Opinion

Pop siren whose simple melodies carry a message of hate

Pop siren whose simple melodies carry a message of hate

Author

As campaigning for the last parliamentary elections in India began earlier this year, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party went all out to sway the country’s 900 million voters, using Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its star campaigner and dominating advertising space as well as social media.

The BJP also roped in several well-known artists and singers, including Bollywood stars, by holding music concerts around the country, with politicized songs conveying the party’s message.

Among the performers was a 30-year-old, slightly built woman from a middle-class family living in central India. Backed by a 28-member troupe and with tens of millions of views on her YouTube videos, Laxmi Dubey was exactly the sort of campaigner the BJP needed to seek votes.

However, Dubey’s songs carried a potent message quite at odds with her simple, cheerful melodies. Strongly anti-Muslim, the songs promoted militant Hinduism and carried thinly veiled threats to Muslims “who refused to chant the name of Lord Ram,” a Hindu god popular in northern and central India.

At one performance during the election campaign, the singer suggested that “terrorists would have to flee India or face death” — a message delivered with a gesture of throats being slit. Her audience cheered loudly.

In the past four years, Dubey’s popularity has climbed rapidly on YouTube, which lists several of her songs among its biggest hits in India.

With some songs clocking more than 10 million views each, the singer has become a major name, mainly in central and northern India, and is frequently invited by families to bless newborn babies.

Dubey has said that her objective, through her music, is to recruit “foot soldiers” to make India a Hindu nation, and “restore pride among India’s Hindus, who have been docile and cowed for 1,000 years by Muslim rulers.”

Her growing popularity has also been used by the BJP, whose leaders have repeatedly invited her to perform at functions, often using public money.

Dubey said that she began learning songs at an early age when her father sang devotional songs at temples and social events.

The songs that she grew up with preached unity between Hindus and Muslims, she said.

Rabidly communal and hateful songs, such as those sung by Dubey and dozens of others, have emerged on the scene, often stirring hatred, and triggering religious tensions and even riots.

Ranvir S. Nayar

However, the singer began to be attracted to militant Hindu groups that claimed India was being threatened by its Muslims, who were out to trap Hindu women into marriage and convert them.

Like many others, she began to voice her anger at the political elite — the Congress party, which has ruled India for almost 50 of its 70 years of independence.

She told media that the elites had allowed the country to be attacked by Muslim terrorists and appear weak in front of Pakistan.

Two key factors lie behind the success of singers such as Dubey. The first is the rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP in the past decade, culminating in it winning power in New Delhi in May 2014.

Using a message aimed at rousing Hindu nationalist sentiment, the party has since gone on to win control of most states in the country. The party had also made nationalism and “Hindu first” a key plank of its campaign, and succeeded in winning a bigger majority last May.

The other reason for Dubey’s success — and perhaps even the BJP’s popularity — is the unprecedented explosion in social media networks in India.

Social media’s growing reach has come on the back of a smartphone boom, which has seen the number of mobiles jump tenfold to nearly 900 million in the past 10 years, aided by the cheapest data in the world.

Dubey and others have used the smartphone boom to generate tens of millions of views on platforms such as YouTube.

The boom in social media, notably WhatsApp and Facebook, has also made India a hotspot for fake news.

In the past five years, more than 300 people, mostly Muslims, have been lynched in India following fake news reports. During election periods, the generation and dissemination of fake news reaches new heights.

Rabidly communal and hateful songs, such as those sung by Dubey and dozens of others, have emerged on the scene, often stirring hatred, and triggering religious tensions and even riots. India has strong laws against stoking communal or racist tensions, but these have been selectively applied in recent years, allowing hate and misinformation to spread through the omnipresent social media networks.

To add to the problem, a large number of the nation’s youth are poorly educated or illiterate, and are unable to filter fact from fiction. As a result the flames of hate fanned by individuals including Dubey end up consuming the lives of many innocent Indians every year.

 

Ranvir S. Nayar is the editor of Media India Group, a global platform based in Europe and India that encompasses publishing, communication and consultation services.

 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Laxmi Dubey: Pop singer and Hindu nationalist

Hindutva pop star Laxmi Dubey, a symbol of Hindu majoritarianism. (Supplied photo)
Updated 01 December 2019

Laxmi Dubey: Pop singer and Hindu nationalist

  • Votary of Hindutva ideology sows fear among India's religious minorities with divisive message
  • Dubey says her aim in life is to serve Hindutva and use her music to propagate the ideology

She calls herself Kali, the goddess of death, and is a staunch advocate of Hindutva, a militant ideology that believes in the supremacy of Hinduism over all other religions in India.

Laxmi Dubey, 30, is one of the most popular singers of “saffron pop,” propagating Hindu majoritarian politics, which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) represents.

Some of her songs on YouTube have close to 50 million viewers. Her videos are filled with saffron imagery (the color of Hindutva politics), with Hindus wearing saffron robes, holding swords and dancing to her music. In one of her songs, she vows to kill anyone who gets in the way of building a temple for the “god” Ram.

The BJP has long been demanding such a temple in the eastern city of Ayodhya, in place of the Babri Mosque, which Hindus claim is Ram’s birthplace. Last month, India’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of building the temple.

Dubey’s songs are played at religious and political functions to arouse Hindu sentiment.

Niranjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi-based political analyst and author of several books on Hindu right-wing politics, said: “Hindu nationalistic politics has grown on the clutches of popular culture.”

Dubey is a symbol of Hindu majoritarianism, which has become the defining feature of India’s polity and society. In one song, she describes those who do not hail Ram as traitors.

Such songs inculcate fear among Muslim and other minorities in India, amid fears that


BIO

Name: Laxmi Dubey

Nationality: Indian. 

Place of residence: Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Occupation: Hindutva pop star.

