By Steven Zhou
Source: Screen capture from YouTube.
A Hindu community news website is pushing Islamophobic conspiracy theories at a prolific rate in both Canada and India.
BharatMarg.com is a hub of political and religious news and commentary meant for the global Indian and Hindu diaspora. Run out of Toronto, Ontario by software engineer Sounder Dilipan, the site features a lot of Canadian content.
Much of this content has recently pushed popular far-right, Islamophobic memes and rumours, like how Canada is becoming more “Shariah compliant” for allowing the Islamic prayer call (or azan in Arabic) to be broadcasted last summer. Several cities across Canada permitted this during COVID-19 lockdowns (overlapping with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan) in the spirit of community and tolerance.
Screenshot taken from bharatmarg.com.
The site’s YouTube page also features interviews with well-known far-right, Islamophobic figures like Kevin Johnston of Mississauga, Ontario. Johnston, who has made headlines for being ordered to pay Mohamad Fakih $2.5 million in defamation damages, is currently awaiting trial for other hate crimes, while also claiming to be gearing up to run for Calgary mayor.
Alongside openly Islamophobic voices, the channel also features videos with prominent, mainstream figures like now Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who was interviewed by Dilipan two years ago while running for his current position.
When contacted for comment, Brown says he views "Bharat Marg as extremely Islamophobic," but didn’t know much about the site two years ago. His team said it won’t ask for the interview with Dilipan to be removed.
Bharat Marg, which has over 15,000 or so followers across multiple social media platforms, is a prominent example of how India’s volatile and sectarian political discussions continue to migrate across its global diaspora, including in Canada.
Both the site and Dilipan himself are openly supportive of the controversial, right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by PM Narendra Modi. In power since 2014, the BJP bases its political outlook on the hyper-nationalist ideology of Hindutva, which stresses the need to return and remake India into a purely Hindu state (or Hindu rashtra). The party’s actions constantly draw international condemnation for mistreating India’s dizzying amount of minority groups, particularly its 200 million or so Muslim population.
Extreme BJP and Modi supporters are also known to spread anti-Muslim disinformation online, including the recent and popular conspiracy theory that Indian Muslims are purposely spreading COVID-19 to non-Muslims in the country as a form of bio-terrorism — aka “#jihadivirus” (or #coronajihad), a common hashtag used by pro-BJP trolls.
A recent post on Bharat Marg echoed this baseless rumour, asserting that Muslims are “spitting and urinating” in hospitals while “running naked to infect all.”
Screenshot taken from bharatmarg.com.
Bharat Marg also features dozens of graphics and articles that use the hashtag #PeaceFool, a popular term invented by pro-BJP trolls as a provocative stand-in for “Muslim” -- meant to mock Muslims who say that Islam is a peaceful religion. For instance, one provocative graphic posted by Dilipan in January suggests that India’s #Peacefools are engaging in “population jihad” (having lots of kids) to displace the country’s rightful Hindu owners. Another image posted in May celebrates how 250 Muslims left “the #PeaceFool way” and became Hindu.
Most posts on Bharat Marg (mostly uploaded by Dilipan) are meant specifically to provoke and galvanize anti-Muslim sentiment. Despite the site’s claim that it runs on Hindu principles, its bombastic and provocative style indicates the opposite of mutual understanding or peaceful dialogue.
Dilipan himself is listed on Bharat Marg as a life-long BJP supporter. He belonged to the party’s student wing in college and has been affiliated with the BJP’s controversial mother organization — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — since he was a child. When approached for an interview, Dilipan asked for a list of emailed questions but did not respond to any of them.
The RSS is India’s foremost right-wing Hindutva umbrella organization, involved across all of civil society from electoral politics to humanitarian relief in India’s rural outskirts. Its current prominence (thanks to the BJP’s success) is matched only by its controversial reputation, particularly given how some of its early leaders openly admired European fascists like Adolf Hitler. Numerous human rights organizations have criticized the RSS (and Modi himself) for involvement in large scale acts of violent discrimination over the years, including the 2002 massacre of thousands of Muslims in the state of Gujarat.
The phrase Bharat Marg translates roughly into “Pathway (marg) to India (Bharat).” Bharat is a term that RSS acolytes often use to refer to a Hindu state that preferably also includes Pakistan and Bangladesh, both Muslim majority countries that split off from India decades ago.
The RSS believes that these two countries were part of a pure Hindu whole and must return to that pristine form.