India Farm Protests: Social Media Expose the Ugly Face of Violent Hindu Extremism
"It’s time to talk about violent Hindu extremism”, said a tweet today from Meena Harris, the niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris. Referring to a headline about "violent Christian extremism", Harris said "it's all connected". Hindu trolls have launched hateful misogynistic campaign against Harris and other western female celebrities who have recently tweeted in support of farm protesters.
In response to a Hindu troll accusing Meena Harris of "Hinduphobia", she tweeted: "I'm a Hindu. Stop using religion as a cover for fascism".
|Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris|
It started when singer Rihanna, who has more than 100 million Twitter followers, tweeted “why aren’t we talking about this?!”, with a link to a news story about an internet blackout at the protest camps where tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting for over two months. Teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also tweeted a story about the internet blackout, saying: “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India.” Both drew threats of rape and violence from hordes of Hindu trolls rampaging Twitter. Some hailed the 2009 violent assault on Rihanna by singer Chris Brown and said it was well-deserved.
|Meena Harris Tweet. Source: Twitter|
"Is Rihanna Muslim" started to trend on Google. Many Hindu trolls talked of links between Rihanna and Muslims, Khalistan and Pakistan and even claimed Rihanna was paid to tweet in support of farmers.
|Modi's India Leads the World in Internet Censorship|
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While tweets posted by Rihanna and Greta Thunberg gave a boost of confidence to the farmers protesting at the borders of the national capital for more than two months, they also provided fuel to the already sizzling fire between the Central Government and the Opposition over the agricultural laws.
There is also a new FDI which is seen today, that is foreign destructive ideology we need to be aware of this,' PM Narendra Modi said in his address to the Rajya Sabha
The farmers' protest against the government's newly-enacted farm laws has gone international. Tweets by renowned pop-star Rihanna and Swedish climate-activist Greta Thunberg favouring the agitating farmers have stirred up a hornet's nest with the opposition parties calling it a hit at India's reputation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the Rajya Sabha on Monday, played on the term "Foreign Direct Investment or FDI".
"There is also a new FDI which is seen today, that is foreign destructive ideology we need to be aware of this," PM Modi said.
The PM said that India needs to be cautioned against deleterious influences from abroad that he referred to as "foreign destructive ideology".
PM Modi used the term in the context of the ongoing farmers' protest in the country that has, of late, received support from several global celebrities.
PM Modi also said, "In the last few years, we have witnessed a new category of protesters, 'Andolan jeevi', who one can witness in every agitation. We need to protect this country from these Andolan Jeevi, who are actually 'parjeevi'. They don't have their own strength, but they join all agitations."
by Tom Friedman
Cyberspace is starting to resemble a sovereign nation-state, but without borders or governance. It has its own encrypted communications systems, like Telegram, outside the earshot of terrestrial governments. It has its own global news gathering and sharing platforms, like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It even has its own currencies — Bitcoin and others — that no sovereign state has minted.
In recent years, all these platforms have mushroomed. They can elevate important voices that were never heard before. But they can also enable a believer in Jewish-run space laser
Donald Trump has been impeached for trying to kill the results of our last election, but we should have no illusions that whatever happens at his trial, the weapon he used is still freely available for others to deploy. It’s a realm called “cyberspace” — where we’re all connected but no one is in charge.
Trump, like no leader before, took advantage of that realm to spread a Big Lie, undermine trust in our electoral system and inspire an attack on our Capitol. We need a democratic fix for cyberspace fast.
China has figured out how to project its autocratic system and Communist values into cyberspace, to enhance its growth and stability, better than we’ve figured out how to project our democratic values into cyberspace to enhance our growth and stability. And we invented the damn thing!
If we don’t figure this out fast, we’re going to fall behind China economically, because the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the digitization of everything, making cyberspace bigger and more important than ever.
For decades, the world has turned a blind eye to India’s abysmal human rights record. This approach draws from a broad perception of India as a strategic ally.
For one, the United States, like much of the global community, sees India as an important counterweight to China. They are the two most populous nations and the fastest growing trillion-dollar economies in the world. Global powers tend to prefer India because of its standing as the world’s largest democracy. At the same time, India’s adversarial relationship with neighboring Pakistan, as well as its increasingly anti-Muslim policies, position it as a bulwark against “Islamic terrorism.”
These two bogeymen—Chinese imperialism and Islamic terrorism—are the specters that have given India a free pass.
Over the past few years, however, the rise of right-wing authoritarianism has brought India’s democratic standing into question. India has plummeted in democracy metrics across the board, including the Press Freedom Index, where it now ranks 142 of 180 countries, four spots behind South Sudan and three behind Myanmar. The Human Freedom Index ranks India at 111 of 162 countries, just four ahead of Russia. This past September human rights group Amnesty International ceased operations in India following sustained assaults from the Indian government.
The full force and authoritarian tactics of the Indian government have been showcased as they respond to the largest protest in their history. Since September, tens of thousands of Indian have gathered in New Delhi to protest three new agricultural laws that aim to deregulate India’s agricultural industry and open it up to free-market forces. While the need for reforms is urgent, farmers are concerned that the new legislation privileges corporations and harms the everyday farmer. Finally, on Feb. 2, after months of protests, the world’s eyes started to focus on the Indian government’s undemocratic measures, including press censorship, journalist detention, internet shutdowns, and violent crackdowns against the non-violent protestors.
Hindu nationalists have used the occasion to call for genocidal violence against protestors. Twitter removed a tweet from Indian actress Kangana Ranaut that advocated ethnic cleansing of the protestors. Twitter also suspended 500 accounts that called for a repeat of the 1984 pogroms, a dark moment in India’s history.
These calls refer to a period of Indian history reminiscent of what’s happening today. In the 1970s and 1980s, Punjabi Sikhs led similar agitations that called for better government support of agriculture. Their sustained protests along with a self-determination movement drew the ire of the Indian government, which painted the efforts as anti-national. Following a disinformation campaign, the government launched a series of attacks that resulted in mass atrocities and egregious human rights abuses: the military assault on Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) of Amritsar in June of 1984, the state-sponsored pogroms in November of 1984 following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards, and, in the decade that followed, a campaign of extra-judicial killings that resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths. The government of India has never acknowledged or apologized for this spree of violence, and it remains a visceral memory for many Indians, especially Punjabi Sikhs today.
Understanding the state violence in Punjab during the 1980s helps us see the grievances that Punjabi farmers have with the central government. It also shows how the Indian state deploys and enacts violence against its own citizens, and, perhaps most crucially, anticipates what might happen in India today if the Indian government is not held accountable for its current undemocratic actions.
In 2012, a gang of men set upon and horrifically raped a female student on a bus in New Delhi. The crime made international news and provoked national protests that led to some changes in the laws. But Indian women with big dreams were on notice anyway. Seven years on, the Indian National Crime Records Bureau logged an average 88 rape charges a day.
Sonia Faleiro set out to examine India’s rape culture, but what she ended up revealing was something even more mundane and terrifying.
In May 2014, photographs of two teenage girls hanging from a tree in a mango orchard landed in Indian headlines and on social media. The girls’ deaths were quickly assumed to have had something to do with sexual assault.
Faleiro, who was born in India and lives in London, drove more than six hours from the nearest airport to the village of Katra in Uttar Pradesh, an agricultural region of India that abuts Nepal, to find out what happened.
The story she weaves in exquisite language is as tragic and ugly as it is engrossing.
