The Hindu nationalist far right in India and beyond is waging a campaign against Netflix for showing the BBC TV series A Suitable Boy (adapted from Vikram Seth’s novel, set in India in the 1950s).
Their objection is to a romantic relationship between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man (though it's clear they object to other aspects of it too). They have minimally dressed up their bigotry by saying they are offended by the lovers kissing by a Hindu temple.
Members of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party are calling for the Indian government to investigate Netflix – and in fact the Modi regime has recently been extending censorship over online content – and for Indians to boycott it. In BJP-run Madhya Pradesh state, a police investigation against Netflix is under way.
Disturbing as it is, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The denunciation of Netflix is part of a wider Hindu nationalist campaign. Also in Madhya Pradesh (which has a bigger population than the UK), the government is seeking to pass legislation to discourage inter-religious marriage, under cover of defending “religious freedom”. Five states, all BJP-run, have enacted or are considering similar laws.
Linked to government action, there is a major agitation by right-wing activists around this “issue”, now using A Suitable Boy and Netflix as their hook.
The poisonous atmosphere in India is demonstrated by the fact that a leading jewellery firm owned by the giant Tata group recently withdrew a commercial portraying a happy inter-faith marriage after protests.
The Hindu far right has developed a story in which Muslim men are using seduction as a wedge to force Hindu women to convert, as the prelude to widescale forced conversion, rape and murder. They call this “love jihad” (yes, really).
It ties into a wider “historical” narrative about Muslims being an alien presence who invaded, raped and polluted the Hindu nation, “Mother India”.
The more moderate of these people make Trump and his supporters look like socialists. The Indian government is moving in a fascistic direction - and much of the movement sustaining it is straightforwardly fascist.
As an aside, this episode is a reminder of the dangers of the idea - aggressively asserted by religious bigots of all stripes but accepted by some liberals and left-wingers - that people have a right to demand suppression of things they find “offensive”. We must assert the right to offend, as an essential part of free speech and freedom in general.
We must redouble our solidarity with comrades in India resisting the Hindu nationalist movement and regime. We need to highlight the British government's close and carefully cultivated links with the Hindu right, in India and in Britain. And highlight the fact that Keir Starmer’s Labour leadership has also, shamefully, tried to conciliate Hindu nationalism.