by Prof. Mohan Dutta, Massey University

Professor Mohan Dutta, director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) at Massey University.

Hindutva, a political ideology that seeks to construct India in the structure of a Hindu nation (Hindu Rashtra), draws its conceptual tenets from the organising framework of fascism. As a modern project, Hindutva is rooted in the desire to create a Hindu nation that is organised on the principles of the European nation-state through cultural hegemony that homogenises the population, simultaneously erasing the rights of religious minorities.

The fascist root of Hindutva is evident in the writings of one of the key architects of the concept, MS Golwalkar, who writes: “German race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews … a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”

Note here the deep interplays of the ideology of Hindutva and white supremacy. The purity of race and culture that forms the hate structure of white supremacy is mobilised in the political formation of Hindutva. Hindutva embodies the colonial imposition of a politics of purity through the purge of the ‘other’ organised by the state.

One of the key architects of Hindutva, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, wrote the book Hindutva in 1923, outlining the concepts of a common nation (rashtra), a common race (jati) and a common culture or civilisation (sanskriti). Note the parallels here with the ideology of the German Nazi party, anchored in ein volk(one people), ein reich (one nation), ein Fuhrer (one leader).

At the heart of this ideology is the production of the ‘other’ that is outside of the nation. Similar to the construction of Jews as the outside of ein volk in Nazi ideology, Muslims and Christians are constructed as the outside of the Hindu rashtra in the ideological construction of Hindutva.

The effects of this ideology are evident in the hate and violence that have been directed at Muslims. The ongoing political project of disenfranchising Muslims through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a reminder of the Nuremberg Laws passed in Nazi Germany to strip German Jews of their citizenship.

The communicative infrastructure of Hindutva is deployed through the articulation of a monolithic ‘Hinduness’ as the basis for organising the political project. To belong, one has to declare their ‘Hinduness’ and allegiance to the Hindu Rashtra, as defined by the political project of Hindutva.

To dissent from this monolithic vision of Hindutva is to be anti-Hindu. Within the organising structures of India, to dissent against the ideology of Hindutva is to be anti-Indian. The political project of Hindutva threatens the pluralism, polymorphism, and democratic ethos of Hinduism.

The celebrated Indian film-maker Anand Patwardhan, observed at the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, “If Hindutva is Hinduism, then the Ku Klux Klan is Christianity.”

The recent attacks on me, the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), Massey University, and on academics globally writing on and debating about the pernicious effects of Hindutva, are reflective of the hegemonic communicative infrastructure of Hindutva. At the heart of this hegemonic infrastructure is the silencing of dissent while imposing a monolithic ideology. In this instance, Hindutva proclaims to speak for all Hindus as it carries out this fundamental attack on academic freedom.

From trolls reproducing digital hate, to hateful propaganda published in diaspora digital portals, to letter writing campaigns targeting the university, to petitions attacking the university for steadfastly supporting academic freedom, forces of Hindutva draw on a wide range of strategies. Hindutva deploys bullying and rhetorical fallacies to silence dissent because it lacks the tools of argumentation to appeal to reason.

Referring to these forces of Hindutva at work to silence academic freedom in the form of the organised attacks on the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, Professor Gyan Prakash, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University, observes: “The extraordinary thing about the conference was the massive disinformation campaign by those seeking to prevent the academic scrutiny of Hindutva. The campaign launched against this conference was concerted, comprehensive, and entirely without scruples. As has been covered in the Guardian and Al Jazeera, many participants received threats, including death threats. We know that, as a co-sponsoring institution, you also faced overwhelming pressure to pull out from this conference. The threats include nearly every threat to academic freedom listed on the AAUP’s (American Association of University Professors) website.”

Of particular concern in western democracies are the threads of foreign influence and interference into academic freedom and the fabric of pluralism.

In western democracies, Hindutva seeks to silence criticism by communicatively inverting the violence perpetuated by the political ideology of Hindutva, while simultaneously playing to the ethos of superficial western multiculturalism. It projects a narrative of fragility, constructing references to Hinduphobia, in seeking to assert its cultural hegemony in the diaspora, while simultaneously silencing dissent and articulations of social justice. Hindutva actively erases the voices of adivasis (indigenous people), oppressed caste communities, women experiencing gender violence, gender diverse communities, and minority communities in seeking to establish the hegemony of its monolithic values.

In our work at CARE that seeks to co-create spaces for the voices of the ‘margins of the margins’ to be heard, we will continue to pursue our justice-based scholarship in spite of the organised forces of hate seeking to silence these voices by policing the term Hindutva. We are empowered in this work by the steadfast support of the leadership of Massey University in safeguarding our academic freedom, and in the protections offered by the Education Act 1989.

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Article Source: Massey University News

© 2021, Center for Culture-Centered Approach for Research & Evaluation (CARE). All rights reserved.

The collaborations between Whiteness and Brahminism: The ongoing erasure of the “margins of the margins”

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The collaborations between Whiteness and Brahminism: The ongoing erasure of the “margins of the margins”

posted by Prof. Mohan J. Dutta on February 22, 2021

The racist politics of whiteness is convergent with the feudal politics of caste (Wilkerson, 2020). Both white supremacy and caste supremacy work through the erasure of the voices of the outcaste, even as the outcaste is turned into the object of interventions.