In life, the tiny girls hanging from the tree by their colorful scarves had been so inseparable that their families and tiny community elided their names and called them as one. Because of India’s rape laws, their names can’t be published, so Faleiro uses the pseudonyms Padma and Lalli. “Padma Lalli,” as she calls them, were cousins, “alike as two grains of rice,” who spent all day in the fields before coming home to sleep in the compound of their extended family.
Their grandmother is “whispers and bones in a widow’s white sari.”
The girls are hard workers. Every morning, as the sun climbs in the sky, they rise to a day of chores: tending the family hearths, lighting dung cakes. They heat oil and knead dough and cook rotis, then trudge in noonday heat into the mint fields to feed family members. They come home and scrub dishes with soap made of wood ash. They go off with the goats and return to milk the buffalo. They pump water to fill buckets. They sweep the dusty courtyard over and over and over again.
Their mothers are also tireless laborers, caring for small children and the needs of men. “The women sweated over fires and labored over small errands,” Faleiro writes. “There was a button to thread, a broken slipper to twist into a knot, nits to comb out, wicker fans to wipe clean. The men were out, smoking beedis and talking among themselves.” The women pick up the slack. At night, they sleep on dirt while the men lounge in hammocks.
The MacGuffin in this mystery is the iPhone that one of the girls — an orphan living with relatives — has received as a gift. They hover over its alluring light in stolen moments between chores, using it to make plans for after dark, when they sneak off, with the excuse of having to relieve themselves (there are no toilets, so everyone squats in the fields). There in the mango orchard, the older one starts having sex with a lower-caste boy from a town across the field. These assignations are arranged by cellphone — including a cellphone that unbeknown to either of them is surreptitiously recording everything, per the orders of the younger girl’s father.
This story is at heart a Southern Gothic — a Southern Hemisphere Gothic — a tale of stymied sexuality and buried secrets. It will surprise no one that honor matters among this impoverished caste; nor will it surprise that there were watchers.
“They shouldn’t be out in public with a mobile phone,” one of the watchers, a government teacher and farmer, observes to one of the girls’ relatives. “Who knows who they’re talking to?”
How Long Will #Biden Pretend #Modi's India Is a “Democratic” Ally Against “Authoritarian” #China? #democracy #geopolitics | Time
“Democracy” is the one word that gets thrown around a lot when India and America talk about their relationship. Democracy forms the basis of the “shared values” and the “common bond” between the “natural partners”—all phrases that invariably pop up in the communiques of their engagement. The “world’s oldest democracy” and the “world’s largest democracy” won’t let the world forget why they’re in it together.
And, so it was when President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone Feb. 8 for the first time since the new U.S. Administration took power. Only, the new American President seemed to think that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to remind India of the two nations’ common bond, as well. “The President underscored his desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world and noted that a shared commitment to democratic values is the bedrock for the US-India relationship,” said a White House statement on the meeting.
The U.S. would like to see India as an ideological and strategic counter to China’s rise, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook India’s fast-declining democratic standards. The daily assaults on civil liberties and the threats to India’s Muslim minority under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have noticeably increased since Modi’s re-election in 2019. Hate speech is rife, peaceful dissent is criminalized, freedom of expression and association faces new constraints, and the jails are filling up with political prisoners and peaceful dissenters as a servile judiciary looks away.
On Sunday, Disha Ravi, a 21-year-old climate activist, was arrested for the allegedly seditious act of sharing and editing a Google document for activists supporting the ongoing farmers’ protest. Warrants are out against more activists for the same “conspiracy.” Earlier this month, India slipped two more places to 53rd in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index—from 27th place in 2014. Sweden’s V-Dem Institute now lists India among the top 10 countries most quickly becoming autocracies, adding that it is “on the verge of losing its status as a democracy due to the severely shrinking of space for the media, civil society and the opposition.”
All the ecosystem members need to do is hit “Tweet” and, boom, Twitter spammed! If enough people spam it at the right time, the hashtag starts trending. Just scroll down this trend and you can spot the pattern easily.
If the ever-growing reality of Hindu Rashtra were one big Christmas, Kapil Mishra would be Santa Claus, and the members of his “Hindu Ecosystem” hardworking elves delivering the gift of religious hatred and bigotry, packaged in the seductive wrapping of Hindutva, to the masses, secretly but methodically.
On November 16 last year, Mishra, a former Aam Aadmi Party minister who is now with the BJP and has been accused of inciting the February 2020 Delhi carnage by the victims and activists, posted a tweet asking whoever was interested to fill in a form and join what he described as the “Hindu Ecosystem” team.
The form is straightforward – seeking such details as name, cellphone number, state and country of residence – but for one standout question. It asks the prospective footsoldier of the Hindu Ecosystem to state their “special area of interest” and, lest it wasn’t clear what that meant, gives a set of examples.
It also asks them to make a “declaration” about joining the group online and/or on the ground. Our curiosity was heightened and, of course, we had to join. We filled in the form and became members of the Telegram group. We were later added to other associated groups.
Thus we came to have a fly-on-the-wall view of how this ecosystem operates, how it creates propaganda material, how it comes up with toxic narratives, and how it manufactures trends across social media platforms to whip up communal hatred and bigotry, and, of course, support for Hindutva. Oh, they also share toolkits, like the one put out by the climate advocate Greta Thunberg to support the farmer protests over which the Delhi police have lodged an FIR, and arrested a young activist named Disha Ravi.
This is the sum of what we found: Kapil Mishra is leading a network of over 20,000 people who are working in an organised fashion to create and spread communal hatred.
Welcome to hate factory
On November 27, Misra posted a video for members of his network announcing that their first campaign would begin at 10 am that day, using the hashtag #JoinHinduEcosystem.
He said about 27,000 people had filled in the form and nearly 15,000 people had joined the Telegram group. Additionally, 5,000 people had signed up with the Hindu Ecosystem’s “Twitter team”. No points for guessing what social and gender groups the members came from: going by the usernames they were mostly upper caste Hindu men.
As of publishing this story, we have exited all the groups as our journalistic fly-on-the-wall purpose has been achieved.
If you don’t yet fully grasp the gravity of what’s being done through groups such as the Hindu Ecosystem, allow us to spell it out: they are fountains of misinformation, propaganda, directed hatred. They create and spread, in an organised way, Hindu supremacist and anti-minority bile, and incite communal hatred.
We joined Kapil Mishra’s group without expectation, only to witness a factory of hate and propaganda operating in real time. Over 20,000 people are working in a coordinated way to incite communal hatred; it doesn’t matter what event pops up on their radar they quickly give it a hateful spin and turn it into a conspiracy theory, complete with readily shareable images, videos, and forwards to tap into the hate-network effect.
As we were about to exit the group, we saw the hate factory begin circulating a video that purportedly shows a mob attacking a house as the Delhi police stand by.
India’s government has threatened to jail employees of Facebook Inc., its WhatsApp unit and Twitter Inc. as it seeks to quash political protests and gain far-reaching powers over discourse on foreign-owned tech platforms, people familiar with the warnings say.
The warnings are in direct response to the tech companies’ reluctance to comply with data and takedown requests from the government related to protests by Indian farmers that have made international headlines, the people say. At least some of the written warnings cite specific, India-based employees at risk of arrest if the companies don’t comply, according to two of the people.
