Today in Hinduphobia February 12, 2021: Jai Shri Ram, Rinku Sharma

When is a murder Hinduphobic?

When is Hinduphobia murderous?

When is a murder… even… a murder?

We live in truly horrendous mental worlds, where our eyes and ears consume the pain of others far away from us constantly, swiping, staring, stabbing a futile bunch of keystrokes in reaction, staring again, swiping again, waiting, wasting days and lives, waiting helplessly, hopelessly, for change, for truth, for justice.

We live in the cocoon of our mental reassurances to ourselves, our rationalizations, our deals with our realities as they loom down upon us, and our momentary reprieves; oh, maybe it wasn’t because he was Hindu, maybe it was something else, something that hopefully won’t happen to us just because we are also Hindu…

Every murder we read about in the media today is a moment of renegotiation of our certainty about ourselves and our worlds. The murder of George Floyd erupted in America because it was already a reality that was known, and known in the manner it ought to have been known: it could happen, it’s been known to happen, it has happened, many times, arrested-when-black can mean without any reason or provocation at all, suffocated, strangulated, savagely beaten, shot to death, murdered-when-black. Murdered as black.

That last proposition is relevant to my first question here too. Though skeptics and critics of the BLM movement may begrudge such statements, there is a truth now settled in our mental worlds that this is how it happened, this is how it happens; driving while black, killed while being arrested as a black. Now this may happen to others too; an elderly Indian Hindu Gujarati father thrown to the hard concrete in Alabama by a police officer for simply going out on a walk. Others who are even not visibly “colored” in the endangering gaze. Bad things happen, yes. But in the mental worlds in which we know them, learn from them, and hope to live out the rest of our lives in some peace, fairness and security, do we know them truly as they are?

Just imagine if there was no BLM, no Rodney King, no knowledge at all that such a “thing” exists, that racism is real, that racist violence is real, from lynching-picnics in America to whatever it is plagues this land still... What sort of mental violence now unfolds in the minds of the millions who see and read about these sorrows for Hindus without the solace and sliver of strength that comes from knowing we are not alone in this sorrow, in this world, in this body, this inheritance, this whole life known a certain way; as black, as indigenous, as woman, as person of color, as Hindu?

The law has decided (well, not that law, but the law of representation in discourse, let us call it that): you cannot be murdered as Hindu, or hated, or discriminated against. Orwellian. Kafkaesque. Gory.

The violence of Hinduphobia today is not just the eruptions of hate against Hindus in the form of physical violence when it happens, whether on vital organs of the body or on those of the Hindu world like temples and their sacred deities, but also the deeply vested systems of denial of it in representation. I, and others, have sought to document this silencing. I happen to study media representation for a living, and I have written several articles here and elsewhere about what seem to be the codes of Hindu representation in media. I have, with whatever little time and attention and skill I have been able to offer, documented a small bit of it; evidence of selective use of names in New York Times headlines, outright misrepresentations in Indian news, the ceaseless deployment of tropes rooted in religious and racial bigotry. Others have studied and preserved for us the knowledge that was almost erased from the public mind thanks to decades of propagandistic control over state education policies and history textbooks. We do we what we can, and still, we can do nothing when we see, again and again.

Young Rinku Sharma. His mother helpless, as a mob of men, wild, murderous men, run amok in that video clip.

Violated Rinku Sharma. His back flat as a wooden shelf in a dusty bazar shop selling handicrafts in India, an ornately-handled dagger blade sticking into it all upright and majestic and all, just like the arrogance of the world that spawned it and celebrates it and sells it and sticks it in the back, inevitably.

Foolish foolish Hindus, tourists and happy little shoppers of the world. From Hampi to Puttaparthi to Kashi to every little temple town with the little handicraft store with the mandatory ornate dagger to buy and take home while hate is all that is written on its blade.

It is sad to see the history of an object and not the person it attached itself to. But it is a history, an ethnography of our horrible present, that must be noted. That curved handled blade is the police officer’s knee to the Hindu today is it not?

Family bereft of Rinku Sharma, his father’s voice, bereft of even energy, saying the words of the horror once more on the video…. He used to worship Hanuman! That is what he says…

Now to the mental worlds that are the subject of my series, the worlds made by media, by the dance of letters on the screen. I picture this news now passing by before the distracted glance of millions tomorrow in India, millions in the abstraction, but actually people in the specifics, people YOU know, people in your families, neighborhoods, schools, offices… they will not notice this at all, will they? They will know of George Floyd. Of Akhlaq. Of Greta and Rihanna and First Niece Harris and whatever else has been stuck in their minds like blinders before the sheep are led to you know where.