Brahminical privilege in the diaspora colludes with Whiteness in perpetuating caste oppression. 

Caste oppression, picked up and circulated into the networks of White Pākehā culture, find new modalities of perpetuating its violence.

In response to the work of the culture-centered approach (CCA) (Dutta, 2004), imagine this scenario, a White Pākehā person and a White Brahmin person having a conversation about the “margins of the margins,” a key concept of the CCA. 

The conversation goes somewhat like this.

White Pākehā (with a grimace, expressing disgust): And what even is that, “margins of the margins?”

White Brahmin (picking up the Pākehā grimace and perfecting it): Oh really, how disgusting it is! To talk about us migrants and put us in a box. To call us as the margins? 

 White Pākehā: What even is the margins of the margins? Who is that? 

White Brahmin: I know right? It is not acceptable sorry. I mean, I am myself a migrant. I live migrant identities. How can you call me margins?

White Pākehā: And who exactly are you centering in this talk?

White Brahmin: Remember, for you who is at the periphery is at the center for others. I don’t think of myself as the periphery.

White Pākehā: That’s mansplaining….

This snippet of a fictitious conversation depicts the whiteness of the violence of the erasure. Of course, this violence is performed without having done the readings although numerous readings and lessons have been shared with the White Pākehā. Necessary to the perpetuation of erasure of the margins is the deployment of “woke discourse” that serves the hegemonic positions of whiteness and brahminism. As a communicative inversion, “mansplaining” becomes the rhetorical tool for the White Pākehā and the White Brahmin to erase the margins, to deny its existence, and worse, to turn it into a caricature to serve Pākehā-Brahmin hegemony.

Lazy posturing is an integral strategy that holds up White privilege, and deploys primitive caste politics to bolster it, all under the pretext of progressivism or radicalism (mediated by the oh-so-feminist-sounding jingoism).

The Savarna Brahmin in the diaspora performing the model minority is integral to the erasure of the margins. That there exist material registers of marginalization is the anchor to transformative social change. The White Brahmin collaborator with the White Pākehā culture maintains the infrastructures of erasure by denying the existence of the margins. Even worse, the White Brahmin takes up the migrant position to deny the existence of the margins and her struggles, erasing the possibilities of listening to the voices of the outcastes in the diaspora who are also the objects of the Brahmin’s oppression in the homeland. Erased from the discursive registers are the predominantly caste-based gender violence perpetuated by Brahmins both in the homeland and in the diaspora. 

The Brahmin profits from this denial of marginalization, both at home and in the diaspora. Erased from the discursive registers are the everyday forms of gendered-raced violence perpetuated by the whiteness of settler colonialism.

That somehow the reference to margins is disenfranchising works to hold up the supremacy of both the Pākehā and the Brahmin. This denial can justify both Brahmin and White privilege, with the privileged continuing to talk about how to lift the burden of the soul, all along denying the very agentic capacities of those at the margins (Dutta, 2004). Not seeing, not witnessing the margins and attacking the discursive register of the margins is integral to the denial of the voices of those at the margins.

To deny the materiality of the margins is a vital strategy to retaining and reproducing white Pākehā and brahminical privilege.

In our work with the CCA therefore, it is vital to witness, count, describe and challenge this politics of white-savarna denialism.

As resistance then, let’s turn to the discursive register. The margins exist. The “margins of the margins” exist. Produced by the very structures of White-Brahminical colonialism that both White Pākehā  and White Brahmins deny. 


Dutta, M. J. (2004). The unheard voices of Santalis: Communicating about health from the margins of India. Communication Theory14(3), 237-263.

Wilkerson, I. (2020). Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Random House.

#Whiteness #Brahminism #erasure #marginsofthemargins #WhitePākehā 

CARE Expresses Its Solidarity with our Activist-In-Residence Jolovan Wham

CARE’s Activist-in-Residence Jolovan Wham has surrendered himself to serve a 1 week jail sentence today, March 31 2020, for criticising Singapore’s judiciary.

In his statement posted on Facebook, Jolovan voiced:

“I’m doing this in lieu of a 5k fine because I do not recognise the legitimacy of the judgment and the law, both of which are unjust.

It should never be an offence to speak your truth. Decades of oppression and persecution have resulted in the normalisation of fear. It is so normalised that we have become indifferent to injustice, especially political injustice and threats to our civil rights. We have shrugged it off so much that over time, we’ve become numb to it, instead of feeling outraged.

If we can’t speak up, assemble freely, and campaign without looking over our shoulders, the reforms we want can only be done on the terms of those in power. We will have to wait for when they are ready. All this could take years, decades, or never at all. Or we can only pick issues which are considered ‘low hanging fruit.

All the levers of change are controlled and those who don’t follow the script are persecuted. We are so muted, we can only plead, but never make our demands as equals.