The threats mark an escalation of India’s efforts to pressure U.S. tech companies at a moment when those companies are looking to the world’s second-most-populous nation for growth in the coming years.
Some of the government’s requests for data involve WhatsApp, which is hugely popular in India and promises users encrypted communication, unable to be read by outside parties.
A WhatsApp spokesman said the company complies with data requests that are “consistent with internationally recognized standards including human rights, due process and the rule of law.” A Facebook spokesman said the company “responds to government requests for data in accordance with applicable law and our terms of service.”
Truschke, who teaches South Asian history at Rutgers University, is the author of Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court, Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King, and most recently, The Language Of History: Sanskrit Narratives Of A Muslim Past, which explores ancient Sanskrit texts and their perspectives on Indo-Muslim rule and the Deccan sultanates.
Her most well known and controversial work remains to be Aurangzeb, in which Truschke offers a perspective on the public debate over the Mughal emperor, who is often condemned as the cruelest king in Indian history, and makes the case for why his often-maligned legacy deserves to be reassessed.
Aurangzeb, a Muslim ruler, is widely thought to have destroyed thousands of Hindu temples, forced millions of Indians to convert to Islam, and enacted a genocide of Hindus. In the book, Truschke uses extensive research to argue that his life and history do not match his current reputation.
The book generated fierce backlash in India, particularly from Hindutva groups, making Truschke the target of intense hate speech and slander on social media, which has only worsened over the years. The author also faced calls to ban Aurangzeb and even to ban her from India.
After the renewed backlash on Monday, the author said she had to block over 5,750 Twitter accounts after enduring an “avalanche of hate speech, anti-Muslim sentiments, misogyny, violent threats,” and even “things endangering” her family.
A group called “Hindus on Campus” on Twitter, which describes itself as a student-led initiative to create “a safe space for diaspora Hindus to share their experiences with Anti-Hindu bigotry”, has launched a petition on social media against the historian.
It alleged that Truschke, in her tweets, falsely linked Hindus with extremists and white supremacists rioting at the US Capitol Hill, and claimed that the Bhagavad Gita “rationalises mass slaughter” and violence. The Hindutva community further accused the historian of tweeting that Hindu deity Ram was a “misogynistic pig”, while she “whitewashed Hindu genocide by Mughal king Aurangzeb”.
The group demanded that Truschke be disallowed to teach a course that involves materials related to Hinduism and India “due to her inherent prejudiced views”.
Further, the Hindus on Campus demanded that the Rutgers University publicly condemn her “for causing trauma to Hindu students, alumni, and the Hindu community”. It sought the university to give a platform where Hindu students can bring in faculty and researchers “who can provide realistic representations of Hinduism and India”.
The Rutgers University rejected the submissions made by the group. “Scholarship is sometimes controversial, perhaps especially when it is at the interface of history and religion, but the freedom to pursue such scholarship, as Professor Truschke does rigorously, is at the heart of the academic enterprise,” the institute said.
At the same time, Rutgers “emphatically affirms its support for all members of the Hindu community to study and live in an environment in which they not only feel safe, but also fully supported in their religious identity”, it said.
The institute said it was initiating dialogues to understand the sentiments of the Hindu community on campus, and “create a context that honors our complexity, while allowing us to do the difficult work of constructive and healthy engagement among our diverse community”.
After all, our academic excellence is inseparable from our diversity of perspectives and voices, Rutgers said.
by Bridge Initiative Team
Published on 18 May 2021
IMPACT: Founded in 1925 by K.D Hedgewar, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization. In 2020, RSS had almost 585,000 members and over 57,000 branches or sakhas, including a trade union wing (Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh), women’s wing (Rashtriya Sevika Samiti), student wing (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), and economic wing (Swadeshi Jagaran Manch). The Print, an Indian news outlet, estimates that 3 out of 4 ministers in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are members of the RSS, including the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded in 1925 by K.D Hedgewar in response to a series of small and large scale riots between Hindus and Muslims across northern India. As the historian Tapan Raychoudhuri has noted, Hedgewar believed the riots were Muslim riots as he [Hedgewar] claimed that in every single case, “it is they [Muslims] who start them.”
In the Sangh’s mission statement, Hedgewar wrote: “The Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindustan. It is therefore clear that if Hindustan is to be protected, we should first nourish the Hindu culture. It is the duty of every Hindu to do his best to consolidate the Hindu society.” In 1927, RSS co-founder — Dr. B.S. Moonje — described the RSS as an institution which could produce “the military regeneration of the Hindus” and unify the people in line with “the idea of fascism.” In 1940, M.S Golwalkar succeeded Hedgewar as head of the RSS.
Golwalkar, widely regarded as the ideological architect of the Sangh, is the author of We, or, Our Nationhood Defined, which maps out a vision of a “Hindu Rashtra”. A March 2018 piece by Parnal Chirmuley in The Indian Express notes that Golwalkar’s vision [of a Hindu state] drew inspiration from Italian fascism, specifically Mussolini’s organization of fascist paramilitary forces. In comparing the supremacy of Hindus in India to the supremacy of the Aryan race in Hitler’s Germany, Golwalkar wrote, “To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging of the country of the Semitic races— the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here .. a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
In the 1940s, under Golwalkar, RSS volunteers were forbidden from taking part in Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s “Quit India Movement” against the British empire. During the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Golwalkar is reported to have met with Gandhi over RSS’s alleged involvement in widespread anti-Muslim pogroms. On January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse, a former member of the Sangh, assassinated Gandhi. In the aftermath, Golwalkar was jailed, and the RSS banned.
In 2009, following the BJP’s defeat in national elections, Mohan Bhagwat— who grew up in a staunchly RSS family— took over the organization. Leading up to the 2014 election, the Sangh actively campaigned for the Hindu-nationalist party, backing Narendra Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, as the front runner. Narendra Modi is a lifelong member of the RSS, and is accused of “allowing” the 2002 massacre of Muslims in his state.
In recent years, the RSS has been at the forefront of promoting Hindu-nationalism in India, with the Sangh accused of inciting violence against India’s Dalit-Bahujan community, including hate crimes against Muslims, lynchings of Dalits, and pogroms against religious minorities.
by Bridge Initiative Team
Published on 18 May 2021
In recent years, the RSS has been at the forefront of promoting Hindu-nationalism in India, with the Sangh accused of inciting violence against India’s Dalit-Bahujan community, including hate crimes against Muslims, lynchings of Dalits, and pogroms against religious minorities.
In 1992, RSS had campaigned for the destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, arguing the Mughal era structure was built on top of the birthplace of the Hindu God, Ram. Following the BJP’s landslide electoral victory in May 2019, Mohan Bhagwat reaffirmed the Sangh’s commitment to the masjid-mandir (mosque-temple) debate at an RSS-education camp, saying, “Ram’s work will be done.” In December 2019, after the Supreme Court of India ruled in favor of the destruction in November 2019, three RSS leaders were charged with “commuting a deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings and uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of a person” in Karnataka, India, for reenacting the demolition of the mosque.
In April 2019, The Caravan reported a new initiative by the RSS to bring “true nationalist narrative” to Indian academia. Since BJP came to power in 2014, prominent historians such as Romila Thapar have argued that the Sangh is “attempting to foreground revisionist histories with a glorified view of a Hindu past” by rewriting school textbooks, setting up “RSS-model schools”, and lobbying streaming platforms to remove “anti-nationalist” content. Balmukund Pandey, the head of the historical research wing of the RSS, is on record asserting: “The time is now to restore India’s past glory by establishing that ancient Hindu texts are fact not myth.”
