India’s Soundtrack of Hate, With a Pop Sheen

sound

Mixing dance tracks with calls for religious warfare,

Hindutva
pop amplifies a wave of Hindu nationalism in Narendra Modi’s India.

By Kai
Schultz | Nov. 10, 2019

RAIPUR,
India  The Indian pop star, swaddled in
gold-trimmed tulle, stepped to the front of the stage at a neighborhood
concert. Thunder effects crackled through speakers stacked near an electronics
store.

“Every
house will be saffron!” the singer, Laxmi Dubey, yelled into her microphone,
referring to the color representing Hinduism. “We have to make terrorists run
from our blessed land!” The crowd cheered when she added a throat-slitting hand
gesture.

Ms. Dubey
is one of the biggest stars driving the rise of Hindutva pop music in India
over the past few years. Hindutva is a word describing a devout Hindu culture
and way of life, and the music that bears its name sets traditional Hindu religious
stories or Bollywood clips to dance beats 
with added lyrics that in some cases openly call for the slaughter of
nonbelievers, forced conversions, or attacks on Pakistan.

The songs
are amassing huge numbers of views on YouTube 
Ms. Dubey’s most popular song has more than 50 million on its own  and a growing fan base among the young.

It is the
music of the times in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India. Muslims and other
minorities fear that some of Mr. Modi’s Hindu-nationalist supporters are
damaging the country’s secular foundation and making life dangerous for any who
do not display extreme patriotism or Hindu religious fervor. These concerns
were only heightened with a court decision Saturday in favor of Hindus over a
contested holy site.

During
Hindu festivals, the processions have started blasting the music in Muslim
neighborhoods in shows of intimidation. Most of the songs prominently feature
the call of “Jai Shri Ram!” Meaning “Hail Lord Ram,” a major Hindu god, it has
become the battle cry for Hindu nationalists. Mobs have attacked Muslims who
refuse to chant it along with them.

“Hate
bundled with so-called faith has become par for the course today,” said T.M.
Krishna, one of India’s most renowned traditional singers. “The masks are off,
and what we are seeing should deeply worry us.”

Ms. Dubey,
a gleeful provocateur, travels India with a 28-person troupe and is in such
demand that families invite her to their homes to bless newborn babies.

Her goal,
she said in an interview with The New York Times, is to recruit foot soldiers
to make India a Hindu nation. At least one state government dominated by Mr.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has used public money to stage her performances.

“Hindus
used to be too innocent and docile to understand that Muslims are the biggest
threat,” Ms. Dubey said. “They needed someone like Laxmi Dubey to wake them
up.”

Some of the
most violent expressions in Hindutva pop focus on Kashmir, the Muslim-majority
territory that is disputed by Pakistan and that was stripped of its autonomy by
Mr. Modi’s government in August. Popular lyrics call for harsher action against
Pakistan and separatist Kashmiri militants, and for forced conversions and a
Hindu settlement campaign in Kashmir.

For some of
the millions of Indian Muslims, those hyper-patriotic expressions are seen as
carrying a personal threat.

In one
music video, Sanjay Faizabadi, another popular Hindutva pop artist, lunges
toward the camera in military fatigues. Footage of Indian troops, exploding
planes and a pack of lions punctuates the song, called “Kashmir Is Our Life.”

“I will
come to Pakistan and play marbles with your eyes!” he sings, boasting in a
subsequent verse of waging a campaign of sexual conquest there.

In an
interview, Mr. Faizabadi conceded that his lyrics could give the impression
that he supported violence. But the singer insisted that he had nothing against
Muslims, only those who spread terrorism.

“I’m Modi’s
devotee, but I’m not anybody’s adversary,” he said. “You can label me Hindutva,
but I don’t spite those who are not.”

The far
right has never been more emboldened in India. Some of the top figures in Mr.
Modi’s government have repeatedly referred to immigrants as termites,
threatened the citizenship status of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and
encouraged vigilante violence against those accused of slaughtering cows, a
sacred animal for Hindus. (Most butchers in India are Muslims or from lower
castes.)

This
summer, the police arrested several musicians for recording a song urging
Hindus to kill those who do not chant, “Jai Shri Ram!”

Ms. Dubey’s
biggest hits feature that chant prominently, and she is outspoken about her
intention to incite a revolution through Hindutva pop.

In her
songs, Ms. Dubey exhorts Hindus to “perform ceremonies with bullets,” “fight
proudly against ungodly religions” and “cut off the tongues of enemies who talk
against Ram.”

Ms. Dubey,
30, said she did not always feel as strongly about Hindu supremacy. She is
originally from the city of Bhopal, in central India, and grew up in a musical
family regularly singing songs that urged sectarian harmony, like “Hindu
Muslim, Brother Brother,” she said.

But she
said that as a teenager, she grew increasingly irate at an Anglicized political
elite  embodied in the scandal-prone
Indian National Congress party of the Gandhis 
who had, in her mind, allowed Muslim terrorist groups to attack India.

Ms. Dubey
drew closer to extremist Hindu circles and began subscribing to a belief that
Muslims planned to take over India by marrying and converting Hindu women. To
show her devotion, she vowed to remain single and moved away from estranged
relatives to the nearby city of Jabalpur, where she persuaded 11 girls living
in poverty to make a home with her and become disciples.

She spent a
few years making music and putting it on YouTube, then found a surging
popularity after Mr. Modi rose to power in 2014. Ms. Dubey and several people
who work for her said she regularly performs for officials from his Bharatiya
Janata Party.

“We go
wherever B.J.P. leaders invite us to perform,” Ms. Dubey said. “That’s because
the B.J.P. is helping to propagate Hindutva.”

In the
state of Chhattisgarh, where Ms. Dubey often sings, Rahul Singh, a director in
the culture department, confirmed that his office had paid for some of her
concerts. But he said he did not know much about her. Two state politicians
from the B.J.P. said they knew the singer but denied support, though party
leaders promoted her music ahead of national elections this year.

Her
performances draw thousands of people. One show in Raipur, the capital of
Chhattisgarh, was marketed as a jagrata, an all-night vigil dedicated to
deities.

For a
couple of hours, she sang about the goddess Durga. Performers dressed as Hindu
gods twirled a giant gold trident and lit torches. Much of the audience came
for the free, religious-oriented entertainment and did not know Ms. Dubey
specifically.

But the
singer’s tone shifted after midnight, when most of the youngest children had
gone to bed.

Turning her
attention to the beef industry, which employs many Muslims, Ms. Dubey
encouraged the crowd to take action to protect cows, echoing comments by Hindu
mobs that have killed dozens of minorities accused of slaughtering cattle.

“People who
I give milk to have become my butcher,” she said, channeling the animal.
“Become a cow protector and fulfill your promise.”

Ms. Dubey
transitioned to one of her most popular songs, “Every House Will Be Saffron,” a
YouTube juggernaut that has inspired covers sung by children. During
interludes, the singer promised to target those “living in Kashmir, exploding
things” and to “spill blood in mother’s holy court.”

The song’s
tempo picked up. Clusters of men rose and danced. Ms. Dubey drew her arm back
and let go of an imaginary arrow.

“People who
don saffron will rule!” she screamed. “Only one slogan, only one name: Jai Shri
Ram! Jai Shri Ram!”

Surabhi
Singh contributed reporting from Raipur, and Suhasini Raj and Kritika Sony from
New Delhi.

Kai Schultz
is a reporter in the South Asia bureau,

based in
New Delhi. He has reported from five countries in the region and previously
lived in Kathmandu,

Nepal.
@Kai_Schultz

(Source: New York Times)

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