Acts of non-violent resistance and disobedience has to be one of the tools we use to open up our already shrinking civil and political space and to empower ourselves. It often starts with one person, or a small group of people, but over time, with persistence and repetition of action, the space will enlarge and we will progress, one step at a time.

We need to speak our truths, and to do so, we should refuse to fear. I refuse to be complicit in the diminishment of my spirit: resistance is no longer a choice in a system determined to de-humanise you.

There should be a role for those who not only negotiate the boundaries but transgress them. Not everyone can take this position and I understand those who can’t because the costs may be high; my privilege, on the other hand, allows me to take greater risks, and for that I am grateful.”

Sharing below an interview conducted by Professor Mohan Dutta with Jolovan on the topic of authoritarian repression and strategies for social change. Also sharing Jolovan’s public talk as activist-in-residence at CARE. CARE stands with you in solidarity, because as you say so eloquently, “Those of us who can risk it, should. Those who can’t, should show their support, because solidarity is the first step to change.”

A Conversation with Jolovan Wham, CARE Activist-in-Residence

Professor Mohan J Dutta sits down with CARE Activist-in-Residence Jolovan Wham about his work in Singapore

Posted by CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation on Monday, 25 November 2019
Public Talk with Jolovan Wham

First World Authoritarianism: Lessons from SingaporeTune in for this exciting public talk with CARE Activist-in-Residence Jolovan Wham!

Posted by CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation on Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Culturally-Centering Communication and Social Change: Dalit Development

An informative lecture by Professor Mohan J Dutta about Dalit Development

Culturally-Centering Communication and Social Change: Dalit Development

An informative lecture by Professor Mohan J Dutta about Dalit Development

Posted by CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation on Thursday, 6 February 2020

Professor Mohan J Dutta Dean’s Chair In Communication & Director, CARE, Massey University

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CARE Directors Blog


“No Singaporean Left Behind” (NSLB) campaign in Singapore
Between 2012 and 2018, the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) was housed at the National University of Singapore. Based on the theoretical framework of the culture-centered approach (CCA) (Dutta, 2008), that conceptualizes communicative inequalities, inequalities in distribution of communicative opportunities, as intrinsically tied to structural inequalities, inequalities in the distribution of material resources, the Center co-created an array of communication interventions in partnership with communities at the margins in Singapore, India, Bangladesh, China, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Culture-centered interventions build voice infrastructures for the margins based on the theoretical argument that the erasure of voice infrastructures forms the basis of marginalization.


The impact of these interventions are evident in the creation of material resources that serve the margins, from creating food distribution programs run by the poor, to building locally-anchored sustainable agricultural systems, to developing health interventions, to designing community-based health resources, to co-creating democratic frameworks for building infrastructures for clean drinking water, to co-creating cultural infrastructures for health and wellbeing.


Video Exhibit 1: The Piyalgeria Community project, building community cultural resources for wellbeing.

In Singapore, interventions resulted in foregrounding a wide range of issues based on community-anchored research, including the challenges experienced by foreign domestic workers with securing access to decent working conditions, food insecurity experienced by migrant construction workers, and the everyday stigmas experienced by low-income households in Singapore.

Advocacy campaigns, such as the “Respect our Rights” campaign and the “No Singaporeans Left Behind” campaign, were created by advisory groups of community members, who shaped and anchored the research undertaken by the CARE team. The voices of the margins in Singapore, emerging into our co-constructive knowledge production offer theoretical insights for instance into the communicative inequalities experienced amidst negotiations of hunger by low income households, the stigmatization experienced by domestic workers, and the ideologies that reify inequalities.


Video Exhibit 2: The campaign video of the “No Singaporeans Left Behind” intervention. This intervention played a key role in opening the conversation on poverty and inequality in Singapore, anchored in the voices of the poor.

The right to voice of the margins, when exercised through culture-centered interventions, transforms the discursive domain. For instance, the voices of the poor in Singapore foreground hunger as an everyday experience, disrupting discursive erasures of experiences of poverty.

The rigour of culture-centered research was/is deeply embedded in the ownership of the research process by those at the margins, thus shaping the research design, data gathering, and data analysis through the active participation of community members. Voices of communities at the margins come to own the spaces of knowledge production through the foregrounding of their everyday lived experiences as the anchors to the research journey. Based on the idea that marginalization is constituted in the erasure of voice, culture-centered interventions explore the sites that silence the voices of the margins and address the power inequalities that are built into the processes of silencing at these sites. The communicative right to voice transforms the production of knowledge through the ownership of knowledge production in the hands of those at the margins, contributing to the democratization of knowledge.

A culture-centered intervention that results typically from over three years of community-immersed scholarship calls for extensive labour, resulting in empirical insights that are richly embedded in the rhythms of community life. Typically, the research team collaboratively puts in more than 500 hours of fieldwork, “learning to learn from below” through solidarity-based partnerships (Spivak, 2013).

These communication interventions thus developed are anchored in theoretical questions about the nature of power and control in constituting erasure of the margins, and the role of communicative resources in creating infrastructures for listening to the voices of the margins. Theoretical insights about the role of communication infrastructures emerge from the practical work of “building” culturally-situated spaces of community voice and empowerment. In other words, the everyday work of participating in practical community partnerships for voice infrastructures is central to the generation of theoretical insights on social change communication.

