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Hindu nationalist music could be destructive ahead of Indian elections, critics warn

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

South Korea has K-pop, the global music phenomenon. India has H-pop, the music and poetry of Hindu nationalism. But with the Indian election beginning this week, some critics are warning that H-pop may have destructive power. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Rohtak, in northern India, about some of the violent rhetoric in these songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: In this song, a man uses a slur for Muslims and says they must kneel before the Hindu Lord Ram. He warns them, if he gets angry, he'll use a sword.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing in non-English language).

HADID: There's countless songs like this. The songs slam rivals of the ruling Hindu nationalist party, known as BJP, and the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Mainly, they target India's Muslims - an enormous minority of 200 million people who critics of the government say the BJP has antagonized during their back-to-back terms, including by promoting films that portray Muslims as terrorists and predators of Hindu women and girls.

Kunal Purohit recently wrote a book on the rise of Hindu nationalist music. He says the songs seem designed...

KUNAL PUROHIT: To constantly create a level of anger and a level of fear among Hindus about Islam, the Muslim community in India.

HADID: He says this music form has always been around, but it took off as the BJP came to power a decade ago. He says its popularity and potency is little understood.

PUROHIT: I feel we should be alarmed at what is happening. It's extremely potent as a form of pop culture.

HADID: He calls this kind of music H-pop. He says it's shared, repackaged and shared again through different platforms. H-pop washes up all over the place.

PUROHIT: People will have it on their ringtones. People will listen to it when they're traveling on bus rides.

HADID: The music's played over videos shared on Instagram, like this one uploaded in March that purports to show Hindu vigilantes beating up a man, presumably Muslim, for transporting beef. Cows are deeply revered by Hindus.

(SOUNDBITE OF INSTAGRAM VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing in Hindi).

HADID: The lyrics use a slur for Muslims and warns, we will burn you alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

HADID: H-pop is occasionally blared during Hindu religious processions as they pass Muslim-dominated areas. Sometimes it triggers violence - like this one blasted outside a mosque in New Delhi in April two years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HINDUSTAN ME RAHNA HAI TO JAI SHREE RAM KAHNA HAI")

PRIYANKA JHA: (Singing in Hindi).

HADID: The mechanic at the mosque that day says dozens of men brandished sticks as they shouted the lyrics, which effectively call on Muslims to leave India.

UNIDENTIFIED MECHANIC: (Speaking Hindi).

HADID: The mechanic says that set off a brawl. He and another eyewitness request anonymity because they're still worried about retaliation.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

HADID: The other eyewitness says that brawl ruined his life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Hindi).

HADID: He was accused of plotting to attack the Hindu procession, a claim he denies. He says he was detained for months. Now, he faces years of legal battles. His neighbors shun him.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Hindi).

HADID: He blames H-pop for the violence at the mosque that day. He says it intoxicates people. He says the lyrics reinforce the BJP's rhetoric against Muslims.

A spokesman for the Hindu nationalist BJP, Sanjay Chaudhary, tells NPR the party doesn't accept people who, quote, "cross limits." But in at least one case, a BJP legislator is a H-pop performer. In this rally shared on Facebook, legislator T Raja Singh uses a slur for Muslims and says, listen, your boss is here to chase you out of India.

(SOUNDBITE OF FACEBOOK VIDEO)

T RAJA SINGH: (Singing in Hindi).

HADID: H-pop singers tell us their most incendiary songs are sometimes taken down from social media platforms. On YouTube, some lose their ability to monetize their channel if there's complaints. Meta, which runs Facebook and Instagram, removes content that violates their policies surrounding incitement and hate speech, but it's still pervasive across platforms and in real life.

RAQIB NAIK: Hindutva pop is part and parcel of almost every hate speech event in India today.

HADID: Raqib Naik runs the India Hate Lab, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. He fears there'll be more H-pop and more violence as election rallies fire up.

NAIK: And if the BJP wins, that means an emboldened far right.

HADID: That's the ideal outcome for the H-pop performers we meet. One tells us he hopes Muslims will be banned from voting. He says Muslims should be restricted to having one child per family to keep their numbers down.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HADID: Then there's Kavi Singh. We meet in the northern city of Rohtak.

KAVI SINGH: (Speaking Hindi).

HADID: She says, "I want people to listen and understand what I'm trying to say."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESHDROHI MAKKARO KO BAHAR KARO GADDARO KO")

K SINGH: (Singing in Hindi).

HADID: One of her songs charges that Muslims are terrorists, murderers and traitors to be expelled or lynched.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESHDROHI MAKKARO KO BAHAR KARO GADDARO KO")

K SINGH: (Singing in Hindi).

HADID: She says that song once triggered a brawl - she says, not her problem.

K SINGH: (Speaking Hindi).

HADID: "I've got nothing to do with that," she says. "I don't know those people."

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Rohtak. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.
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