Medium: Songs, interviews, concerts, social media.


India’s secular credentials are being damaged. Those fears have been further heightened by last month’s Supreme Court ruling.

Senior journalist Pawan Pratyay said: “Saffron songs are used by Hindu fanatics during religious festivals to inflame passions, and at times it leads to religious violence.”

Dubey said that her aim in life is to serve Hindutva and use her music to propagate her religious ideology. “I want to see India as a Hindu nation,” she told Arab News.

Dubey believes that since independence in 1947, secularism in India has led to Hindus becoming subservient and victims of terrorism. Such a belief has driven Hindu extremism.

Dubey rose to prominence in the wake of Narendra Modi becoming prime minister in 2014.

She released videos supporting him, and campaigned for the BJP. In the 2019 video that she released just before the general election, she extols Modi as the savior of Hindus in India.

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“I’m with those who stand by Hindutva,” said Dubey, who advocates the expulsion of the Muslim population from the Kashmir Valley.

She says in one of her songs: “Kashmir is ours. We’re hardcore Hindus. We’ll create a new history. We’ll enter the enemy’s house and cut their hands.” Dubey supports the Indian government’s recent decision to abrogate Kashmir’s special status.

She abhors secularism, and says since neighboring Pakistan was created for Muslims, “India has to be a land of Hindus. India belongs to Hindus exclusively.”

She added that the country, “under Modi, is at the pinnacle of its civilizational history. He’s a man of history. He’s a realization of the dream of our ancestors who always wanted India as a strong nation.”

Mukhopadhyay said: “The BJP uses people like Dubey … to widen its mass support base. This has been done in the past, and it’s being done now.”

He added: “The hatred that she propagates through her songs is directed only toward Muslims. Only Muslims are others. Dubey’s videos are in tune with the larger strategy of majoritarian politics.”

Historian and political analyst Aditya Mukherjee, who is a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said more needs to be done to counter such hatred. “Police should take action against people like Dubey for spreading venom in society.”

He added: “Civil society and concerned citizens should come forward to save society from attacks that threaten to tear apart its religious fabric.”


New Zealand troops complete daring volcano mission to retrieve bodies

Updated 35 min 20 sec ago

New Zealand troops complete daring volcano mission to retrieve bodies

  • The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand’s most active volcano
  • White Island volcano sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers out to sea

WHAKATANE, New Zealand: Elite soldiers retrieved six bodies from New Zealand’s volatile White Island volcano on Friday, winning praise for their “courageous” mission carried out under the threat of another eruption.
At first light, two military helicopters set off from Whakatane airport for the offshore volcano, where an eruption last Monday killed at least 16 people and severely injured dozens more.
The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand’s most active volcano, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers (30 miles) out to sea.
After a tense wait, while volcanologists monitored live seismic feeds for signs of another eruption, police said the majority of the bodies had been safely airlifted to a naval frigate anchored off the coast.
“Those staff showed absolute courage in order to ensure those six people were returned to their loved ones,” police commissioner Mike Bush told reporters, saying they were operating in an “unpredictable and challenging” environment.
Bush said efforts to locate the two remaining bodies were ongoing, with divers searching nearby waters after a corpse was seen floating in choppy seas on Tuesday.
Helicopters were also searching over the Bay of Plenty and Bush did not rule out a return to the island when conditions were safer.
Drone flights helped locate the six bodies on the caldera before the operation began and the eight-strong team labored to reach them in heavy hazmat suits and breathing gear that restricted movement.
Special forces commander Rian McKinstry said he was “incredibly proud” of the team, comprised of six men and two women.
“It was a unique operation, but unique operations are what organizations like the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron gets involved in,” he said.
On the eve of the operation, GeoNet vulcanologist Nico Fournier said the dangers facing recovery teams if an eruption occurred included magma, superheated steam, ash and cannonball-like rocks thrown from the caldera at supersonic speed.
As the military began their grim task, police took grieving families out near the volcano on a boat to perform a Maori blessing and locals chanted karakia, or prayers, on the shore as the island smoldered in the distance.
Despite the risk of an eruption inside 24 hours being put at 50-60 percent, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those involved wanted to help grieving families.
“It has been an incredibly difficult operation but it’s been such a priority. We just want to bring everybody home,” she told Australia’s ABC Radio.
Many of the tourists who died on the island were Australians and Canberra’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said they had been affected by a catastrophic event.

“This is a time of absolute desperation and distress, and to every single one of those families and their friends and their loved ones, our hearts go out at this extraordinarily difficult time” she said.
The bodies on the island are thought to include New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman.

This handout photo taken and released by the New Zealand Defense Force shows elite soldiers taking part in a mission to retrieve bodies from White Island after the Dec. 9 volcanic eruption, off the coast from Whakatane on the North Island. (AFP)


His brother Mark Inman had epitomized relatives’ frustrations with stalled recovery efforts, criticizing “red tape, bureaucracy” but on Friday he praised the daring recovery attempt.
“It’s going to allow us to grieve and send our loved ones off in the manner they deserve,” he told the New Zealand Herald.
The recovery had been on hold for days as poisonous gases continued billowing from the volcanic vent and the island remained blanketed in a thick layer of acidic ash.
While troops were recovering the bodies, another 28 people — mostly tourists who had been on a day trip to see the natural wonder — were still being treated in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, many in a critical condition suffering severe burns.
The survivors’ injuries are so severe New Zealand doctors initially estimated they would need to import 1.2 million square centimeters (185,000 square inches) of skin for grafts.
A total of 47 people were on the island during the eruption, hailing from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.
While Australian officials have only confirmed one dead, they say a further 10 were missing and presumed to have perished.
A coronial process has begun to identify those confirmed dead but police have said it could “take some time.”