Hindu nationalism

Hindu nationalism
   Hindu nationalism is a contemporary movement with religious, cultural, and political aspects, oriented toward creation of a Hindu state in India and a monolithic Hindu identity, based on Hin-dutva (Hinduness).
   Critics charge that these nationalists define Hindu to emphasize Brahminical and upper-caste values, ethics, and practices. The movement also includes extremists and Hindu supremacists who have targeted the economic and political rights of cultural and religious minorities. Supporters point out crimes Muslims have committed against India and the depredations of the Christians in the form of the British and call for an uprooting of “non-Hindu” elements in India as much as possible.
   Hindutva declares Christians and Muslims to be “foreign” to India because their faiths have holy lands outside the boundary of the modern Indian nation-state. Critics point out that the ideology of Hindutva supports violence against religious and cultural minorities, including sexual violence against women of minority groups and Hindu women who defy Hindutva’s mandates. Further, the Hindutva agenda for nation building subordinates the lives and livelihoods of adivasis (indigenous tribal peoples), Dalits (economically disadvantaged, former “untouchable” castes), and the poor to higher-caste Hindus. In general, Hindutva is not sympathetic to the historical and present struggles for the human rights of spiritually and politically distinct groups, such as tribal groups, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, as these groups are understood to be antinational and anti-Hindu.
   Hindutva’s tenets were first described by V. D. Savarkar in his text Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?, published in 1922. Hindutva’s agenda is carried out by various groups, including the SHIV SENA and the Sangh Parivar, a network of organizations. The Sangh’s major parties are Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh (RSS); National Volunteer Corps, formed in 1925, which provides social service and militant training; Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP); World Hindu Council, formed in 1964, which frames the Sangh’s cultural and religious agenda and works to spread the Hindu nationalist agenda on an international level; and the Bajrang Dal, the militant youth group. Hindu national-ist political parties took various forms through the 20th century, and the BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY (BJP), “Indian People’s Party,” created in 1980, is the most recent incarnation of the Sangh’s politi-cal wing. While the BJP advocates a clear Hindu supremacist agenda, other political parties also empathize with and support “soft” Hindutva, which contains certain aspects of Hindutva that shun violence. The Sangh also operates through a vast network of development groups and service and education organizations, such as Ekal Vidya-layas, Sewa Bharti, Utkal Bipanna Sahayata Samiti, and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams.
   The rise of Hindu nationalism can be traced to anticolonial movements during the late 19th century, when Hindus mobilized to fight British rule. Some of these movements protected the privileges and rights of the Hindu middle and upper classes against the struggles for equal rights of other minorities and lower-class and tribal peoples. Scholarly analysis shows that Hindutva drew upon the ethnic and cultural nationalisms of Germany and Italy in the early 20th century, to promote physical training conducted in cells called shakhas and ideological training that linked “Hindu pride” to the subjugation of perceived enemies, such as the Christians and Muslims. The rise of Hindu nationalism is thus framed by the inequalities and struggles in India’s history.
   When India and Pakistan became independent nations in August 1947, divided along religious differences, widespread violence between and within religious communities accompanied the massive displacement of people across newly drawn national borders. Large groups of Muslims moved into Pakistan (a self-proclaimed Islamic state), and non-Muslims moved into India (a self-proclaimed secular state). Official estimates put the displacement at about 12 million and deaths at several million. More than 75,000 women were abducted and raped by members of their own or other communities. The forms of violence that struck within and across religious lines during the Partition still fill the social memory of India and provide rationale for mutual resentment and anger between Hindus and Muslims.
   On January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse, a former member of the RSS, shot and killed M. K. GANDHI. At the time, Hindu nationalists expressed intense dissatisfaction with what they termed Gandhi’s “appeasement” of minorities, especially Muslims. Though Godse was not an official mem-ber of the RSS at the time, the RSS was banned for approximately a year. The language of “minority appeasement” continues to be a mobilizing rheto-ric for Hindu nationalism.
