Hindutva: Influences and Effects on the Liberal Secular Democracy of India

This article examines the exponential growth of Hindutva politics in the liberal secular democracy of India. The success of the Hindutva lies in the failure of the liberal secularist institutions who have discarded their founding principles for power tugging politics. Hindutva is not a response to pseudo-secularism; it is a response to the concept of secularism which is viewed as a threat to the organic functioning of the Hindu motherland by Hindu nationalists who aspire to revive the glorious Hindu past. For these intentions they desire to mobilize public outrage pertaining to issues regarding sexuality, masculinity and accurate historical interpretation against the so called foreign invaders who illegitimately seem to exist in India, mainly the Muslims community. In India, this cause is being championed by the RSS and the Sangh Parivar who act as its sole campaigners and custodians.

Hindutva is a term used to describe movements advocating Hindu nationalism. The term Hindutva was coined by Hindutva: Influences and Effects on the Liberal Secular Democracy of IndiaVinayak Damodar Savarkar, the leader of a supremacist Hindu group known as the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, in his 1923 book entitled Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? In his book, Sarvarkar exhibits that the Indian national identity is personified in the Hindu culture, which amalgamates not only Hinduism as a religion but also a language, Sanskrit and its main vernacular derivative, Hindi, the worship of Hindustan (“Land of Hindus,” it primarily refers to the Republic of India) as a sacred land and the Hindu sect. He produced the motto “Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan!” Savarker also insisted on the necessity of the religious minorities in India to pledge allegiance to the dominant Hindu identity and to hold back the demonstrations of their beliefs within the realms of the private sphere. One of Savarkar’s admirers and a fellow Hindu Mahasabha member, Keshas Baliram Hedgewar, inspired by the ideological attitude of Hindutva, formed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteers Organization) in 1925, which in the coming period of time would become the sole custodian and campaigner for the cause of Hindutva in India. After Sarvarker, Hedgewar as the first Sarsanghachalak (supreme leader) of the RSS and his successor, M.S. Golwalker, took on the priority of reframing the Hindus and the Hindu society according to the fundaments of Hindutva, and further contextualizing the impression of Hindutva from a mere conception to a way of life. This precedence lead to the creation of a range of RSS affiliates such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; Indian People’s Party), the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP; World Hindu Council) and various other institutions which would all combine under an umbrella organization called the Sangh Parivar (Family of Associations). It has been argued over the past, and is still in the present, that the RSS acts as the shadow-head of the Sangh Parivar, a claim which the RSS rigorously denies in order to sustain the homogenous characteristic of the Sangh Parivar which is vital to its purpose, as the Sangh Parivar acts as a metaphor for the horizontal unification of the Hindus in the country.

Now with a base laid down, we shall pursue the teachings of Hindutva in detail. In the very first RSS text, We or Our Nation Defined (1939) by M.S. Golwalker, Golwalker proposed, echoing Savarkar’s view, that the Hindu nation is composed of five essentialHindutva: Influences and Effects on the Liberal Secular Democracy of Indiacomponents: the Hindu Race, the Hindu Territory, the Hindu culture, the Hindu Religion and the Hindu Language. He claimed that each component acted as a division of an organic society to emphasize the interdependence of all its members and to suggest the necessity of a single political system. He gave emphasis to understanding the Hindu territory in its symbolic dimension as a Goddess or Divine Mother. The borders of the Motherland differ from text to text, from period to period; the current standard of acceptance includes all of South Asia. In Golwlaker’s logic, Hindu nationalists have the right to determine the fate of non-citizens and their symbols on the Hindu territory. In his view, a social body functions well only when its individuals perform their economic, social and religious duties (Dharma). Golwalker also applied the supplementary notion that no individual can be branded as a true Hindu, unless he or she competently embraces the Hindu identity through the accurate practice of dharma. He proclaimed that the Hindu social body was weak and disorganized because dharma was neither clearly understood nor correctly observed. On the basis of preceding motif, Golwalker and other RSS theoreticians, hold blame, which persists into the present, on the foreign forces which had illegitimately entered into India – mainly the Christians, the Muslims and the British, for the disintegration of the Hindu society.