Since its early days, RSS has been linked to white supremacist organizations in Europe and North America. In 2011, Anders Breivik— the Norwegian mass murderer— hailed India’s Hindu nationalist movement as a “key ally in a global struggle to bring down democratic regimes across the world”, listing the websites of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the National Volunteers’ Organisation, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as resources.
The Sangh has also been linked with Hindu-American advocacy groups in the U.S, chief among them the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in Washington, D.C. Mihir Meghani, co-founder of HAF, is a long time member of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and has spoken at conferences organized by Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, the international religious branch of the RSS. Meghani is also the author of Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology where he writes, “The future of Bharat is set. Hindutva is here to stay. It is up to the Muslims whether they will be included in the new nationalistic spirit of Bharat. It is up to the government and the Muslim leadership whether they wish to increase Hindu furor or work with the Hindu leadership.”
In 2005, the Hindu America Foundation (HAF) partnered with the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation, to push the state of California to change passages on Hinduism in official school textbooks. In a February 2006 cover story, Siliconeer, a monthly magazine for south Asians on the west coast, said the changes in curriculum that HAF was pushing for reflected “chauvinistic political agendas” seeking to equate the history of India with the history of Hinduism. Recently, HAF board member Rishi Bhutada served as the official spokesperson of “Howdy Modi,” the RSS backed rally for India’s BJP prime minister held in Houston, Texas on September 22, 2020.
by Bridge Initiative Team
Published on 18 May 2021
In October 2019, HAF invited Aarti Tikoo Singh, who claimed, in a Twitter exchange with Tarek Fatah, that “Islamophobia is a bullsh*t word thrown in as a slur by those who have irrational fear (phobia) of any criticism of Islamic extremism [and] regressive Muslims.” In April 2019, after city councils across Canada voted to allow the Islamic call to prayer (adhan) to be broadcasted for a few minutes a day during the holy month of Ramadan, Fatah claimed that the Muslims wanted the public adhan to become a “permanent feature”, and that Greek Town (as the neighbourhood of the mosque is known) might soon become “Islamabad.” Fatah was retweeted by Ravi Hooda, who commented that the decision— to broadcast the adhan— opened the door for “separate lanes for camel & goat riders” or laws “requiring all women to cover themselves from head to toe in tents.” Writing for Foreign Policy, Steven Zhou identified Hooda as a volunteer for the local branch of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, which represents the overseas interests of the RSS.
In February 2020, following anti-Muslim pogroms in Delhi, 16 RSS cadres were arrested and charged with murder and rioting. At least 53 people were killed during the violence, almost three quarter of whom were Muslims. According to The Guardian, the catalyst for the pogrom is widely acknowledged to have been a comment by Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, who issued a public ultimatum declaring that if the police did not clear the streets of a protest against a new citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, his supporters would be “forced to hit the streets”.
Today’s RSS tries to distance itself from its past. But according to Arundhati Roy, “its underlying ideology, in which Muslims are cast as treacherous permanent ‘outsiders,’ is a constant refrain in the public speeches of BJP politicians, and finds utterance in chilling slogans raised by rampaging mobs. For example: ‘Mussalman ka ek hi sthan—Kabristan ya Pakistan’ (Only one place for the Muslim—the graveyard, or Pakistan). In October this year, Mohan Bhagwat, the supreme leader of the RSS, said, ‘India is a Hindu Rashtra’—a Hindu nation. ‘This is non-negotiable.’”
(Meena) Harris, a 36-year-old lawyer and businesswoman shared a statement seen across Instagram, along with the caption "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. I stand in solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah."
Sheikh Jarrah is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem where six Palestinian families are facing eviction in favor of Jewish settlers. The evictions have led to violent clashes in the streets. The Israeli government has said the matter is a real estate dispute that Hamas is using to stoke tensions, but some Palestinians say the evictions are emblematic of an Israeli government they say is trying to push them out of Jerusalem.
The post she shared read, "One cannot advocate for racial equality, LGBT & women’s rights, condemn corrupt and abusive regimes & other injustices yet choose to ignore the Palestinian oppression. It does not add up. You cannot pick & choose whose human rights matter more."
Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that controls Gaza, is no champion of LGBT rights - being gay is punishable by 10 years in prison, and in 2016, Hamas executed one of its own fighters for same-sex relations.
The post had also been shared by model Gigi Hadid, who is of Palestinian and Dutch descent.
In a subsequent post, Meena Harris shared a statement that described Israel as an "apartheid state."
Meena Harris’ take on the Middle East violence seemingly puts her at odds with President Biden. Biden said Thursday he had not seen a "significant overreaction" from Israel in response to Hamas’ rocket attacks, and said that they had been "indiscriminately fired into population centers."
Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden in the call asserted Israel’s "right to defend itself." White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden team had had "dozens of calls" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders focused on de-escalating the crisis over the past week.
But earlier this week Psaki said the U.S. had expressed concerns that Israeli evictions in East Jerusalem worked "against our common interests" in finding a solution to the conflict.
Last Sunday, dozens of Muslim women in India found they had been put up for sale online.
Hana Khan, a commercial pilot whose name was on the list, told the BBC she was alerted to it when a friend sent her a tweet.
The tweet took her to "Sulli Deals", an app and website that had taken publicly available pictures of women and created profiles, describing the women as "deals of the day".
The app's landing page had a photo of an unknown woman. On the next two pages Ms Khan saw photos of her friends. On the page after that she saw herself.
"I counted 83 names. There could be more," she told the BBC. "They'd taken my photo from Twitter and it had my user name. This app was running for 20 days and we didn't even know about it. It sent chills down my spine."
The app pretended to offer users the chance to buy a "Sulli" - a derogatory slang term used by right-wing Hindu trolls for Muslim women. There was no real auction of any kind - the purpose of the app was just to degrade and humiliate.
Ms Khan said she had been targeted was because of her religion. "I'm a Muslim woman who's seen and heard," she said. "And they want to silence us."
GitHub - the web platform that hosted the open source app - shut it down quickly following complaints. "We suspended user accounts following the investigation of reports of such activity, all of which violate our policies," the company said in a statement.
But the experience has left women scarred. Those who featured on the app were all vocal Muslims, including journalists, activists, artists or researchers. A few have since deleted their social media accounts and many others said they were afraid of further harassment.
"No matter how strong you are, but if your picture and other personal information is made public, it scares you, it disturbs you," another woman told the BBC Hindi service.
But several of the women whose details were shared on the app have taken to social media to call out the "perverts", and vowed to fight. A dozen have formed a WhatsApp group to seek - and offer - support and some of them, including Ms Khan, have lodged complaints with the police.
This article is more than 10 years old
Scion of India's leading political family told ambassador radicalised Hindu groups could create religious tension and political confrontation
Rahul Gandhi, the "crown prince" of Indian politics, told the US ambassador at a lunch last year that Hindu extremist groups could pose a greater threat to his country than Muslim militants.
In controversial comments likely to cause a storm in India, Gandhi – considered a likely prime ministerial candidate and a scion of the country's leading political family – warned Timothy Roemer that although "there was evidence of some support for [Islamic terrorist group Laskar-e-Taiba] among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community".
The 40-year-old politician, the son of the Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi, told the ambassador that "the risk of a "homegrown" extremist front, reacting to terror attacks coming from Pakistan or from Islamist groups in India, was a growing concern and one that demanded constant attention".
