New Delhi, India – “Insaan nahi ho saalo, ho tum kasaayi; Bahut ho chuka Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai” – You are not human, you are butchers; enough of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.
These are the words of a “bhajan” (devotional song) that singer Prem Krishnavanshi posted on YouTube three years ago and has since been viewed thousands of times.
Triggered by contemporary hate politics, Krishnavanshi’s song is part of a new mass culture in India where anti-Muslim songs are played at rallies by Hindu supremacist groups, mostly in the so-called Middle States. north of the country’s “Hindi belt”.
Dozens of these music videos can be found on YouTube and other social media platforms, with Hindu far-right supporters liking and sharing them for their messages of hate, abuse and even threats of genocide aimed at the Muslim minority.
Krishnavanshi, an engineering graduate from Lucknow, capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, wanted to be a Bollywood singer. But it was too competitive. So he turned to live shows and events to make a living.
The turning point came in 2014 when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. The arrival of a new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led to an unprecedented polarization of Indian society, with hateful attacks against Indian minorities, mainly Muslims, becoming an almost daily occurrence.
In such a scenario, cultural products such as music, poetry and cinema have also become the tools through which this politics of hatred is maintained.
In recent months, India has witnessed religious violence in several states during Hindu holidays when right-wing groups staged marches in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods and played loud music laced with Islamophobic lyrics at the exterior of mosques.
Krishnavanshi sings in Hindi and Bhojpuri. Its fan base is mostly in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with nearly 205 million people, ruled by BJP saffron-robed Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, known for his rhetoric and its anti-Muslim policies.
In several of his songs, Krishnavanshi suggests that Muslims are “anti-nationals who should go to Pakistan”. One of his songs says: “Muslims will end up forcing Hindus to pray namaz if they don’t wake up soon”.
But the singer says these aren’t hate songs.
“I don’t think my music is Islamophobic. My music means truth and if anyone thinks it’s Islamophobic, I can’t help them feeling that way,” he told Al Jazeera.
Recently, the government of Uttar Pradesh presented him with an award for his song praising the state’s hardline chief minister, Adityanath.
Many of these hate songs are also tributes to Hindu nationalist politicians such as Modi, Adityanath and other top BJP leaders.
The songs also speak of the Mughals and other Muslim rulers of the subcontinent, calling them “invaders” who spread Islam through violence and threats. Their music videos feature Hindu men sporting vermilion on their foreheads and wielding swords, tridents and pistols.
Born into a middle-class family in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state in central India, Laxmi Dubey grew up listening to the Hindu devotional songs of her late grandfather who was a musician.
At the time, she said she used to sing songs about Muslim-Hindu brotherhood and religious coexistence at school events.
Dubey, 31, started her career as a part-time reporter at a local newspaper she didn’t want to name. But, like Krishnavanshi, things changed for her with Modi’s ascension to prime minister in 2014.
“I don’t belong to any party, but I thank Modi for everything he has done for Hindus,” Dubey told Al Jazeera.
When Dubey performs with vermilion on his forehead and a garland of marigolds around his neck, listeners dance to his “Hindutva pop” songs. “Hindutva” is a Hindi word that refers to the Hindu supremacist movement.
One of Dubey’s most popular songs says: “Agar Hindustan mein rehna hoga, To vande mataram kehna hoga” (If you want to stay in India, praise the homeland).
“Vande Mataram,” a song written in Sanskritized Bengali by writer Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, is patronized by India’s Hindu right for its nationalistic imagination that borrows heavily from the Hindu religious pantheon.
Brahma Prakash, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that hate music has changed the pattern of religious violence in India.
“We know the historical patterns of riots and massacres in India: the leader will give a speech and the riots will spill out into the streets. But it seems the pattern has changed. You don’t need a leader. What you need is a ‘Bhakti vibrator’,” Prakash said.
“Bhakti” in Hindi literally means devotion, but is also used to refer to BJP supporters.
