How Hindutva pop music is giving hate a soundtrack

In this extract from H-Pop: The Secretive World of Hindutva Pop Stars, Kunal Purohit explains how the Hindutva campaign appropriates pop music.

Published : Nov 20, 2023 13:03 IST - 5 MINS READ

BJP MP Ravi Kishan shoots a video for the song ‘Ayodhya Ke Raam’ in Gorakhpur on October 21.

BJP MP Ravi Kishan shoots a video for the song ‘Ayodhya Ke Raam’ in Gorakhpur on October 21. | Photo Credit: PTI

Hindutva pop music has become a little-recognised yet all-pervasive, a seemingly benign yet ingeniously insidious extension of the Hindutva campaign. These songs seek to normalise some of the most rabid, hardline elements of the Hindu nationalist ideology—often so hardline that even some of its most strident Hindutva votaries dither on backing such stances publicly. The lyrics are often aimed at dehumanising the ‘enemy’, mostly Muslims, and are laced with threats of brutal violence and dispossession against them. This music often seeks to reinforce biases and stereotypes by creating inauthentic imageries around them.

Deep-rooted biases, fears and anger towards Muslims, combined with such songs that only accentuate these ill feelings, are increasingly becoming a dangerously combustible mix, driving mobs to violence and reprisals.

What makes music such a potent and insidious form of propaganda is its power to influence.

Scholars believe that while inflammatory lyrics are problematic, one major reason that makes music an impactful tool of propaganda are the beats and the tempo of the song. The more ‘normal’ they sound as songs, the more powerful they are. This normalcy ‘dampens the extremity of the rhetoric’ and makes the message of the lyrics ‘more subversively palatable’. Using an appealing form like music as propaganda also ‘legitimises’ the rhetoric as well as the ‘behaviour’ that the propaganda calls for.

For instance, the song ‘Agar chhua mandir toh tujhe dikha denge’, ‘Don’t Dare Touch the Temple’, a hugely popular song that is repeatedly played in Ram Navami celebrations across States, casts the Muslim as someone who is threatening the existence of Hindu temples. In response to these perceived threats, the song warns Muslims of brutal and dire consequences. On YouTube, dozens of videos show this song being played in Ram Navami processions, including some where the song is being played in front of mosques when the procession is passing by.

Agar chhua mandir toh tujhe dikha denge,

Tujhko teri aukaad bata denge.

Idhar utthi jo aankh tumhari,

Chamkegi talwaar kataari.

Khoon se is dharti ko nehla denge,

Hum tujhko teri aukaat bata denge.

Vande Mataram gaana hoga,

Warna yahaan se jaana hoga.

Nahi gaye toh jabran tujhe bhaga denge,

Hum tujhko teri aukaat bata denge.

Don’t you dare touch the temple,

Or else we will show you your place.

Even if you as much as look at the temple,

My sword’s edge will be ready.

We will bathe this earth red with blood,

We will show you your place.

Vande Mataram, you will have to chant,

Or you will have to leave this country.

If you don’t, you’ll be pushed out,

We will show you your place.

This is just one in over thousands of such songs that are churned out constantly by artistes and small-time studio productions across the country. The songs help articulate hardline stances on various topical and historical issues, thereby making it easier for listeners to grasp complex subjects through catchy lyrics and beats.

There is a song for everything: to push listeners to fight for a ‘Hindu Rashtra’—a nation for Hindus; songs to defend and praise the Modi government by stoking naked nationalism and xenophobia after terror attacks; as well as songs hailing its controversial actions like stripping of Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy overnight while placing thousands under house arrest. There are songs to demand a law to control the country’s population as a way to defeat a secret Islamist demographic ‘conspiracy’ against Hindus, to warn against ‘love jihad’. There are songs calling for temples to be built where mosques exist, songs that call for Pakistan to be obliterated, songs that target Muslims and threaten violence against them, songs that call for Hindus to ‘wake up’, asking them to take pride in their religion.

A BJP supporter dances at an election rally in Sualkuchi, Assam. 

A BJP supporter dances at an election rally in Sualkuchi, Assam.  | Photo Credit: RITU RAJ KONWAR/THE HINDU

The subtext for most music in this genre is clear: Hindus are under attack, Hindus need to fight back and hit back hard at enemies within and outside the country’s borders. As a result, the genre constantly creates enemies, demonises them and asks its listeners to join in the project of retribution. All violence against such enemies is not just normalised but also justified and, possibly, welcomed.

Increasingly, links between hate music and real-life violence are becoming clearer. In the 1990s, in the run-up to the horrific Rwandan genocide of the minority Tutsi tribe by the majority Hutu tribe members, which led to over 800,000 deaths, two radio stations controlled by the Hutus, Radio Rwanda and the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, played songs that were inflammatory, polarising and demonised the Tutsis.

Also Read | Are Hindi films problematising history?

This was not an exception. In neighbouring Myanmar, for decades now, Rohingya Muslims have been targeted with violence and displacement. The violence perpetrated by state and non-state Buddhist actors against them has led to nearly a million Rohingyas fleeing their homes and taking refuge in neighbouring countries. There is evidence building up that shows that music has played a role in fomenting this hate against the dispossessed community.

Research has found how songs, containing hate-filled lyrics targeting the Rohingyas, has been commonly found on the internet and widely disseminated in Myanmar. These songs broadly reiterate four themes: they seek to reinforce the prejudice that Muslims do not belong to the Myanmar nation and that the nation is meant for one ethnic group, which is the Burman majority, and reiterate how to be Burman is to be Buddhist, linking citizenship to faith. They insist that the majority Buddhism and Buddhist people are under threat from the minority Muslims and, hence, need to be protected, even if it requires force. The third theme that it reiterates is how Muslims are engaged in a conspiracy for a demographic takeover of Myanmar and, hence, Buddhists must not marry Muslims and, in effect, try to ensure they do not get any marriage partners. Lastly, the songs call for an economic boycott of the Muslims as a way to disrupt the purported Islamic conspiracy to exploit Myanmar financially.

India’s hate music is strikingly similar in its content and, increasingly, even in its intent.

‘H-Pop’ has been published by HarperCollins India and releases on November 22.

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