Hindu nationalists, disregarding the universal understanding of time, reproduce time in a twofold division based on the pretences of Hindutva– Satyuga (the Golden Age) and Kaliyuga (the Age of Decline). The Satyuga period coincides with the rise of the contemporary Hindu culture and living, where as the Kaliyuga period transitions with the degradation of Hindu society during the domination of foreign invaders – the Muslims and the British. Both the terms, Satyuga and Kaliyuga, were borrowed from the understandings of Brahmanism (one of the types of Hinduism) in order to disguise the imprint of the British framework on the Hindu nationalist periodization, and as well as to authenticate the Hindutva understanding for the non-politicized Hindus. Indian Historians have countered this obsession of Hindu nationalist on stressing historical Islamic brutality by rendering several visible heterogeneous Islamic regimes that existed in India, especially the most peaceful ones. Another essential aspect, to Hindutva, taken from the British is that of masculinity and sexuality. Hindu nationalist consider the Hindu race to be the “martial race,” initially termed by the British to classify the colonial Brahmin army and civil service, which is superior is every facet, should it be physical strength, military preparedness or leadership capability, to the unsophisticated and barbaric identity of the Muslims. According to Hindutva, the Muslim men are portrayed as highly primitive and nymphomaniac individuals who are out to claim the moral chaste of the elegant and composed Hindu women and by extension to the Hindu territory signified as a chaste Mother goddess. In contrast, the Hindu men are presented as weak punitive beings who have failed to protect the honour of their Motherland and its women, and hence can only retrieve their pride though the power of Hindutva.

History is a vital asset to the cause of Hindutva as it forms the corner stone for the need of restoration of the righteous Hindu past. In view of the fact that history contradicts with what Hindu nationalists have to say, Hindu nationalists have taken up the task of rewriting Indian history, and reinvesting memory, by making selective use of notions drawn from colonial discourse and practice such as the eternalness of Hindu-Muslim conflict. During the BJP-led coalition government (1998-2004), the BJP, political wing of the RSS, in order to appease the RSS and drive the forces of Hindutva changed text books and courses in schools and colleges to emphasize the glories of Hinduism. The BJP initiative of rewriting history was lead by the Minister of Human Resources and Development Murli Manohar Joshi. One of the main acts of Joshi was to reconstitute the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), filling it with Sangh sympathisers. The council was required to review and suppress documentations from the national archives for years running up to 1947. Most of the documentations suppressed were mainly statements made by the Hindu nationalists indicating their reluctance towards support to the freedom movement lead by the Indian National Congress against the British – a part of the historical record that might undermine the Sangh’s patriotic credentials. New revised texts were released that emphasized on the widespread destruction committed by Muslim rulers who were illustrated as foreign intruders, but omitting atrocities committed by Hindu rulers. The texts also carried an altered verdict on the Indo-Aryans (one of the earliest settlers in India) who were represented as original Indians and that their Vedic culture (traditional Hindu culture) was entirely indigenous to India, a claim strongly contested by most scholars.