The US view of him has evolved. In late 2007, US diplomats described the young politician, recently appointed to lead the Congress youth wing, as "widely viewed as an empty suit and will have to prove wrong those who dismiss him as a lightweight".
"To do so he will have to demonstrate determination, depth, savvy and stamina. He will need to get his hands dirty in the untidy and ruthless business that is Indian politics," one said in a cable entitled The son also rises: Rahul Gandhi takes another step towards top job.
Other cables talk of Gandhi's political inexperience and repeated gaffes. They also repeat cutting criticism from political analysts and journalists.
However as Gandhi warmed to the US, the US warmed to him. In a meeting with another American official last summer, he explained his strategy of targeting rural populations and small towns, impressing his interlocutor.
"[Gandhi] came off as a practiced politician who knew how to get his message across, was precise and articulate and demonstrated a mastery that belied the image some have of [him] as a dilettante," the official said.
In November last year, after a meeting with the US ambassador, a cable to Washington described Gandhi as "an elusive contact in the past" but now "clearly interested in reaching out to the USG [United States government]".
A cable from February this year describes him as "increasingly sure-footed".
For Roemer, writing after the lunch during which Gandhi had commented on extremism, "the rising profile of young leaders like Rahul Gandhi provides [the USA with] an opening to expand the constituency in support of the strategic partnership with a long term horizon".
A group of influential farmer leaders ratcheted up pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to roll back three new farm laws by organising a mammoth rally in India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh last week.
After the successful mass meeting - the biggest rally yet in a months-long series of demonstrations to press for repeal of the laws - farm union leaders now plan to step up protests in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the state assembly election next year.
Protesting farmers say the laws, introduced in September last year, would erode a longstanding mechanism that ensures farmers a minimum guaranteed price for their rice and wheat, but the government says this will help growers get better prices.
HOW DID FARMERS' PROTEST TURN INTO A PAN-INDIA MOVEMENT?
Almost immediately after parliament cleared the farm laws late last year, tens of thousands of farmers from grain-growing Punjab and Haryana states trudged towards the capital New Delhi. Stopped by authorities from entering India's capital, growers have camped on highways to New Delhi, in India's longest-running farmers' protest against the government.
Several rounds of talks between the government and farm union leaders failed to break the deadlock. Some government ministers and leaders from Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) initially dismissed farmers' protests as demonstrations by a handful of rice and wheat growers only from Punjab and Haryana.
As the days went on, farmers from other parts of the country galvanized into action by either joining the protest near New Delhi or organising a series of demonstrations in different states.
Other than calling for the withdrawal of the laws, farm union leaders put forth another demand - a law that would force the government to buy every farm produce at a state-set guaranteed price. The new demand gained traction among farmers from across the country, beyond Punjab and Haryana - known as India's grain belt.
An Indian woman allegedly assaulted and raped in Mumbai on Friday has died of her injuries, in a case activists say bears a striking similarity to the brutal 2012 gang-rape and murder of a student that prompted millions of women to push for tougher sexual assault laws in the country.
The woman, 34, was found lying unconscious inside an open mini bus in the suburban neighborhood of Sakinaka, Mumbai Police Commissioner Hemant Nagrale said at a news conference Saturday.
She was allegedly raped and assaulted with an iron rod, according to CNN affiliate News-18, who cited a local official. The woman was admitted to Rajawadi Hospital and initially responded to treatment, but died from her injures on Saturday, Nagrale said.
Police arrested a man on suspicion of rape and murder, after allegedly identifying him from CCTV footage, Nagrale added. He is yet to be formally charged and will remain in police custody until September 21.
Balwant Deshmukh, senior police inspector at Sakinaka police station, told CNN the victim and alleged perpetrator were both homeless. If charged and found guilty, the suspect could face the death penalty.
Anti-rape and women's rights activist Yogita Bhayana said Friday's case in Mumbai had "shaken the nation once again" because it was "incredibly similar" to the notorious rape and murder of 23-year-old student Nirbhaya in New Delhi in 2012.
Nirbhaya -- a pseudonym given to the victim, meaning "fearless" -- was raped and assaulted with iron rods, according to court documents, and suffered horrific injuries. She died two weeks after the attack in a Singapore hospital.
Her death cast a spotlight on sexual assault in India, and increased scrutiny on crimes against women. The case marked a turning point in the country, and galvanized millions of women to protest for tougher laws on sexual assault.
"After Nirbhaya, we thought things would change but we keep hearing of (rape) cases every single day. Not a single day goes by where we don't hear of one," Bhayana said. "As activists, we push and probe the government and nation so much, but when we hear of such brutality, we really feel so helpless. I have no words to describe it."
Uddhav Thackeray, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital city, expressed his shock at the "dreadful" incident.
"The heinous crime that took place in Saki Naka is a disgrace to humanity," Thackeray tweeted Saturday, adding that the case will be fast-tracked, and the culprit will be "severely punished."
Considering that caste is an intrinsic part of the Hindutva world view, a session was dedicated to the theme. Gajendran Ayyathurai presented his paper on “Systematic Blindnesses: Hindutva, Benign Brahminism and the Brick Wall of Caste/Hindu Identity”. In his argument, “benign Brahminism stands for how Brahmin-male claims of Hindu identity, Hindu culture and Hinduism have come to be legitimised in the Indian and Western academy’s theories, institutions and practices that superimpose and mask the latent and manifest forms of caste/casteism”. Bhanwar Meghwanshi, who quit the RSS as he became disgusted with its casteism, explained in Hindi that “Hindutva is not a religion or faith but is a communal political ideology that is based on brahminical Hinduism that wants to turn India from a secular nation into a Hindu rashtra”. Basing his argument on his own experience, Meghwanshi asserted that “the lower castes do not have any role in determining the strategies or politics of the RSS, instead, they are exploited and weaponised against religious minorities”. In her presentation, the philosopher Meena Dhanda said it was possible for caste “to be included in the legal definition of race under the [U.K.’s] Equality Act of 2010”.
Also read: Hindu right-wing organisations in the U.S avail themselves of low-interest loans offered by the SBA
In a session on “Gender and Sexual Politics of Hindutva”, the film-maker Leena Manimekalai showed a clip from her incomplete film Rape Nation, which partially looks at the stories of survivors of sexual violence during the communal carnages that took place in Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar in 2002 and 2013 respectively. Arguing that sexual violence is at the core of Hindutva, Leena Manimekalai said: “Hindutva has redefined nationalism as a genocidal impulse to rape and murder non-Hindu women. It is a celebration of toxic masculinity.”
The transgender studies scholar Aniruddha Dutta showed in his presentation how the BJP’s rise had even affected the Hijra tradition where there has been a transformation from a “syncretic Indo-Islamic tradition to a more orthodox version of Hinduism”. The Dalit feminist P. Sivakami critiqued Hindutva as having “no vision for Hindu women except that it intends to prepare and reorient them against their imaginary enemy, i.e., the Muslim man, thus diverting her from her real struggles”. The feminist scholar Akanksha Mehta segued from this presentation, stating that “notions of gender and sexuality rooted in caste and race are crucial to the Hindutva project” even as she compared the analogous role of women among savarna (caste) Hindus and Zionists.