The various culture-centered projects carried out in Singapore invited different forms of responses from the range of organizations and structures we interfaced with. For instance, the work of the “Respect our Rights” campaign, created by foreign domestic workers, offered discursive registers for dialoguing and collaborating with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The dialogic process resulted in the presence of the Ministry in conversations which were anchored in the voices of domestic workers. This also contributed to an overall sense of self and collective efficacy among the domestic workers who participated in our advisory groups.

CARE’s project with low-income families generated a different set of responses from the system, with arms of the the structure asking questions such as, “Why is CARE running social change projects?” and “Why did the Center host a conference on social change communication?” In response to these questions, I referred to the intertwined nature of theory and practice in social change communication, articulating the ways in which “the doing of social change work” is a part of the methodology of generating theoretical insights about social change communication.

Moreover, in Singapore, CARE engaged with activists such as Jolovan Wham, Braema Mathi, Vanessa Ho, and Sherry Sherqueshaa to generate dialogic anchors to theory building (in multiple instances, I was interrogated regarding my relationship with the activists and regarding the nature of the work the activists were doing). The contribution to the scholarship of social change communication made by these activists is immense, with their practical knowledge forming the basis for shaping how we come to understand the different elements of social change communication. Consider that exactly a year before the voice of Monica Baey drew attention to sexual harassment at NUS, Ms. Braema Mathi worked as a research partner at CARE, producing a white paper on strategies for addressing sexual violence specifically on University campuses. The many practical recommendations made in the white paper later came to be adopted by higher learning institutions in the aftermath of the saga.

Engaging activists in conversations on social change communication generates tremendous impact in terms of creating anchors for positive social change. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identify reduced inequality, gender equality, zero hunger, and no poverty as some of the key areas of impact. Activists, as citizens working directly with the marginalized, bring a wealth of knowledge that directly contributes to the generation of social impact. Universities can play vital roles in generating such social impact, by not turning away from activists, but instead by seeking communicative spaces for dialogic conversations, by collaboratively developing strategies for addressing the SDGs. In the context of Singapore, each of the activists we collaborated with shaped our theoretical insights about communicative processes for listening to the voices of the margins.

Video Exhibit 3: The panel on academic-activist collaborations hosted by CARE under the “Communicating Social Change” conference.
The activist-in-residence program run by CARE has had the delight of hosting activists from various parts of the globe, including the Singaporean activists Braema Mathi, James Gomez, and Sangeetha Thanapal. Each of these activists have participated in series of dialogues with me, as well as co-written a white paper. The white paper reflects one such avenue of dialogic knowledge generation through academic-activist partnerships.


The nature of practical knowledge thus generated is also theoretically rich, attentive to nuances and the sociocultural context of change. For instance, the white paper written with the veteran New Zealand activist and former Green Member of Parliament, Dr. Sue Bradford, explores the strategies for academic-activist partnerships in servings the needs of those at the margins. Similarly, the white paper generated by the collaboration with the refugee rights activist Dr. Murdoch Stephens generated vital conversations on the voice infrastructures for refugees in New Zealand. Sadly, I have witnessed instances of activists being used for data gathering purposes by academics, without being given due credit and without being acknowledged for their roles in the generation of knowledge. In one such instance, a Singapore activist had designed the questionnaire, conducted the translations, recorded the data, only to be then erased from the emerging publications. The activist-in-residence program at CARE is transformative precisely because it recognizes and centers the labour and contributions to knowledge made by activists.

The Lewinian maxim, “there is nothing as practical as a good theory” forms the basis of the theory-practice linkage in the study of social change communication, and  more broadly, in a larger part of the communication discipline. As an Applied Communication scholar, I have come to recognize that the rigour of theorizing is intrinsically connected to practice. Sitting at a distance in the ivory tower largely limits what I am able to see and how I see a phenomenon. The many hours of my everyday work I spend in the field, collaborating with community members, having conversations, and producing change materials, shape my theoretical understandings of the social change communication process.

To theorize a social change communication phenomenon well, one has to know intimately what it means to participate in that phenomenon. The flagship National Communication Association Journal of Applied Communication Research explicitly calls for a section on application that engages directly with the question of impact.  The bodies of scholarship on “Public Communication Campaigns” and “Policy Communication” are built on theorizing immersed in practical work. As one of the largest areas of Health Communication, Communication Campaigns draw on lessons learned from the design, implementation, and evaluation of Communication Campaigns. Singapore’s Ministry of Health for instance has funded many such campaigns that have drawn in academics in carrying out formative research, developing campaign design, and carrying out evaluation. Similarly, Singapore academics consistently collaborate with various state agencies in designing and evaluating programs. Such work should be recognized as it offers incredible value to generating social impact through scholarship, in turn impacting the very nature of scholarship through empirically-informed theorizing. I am sure the Yale President, Professor Peter Salovey, a close ally of Health Communication, is all too familiar with this strand of scholarship.

