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Friday, April 21, 2017

Hindutva can be a racist and neocolonial force, but not Hinduism

Just to get the main thesis of this article sorted out: the Hindutva advocated by the BJP government and its ecosystems is most definitely not Hinduism. It is a network of cults that may be embarked on a 21st century attempt to colonise India. Here’s how:

Hindutva is a set of beliefs and practices that can be traced to illiberal formations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its various avatars and offshoots.

These groups found utterance about a decade after the Indian National Congress launched the freedom struggle. In awe of the whiteness of India’s British Raj, they chose obsequious collaboration and stayed away from the nationalist movement.

Always denizens of dark alleys and troubled waters, RSS supremacists were arrayed against the Congress because it espoused secular liberal values. They reserved special venom for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who they saw as an appeaser of Muslims.

In the event, the nascent government of India banned the organisation after Nathuram Godse, reportedly one of its members, was arrested, tried and hanged for the murder of Gandhi.

Since then, the supremacists remained in the shadows, nursing their hate and plotting their phantasmagoria of a Hindutva “rashtra”. Their biggest leap into public life was in the revivalist Ram Janmabhoomi campaign against the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Grandiosely termed a “movement,” the campaign was more like an expanding wave of communal violence and found resonance in sections of the urban middle classes in India.

The revivalist agitation also won support in the immigrant community in the United States.

In the 1980s, a large number of Indian community organisations were formed around the construction of temples in various US cities.

These groups were an entirely new service sector comprising merchants, traders and small businessmen to supply community needs for Indian foods, clothes, artefacts, entertainment and various other products and services.

Comprised largely of Gujarati and North Indian NRIs, from hourly workers to struggling professionals and crooked businessmen, this segment of the immigrant community found itself at loggerheads with their interlocutors in America: other lower middle class immigrant groups and the white working class and also with blacks because of their overt racism.

Living cheek by jowl with the prejudice of their neighbours in the urban ghettos and in the workplace, these groups sought comfort in the supremacist cults of Hindutva.

As such, these working-class groups were in the forefront of a clamour for a unitary church, a single book of worship, a uniform culture and alarmingly, they wanted to reverse the separation of church and state.

As a normal Hindu person, never have I heard advocated a view that Hinduism needs to become semiticised around a single culture, a single language, a single-minded faith in myth and superstition, in-your-face rituals, a victim mindset. The demand arose among ghettoised NRI groups in America and spread to opportunistic RSS supremacists in India.

Over the years, the saffron dispensation and its NRI fans managed to fudge the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva. They developed fantastic theories of Aryan descent and achievements of mythological forebears.

As a journalist in the US, I have personally heard life insurance salesmen, factory workers, retail merchants, others openly assert that being of Aryan descent, they were whiter than the whites, certainly purer because of their diet and their ability to keep their women and children cloistered from the lascivious attractions and impure ways of American life.

The claim about Aryan descent of the Hindutva cults is worth exploring. So I dived into my library to locate Ainslie T Embree’s Sources of Indian Tradition, a book that was prescribed reading for my graduate course in Hinduism. An excerpt:

“The Aryans were a nomadic, pastoral people, and it was probably the search for new grazing lands for their cattle that led to their migration into India. The cow was their main source of wealth, and scholars have speculated that this was the basis of the later emphasis in Hinduism on the sanctity of the cow. As the Aryan moved into India from the northwest, they fought many battles with the original inhabitants of land, a dark-skinned people whom they contemptuously called “dasas,” a word that later came to mean slave.”

Members of the various Hindutva cults have decried this as a false interpretation of the origins of Hinduism, insisting that Aryans were native to India and not invaders from Central Asia.

The subtext is that they are descendants of the Indo-European (read white) races.

However, no respectable scholar accepts that thesis. What is abundantly evident from this conflation of Aryans, white-skinned people and members of the Hindutva cult is that such theories are racist to the core.
Just consider the views of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, chief of the RSS until his death in 1973. He was big on issues of race and national pride. His take on the Third Reich and Nazism is produced below verbatim:

"To keep up with the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and Cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for use in Hindusthan to learn and profit by."

In their racist claims to be counted as Aryans, champions of Hindutva are actually hoist by their own petard. Their claim that Aryans are indigenous to the subcontinent has been widely and thoroughly discredited.

As such, their insistence on being Aryan leaves them open to the charge that they are a racist neocolonial force in India.

How else can you interpret a recent comment by Tarun Vijay, former editor of the RSS publication Panchajanya?

Vijay said in a debate on Al Jazeera television: “If we were racist, why would we have the entire south... Tamil, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra... why do we live with them? We have black people around us.”

(An edited version of this post will appear in Dailyo.in, April 2017.)