Hindutva and its relationship to nationalism was the theme of the session titled “Contours of the Nation”. The focus was on the operation of Hindutva in Kashmir, the north-eastern region and the Adivasi-inhabited areas of central India. The anthropologist Mohamad Junaid examined the “spectacle of domination” of the Hindutva state, characterising it as “primarily an anti-Muslim state”. He also spoke about the long history of Hindutva in Kashmir, tracing it to the land reforms of the 1950s, which were a challenge to “Hindu sovereignty”.
And it is only the beginning. In neighboring Bihar, the government is asking people to report “suspected illegal migrants” and officials have been ordered to create awareness of the issue on “an urgent basis.” The state’s high court has demanded a detention center to house migrants, reminding the government that “deportation of illegal migrants is of paramount importance and in the national interest.” Bihar’s 17 million Muslims are on edge about their future. In next-door Bengal, which borders Bangladesh and is home to nearly 25 million Muslims, the BJP has been promising an Assam-like citizenship verification drive if it comes to power in the state.
The chief minister of India’s biggest and most politically important state, Uttar Pradesh, recently blamed Muslims for cornering government-subsidized food. Uttar Pradesh, along with Assam, has introduced a two-child policy blaming Muslims for a supposedly runaway population growth that officials say accounts for the backwardness of these states. The claim is not rooted in reality. Fertility rates among Muslims have in fact been falling rapidly.
But reality is no longer important. It bends to the requirements of the ruling party’s dehumanizing narrative against Muslims. As Jews in Nazi Germany were called “rats” and Tutsis in Rwanda in the 1990s were called “cockroaches,” so BJP members now refer to Indian Muslims as “termites” eating away at India’s resources, denying Hindus what is due to them in their own land.
The destruction of Gandhi’s legacy
The foundations of the secular republic that Gandhi died defending are thus being hollowed out ever more frantically. While Modi pays ritualistic homage to Gandhi, BJP leaders openly glorify Gandhi’s killer, who was a Hindu fanatic. Modi’s ministers and legislators freely call on people to shoot “traitors” and start pogroms, and are promoted rather than penalized for their actions. Modi himself partly owes his fan following and ascent to his lack of remorse over the 2002 pogroms in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister. Hundreds of Muslims were killed and thousands rendered homeless.
Noticeably, not only did the current chief minister of Assam not apologize for the police excesses, he in fact trivialized the deaths of Hoque and Farid, calling Hoque’s death “just 30 seconds” of a three minute video. He also carried on with the eviction drive and even proudly tweeted photos of the rubble of the four mosques destroyed in it.
While the Bidens of this world still talk about Gandhi, India’s role models have changed. So have the standards of acceptable discourse in public and social life. Genocide is now openly demanded at public rallies. The “need” for ethnic cleansing can pop up in casual conversations on politics among friends or family. Death threats are used like punctuation marks in debates on social media.
On Oct. 2, Gandhi’s birthday was celebrated with much fanfare as the International Day of Non-Violence. Two new books on his assassination in 1948 were launched. In Karnataka, meanwhile, a 25-year-old Muslim man was found beheaded for his affair with a Hindu girl, allegedly by a local Hindu vigilante group.
Gandhi continues to be killed in a million ways in today’s India. Bijoy Baniya just added a flourish to it.
Hindutva activists are seeking to enforce rigid codes of normative Hindu culture and Islamophobia by forcing the withdrawal of progressive advertisements.
The online abuse and trolling are not isolated or spontaneous acts but have the political backing of the powerful BJP IT cell.
Last year too, during the festive season, jewelry brand Tanishq faced the ire of Hindu right-wing. The jewelry brand in its advertisement “Ekatvam” (unity in oneness) depicted a pregnant Hindu woman being lovingly given a baby shower by her Muslim in-laws. The advertisement text read: “She is married into a family that loves her like their own child. Only for her, they go out of their way to celebrate an occasion that they usually don’t. A beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions and cultures.”
Accusing Tanishq of promoting “Love Jihad” (a conspiracy theory claiming that Hindu women are being forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage), the Hindutva activists called for a boycott of the brand. #BoycottTanishq trended. The outrage spilled over offline as well with a Tanishq jewelry showroom in Gujarat being threatened and forced to display an apology at its store. They were reports of Muslim Tanishq store managers’ contact details being made public online.
Tanishq ultimately pulled out the advertisement stating, “We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well-being of our employees, partners and store staff.”
Tanishq’s capitulation to right-wing trolls was strongly criticized, with a section of Twitterati labelling it “spineless corporate India.” Many pointed out that when corporations make bold advertisements, they should not get brow-beaten by trolls but stand up for their values — as did the American footwear brand Nike, which despite severe backlash, boldly made National Football League (NFL) star Colin Kaepernick its brand ambassador. Kaepernick had “taken the knee” i.e. kneeled during the United States national anthem to protest against racial injustice.
Last year, soon after the Tanishq advertisement backlash, advertising bodies in India urged the government to act against intimidation by Hindutva trolls. But India’s ruling BJP is not inclined to fight hate. Rather, it is encouraging unbridled Hindutva for electoral gains. As intolerance gallops, vitriolic attacks against advertisements continue unabated.
Government invites citizen volunteers to flag ‘unlawful’, ‘anti-national’ content as activists fear the creation of a surveillance state.
The group that ran the Hindutva Watch handle on Twitter – which flagged instances of violence and bigotry from Hindu nationalist groups – had long been accustomed to being abused and trolled for content critical of the Indian government.
But even they were stunned when the account, with nearly 26,000 followers, was abruptly suspended in April this year with no reason given.
The suspension of that, and dozens of accounts deemed to be critical of the government, came shortly after the launch of a cybercrime volunteers programme by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to report illegal or unlawful online content, Reuters news agency reported on Monday.
Citizen volunteers, or “good Samaritans”, are required to maintain “strict confidentiality”, and report child sex abuse material, as well as online content “disturbing public order” or religious harmony, and against India’s integrity, the MHA said, according to the report.
For activists, journalists and others critical of the government, it has become harder to distinguish between trolls, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) information technology cell and the cyber-volunteers – estimated to number in the hundreds.
“For us, Twitter was important to expose communalism, hate speech, fake news and pseudoscience spread by right-wing forces,” said a spokesperson for Hindutva Watch who asked not to be named for safety reasons.
“For this, we have been trolled, abused, threatened. The online vigilante machinery stalks accounts that are critical of the BJP or the RSS, labels them as anti-national, and lobbies to get them suspended,” the spokesperson said.
RSS refers to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the far-right ideological mentor of the BJP.
Complaints about posts are assessed under Twitter’s terms of service and Twitter rules, and “any content that is determined to be in violation is actioned in line with our range of enforcement options”, a spokesperson for Twitter said.
The MHA did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.
The BJP swept into power in India in 2014 and won by an even bigger margin in 2019, its victories credited to a large extent to its savvy IT cell and social media prowess, fuelled by thousands of supporters it calls digital “yodhas” or warriors.
Modi, 71, is known to be tech-savvy, with 73 million followers on his personal Twitter account, and follows several individuals who are known to harass those critical of his government, and who often say in their profile that they are “proud to be followed by Modi”.
“The cyber-volunteers programme goes beyond just silencing people,” said Swati Chaturvedi, an independent journalist who has written a book on the BJP’s social media strategy and her experience of being trolled.
“But it is actually a very smart move, as they can carry on browbeating dissent online without coming under more scrutiny themselves,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
More than half of India’s 1.3 billion population has access to the internet. The country has more than 300 million Facebook users and 200 million on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service – more than any other democracy in the world.
