The RSS: Something Sinister in America’s Backyard

Design by Shannon Boland

Image Description: Inverted mirror images of former presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard over background of orange and green flags.

Content Warning: genocide, Hindu Nationalism, mentions of Nazis

Modeled after the Nazi Party’s quest to create an Aryan nation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded in 1923. The party intended to rid India of “foreigners” because they believed that only Hindus are truly Indian. The RSS, classified as a “voluntary organization” for recreation, openly profess extremist values, vowing to make India a Hindu nation at all costs. The RSS has continuously served as a springboard for shaping extremist politicians in the governing political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Examples of these leaders include Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The RSS has been at the forefront of many violent movements throughout India. In June 2019, Hindus influenced by RSS ideology reportedly beat a Muslim man and forced him to recite Hindu prayers for attempting to steal a bike. Many Christian schools have been attacked or forced to incorporate Hindu prayers. In 2008, over 100 Christians were murdered in India.

As a party, the BJP changes the names of historically Muslim-named and Muslim-associated towns to Hindu names; Allahabad became Prayagraj and Faizabad became Ayodhya. The BJP claims that changes like these will kick-start the economy and improve life for all Indians.

The RSS convinced the BJP to initiate a beef ban across the religiously diverse country because of Hindu dietary restrictions; the ban has, in turn, been used as an excuse to lynch Muslims and Christians suspected of eating beef or killing cows. Moreover, Indian Spend, a data-based news organization, cites that “Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centered on [cow-related] issues [from 2010 to 2017]…as many as 97% of these attacks were reported after Narendra Modi’s government came to power.” 

Recently, the RSS has proposed the new Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and National Registry of Citizens (NRC), which many politicians are calling “India’s Muslim Ban.” India is a secular country: a subcontinent with a richly diverse culture that varies greatly by region. Even Hindu rituals and traditions can vary greatly from place to place. The BJP, however, is flattening this diversity by enacting stricter citizenship laws. This legislation targets Muslim refugees, making the citizenship and immigration process much more difficult.  It allows non-Muslim residents a pathway towards citizenship, but, any Muslim individuals without documentation, are targetted and labeled as illegal immigrants. Muslims living in India have almost no legal protections, and the enactment of the NRC and the CAA contradicts promises of equal rights made in India’s constitution.

By the same token, the “media blackout” for over five months in Kashmir is an extension of Hindu nationalism. The Indian government has continuously, forcefully exerted control of their portion of Kashmir to contain the supposed terrorist and militant groups. However, locals claim that the Indian government has been forcing Kashmiri youth to “drop their pens and thus pick up guns.” 

Furthermore, the BJP Election Manifesto has always indicated that the BJP has wanted to repeal Article 370 that allowed Kashmir’s autonomy, bringing it into Indian control. India’s militarization of Muslim-majority Kashmir is a violent process to one day, force them to abide by the nationalist agenda. With the BJP as the governing political party, India has begun to take away the Kashmiri’s autonomy and power, forcing the nation to submerge and abide by India’s slowly turning theocratic laws. 

While the scope of these events may seem limited to India, the RSS is steadily infiltrating Euro-American society, through right-wing organizations like Arktos Media. Founded in 2009, Arktos Media—the largest distributor of far-right propaganda in Euro-American countries, according to The New Yorker. From 2010 to 2014, the organization operated in India. During this incubation period, the founders met with the leaders RSS and BJP. Although they claimed to work out of India because it was easier than working out of Europe, many believe that Arktos targeted India to gain influence in worldwide right-wing groups.

After founding member David Friedberg left Arktos Media left, he went on to start altright.com, a propaganda website founded through RSS and Nazi ideology. They sponsored several events across the United States including the notorious “Unite the Right” rally. 

Prominent South Asian Affairs analyst, Pieter Freidrich described the protests in his writing: Several white nationalists, including the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, were in attendance. Another Klan leader fired a pistol at a Black man who was counter-protesting. Six people killed another Black man. A 20-year-old rammed his car into counter-protestors purposely, killing some. White nationalists, like David Friedberg himself, looked up to the RSS, a transnational proxy for the Nazi Party. Carrying RSS’s ideals with him, he has been pivotal in further weaponizing their message to expand right-wing ideology and groups like the KKK in the United States. 

In an attempt to further tighten its hold on American soil and hearts, the RSS entered the U.S. political scene through a backdoor–progressive democrat, Tulsi Gabbard. Currently campaigning in the 2020 Democratic Primary race, Gabbard is protested as a candidate because of her ties to the RSS and BJP. Gabbard has spent her campaign money to pay for an Indian nationalist political party’s event, celebrating his election. Gabbard continues to meet with BJP and RSS leaders, while also speaking at their events. 

Western Media has villainized Islam to justify interference in other countries, remaining silent as the RSS’s Hindu nationalism infiltrates American politics through Gabbard. Establishment politics has ignored the voices of non-Hindu Indians who recognize her dangerous affiliations and wish for her to resign. India’s political power as the world’s largest democracy, a strong U.S. trading partner, and an ally in the war on terrorism continues to uphold neoliberal interests in the global imperial core. The media silence on the RSS serves to allow the unchecked expansion of Hindu extremism and India’s decay into fascism.

History is about to repeat itself very soon. The question remains as to whether we will take steps through education, dialogue, and awareness to be alert and allow marginalized groups to speak for themselves or if we will end up merely memorializing fascist genocide. 

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