The recent saga of the cancellation of a course on “Dialogue and Dissent” at Yale-NUS College (YNC) unfortunately sets up a theory-practice divide that is spurious. It does so to limit the academic space, keeping out voices of difference from the academe. In the ensuing conversations about the cancelled course, the different accounts offered by the renowned playwright-poet Alfian Saat, who had been invited to teach the course, and the YNC leadership points to the game of communicative inversions. References to lack of rigour and unresponsiveness to feedback are deployed by the YNC leadership, and later by a Yale report crafted by the former YNC President, Pericles Lewis, are contested by Mr. Alfian Saat. Challenging the report and the claims made by YNC, Mr. Saat points out that he had indeed responded to the call for changes and the issue of rigour was never pointed out to him. The news of the event has triggered what appears to be a targeted campaign attacking the legitimacy and patriotism of the playwright-poet. Ironically, an elite North American institution that vociferously lays claims to liberal principles, is mired up in the vilification campaign, having carried out an investigation that itself appears biased (with the former YNC President charged to carry the investigation).

In the latest round of attacks on Mr. Saat (including selectively reading his poetry to project him as unpatriotic), the Minister of Education in Singapore puts in official state script the state’s reading of academic freedom. In his speech to the Parliament, the Minister of Education, Mr. Ong Ye Kung, states the following:

“Our educational institutions should not be misused as platforms for partisan politics. Professor Rajeev S. Patke, director of YNC’s humanities division, put it very well. In an e-mail to the College leadership, he wrote: “To study is distinct from to practise: to study ‘contemporary resistance’ or ‘contemporary violence’ or ‘contemporary prejudice’ is not the same as to practise resistance or violence or prejudice. We have to ensure that in our educational institutions, academic study does not get confused or compromised by courses of action and intervention which belong to the realm of individual choice.” In Singapore’s democracy, there are many avenues for political parties and activists to champion their causes, and for people to make their choices and exercise their political rights. Educational institutions, and especially the formal curriculum, are not the platforms to do this.”

That engagement with activists, particularly activists that are seen as challenging Singapore’s authoritarian status quo, is partisan politics serves as the basis for the exclusion. The framing of the activists Jolovan Wham, Seelan Palay, Kirsten Han, and P J Thum (note here that Dr. Thum had nothing to do with the Yale-NUS offering) as participating in political resistance serves as the basis for their exclusion from educational institutions. Worth noting here is the Minister’s selective use of the term partisan, erasing the very partisan worldview that shapes his reading of resistance to authoritarianism as partisan. Moreover, the depiction of Wham and Palay as “convicted of public order-related offences” obfuscates the underlying principles of freedom of expression and assembly that guide their performances, which led to the convictions. Note here, and Minister Ong is clear, some activists, not all activists, are excluded. Which of these activists, the so-called “personalities” that are going to be excluded are going to be determined by Mr. Ong, the state, and by extension, the ruling party.

Mr. Ong then draws on an email written by the YNC’s director of the humanities program, Mr. Rajeev Patke. A literary scholar, Mr. Patke is quoted as stating that academic study should not be confused with action. Mr. Patke conveniently erases the long tradition of the engaged humanities and social sciences, and omits the robust bodies of scholarship emerging from action research, community-based participatory research, participatory action research, and engaged scholarship, which are all deeply embedded in the worlds of practice. His opinion captured in this excerpt is misinformed at best, and strategically misleading at worst.

That the humanities at YNC are headed by someone who, writing in 2019, espouses a worldview that is entirely unaware of entire bodies of scholarship of practice-based scholarship raises concerns about the so-called liberal commitments of the YNC, particularly within the broader context of academic freedom in Singapore.  Mr. Patke’s statement then is served as the basis for the minister to academic freedom, noting that Singapore’s educational institution’s should not be used as platforms for championing causes.

Also absent from the Minister’s conversation is the interrogation of the very partisan nature of what constitutes the mainstream curriculum in autonomous institutions in Singapore. Is it partisan for instance to teach to hegemonic articulations of assembly and expression that put forth cultural context as the basis for authoritarian practices? Is it partisan to teach specific versions of authoritarianism as normative, under the umbrella of “Singapore Studies,” with uncritical references to context?  Is it then partisan for Ministers and bureaucrats from the Ministry to represent views about hegemonic practices in university settings? What is the balance to these hegemonic formations in Singapore, where authoritarian norms limit the forms of participation in everyday life? What are the erasures that are actively cultivated when the voices of Jolovan Wham and Seelan Palay are actively tarnished and erased, under the naturalized language of conviction? More fundamentally, what does it even mean to house a liberal arts program in Singapore if the hegemonic voices of an authoritarian regime deploy techniques of othering to silence the voices that call for greater freedoms of assembly and speech?

As I have noted elsewhere, academic freedom is a universal principle, not dependent on context. You can’t have it both ways, claiming commitment to academic freedom and then using context as a strategic tool to attack academic freedom.

In Minister Ong Ye Kung’s version of academic freedom, the limits to freedom are shaped by context. The Minister of Education draws on the ordinary citizen to discuss who and what is going to be allowed/not allowed on University campuses in Singapore.

