Terms skeptics of RSS role in Kerala floods relief as “insects”
NEW DELHI: August 24, 2018 — In a Twitter flamewar over the role of the nationalist paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in providing relief to flood-struck Kerala, a speaker at the upcoming World Hindu Congress described critics of the RSS as “insects” and “cockroaches.”
Approximately 400 people have died in the worst floods to hit India’s southernmost state of Kerala in a century; property damages are an estimated Rs. 20,000 crore ($3 billion). Relief efforts are ongoing. Yet the human tragedy of the national disaster hasn’t prevented some religious nationalists from making inflammatory communal comments such as that the floods are divine punishment for eating beef or for allowing women to enter temples.
For instance, Swami Chakrapani — head of the Hindu Mahasabha political party — declared, “When these inhuman beings will slaughter cows, natural justice is expected to happen. The courts and our legal system has failed to punish them and hence nature is punishing the beef eaters in Kerala.” S. Gurumurthy, a newly-appointed director of the Reserve Bank of India who is widely considered an ideologue for the RSS, identified a different cause for the floods. Referencing a lawsuit challenging a ban on women’s entry into Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple, Gurumurthy insisted the ban should be upheld “if there is even one in a million chance of a link between the case and the rains.”
The dialogue reached a new level of intensity, however, when pundit Sankrant Sanu said those who are skeptical of the RSS’s flood relief efforts are “like cockroaches when you turn the light on.” The World Hindu Congress, scheduled for September 7-9 in Chicago, lists Sanu as a speaker at their “Education Conference.” Their promotional brochure describes him as an “entrepreneur, writer, and researcher.” Despite his imminent speaking engagement, however, Sanu couldn’t avoid courting controversy over the Kerala floods.
The controversy began on Twitter on August 18. An emotionally anguished Keralite doctor named Roshan Radhakrishnan shared a Tweet by a user who stated, “Don’t donate to Kerala. More than half the state is Muslims and Christians. Let them suffer for what they are trying to do for Sabarimala. They are messing with the wrong god.” Dr. Radhakrishnan responded, “The comments during the #KeralaFloods about how I & ‘my kind’ deserved to die for being Keralites is a painful eye opener.”
Then Sanu entered the interaction, writing to Dr. Radhakrishnan, “Did you miss the selfless work of the RSS?” He added, “I hope you give a shout out to the RSS workers dedicated to relief work in Kerala.” Another user, Prabha Raj, rebuked Sanu for being in “self-praise mode” and “blowing trumpet to someone who is clearly pained by the vile bigotry.” Raj said Sanu should not expect “praise for RSS because they are showing humanity.” Sanu replied, “RSS regularly helps out in calamities. But no miracle that you don’t know this. A hate-addled mind like yours can’t see straight.” Responding with skepticism, Raj wrote, “RSS helps create calamities.”
Sanu replied by accusing Raj of “Hindu hate,” writing, “I posted a tweet about RSS relief work in Kerala…. Can’t imagine the number of insects that came crawling out to attack. No ability to think or argue, just spewing. Like cockroaches when you turn the light on.”
“Dehumanizing those with whom you disagree is a classic tactic of supremacists,” remarks Pieter Friedrich. An analyst of South Asian affairs, Friedrich compares Sanu’s rhetoric to that used by politicians of the majority Hutu community who incited the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. “Look at the language used by Leon Mugesera of Rwanda. It’s not only the exact same dehumanizing terminology, but it’s the same ‘victimized majority’ terminology. In his famous rabbling rousing speech, Mugesera described the minority Tutsis as invaders, called them cockroaches, and said, ‘These people called cockroaches are now on their way to attack us.’ Of course, after riling the Hutus up against the Tutsis, it was the majority who attacked the minority.”
Friedrich notes that the world’s most infamous case of genocide employed the same language. “The rhetoric of dehumanization was perfected by the Nazi propagandists,” he says. “Just like Mugesera, Hitler and his followers labeled those they hated as vermin. In the specific case of the Jewish people, the Nazis called them rats.”
Sanu is not the only scheduled World Hindu Congress speaker to provoke controversy with comments about the Kerala floods. On August 18, the same day Sanu shared his remarks, Indian-American author Rajiv Malhotra Tweeted that people should donate to Sewa International (US), an RSS-affiliated charity, in order to only “help Kerala Hindus.” Malhotra argued that non-Hindus don’t need assistance, asserting, “Christians & Muslims worldwide raising lots of money to help mainly their own ppl & agendas.”
Malhotra faced accusations of bigotry by some, while others questioned his choice of charity. A 2004 report by Awaaz Network claimed that, after soliciting charitable donations to provide aid for victims of natural disasters, Sewa International (UK) funneled millions to groups which used it to promote RSS ideology — and possibly to those involved in the 2002 Gujarat Genocide which left thousands of Muslims dead. The report stated, “We do not think it is a coincidence that the two Indian states where Hindutva networks, hatred, and violence have grown phenomenally in recent years both had natural and human tragedies (the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, the Orissa cyclone in 1999) followed by massive amounts of funding to Hindutva organizations under the guise of humanitarian charity.”
Nevertheless, Sanu defended Malhotra’s remarks. In an August 22 op-ed, he denounced Islam and Christianity as “predatory,” “monopolistic,” and “totalitarian” religions, warning that “evangelists are like vultures, following disasters.” Sanu concluded, “Malhotra’s tweet to donate to Hindu groups is spot on.”
Charity Joseph, a spokesperson for Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI), asks, “Are these really the kinds of voices which the World Hindu Congress wants to promote?” Joesph says she is shocked by the choice of speakers. “Sanu and Malhotra are spreading hate speech, not promoting Hinduism,” she remarks. “Although we must be less surprised that the Congress is featuring them considering the Chicago event is sponsored by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which so many human rights groups and government bodies have implicated in countless communal crimes against Sikhs, Muslims, Dalits, and Christians.”
Other featured speakers at the World Hindu Congress include RSS Supreme Leader Mohan Bhagwat, RSS Joint General Secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, and Ved Nanda, Leader of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh US (HSS-US), the American wing of the RSS.