The structural significance of a diaspora manifests in several ways, often informing the cultural and political landscapes of the home country. The transnational network between the home and the host countries relies heavily on the way political ideologies are propagated across borders. The appropriation of cultural narratives by the political extreme within a diaspora thus takes place through various media.
This piece rests on two concerns: how is digital media exacerbating diasporic Hindutva through the intervention of long-distance nationalism? And how is transnational Hindu nationalism catalysed by Facebook and WhatsApp groups?
The transnational Hindu nationalist framework had, so far, relied on physical and onsite interfaces like the overseas wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu temples in the host country and philanthropic organisations run by Hindu communities abroad. Scholars like Benedict Anderson, Christophe Jaffrelot and Arvind Rajagopal have captured this phenomenon through the intervention of “imagined communities” or “long-distance nationalism” as conceptual frameworks.
However, diasporic political interactions among transnational Hindu nationalists have witnessed a shift since the arrival of the internet. Digital media and social media have revolutionised that interaction. From that standpoint, long-distance nationalism serves as a more suitable framework today, especially for examining the relevance of digital media in the exacerbation of Hindu nationalism beyond India.
Most of the academic attention on Hindu nationalism as a diasporic project articulates through the transnational Hindu networks operating in the United States of America. While the US is a crucial reference point for drawing attention to such networks in other countries, the presence of certain conditions makes the proliferation of the Hindu nationalist network in the diaspora possible. Racism and Islamophobia in the host country are quintessential preconditions for the Hindus to defend the establishment of networks protecting their minority status there. Islamophobia in the host country also serves as the common factor between the Hindu-dominated organisations and the local political climate.
While the first wing of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the diasporic unit of the RSS, was formed in 1947, what started as a nationalist longing in the Indian diaspora on a boat to Kenya has now expanded in scale and in form — drawing our attention to the established Hindu nationalist frameworks across the world with onsite and an increasing online presence. However, it is crucial that the focus now expands to countries with newly-emerging Indian diaspora. Germany has emerged as a new but significant site for investigating the expansion of the Hindu nationalist network. Germany exhibits the existence of the preconditions of racism and Islamophobia. Additionally, much like the US, these first-generation tech migrants are connected to political and religious practices in the home country.
Germany has some 170,000 Indian migrants, with a growing population of tech migrants and students enrolled in tech-based programmes in German universities. This is coupled with two parallel expansions — of onsite activities of the HSS and Hindu temples and the emergence of online groups declaring themselves as pro-nationalist digital groups. Their digital media engagements manifest through the amplification of Hindu nationalism and Islamophobia, often coupled with threat, violence and the deliberate silencing of the diaspora’s dissenting voices. Islamophobia spreads through the Othering of Indian Muslims within online and onsite communities while the critics of the current regime are treated with intimidation.
Transnational digital hate is the central premise of such media engagements and propaganda at the diasporic level. The Indian diaspora in Germany mimics the trends established in the Indian diaspora in the US.
Arani Basu is a sociologist based in Berlin. Amrita Datta is a Marie Curie Fellow at University of Siegen