“I much prefer the test of an ordinary Singaporean exercising his common sense. He would readily conclude that taking into consideration all the elements and all the personalities involved, this is a programme that was filled with motives and objectives other than learning and education. And MOE’s stand is that we cannot allow such activities in our schools or IHLs. Political conscientisation is not the taxpayer’s idea of what education means.”


Note the fallacies in Mr. Ong’s ordinary common sense test. Political conscientisation earlier described accurately as “aimed at making people conscious of the oppression in their lives, so that they will take action against these oppressive elements,” is then inaccurately ascribed motives and objectives other than learning and education. By Mr. Ong’s own correct reading, the very purpose of conscientisation is to educate, to make one critically aware of their circumstances and the forces of power they are situated amidst. So what then is it about conscientisation that makes it unacceptable in Ong Ye Kung’s Singapore? What does the Minister worry would happen if the oppressed become aware of their oppression and of the forces underlying the oppression? The imagined taxpayer’s idea of what education means then is used to exclude particular forms of education such as “conscientisation” from Singapore’s educational settings.

Having explicitly made this move to exclude, Mr. Ong then goes back to stating “MOE values academic freedom, so do our AUs.” This is a classic example of communicative inversion. Elsewhere, Mr. Ong’s speech is rife with communicative inversions, equating activists advocating for freedom with Jihadists and Nazis. Communicative inversions referring to jihadists and Nazis are drawn upon to stigmatize activists advocating for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and democracy, and to legitimize their exclusion as normative.

Coming back to my introductory question, are culture-centered projects viable in Singapore, I am inclined to answer in the negative. Under the current conditions, with explicit references to misinformed divides drawn up between theory and practice to serve partisan purposes, I don’t see how culture-centered projects can be implemented in Singapore, especially within the structures of Singapore institutions. One might surmise that some Ministers in the ruling establishment might see the culture-centered process as “conscientization.”

By the same logic, any applied scholarship where the act of doing is deeply tied to theorizing, would come under scrutiny. Unless of course, the theory-application binary is strategically drawn upon to reproduce state control over what is taught and what is practiced in the Universities in Singapore.


Dutta, M. J. (2008). Communicating health: A culture-centered approach. Polity.

Spivak, G. (2013). The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Routledge.

CARE OpEd: Saffron Mainstreamed Through Political and Media Discourse

To reclaim India is to reclaim both the secular and socialist roots of the nation.








To reclaim India is to reclaim both the secular and socialist roots of the nation.

Building up to the 2019 elections, the question, “whether India will be India,” is being asked in various conversations across India, in the diaspora, and globally. The question is a powerful one and one that calls for critical reflection as India goes to vote.

What is the idea of India that needs to be defended with vigour?

And more importantly, how does this conversation on India taking place in mostly English language plaforms, often among the elite, connect with the conversations on the idea of India taking place in India’s fields, among the farmers, in the production units, among the workers, among the large numbers of unemployed youth, among the precarious workers in the informal sectors, among India’s Muslims who live amidst the everyday fear for their lives, among India’s adivasi peoples?

Going back three decades to my NCERT textbooks in the Kendriya Vidyalaya where I went to school and learned my first lessons on citizenship, I am reminded that the idea of India was never articulated as a concept in the classroom.

One took the idea of India as a given in the concepts of secularism, socialism, and democracy. The lessons in history and geography in the classroom were strengthened and crystallized in community life, in the neighbourhood, in celebrations, and in the everyday culture.

That secularism is how one simply lived and how communities breathed their everyday life was evident in the neighbourhoods, local markets, tea stalls, mosques, churches, and temples. The sound of the azaan at dawn mingled in perfect harmony with the sound of the bells from the evening prayer at the temple.

That socialism forms the democratic aspiration of people was manifest in the land reforms, strong voices of unions, the strong presence of the Left parties, and the equally strong presence of social movements.

The twin concepts of secularism and socialism formed the bulwark of democratic life. The vibrant community groups, local governance, and public participation in the democracy were guided by the calls to equality.

These key ideas defined for me the spirit of India, with its vast openness to many faiths, worldviews, and ways of thought. The Red Book stores that would be on full display in the front of the Durga Puja pandals across West Bengal reflected for me the essence of this spirit.

In the Bengal of the 1980s and 90s when I was growing up, the idea of India was marked by its absence. One simply witnessed the values of socialism, secularism, and democracy in the fabric of daily life.

The first time that I grappled with the meaning of India was in December 1991, with the image of the chariot procession of the now revived-as-a-liberal icon, Lal Krishna Advani, and the mobs that had secured access to the mosque. The images of the destruction of the mosque by saffron-waving gangs quickly transformed into stories of violence and riots as they started erupting across India.

That was the first time as a College-going student I grappled with the idea of India.

Fast forward three decades, the saffron-wearing fringe elements are now running India. One of them, selling the story of struggling out of poverty to become a leader of a democracy, is now the Prime Minister. Many accounts suggest that the same saffron-clad icon was complicit in the massacre of innocent Muslims as Chief Minister of Gujarat.

