttar Pradesh. I do not know whether the truck drivers were Muslims but the neighbourhood where the incident happened is dominated by Muslims,” the 23-year-old singer told The New Arab.

The privileges of Muslims in India, Singh believes, need to be restricted as India and Pakistan came into existence on religious lines. “Why should minorities have more rights in India? Pakistan and India were created [out of British India] on religious lines so that Muslims can live in Pakistan and Hindus in India. I believe Hindus should have more rights in our country,” she said.

Singh said she praises government decisions as well as criticises whenever the need arises. “I praised government by dedicating a song to them after Article-370 [special status of Indian administered Kashmir] was abrogated because Kashmir to some extent appeared be another country,” Singh said, adding that she also criticise government through her songs when she and her team of 12 members realised the government was committing some mistakes.

As this new genre of hate songs continues to surge in popularity, many worry that music could become a powerful vehicle through which violence against the already heavily persecuted Muslim community is instigated. Ahmed worries that the audio visual format of Hindutva pop could alter the dynamics of religious violence through its attraction power. 

“If I am abusing someone with the beats, music, it will go on another level and will have a larger audience,” he concluded.

Muheet Ul Islam is a journalist and a filmmaker from Indian administered Kashmir. He contributes for several publications such as Voice of America, TRT World and The Diplomat. Follow him on Twitter: @muheetreports

Pirzada Shakir is a journalist based in India. Follow him on Twitter: @pzshakir