You, like me, will be alone, sharing and RTing your pain in this little bubble of the forever stulted alternative Hindu social media, hopping from one IT-cell manufactured hashtag high to another. The letters that you hope will raise the truth for you will not serve you as you hope. The same letters that you hold in your hands, the same words you try to take from your heart onto the page, they have all been stolen too. The people around you do not know you, nor your pain. Because the letters and words that shield them from you, from the cries of the parents of Rinku Sharma, all of these are industrially designed and deployed now.

What will they see, if at all they do?

The Press Trust of India, the Hindustan Times, the Times of India, they have put this down already into a form that no one is going to feel the slightest bit that it concerns them: a dispute over an “eatery” business between friends, or acquaintances. Just a quote from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that there was more to this than a business dispute; for the millions these papers reach, the story is settled. A fight between some youths that got nasty. And oh, those Hindutva opportunists trying to communalize it. That is the mental world of the majority, at least the English-reading majority, including the Indian diaspora.

But is it true?

When is a murder Hinduphobic?

When is Hinduphobia murderous?

When is someone killed for saying the name of Rama going to be acknowledged for what it is? I do not know for sure if that is indeed, solely and exactly the case here. But in the heated atmosphere of demonization all around us against Hindus, and the constant violence against Hindu holy men and temples, and the erasure of any admission that it even happened, can we not consider it even?

After all, when is someone cutting off the head of a Rama, or the hands of a Subramanya swami, going to be acknowledged for what it is? Is it not Hinduphobic? The police in the case of the Subramanya desecration blamed the impoverished priest. The police in the case of the handicraft-handled-dagger-murdered Sharma blamed an “eatery” business argument.

The first sign of alarm (among many) should be not only the violence but the inability of a people to represent it. Already, the words are lost. Google “Jai Shri Ram” and what you will see is not the story of a boy who lost his life over it so horrendously. What you will see is the still standing sentinels of empire shooting their muskets at you:

The Three Most Polarizing Words in India — Foreign Policy

Jai Shri Ram: The Hindu Chant that Became a Murder Cry — BBC

Jai Shri Ram: Three Words Can Get You Lynched in India- South China Morning Post

From Assertive “Jai Shri Ram” a Reason to Move to a Gentler “Jai Siya Ram” — Indian Express

Analysis is inadequate before tears. But I will say this anyway. The tropes are at play. Devalorization of Hindu life. Blaming the victim. And most frightening of all, the demonization of everyday Hindu names and symbols as “extremism” or “fascism.” But most Hindus who notice these things fail to get beyond a tweet or two. Even the Modi government which seemingly showed sudden courage by its standards in issuing a call for a fact-check from the MEA to Rihanna and Greta probably has no idea of what to do about propaganda really (I tried sharing what I know, on DD, here, for what it’s worth). Already, the bluster about Twitter is turning into the usual make-believe self-congratulations; “we are the mother of democracy” so we don’t have to do anything about Twitter hosting false allegations of Hindus genociding others in India do they? (I hope I am wrong about this but who knows?)

Everything has been set up in the mental world. Down to a scratch. Your names are “bringing casteism to America” just like how Katherine Mayo warned a hundred years ago that Indians would bring contagious diseases to America and the WHO ought to ban them. Your religion IS casteism. Your refugee bill is about taking away Muslim citizenship. Your farmers bill is … I don’t even know if they have bothered giving the complaint a precise form, when they have a siege on the ground and the global sellebrity business enrolled, it doesn’t matter. All they have to say is 250 million farmers are on strike!

Everything is ready in the mental world. Professors at Important British Universities have already made this clear. “Brahmin lives don’t matter as Brahmin lives. White lives don’t matter as white lives.”

What sort of genocidal psychopath puts out excuses for murder disguised under some lame word-play? And what sort of privilege keeps them in positions of utter unaccountability for it?

We should not be surprised I suppose. This is a genocidal-psychopathic world we live in. Some have learned to fight it better than others. Others are yet to understand we live in a time when even a murder is not a murder according to the laws of the representation game, the murderous, deceitful representation game.

We have not understood the war that is raging even one little bit. I pray that Goddess Saraswati unmasks all illusions as we read these words together, and we learn, hopefully, a little more of the power in these letters that calls us to attend to them, serve them, make them our own.

Shields up.

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Vamsee Juluri

Vamsee Juluri

Author of Firekeepers of Jwalapuram, Part 2 of The Kishkindha Chronicles (Westland, 2020) & Media Studies Professor at the University of San Francisco.