Golwalker believed democracy, capitalism and socialism to be failed western concepts to improve the human condition. Another prominent Hindutva advocate Deendayal Upadhyaya felt that centralization of power, economic and politics is implied in both socialism and capitalism which would stall the progress and satisfaction of inner peace, an essential ingredient for embracement of the Hindu identity as per guidance of Hindutva. This sort of outlook towards the economy and the market lead towards the conception of the idea of Swadeshi or Indian capitalism, which along with the principle of decentralisation formed the foundation for Hindutva economic policies. The spirit of Swadeshi is intended to prevent the Hindu nation from becoming unnecessarily dependent on foreign capital and avoidance of conspicuous consumption. The Hindu nationalists are in opposition to Indians acquiring a technical fetish for foreign machinery, in its place they wish to focus the nation’s attention on attaining the technology and capital required for the industrialization of villages or rural India. Swadeshi policy is seen as prerequisite by the Hindutva forces for the preservation of the Hindu culture against the evils of globalisation, which is observed as a threat to the nation’s sovereignty and self respect by the dominance of MNCs. During the 1980s, under the command of Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, the Indian National Congress initiated a major drive for the liberalization of the Indian markets from the “Licence Raj” (a term coined around the governmental restriction for MNCs in India) .This meant dismantling of the public sector and heavy imports in terms of foreign technology and capital as well as technological co-operation and joint ventures with foreign firms. The Congress also contented for relaxations in foreign economic policies and government taxation of the MNCs, which was highly criticized by the RSS who envisioned it as a monetary invasion of foreign goods. In protest the RSS published a pamphlet listing the brand names of 326 foreign products and mentioned an alternative Indian product which could be used instead. The document was highlighted by major contradictions which at one end argued India had been reduced to the state of beggars through the rape of Indian resources by the MNCs, while at the same time proclaiming that India had all the necessary available resources required to transform itself into a super power. The entire incident focused attention on the double stance of the RSS and its affiliates, mainly the BJP, who was initially pro-liberalization.

Ever since Hindutva first laid its steps towards entry into mainstream Indian politics, it has been argued that its chief contender in India is the Indian constitution itself, which safeguards the rights and interests of the minorities who are entitled citizens of the nation. This is a false belief in view of the facts that the Indian constitution, instead of being used as a prime weapon against the polarizing tactics of Hindutva, is the main symbol of triumph and prolongation of anti-secular politics in India, which have existed ever since the birth of the constitution on 26th January, 1950. The term secularism has a wide variety of definitions and implication which differ on a scale of equality and equal opportunities of an individual in a society. Taking the most minimalist scale of vindication of the term secularism it can be observed that the Indian constitution has failed even to full fill the most basic requirements of equal treatment of all religions and religious communities, through the provocation of four principle flaws.

The first principle flaw of the constitution being – Article 1. Name and territory of the Union (1) India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States. The naming of India as Bharat reflects the influence of the Hindutva-minded sections of the constituent assembly who wanted the name to reflect the primordial glorious Hindu past, previous to the invasions of foreign intruders who disrupted its being. The fact that the word Bharat is not used again through the entire text points to the huge amount of symbolism involved. The name “Bharat” is derived from the name of the legendary king Bharata in Hindu mythology, the term is commonly used by passionate Hindus. The name was adopted in August 1949 after a Hindu sanyasin (woman who has devoted her life to the ways of Hinduism) went on a fast which she threatened to continue until her demands were to be fulfilled, namely adoption of the Hindi language as the national language and that India should be renamed Bharat. The exercise of the word “Union” in the opening article instead of “Federation” is also questionable. During the cabinet sessions before independence, it was decided upon that the constitution would provide significant powers to the state and keep a weak central in the sight of protecting minority rights. But soon after the partition and formation of a separate Pakistan for the Muslims, the Congress backtracked for a strong center instead, in spite of still existing minorities in the nation including a respectable numbers of Muslims and Sikhs, among other different smaller communities.

The second flaw present in the Indian constitution is – Article 25.(2) (b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus Explanation I The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion Explanation II In sub clause (b) of clause reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly. Article 25 (2) (b) fundamentally undermines the secular character of state in favour of the Hindus. The state shows a particular interest in the restoration and maintenance of the places of worship of a specific religion only, in this case Hinduism. This highly contradicts the state’s secular position as it is only concerned about the welfare of one religion, while ignoring others. The article in addition goes on to classify individuals practising the faith of Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism as a subset of Hinduism. The constitution includes anyone in the definition of a Hindu who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew. This clause was incorporated, and still remains, in the constitution in the mist of heavy opposition by the Sikh, Jain and Buddhist community, both before and after its addition. This can be clearly viewed as a legal move by the state of forming an organic and homogenous Hindu identity, as which the Hindutva forces aspire to achieve.

