Last week a list of hate-mongering anchors of television channels of a particular ideology was put out by the Opposition parties, to be boycotted by secular, liberal, citizens.
One of the few credible anchors remaining in Television channels, Rajdeep Sardesai, was anchoring a discussion on Sanatan Dharma controversy on India Today channel recently. The first two speakers stressed that Udayanidhi Stalin was not against Sanatan Dharma but against the caste system legitimized by the former. When the turn of BJP spokesperson came, she took the discussion in another direction, viz., the ‘missionary mafias’. She alluded that the criticism of sanatan dharma originated from missionaries in India. It is characteristic of most BJP spokespersons not to engage directly on the topic but turn and twist it and take it in some strange direction. However, the coinage of the word ‘missionary mafia’ is recent and new, and its source has to be uncovered.
In its original meaning, mafia is an organized international body of criminals, operating originally in Sicily and now especially in Italy and the US and having a complex and ruthless behavioural code.
• Any organized group of criminals resembling the mafia in its way of operating.
• A group regarded as exerting a hidden sinister influence.
Has any Indian missionary been a mafia? Missionaries in this country especially the foreign ones have critiqued the caste system, its hierarchy, treatment of so-called untouchables, status of women e.g., widows, sati pratha, child marriage, and so on. They have also laid the foundations for modern India especially through introducing modern education and modern medicine.
In contemporary India there are hardly any foreign missionaries left but those of Indian origin priests and nuns are continuing the good works of nation-building begun by their predecessors.
Did the term ‘missionary mafia’ come from the lowest so-called untouchable castes or from upper castes? Who stood to benefit more from missionary activities in the past and are benefitting currently? Was the spokesperson herself an upper caste going by her name and perhaps studied in a missionary school? Did she encounter any ‘missionary mafia’ in her life or was she hired to say it?
Looking into the literature churned out by the Hindu right-wing ideologues I found that the source of terming the missionaries as mafia or painting them as such comes from a voluminous book, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan published in 2011. This book with 650 pages with huge bibliography shows that it is the result of research. Rajiv Malhotra runs a foundation called Infinity Foundation (Princeton, USA) and is a spokesperson for propagating Hinduism and glories of Hindu civilization and of course Hindutva ideology.
This book blames that India’s integrity is undermined by i) Islamic radicalisim linked with Pakistan; ii) Maoists and Marxist radicals linked with China; and iii) Dravidian and Dalit identity separatism being fostered by the West in the name of human rights.
This book has twisted approach on the role of western churches, academics, think tanks, foundations, governments, and human rights groups in fostering separation of the identities of Dravidian and Dalit communities from the rest of India. It deals with funding these activities for education, human rights, empowerment training, leadership training but claims to produce angry youth who feel disenfranchised from Indian identity. The book links missionaries to these activities.
The Dravidian movement’s 200-year-history has such worrying origins for the authors of the book that its “latest manifestation is the ‘Dravidian Christianity’ movement that fabricates a political cultural history to exploit old fault lines”. This book claims to explicitly name individuals and institutions in this conspiratorial project. Dalit identity struggle started by Ambedkar. What is Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj? Was Christian missionaries behind it?
In continuation of the first book, Breaking India 1.0, Rajiv Malhotra and Vijaya Viswanathan have come out with a second book, Breaking India 2.0 whose title is, Snakes in the Ganga (2022, 812 pages, 895/-) this time attacking western universities especially Harvard which in collaboration with Indian scholars, activists, journalists and artists pose a danger to India and its Hindu civilization. Caste is equated with race and subsequently lower castes as blacks and upper castes as Whites. “Marxism has been reincarnated as critical race theory in US academia”. “Indian corporates are bringing the latest western rubric of environmental, social and governance ratings into their workplace” and Wokeism has penetrated some of the Indian government policies, as a result. Wokeism is a term that springs from liberal ideologies trying to battle social evils, and discriminations. But Wokeism may by extension mean, “weaponized personal grievances masquerading as a genuine social concern. It's defined by its fraudulent nature, as being distinct from legitimate.”
The authors fear a conspiracy and a threat from Western countries to recolonize India. The sanatan dharma controversy raked by Udayanidhi Stalin is sourced by the BJP spokesperson to the third point mentioned in the book.
The liberals -- whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian -- in India have to take notice of how Hindutva ideologues under the veneer of scholarship are attributing conspiracies to minorities to divide and rule. This vitiates the Indic civilization which has been inclusive, plural, and open nature to a limited, narrow, bigoted, exclusive, and upper caste hegemony in India. These kinds of books provide material for spokespersons and media which is largely under the BJP regime to propagate and perpetuate divisiveness, distrust, conflict and violence between Hindus and minorities in India.
The anchors and owners belong to the upper castes and they are trying to reclaim a Manusmriti-based India. The Constitution-based India has badly affected their prestine status, and resurrecting the hierarchical caste-based society wherein upper castes regain and retain their hegemonic status appears to be the only logic of Hindutva.
South India has mostly rejected BJP’s Hindutva in general. Efforts by BJP are afoot to gain ground in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The Dravidian south with its anti-Brahmin movement, especially in Tamil Nadu, has resisted the Brahminic caste hierarchy. The battle is to do away with evils of caste which shadows the religion. It was the missionaries who battled the evils of caste in earlier centuries, whose fruits the lower castes are enjoying today to some degree. This is not the case in the north India where the impact of missionaries was less or least. The Hindutva ideologues apparently have not forgiven the missionaries for fighting the evils of caste and so feel comfortable to call them missionary mafias. Unfortunately, Christians have not been able to shun caste discrimination entirely within the Churches.
Who are the real mafias in contemporary India and who supplies the toxic intellectual component to legitimize them is found in Tavleen Singh’s column in Indian Express September 17, 2023: “In the decade that he has been Prime Minister a very bad kind of Hindu has surfaced, or it would be more correct to say that two kinds of bad Hindus have surfaced. One is comprised a chippy, angry, venomous new intellectual elite. This lot spends their time labeling anyone who disagrees with them as ‘anti-national’. This lot also gives ideological muscle to the violent, young men who wander about making hate speeches against Islam and find Muslims to kill on the pretext of saving cows. It is these violent men who are truly ‘anti-national’ because they not only do diminish India in the eyes of the world they also cause serious damage personally to the image of the Prime Minister.”
In the electoral dynamics, the Hindutvavadis keep on looking for newer targets to divide and rule. The effort of BJP spokesperson is also an attempt to target the Christian minorities in south India as the Muslim card may not yield electoral dividends there.