The saffron tide of 2014 that brought the extremist fringe into power was also a continuity of the extreme neoliberal policies that saw entrenched inequalities, disenfranchisement, and weakening of worker collectivization.

That the ideas of socialism and democracy, the other two anchors of the idea of India, were already disappearing under a neoliberal deluge is reflected in the full-fledged turn to liberalization. Even as the urban landscape started rapidly transforming, socialism became outdated and secularism turned into an abuse.

Programs such as Operation Green Hunt were organized campaigns that legitimized the systematic attack on India’s adivasi people to enable large scale land grab, privatization, and profiteering, all in in the name of development. For journalists fed on the neoliberal ideology, the market offered the all-emancipating solution.

The neoliberal promise, that the turn to the market would cleanse the corruption, formed the zeitgeist of this new India. Large movements promising to cleanse corruption performed public spectacles, all too appealing to the neoliberal imaginaries of the urban middle classes. The country could be free from corruption and economic growth could be achieved, placing private capital as the solution.

Paradoxically, the notion that the private sector and its profit-driven motives formed the basic infrastructure of corruption was strategically obfuscated, instead promoting reforms that were seductive for the middle classes.

This very premise of corruption-free economic development mainstreamed the saffron fringe. That economic development driven by further neoliberal reforms would present a new India was the promise offered by the saffron regime. For many of the middle classes and those in the diaspora, the saffron was unpalatable but the stigma of fringe could be set aside with the promise of “Make in India.” The promise of further neoliberal reforms, dressed up in cleansing India of corruption, and modelled after “vibrant Gujarat” worked to erase the stigma of the saffron for the Indian middle class that identified as liberal.

For a strand of the diaspora, negotiating the everyday onslaughts of marginalization, the saffron turn offered a new basis for identity. This identity, founded on the image of a strong India, was also now palatable for the middle classes in the Indian mainstream. The saffron turn, with its promise of “Make in India” would deliver economic growth, coupled with cultural revitalization. The Indian (read Hindu Indian) would now feel a sense of glory at home and abroad, attaching with brand saffron.

In the past four years, the mainstreaming of saffron has been actively achieved through political and media discourse. It is no longer fringe to want to kill a Muslim or to make a statement about killing Muslims. It is the mainstream narrative of a section of middle class India. Anyone questioning this narrative is labelled an anti-national and sent to Pakistan by the English language channels of Times Now and Republic TV, with a large middle class following.

Five years have come and gone. The empirical evidence attests to many undelivered promises. Much like the empty sloganeering of a “Vibrant Gujarat,” a “Make in India’ re-make of Indian economy remains a mirage.

It is not in this middle and aspiring class that I hold the hope for India.

The possibility of reclaiming India does not lie in my privileged voiced or the voices of experts who see the danger of a fascist politics that threatened to engulf India. We have, for most instances, detached ourselves from the people, from the struggles of the soil, from the hardships that are the everyday reality for the majority of India.

The hope for India lies in the rural, among the urban poor, among the workers, and among the farmers. The hope for India lies in its adivasi and dalit people as they turn their voices of disenfranchisement into votes at the ballot. The hope for India lies in the many farmers who have flooded the capital in protest. The hope for India lies in the many workers who have shown up in seas of red. The hope for India lies in Begusarai as we witness the possibilities of what can be. With one parliamentarian that represents these fundamental ideals enshrined in the constitution.

To reclaim India is to reclaim both the secular and socialist roots of the nation, written into the constitution.

I don’t have much hope in a neoliberal elite that somehow continues to bow to the pseudo-science of the market. I do have hope, however, for the other India that does the everyday work of making it and imagining it.

CARE Director’s article on Al Jazeera: ‘A window of opportunity’

‘A window of opportunity’












But some analysts have been more explicit in their analysis, and suggested ending the threat posed by the alt-right and Islamophobia will only be achieved by shifting existing mainstream narratives about Muslims, both locally and internationally.

“The terrorist attacks in Christchurch reflect the global rise in Islamophobia – hatred toward Muslims – cultivated by political parties, media organisations, and a wide range of hate industries,” Mohan Dutta dean’s chair in communication at the New Zealand-based Massey UniversityUniversity, wrote last week.

Dutta also called for discussions “anchored in the voices of Muslims experiencing hate” as the “starting point to halting the global spread of Islamophobia”.

Mire agreed and called on New Zealand to set the standard in battling back Islamophobia and the rise of “alt-right extremist ideologies”, which he said threaten minorities “everywhere” in the world.

“It’s sad to think that a situation like this is what drives us to have these difficult and hard discussions,” Mire said.

“But we have a small window of opportunity, right now, and we must take it in order to ensure that such events never happen again.”

Follow us on Twitter: @CAREMasseyNZ

Read the detailed news article on #ALJazeera‘s website.

#CAREDirectorsBlog– Mohan Dutta ‘s article on Al-Jazeera #Islamophobia #NewZealand
#CAREMassey #CAREMasseyNZ #MasseyCJM #MasseyUni

The Islamophobia Industry and the Christchurch Terror Attack: A Call to Dismantle Hate

The Islamophobia industry is big business.