Third flaw in the constitution stated as follows – 48. Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle. The specific insertion of the clause prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves in the constitution acts as a clear indicative of the religious bias and preferences of the dominant Hindu majority, for who cows are sacred creatures, among the constitution makers. This specific inclusion meant the exclusion of the interest or preferences, by the state, of separate religious communities – mainly of the Christians and the Muslims, who are recognized beef-eaters.

The fourth and most integral flaw as of relation to anti-secular politics, in the Indian constitution is that of – Article 343. Official language of the Union. (1) The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. Article 351. Directive for development of the Hindi language. It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages. The significance accorded to Hindi language and the Sankrit language in the constitution demonstrates a strong pro-Hindi and pro-Hindu bias in the Indian constitution, which according to Hindutva is one of the five essential components for the competent functioning of the Hindu nation. The article also includes the provision that it is the duty of the state to further expand the mass appeal and understanding of the language Hindi, while at the same time utilising Sankrit as it’s the primary source of vocabulary and ignoring other languages as secondary. The grave influence of Hindu nationalists can be observed on the state through its obsession with the renewal and preservation of the Sankrit language, which is key to the purpose of a unified Hindu nation due to its heritage links with the primeval golden age, despite the fact of it being a dead language spoken only by a few Sankrit enthusiasts.

December 6th, 1992, marks a day, of many similar days, of the failure of the state and its constitution to defend the minority sentiments and their sense of security, which being one of their fundamental rights guaranteed by the government, against the violent and chauvinistic forces of Hindu nationalists and opportunist individuals. After weeks of violent and cynical events, in a climatic ending the Babri Masjid (Babri Mosque), a structure which stood still for over 300 years, was forced down after being beaten by sticks, hammers and pipes by Hindutva supporters, all in the name of Ram (a Mythological Hindu God). The mosque was demolished over the historical conflict that whether it was build on the ruins of a temple marking the birth place of God Ram, hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana, by the Mughal Emperor Barbar who invaded India during the 1500’s and began the rein of the great Muhgal Empire in India. Although, the mosque was constructed in the city of Ayodhya, believed to be the birth place of Ram according to the Hindu faith, the claim that it existed over the ruins of a temple is contested by the most renowned Indian historians who have found no historical evidence of there ever being a temple on that particular portion of land. The initial conflict began in 1946, when a newly formed militant Hindu organization called the Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha (ABRM; All India Ramayana Great Assembly), an offshoot of the Hindu Mahasabha, claimed to have discovered murtis (icons in which the deities are said to reside) of the monkey God of Hanuman that had appeared below one of the mosque’s domes. They declared that the mosque be demolished and instead a temple be constructed over it signifying the birth place of Lord Ram. The matter went to the Supreme Court which forbided Hindus from worshipping at the mosque. Over the next 40 years, the conflict remained underground and out of public attention until the 1980’s when the VHP, a self-proclaimed council of the Hindus which had ceased to exist ever before in the history of Hinduism, demanded that need of a temple being built over the mosque be reinitiated. Over the next 10 years the VHP along with political help from the BJP carried about various nationwide movements which included various Hindutva advisories and politician making provocative speeches to raise Hindu outrage towards the cause. At many occasions, the movements turned violent in different states which required the use of force by the police and state securities to control the crow which resulted in the deaths of eleven people. The VHP and BJP used these deaths as a political tool to further increase public anger by holding a public ceremony to immerse their ashes and vow building a Ram temple. Finally on 6th December, 1992, a massive band of Ram temple supporters entered into Ayodhya with the sole purpose of destroying the mosque, in which they succeeded in spite of orders given by the Supreme Court to the respective state government to increase security around the mosque and safeguard minorities. During the mosque’s collapse, there were also numerous cases of violence against the Muslim minorities who have claimed that their wives and children were raped and their men killed by the members of the VHP and its youth organization the Bajrang Dal, in spite of state security being present at the scene of crime.