About 22 million Indians use Twitter, according to Statista.
India, like other countries, has recently introduced laws to limit so-called misinformation and to censor content that is deemed to be critical of the government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Shivnath Thukral, former public policy director of FB India who holds the same designation for WhatsApp in India now, has a close link/association with a company that creates bots to promote Narendra Modi and his party's reach on the social media.
Shivnath Thukral, a public policy director, India, at WhatsApp Inc (owned by Facebook, now known as Meta) since March 2020, had once owned a stake in Opalina Technologies – a company that has provided software solutions for India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, the prime minister’s office, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the ministry of textiles in the union government.
Thukral, who remains one of Meta’s top lobbyists in India, gave up his stakes in Opalina before joining Facebook on October 24, 2017. But Opalina, where Thukral’s father still holds shares, continues to work for the BJP and Modi.
According to the registrar of companies in the government of India’s ministry of corporate affairs, Thukral – who is also former managing editor of NDTV Profit – was a director of Opalina Technologies between March 2015 and October 2017 and owned a 7.5 per cent stake in the company since October 2014.
Just nine days before he joined Facebook India, Thukral resigned as Opalina’s director. Around the same time, he transferred his shares in the company to his father Kul Bhushan Thukral. So, stakes in Opalina remained with the family, even though Shivnath Thukral himself had joined Facebook.
Thukral was public policy director (India and South Asia) at Facebook from October 2017 to March 2020, after which he left the post to become public policy director (India) at WhatsApp. Simultaneously, between October 2020 and September 2021, he was also interim public policy director (India, South and Central Asia) for Facebook after Ankhi Das’s controversial resignation.
Opalina was incorporated in April 2013. The majority shareholders of the company are Satish Chandra and Gaurav Sharma, a former Times Group employee, who are also directors in the company.
Thukral is known for his proximity with PM Modi. He had worked as a part of Modi’s election campaign in 2013 before Modi became India’s prime minister in May 2014. According to unnamed “former Facebook employees” quoted by Time magazine, “a key reason Thukral was hired in 2017 was because he was seen as close to the ruling party”.
Facebook India acknowledged his past association, stating to Time, “we are aware that some of our employees have supported various campaigns in the past both in India and elsewhere in the world”.
Madhu Kishwar, a vociferous supporter of the prime minister, too wrote in her book, Modi, Muslims and Media, that she was introduced to Modi by Thukral at a rally in Bharuch, Gujarat, in 2013.
Opalina’s projects for Modi and the BJP
Online evidence suggests Opalina developed software solutions for Modi’s social media presence and the BJP’s digital campaigns during Modi’s re-election in 2019.
These reporters found a Twitter bot – an autonomous programme on the internet that can interact with network systems or users – that tweeted from Modi’s Twitter account and a Facebook “profile photo frame”, both of which were used as a part of the BJP’s “main bhi chowkidar” campaign on social media a month before the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Both the Twitter bot and the Facebook photo frame were developed by Opalina.
a) Twitter bot for #MainBhiChowkidar
In the run-up to the 2019 election, Rahul Gandhi and the opposition Congress party devised a slogan to target the prime minister – “chowkidar chor hai”, or the watchman is a thief.
NEW DELHI, May 4 (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google has hired a new public policy head in India, Archana Gulati, who previously worked at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's federal think-tank and the country's antitrust watchdog, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
A number of Indian government officials have been hired by Big Tech companies which are battling tighter data and privacy regulation, as well as competition law scrutiny, under Modi's federal government.
Gulati is a long-term Indian government employee, having worked until March 2021 as a joint secretary for digital communications at Modi's federal think tank, Niti Aayog, a body that is critical to government's policy making across sectors.
Before that, between 2014 and 2016, she worked as a senior official at India's antitrust body, the Competition Commission of India, according to her LinkedIn profile.
A Google India spokesperson confirmed the development to Reuters, but did not elaborate. Gulati did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The source declined to be named as the hiring decision was not public.
India's antitrust watchdog is currently looking into Google's business conduct in the market of smart TVs, its Android operating system as well as its in-app payments system.
Last year, Meta Platforms Inc (FB.O) hired Rajiv Aggarwal - who spent years working in India's federal and state governments - as its head of policy.
Another former Indian antitrust and federal government official, Anand Jha, in 2019 joined Walmart (WMT.N) as India public policy officer. He currently manages government relations for Blackstone in India.
Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang is unlikely to depose before the Standing Committee on Communication and Information & Technology with no word from Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla's office granting or denying permission for her deposition.
On Wednesday, the panel held its last meeting on the subject of 'Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space.” So far, the panel has met six-times on the issue speaking to both the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Facebook and other stakeholders.
Ms. Zhang, a data scientist worked at the Facebook between 2018 to 2020. She wanted to work in the team dealing with election-related platform abuse but was instead put on “site integrity fake engagement team” created to deal with bot accounts. While investigating these fake engagements, Ms. Zhang, unwittingly uncovered absuive political manipulation and opposition harassment networks in 25 countries including India.
The committee chairperson Shashi Tharoor in a tweet on November 1, 2021 had said that he had sought permission from the Speaker to allow for Ms. Zhang’s deposition. Parliamentary rules do not allow for witnesses to participate in meetings via video-conferencing and testimony in person by witnesses from abroad requires the Speaker’s consent. The panel on November 30 had unanimously endorsed Mr. Tharoor’s decision to seek permission from Mr. Birla on the question of Ms. Zhang’s deposition.
At the committee’s last meeting, Mr. Tharoor according to the sources, informed members that no reply has been forthcoming from the Speaker’s office — niether have it granted nor denied permission for Ms. Zhang’s deposition. “It is very unfortunate, considering India is one of the worst victim of electoral manipulation done through Facebook and other social media sites, it would have been instructive to hear Ms. Zhang,” a committee member said.
Ms. Zhang had earlier shared a dossier with Mr. Tharoor, which was circulated among the members and will now be part of the evidence collected by the committee. In committee's last meeting, the Facebook officials had debunked all the claims made by Ms. Zhang saying that she did not have any direct knowledge or access on the processes on which she has comment
5 September 2022 10:23 UTC | Last update: 7 hours 59 mins ago
Whistleblower case highlights the dangers of allowing the Indian government to get too close to social media providers
Awhistleblower complaint by ex-Twitter security chief Peiter Zatko, revealed last week, includes alarming allegations that the Indian government forced the social media platform to hire government agents who had access to sensitive user data because of Twitter’s weak security structure.
Twitter, which did not respond to Middle East Eye’s request for comment, has publicly rejected Zatko’s complaint as a "false narrative", but has yet to explicitly address the allegations about the hiring of Indian government agents.
While Zatko’s allegations have not yet been verified, the reference to "government agents could be related to the draconian internet regulations enacted by the Indian government in February 2021.
These rules - triggered partly by Twitter’s clash with New Delhi over demands that it remove accounts in support of anti-government protesters - require large social media companies to employ Indian citizens in three government-mandated positions, including a law enforcement liaison.
The new rules make one of those officials - the chief compliance officer - criminally liable if he or she, for example, does not follow a court order to identify the “first originator” of messages that undermine the “sovereignty” of the Indian state.
That these employees must be Indian citizens who physically reside in the country and face the possibility of arrest is why critics have dubbed such rules "hostage-taking laws". They compel local employees to partake in the censorship of voices hostile to those in power.
