Hindu flag in front of Parliament | Shades for this politically charged symbol

Tuesday 1er Last November, Chandra Arya, Member of Parliament for Nepean, Ontario, tweeted, “Today I mark the historic start of National Hindu Heritage Month of Canada (MPH) by raising a flag bearing the symbol sacred hindu aum on hill. The MPH is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of 830,000 Hindu Canadians to our country and of Hindu heritage to humanity”.

Posted yesterday at 12:00 p.m.

On the same day, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, recognized the contribution of Hindu people to the country through a statement on the Canadian government website. While we believe that it is indeed important to recognize the substantial contribution of Canadians of Indian and South Asian origin to our country, we want to bring here important nuances as to the meaning of this flag which is loaded politically.

This flag, to which the swastika (卐) or the “aum” (ॐ) symbol is often added, is the official banner of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu paramilitary organization created in 1925 and still very active today. today: she is closely associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political party led by Narendra Modi in power in India since 2014.

As researcher Christophe Jaffrelot explains in his book Modi’s India, it is an organization that promotes an exclusive Hindu nationalism centered around the notion of hindutvā (or Hinduism) and the idea that the Hindu people are descended from the first people to have inhabited the subcontinent. The ambition of the RSS is the transformation of India into a “hindu raṣtrā” (Hindu state). This Hindu hegemonic project goes against the mosaic of cultures and religions that make up the Indian subcontinent.

In recent years, the Modi government and the “family of organizations promoting Hindutvā” (the Sangh Parivar) have been closely associated with the increase in acts of violence committed against religious minorities in the countries and indigenous Indian communities.

According to the most recent reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the situation of human rights, the protection of minority groups and the freedom of expression, association and of the press in India are increasingly threatened by this government.

Amnesty International’s 2022 report highlights the fact that “human rights defenders, including activists, journalists, students, lawyers and actors and actresses, were still subject to acts of intimidation and harassment”.

Last July, in Canada, the Indian filmmaker Leena Manimekalai was to present her documentary Kaali as part of the festival Under the Tent: A creative exploration of multiculturalism, a festival organized in collaboration between the Metropolitan University of Toronto (TMU) and the Aga Khan Museum, but due to numerous pressures, the screening was cancelled. The poster for the documentary, which depicts a person dressed as Kali, a Hindu goddess, waving the LGBTQ+ flag and smoking a cigarette, sparked outrage both in India and within the Hindu diaspora, which resulted in death threats against the filmmaker. This violence is the direct result of the rise of the politics of hindutvā.

The ideology of Hindutvā must also be distanced from Hinduism. Critics who accuse the film of showing hindophobia (represented abundantly by #Hindophobia in India) are not, for example, hegemonic within the North American Hindu community. The American organization Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), founded by activist Sunita Viswanath, expressed its support for the director. For this organization, which is unashamedly opposed to far-right Hindu nationalism, the strength of Hinduism “lies in the fact that the different communities have found their spiritual inspiration in different ways”.

The Canadian political world had also spoken out about Manimekalai’s film, including MP Arya who saw in it the result of the work of “anti-India” and “anti-Hindu” groups in Canada. His reaction on Twitter emerged from a context where there is indeed an increase in hatred towards people of the Hindu faith in Canada. Last September, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Toronto, for example, was vandalized.

Although it is urgent to denounce all inter-communal violence and to hinder them through concrete actions, great caution must also be exercised with the symbols erected in front of the Canadian Parliament.

In addition, attention should be paid to the impact that can have the reductive association of Indian people in Canada or Canadian-Indians with a distinct religious allegiance and especially with a particular Hindu orthodoxy and strongly criticized by those who defend secularism. and Indian democracy.

* Catherine Viens and Marwan Attalah are doctoral candidates at UQAM; Mathieu Boisvert is a professor at UQAM

Hindu flag in front of Parliament | Shades for this politically charged symbol