   In 1984, with Indira Gandhi’s assassination as a trigger, Sikh communities were targeted by large-scale violence, concentrated in Delhi. It is widely accepted that the violence was largely the responsibility of Hindutva, abetted by the Con-gress government’s complicity in not prosecuting instigators. In 1992, leaders of the BJP, VHP, and RSS incited Hindu nationalist crowds to destroy the 400+-year-old Babri Mosque at AYODHYA in Uttar Pradesh. According to the Sangh’s mythol-ogy and grievance, the mosque stands upon the ruins of a Hindu temple, rumored to be the birth-place of RAMA, a Hindu god. The destruction of the mosque was accompanied by systematic anti-Muslim violence throughout India, concentrated in Mumbai, for which the Srikrishna Commission has held Hindu nationalists responsible.
   The BJP gained power in India at the national level at the head of a coalition of political parties called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The NDA controlled the national government until 2004, when the Congress-led United Pro-gressive Alliance won elections at the national level, though the BJP continued to rule in various states, alone or within political coalitions.
   In the spring of 2002, the torching of 58 Hindutva activists on a train near the town of Godhra, Gujarat, set off a systematic and govern-ment-backed massacre of Muslims throughout the state. Immediately after the train fire, some of the local-language press and state-level BJP lead-ers insisted that local Muslims had conspired to burn the train, though the Banerjee Commission later declared this allegation to be unfounded. Starting on February 28, violence broke out in 16 of Gujarat’s 24 districts, attributed by most to Hindu nationalist groups. Muslim homes, busi-nesses, and places of worship were destroyed by large mobs armed with swords, tridents, kerosene, and liquid gas canisters. Both girls and women were subjected to sexual atrocities: gang rape and collective rape, as well as sexual mutila-tion with swords and sticks, before being burned to death.
   Independent fact-finding groups have placed the number of dead at no fewer than 2,000, and the number of displaced at 200,000, most of whom were Muslims. Human rights observers classified the events in Gujarat as “genocide” by the standards of the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948. India’s National Human Rights Commission charged the state government with complicity at the “highest levels.” Police and high-level BJP officials, according to fact-finding reports, supported the violence through inaction or active participation, including leaking electoral rolls indicating the locations of Muslim residences and businesses. Since the violence in Gujarat, impunity has reigned, as reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Several high-profile cases were moved out of the state by the Indian Supreme Court, because of the court’s lack of confidence in the ability of Gujarat’s judi-cial system to deliver justice for the survivors.
   Since these incidents in Gujarat, groups in India and the DIASPORA have begun to trace inter-national political and financial support for Hindu nationalist organizations. Two reports tracked the funding of Hindu nationalist activities: the Cam-paign to Stop Funding Hate released one report on the activities of the India Development and Relief Fund, a United States–based charity, and Awaaz South Asia Watch released another report on the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, a United King-dom–based charity.
   Sangh leaders have been quoted as promising to strengthen the Hindutva movement in Orissa, a state in eastern India, and in other parts of the country. In Orissa, as of 2005, Hindutva already has a strong network of Sangh organizations and activists, who are reportedly carrying out forced conversions of Christians and tribals to Hinduism, destroying churches, committing selective mur-ders, imposing social and economic boycotts of minorities, and imposing a ban on cow slaughter, which threatens the livelihoods of poor Muslims and Dalits.
   Further reading: Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princ-eton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993); Angana P. Chatterji, “Memory—Mournings: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism,” in Angana P. Chatterji and Lubna Nazir Chaudhry, eds. Contesting Nation: Gendered Vio-lence in South Asia: Notes on the Postcolonial Present (New Delhi: Zubaan Books, 2006); Thomas Blom Hansen, The Saffron Wave (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999); Zoya Hasan, ed., Forging Identi-ties—Gender, Communities and the State (Delhi: Kali for Women, 1994); Romila Thapar, Cultural Pasts (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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