The last decade has hailed the triumph of Hindutva politics in India with the coming into power of the BJP-led coalition government. This rise has mainly coincided with the failure of the Indian National Congress to uphold its principle of secularism. It has been argued that the Congress has transformed into a pseudo-secularist party whose priorities have shifted to remaining in power. This is an inaccurate belief as it the principle of secularism that is being imposed by the Congress is the main catalyst which is forcing the rise of communal politics. The real issue to the Congress’s decline is the need to apply force through the authority of law to ensure a permanent position of secularist ideals in the society, a need ignored by the Congress officials. The Congress, over the years, has shown a double stance on the implementation of secularism which can be view through two major incidents. Firstly, the controversial Shah Bano affair. In 1978, a 73 year old Muslim woman, Shah Bano, filled a civil case in the Supreme Court regarding her right to attain alimony from her husband, who after 43 years of marriage had divorced her. Under the Muslim Personal Law (based on the Islamic directives in the Koran), against the Civil Law meant for rest of the nation, her husband was not required to pay any compensation or support to his wife. In 1985, the Supreme Court declared a verdict favouring Shah Bano’s right to receive financial support from her husband. This incident provoked massive outcry by the Muslim community who claimed that the state was interfering in their religious affairs and demanded the decision to be revoked. Under pressure to maintain power, the Congress passed the Muslim Women’s Protection of the Rights to Divorce Bill that withdrew the rights of Muslim women to further make such appeals in the Supreme Court under the Civil law. This bill was high critiqued by both the general public and Hindu nationalists, who eventually exploited this decision as a platform to emphasize the Congress’s prejudice towards the Muslims which resulted in widespread support for Babri Masjid demolition from the Hindu community who had been left felt cheated. Secondly, the granting of special autonomic rights by the Congress to Kashmir and the north east states, which was analyzed as pampering of minorities by the BJP. Hence, the need of the hour is strict enforcement of the required standards of secularism in India by the Congress to regain its influence and reputation as during the age of Jawahar Lal Nehru.

Over the years, the RSS and the Sangh Parivar have often justified their actions and attitudes towards minorities on the foundation of having a massive backing from the Hindu community. RSS being the nation’s largest volunteer organisation; BJP the largest party in the parliament; Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad (ABVP; All India Students Organisation) the largest Student Union and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS; Indian Worker’s Union) the largest labour union. These statistics are quite misleading as they form a forged premise for communal and anti-secularist activities to be held out by the Sangh Parivar. Most of the members, or supporters, hardly know anything about what they are fighting for. They are not the religious type who would be making an additional effort to attend religious classes, rituals or services. They lack both basic historical and mythological knowledge on which the ideals of Hindutva as based on. Most members of the RSS, ABVP or BMS initially join the organisation for recreational or further additional services being offered by the institution. They do not intend to remain lifelong members, and hardly have as parallel extremist beliefs as the RSS or the Sangh Parivar advocates. Most members come from an economically backward community, mainly rural sectors, where essential needs such as food and educations are hard to obtain, which are provided by the Sangh Parivar institutions at free of cost. These people have had lost all hope of ever introducing some form of improvement in their living conditions, which the Sangh Parivar exploits for gaining support. Apart from the socially backward, the members also include the economically deprived. These individuals have either been deprived out of certain offered privileges in order to occupy the backward minority quotas or financially harmed by minority run businesses or professional services, which they hold responsible for all their misery and not necessarily the entire minority community. This proclaimed backing of the Sangh Parivar can easily be broken down through proper implementation of the hundreds of programs and financial assistance schemes being offered by the government.

In conclusion, the success of the Hindutva movement in the liberal secular democracy of India relies on the inefficient application of the theories or models of secularism, democracy and liberalism. The government has failed in providing obligatory consideration to the application or expansion of literacy, economic growth and the rightful eye of equal treatment under the law to all its citizens uniformly, which has forced individuals to be persuaded to the course of anti-secularist communal violence and antics. Therefore, now the Indian National Congress and its allies have been given the uphill task of untangling communal politics from mainstream politics and incorporating economics.

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