Have you heard of Varun Gandhi, a 28 year old educated politician, grandson of Indira Gandhi, abusing Muslims in India? I hadn’t heard much about him in the past but have seen his name floating about articles for quite some time now. I personally know a lot of Indians and am sure that they are embarassed by his extreme disgusting behavior as well.
Check out this article that came out in Dawn in case you haven’t read it today.
Renegade Gandhi: Diaspora desis react to hate speech
Toronto-based Taimoor Farouk shares tales from the Pakistani diaspora with Dawn.com.
If you ask Canadian desis about Gandhi, they will think of Mahatma Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. Chatting with people around Toronto, you’d rarely hear about Varun Gandhi – that is, until recently, when the renegade Gandhi stepped into the spotlight.
Over the past few weeks, the Baharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Varun Gandhi has sparked controversy throughout the world: first by delivering anti-Muslim hate speeches, then by claiming that they had been doctored, and finally by surrendering and getting arrested on charges held against him by the Indian Election Commission. Indeed, the twenty-something politician is making waves in the media and has outraged India’s religious minorities just weeks before Indian parliamentary elections begin.
Growing up in a predominantly Muslim state, I confess that I consider myself fortunate because I don’t really know what it means to be part of a religious minority. In Canada, I rarely think of myself as belonging to a minority because I am surrounded by Muslim Arabs, Iranians and Pakistanis. Most of these people have not heard of Varun’s recent speeches, in spite of the fact that the largest democracy in the world is under threat from intolerance and bigotry, and that too during this divisive election time. Some Canada-based Indians I spoke with were also ignorant of Varun’s stance (in their case, does ignorance translate as callousness?).
To be honest, after Varun’s inflammatory speeches were delivered, I tried to imagine the sense of insecurity and anxiety his words must have created for those affected. But it wasn’t until an Indian friend of mine, Ayesha, shared the possible repercussions of the hate speech that I got a glimpse into the gravity of the problem.
Ayesha’s foremost concern was about worsening Hindu-Muslim ties, just speaking of which reminded her of the 2002 Gujarat riots. A member of India’s Muslim minority, Ayesha was also fretting about protecting her family and friends from the spread of the BJP’s brand of Hindu nationalism.
The online circulation of Varun’s videos, showing him exaltedly speaking of “cutting the throats” of Muslims and mocking their “scary” names, indicates that religious fanaticism has become a norm these days. On his blog, the Canadian writer Ali A. Rizvi suggests that ‘Talibanization [is] going mainstream, to religions beyond Islam.’ He writes:
“In the Varun Gandhi videos, Hindu extremist groups like the Taliban-inspired anti-statue, anti-woman Sri Ram Sena may feel as if they’ve found a high-profile voice: Varun is the grandson of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, a declared secularist and atheist who couldn’t have been more removed from his descendant’s crazed religion-fueled nationalist diatribes.”
The concern expressed by Rizvi is common among the South Asian diaspora in North America and extends to those who do not belong to India’s minority religious groups. Just the other day, I read this letter written by an American Indian, Bhaskar Chaudhry, directed to Varun Gandhi:
“…Assuming you have but a modicum of intellect, you will soon realize that your mother is from a Sikh family and your paternal grandfather was a Parsi gentleman. You can, of course, still be deeply committed to one religion but please do not insult your family again by acting the way you did. Please recognize that our country’s defining characteristic is diversity. You probably think that this rhetoric may help you win the election but it will definitely not help your party in forming a government at the centre…”
Even though the ‘defining characteristic’ of Pakistan might not be the same as India’s, over the past few weeks I have seen that the Pakistani diaspora in Canada has been deeply sympathetic towards all of India’s religious minorities, especially Muslims. Even better, I have witnessed that a great many Pakistani Canadians have used these events as a provocation to reflect on what goes on in Pakistan. After all, there are minority religious groups in Pakistan as well, the stories of whom never reach us.