“You just played the DJ [disc jockey] and he will fulfill his task. This will move the crowds and make them participate in the slaughter. You don’t need an instigator to incite violence. You set the tone, you set the track and the hate will rock,” he said.
Prakash said this form of music had “shocking” parallels to those produced under the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s.
Marching band, processional music, repetitive slogans, community songs, repeated cries of Jai Shri Ram [Hail Lord Ram] like ‘Heil’,” he said. “Music driving crowds into an emotional frenzy is not just a few resonances. The similarities are shocking.
Dubey’s YouTube channel has nearly 300,000 subscribers, and his songs have millions of views and hundreds of provocative comments against Indian Muslims. She is often invited by BJP members to perform in their cities.
But the singer says she “has nothing against the Muslim community” but only against those “who are enemies of the country and support Pakistan”.
“Is someone from Pakistan just going to come and attack our country unless they receive massive logistical support or shelter from anti-nationals of their religion? We have anti-nationals in countries that eat India but support the neighbour,” she said.
In his team, Dubey has a manager, background singers and other people who help him perform. She earns generously and claims that she spends all her money for the welfare of Hindu widows and the poor.
What troubles Dubey, she told Al Jazeera, is ‘love jihad’ – an unproven conspiracy theory propagated by the Hindu far right that claims Muslim men form relationships with Hindu women. in order to marry them and then convert them to Islam.
Dubey also believes in another right-wing conspiracy theory: that large numbers of Muslims practice polygamy to have “many children” and “increase their population.”
“Why would they [Muslims] to marry Hindu girls and convert them? Minority communities have 5 to 10 marriages and have 20 to 50 children. Their population is increasing sharply. If our country did not support them, would their population increase so much? she says.
Uttar Pradesh lawyer Areeb Uddin said such “hate songs amounted to hate speech”.
“It is time for case law on hate speech to take its place and it is time for the courts or relevant legislative bodies to develop guidelines for such cases where hate is poured out and no action is taken,” said he told Al Jazeera.
But Dubey says her songs “raised awareness” in the Hindu community – work that “makes them proud”.
“Young people who wore hoodies and ripped clothes are now proudly wearing saffron. They are ready to sacrifice themselves for Hinduism,” she said. “I want to gather Hindus to create an army.”
Dubey praises Modi for abrogating Indian-administered Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in 2019. “We almost lost Kashmir, it’s because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that we still have it,” he said. she stated.
She also believes that the 1947 partition of the subcontinent to form India and Pakistan was not done correctly.
“When partition was done on the basis of religion by the stakeholders, Pakistan should have been given to one religion and India to another religion. Then this fight could have been avoided.
India is home to over 200 million Muslims, the third largest population after Indonesia and Pakistan. But Dubey thinks India should be declared a Hindu nation.
Singer and songwriter Upendra Rana, from the city of Noida in Uttar Pradesh, on the outskirts of the Indian capital, has more than 370,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Rana used to record devotional music on audio cassettes with a local label. When he started getting famous, he decided to make songs independently and created his own channel.
Rana’s journey in ‘Hindutva pop’ began in 2017 when he started writing songs mostly about history in which he praised Hindu rulers of the past, although historians insist he is incorrect. to use the prism of religion to understand pre-modern history.
One of Rana’s songs says: “Dharm ke naam zameen gayi, Islami mulk banaye” (In the name of their religion, we lost our land; they made it an Islamic nation).
The video for the song was shot at Dasna Devi Temple in Ghaziabad, a neighboring district of Noida. The temple is run by Yati Narsinghanand, a controversial Hindutva leader who was recently arrested for his hate speech against Muslims. The music video features Narsinghanand wielding swords with Rana.
“Hindu mythology is absent from the school curriculum. Through my songs, I want children to remember Hindu warriors,” he said.
Academic Prakash says the mass production of ‘hindutva pop’ is a new phenomenon.
“Previously, this was done by political organizations. The danger is that now it becomes part of mass culture,” he told Al Jazeera.