The shootings carried out by right wing White extremists in Christchurch are part of a global network of racist terror that are often legitimized, sponsored, and reproduced by the structures of the state.

The manifesto crafted by one of the White terrorists who carried out the terror makes reference to the U.S. President Donald Trump and draws on the hate propaganda that is a key element of U.S. public relations.

Islamophobia, the fear of the Muslim, is strategically manufactured through various forms of messages of hatred, legitimized and reproduced by the media, and manipulated by parties toward political gains.

The globalization of the Islamophobia industry

The Islamophobia industry is big business. The New Zealand shootings depict the wide reach of the industry and its global appeal.

From the transnational corporations feeding the “war on terror” to the digital media industries that profit from selling the hatred of Muslims to think tanks that are set up to cultivate strategically the fear of the Muslim, Islamophobia generates ratings, advertising dollars, and new markets for products of hatred.

Although projected as the work of the fringe right, the power of Islamophobia lies in seeding the hatred for Islam as a mainstream phenomenon, as a part and parcel of everyday civil discourse.

Digital platforms such as Swarajya Mag in India, and Centers such as the Center for Security Policy in the U.S. are established with the sole purpose of making mainstream the hatred for Islam through the circulation of the image of the Muslim invader that is antithetical to the ideas of civilization.

Propaganda narratives from U.S. to India

The narrative of the “civilization in threat” is strategically disseminated across spaces to seed and amplify Islamophobia. The manifesto circulated by the White supremacist terrorist in New Zealand is essentially anchored in the rhetoric of “White genocide.”

In the U.S., groups such as ACT for America led by Brigette Gabriel organize communities at the grassroots around the hatred for Islam, manufacturing the threat of the Muslim “other.” Setting up false narratives such as the “threat of Sharia law,” with over 750,000 members across the U.S., the organization positions itself as a national security organization, drawing up accounts of unwed Muslim migrant and refugee men who threaten White civilizational purity. Brigette Gabriel draws out links between the influx of Muslim refugees and the threat of rape, manufacturing the basis for the threat of “White genocide.”

In the White terrorist manifesto in New Zealand, the propaganda of “White genocide” is set up by comparing the fertility rates of White Europeans with fertility rates of communities of colour.

The global seduction of the narrative of Islamic rape culture is well evident in India in the Hindutva propaganda machinery.

The “love jihaad” narrative similarly manufactures a false account of Islamic rape culture, positioning Muslims as threatening the purity of Hindu culture. The narrative of Hindu genocide becomes the basis for manufacturing and circulating the threat of the Islamic invader, then being mobilized by the Hindutva forces in India to carry out systematic acts of violence.

The Zionist propaganda machinery produces the image and narrative of the Muslim other to silence any critique of its settler colonialism, occupation and apartheid policies toward Palestinians. A large proportion of the funding of the Islamophobia industry comes from Zionist organizations.

Islamophobic responses in India

The Islamophobia that is rampant in India prompts a cross-section of Hindutva forces to celebrate the attacks on the mosques in Christchurch.

For these Hindutva forces, the attack on the mosques is the appropriate and necessary response to the manufactured thread of Islamic terror.

Heuristically driven and devoid of evidence, these jubilations of the attack on the Muslims entirely miss out that the manifesto called for removing all coloured people (including Indians of all faiths) from what the terrorist articulation framed as White lands (of course ignoring the claims to land in New Zealand held by indigenous Maori). People of colour bear the burden of racisms that generate from White supremacy; Muslims bear this burden as attacks on their ethnicity as well amplified by the demonization of their faith.

The celebration of violence by Hindutva terror, although somewhat different in its framing and targeting of the other from the White supremacist terror, is a replica of White supremacist terror in its strategic deployment of violence to target Muslim minorities. Since 2015, at least 44 Muslims have been killed in India by cow vigilantes, driven by the narrative of civilizational threat.

For a global civilizational response

That terror has no place in civilized societies is the message that ought to form the basis for global response. In her bold and powerful speech following the terrorist attack, the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern issued this clarion call for zero tolerance of hatred by stating that the haters have no place in New Zealand society.

Across the globe, the fabrics of civilized secular societies are threatened by the politics of hate and fear mongering, legitimized through political parties and electoral processes. These political parties that operate on the circulation of hate need to be targeted strategically and their machineries of hate dismantled.

The global machine of Islamophobia ought to be dismantled by a civilizational narrative of love, understanding and dialogue, with the fundamental commitment to fostering spaces for diverse voices, peoples, worldviews and faith traditions.

In India, dismantling the hate apparatuses of the RSS and BJP are the urgent calls of the hour. In civilized societies such as in New Zealand and Singapore, diaspora groups that operate on the circulation of hate have no place. Identifying, categorizing and dismantling such groups is as important as it is to opening up calls for dialogue.

Hate, White supremacist hate and Hindu hate need to be stopped before they consume the discursive spheres of civilized societies.

Mohan J Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication at Massey University, University of New Zealand. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right.

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