But Zatko’s allegations go beyond the very public attempts at censorship by India, which led the world in internet shutdowns in 2020. India’s Hindu nationalist government has been clamping down on public expression, especially by Muslim minorities and dissident voices.
In recent years, India has intensified the use of colonial-era sedition laws and newer counterterrorism powers to charge or arrest activists and journalists, such as Asif Sultan, Fahad Shah and Masrat Zahra. The allegations made by Zatko raise serious questions about whether New Delhi has inside access within Twitter - and potentially other social media platforms - through these mandated officers or other employees, enabling the surveillance of dissidents in India and Kashmir, as well as critics abroad.
If that is indeed the case, and if the Indian government has access to sensitive user data such as phone numbers, IP addresses and direct messages, it could use Twitter as a surveillance tool to target dissidents and other vulnerable groups.
For foreign companies seeking access to India’s massive consumer market, appeasement of the country’s Hindu nationalist networks is now part of the cost of doing business. While Twitter has pushed back against many of New Delhi’s demands, Facebook has been more brazen, with some of its staff allegedly colluding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government long before the 2021 internet rules.
In 2020, a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that Facebook executives in India rejected banning Hindu nationalist politicians who use the platform to make explicit calls for violence, fearing that it would jeopardise the company’s business prospects. India has the world’s largest number of Facebook users, and its platforms, including WhatsApp, have been deployed by Hindu nationalist extremist networks for mob violence.
Whistleblower case highlights the dangers of allowing the Indian government to get too close to social media providers
India is a glaring example of the spread of digital authoritarianism, the retreat of democracy, and the rise of leaders with a cult of personality - the very global issues that feature in the foreign policy discourse found in Washington. And yet, India is left out of congressional hearings or think-tank studies on these topics.
New Delhi also avoids official censure in Washington on growing threats to religious freedom. And it remains closely allied with Russia, ramping up oil imports from Moscow this year.
Because of its perceived geopolitical importance and the size of its consumer market, India avoids the treatment that a country like China or Russia would get. The grim reality for vulnerable communities in India is this: foreign entities that claim to stand up for universal values end up compromising on them in India, putting their commercial or strategic interests first.
A 12-year-old boy is in “critical condition” after he was allegedly gang-raped and beaten in India’s capital New Delhi, according to a statement from the city’s police and a complaint lodged by the boy’s family to the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW).
Delhi Police Deputy Commissioner Sanjay Sain said in a video statement the alleged assault was carried out by three males – all minors known to the victim – including a family relative.
The alleged assault was said to have taken place in the northeastern neighborhood of Seelampur on September 18, but was not reported until September 22, according to both the police and DCW statements.
The DCW is a statutory authority appointed to investigate matters concerning the security and safety of women under Delhi law.
The case is under investigation, and two of the accused have been arrested, Sain said in the video statement. “The three accused are from the same community, they were neighbors,” Sain said, adding that one of the men was related to the victim.
They have not yet been charged.
According to a statement from the DCW on Sunday, the boy’s parents said their son was in “critical condition” after allegedly being assaulted with a rod and “brutally” beaten with bricks.
“The boy is not in a good state and may not make it,” DCW chairperson Swati Maliwal told CNN by phone when asked about his current condition.
Protests in India against the high incidence of sexual assault, typically against women and girls, have become commonplace in recent years.
In 2012, the gang-rape and murder of medical student Nirbhaya – a pseudonym given to the victim, meaning “fearless” – in Delhi galvanized millions of women to call for tougher penalties for perpetrators.
Nirbhaya suffered horrific injuries after being raped and assaulted with iron rods, according to court documents. She died two weeks after the attack in a Singapore hospital.
Nirbhaya’s death cast a spotlight on sexual assault in India and marked a turning point in the country, with the introduction of new laws including the fast-tracking of rape cases through the justice system and an amended definition of rape to include anal and oral penetration.
A 15-year-old girl is being treated at a hospital in northern India after she was allegedly set on fire by a man accused of raping and impregnating her in the latest case of violence against women to shock the country.
Kamlesh Kumar Dixit, a senior police official in Uttar Pradesh state, told CNN the man, 18, and his mother were arrested on Monday on suspicion of attempted murder after they allegedly poured kerosene on the girl and set her ablaze on October 6.
Police also accuse the man – who is a cousin of the alleged victim – of raping her about three months ago after which she became pregnant, Dixit said.
Upon learning of the girl’s pregnancy, her family and the family of the alleged rapist had discussed whether the two should get married, Dixit added.
Citing police, the Press Trust of India – the country’s largest news agency – reported the girl was lured to the alleged rapist’s home on the pretext of getting married to him when she was allegedly set alight. However, Dixit declined to comment when asked about this detail.
India has long grappled with an epidemic of violence against women and girls in the deeply patriarchal country. And campaigners say the alleged involvement of a woman in this latest case demonstrates the scale of internalized misogyny in society.
“I’ve become so numb to stories like this. There is a lack of empathy in our country,” said Yogita Bhayana, an anti-rape activist from New Delhi. “For years, we have been trying to change things. This case demonstrates a failure of our system. The girl should have been helped.”
The girl’s condition and the status of her pregnancy are unknown. CNN ha
The plans are optimistic in the face of a dismal national record: crimes against women in India have risen alarmingly in recent years, with more than 425,000 recorded by the government in 2021. India ranks 148 in a list of 170 countries in the US-based Women, Peace and Security Index.
On a warm, late March evening, in fading twilight, a dozen women gather outside the Central College metro station in the heart of the Indian city of Bangalore. Other than two pairs of friends, we are strangers.
But introductions are made and soon all is excited anticipation and a will to conquer. As pompous as that sounds, a group of women setting out for a night walk on the streets of Bangalore’s Chickpete area, a crowded, congested traditional business district, is a rare occurrence.
In general, women avoid Indian streets at night, especially if alone and in busy areas, because of the harassment they are likely to encounter: anything from being brushed against and deliberately crowded out to being purposely bumped into or grabbed.
Gully Tours is the boutique experiential tour company behind our “Pete by Night – For Women by Women” experience. “It’s not unsafe,” says Parvathi Bhat Giliyal, lead of the company’s heritage and food walking tours, to the assembled women. “Just be on your guard. Try and stay together and we will have a good time.”
We set off in twos and threes, dodging foot and vehicular traffic. As we cross into Chickpete, the chaos intensifies. The roads are filled with jostling pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, vendors and people pushing carts of all sizes. It is noisy, dusty and humid.
By now, the group is in single file, each woman trying to keep the one in front in sight. It helps that we are carrying large, bright tote bags that are easily visible; it helps further that they are filled with goodies from women entrepreneurs, all collaborators of Gully Tours.
Parvathi breaks the group in gently. She leads us into small patches of sanity: first a deserted courtyard, to point out architectural styles that have been added over the years, and then the premises of the State Bank of India, housed in a 110-year-old stone mansion that used to be a lunatic asylum.
Back on the street and heading further into Chickpete, it feels as though we’re entering controlled bedlam. This is a traditional business district with a history going back nearly 500 years, all the way to the city’s founder, Kempegowda. Bangalore might be known as a smart tech city, but Chickpete is frozen in time.
As we head deeper into the maze, we discover alleys that are barely wide enough for a two-wheeler to pass through. Narrow buildings sit cheek by jowl, many fronted by business establishments with living quarters behind.