HINDU NATIONALISM: HISTORY, IDEOLOGY, DEVELOPMENT, ISSUES

HINDUISM AND POLITICS


Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) march in Bhopal

The Indian constitution describes India as a socialist, secular, democratic republic. The Congress Party, which dominated Indian politics from independence to the early 1990s, focused on the principles of secular socialism. Hindu nationalist organizations were linked with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in January 1948 and were banned for more than 20 years after that. Nationalist parties were virtual pariahs until relatively recently.

In the late 1980s, the growing strength of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) brought Hinduism to the forefront of national politics. The BJP, along with its affiliates, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parisad (VHP), form the sangh parivar, a powerful political force in India that aims to restore what it considers essential to the grandeur of the Hindu tradition. The convergence of Indian politics and Hinduism since the late 1990s has caused tension between Indian Muslims and the national government and has prompted some Sikhs to demand an independent Sikh state.

In recent decades there has been an increase of Hindu identity in politics, mostly in India, in the form of Hindutva. The revivalist movement was mainly started and encouraged by political parties and organisations like RSS, BJP and Sangh Parivar in India and the Shivsena Nepal and RPP in Nepal and HINDRAF in Malaysia.

Hindu Nationalism

Hindu nationalism has been described as the expression of social and political thought, based on Hinduism — defined as the native spiritual and cultural traditions of the Indian subcontinent. . "Hindu nationalism" is a simplistic translation of “Hindu rā ravāda” which is better translated as as "Hindu polity". [Source: Wikipedia]

Hindu nationalists want to transform India from a secular state into Hindu one. They regard Muslims and Christians as “convertees” to foreign religions who must accept the primacy of Hindu culture. Many regard Mahatma Gandhi as a traitor to his religion for promoting tolerance and acceptance of non-Hindu religions. They denounce secularism and say that Muslim should be allowed to live in India only if they bow to Hinduism. For a long time they were regarded as fringe moment that primarily looked after the interests of upper caste Indians. Now they form the ideological backbone of the India’s ruling political party — Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Hindu nationalism is much more of a nationalist movement than a Hindu one. Hinduism is a very freewheeling religion, which embraces beliefs of a number of different gods and has kind of anything goes mentality. Hindu nationalism is based on ideas like “Hindutva” (“Hinduness”), a vague Hindu-based ideology that aims to make India strong. "Hindu Rashtra" is a nationalist concept of returning to ancient Hindu kingdoms that existed before the Muslim invasion of India. Hindu nationals also talk about “Ram Rayja” (literally the "Rule of Ram"), a reference to a kingdom ruled by Hindu god-king Ram in which people were slave to “dharma” (duty). The great enemy of the Hindu nationalists is the Muslims, who are too few in number and too unorganized to present a real threat, but serve as convenient enemy and means of unifying people.

Hindu nationalists have traditionally been very strong in Gujarat, Maharashtra (where Mumbai (Bombay) is), Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Many of the Indians attracted by Hindu extremism are poor, educated, lower-middle class urban Brahmans described as "a disinherited, disgruntled lot." They often identify themselves by wearing khaki shorts and saffron scarves.

To the West, Hindu nationalists have presented themselves as trustworthy allies in the fight against Muslim extremism. One of their greatest heros is Shivaji, an 18th century king, who drove out Muslim rulers in Maharashtra.

Hindu Nationalist Political Parties

Early far-right parties included the Hindu Mahasabha (HMS), condemned to infamy after one of its members assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Even so the HMS’s existence reflected that Hindu nationalist views were present and strain that has seen several party iterations in the years since.

Hindu nationalism became a force to contend with when the BJP began to gain popularity after bringing together various strains of the Hindu nationalist movement into an "allIndia" coalition party in 1980. By the early 1990s, the BJP has emerged as India's largest opposition party, and led a ruling coalition from 1998 to 2004. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

There are no declared Hindu nationalist political parties at present in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now considered a center-right political party. Former Hindu National parties include: 1) Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor of the BJP; 2) theAkhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad and 3) the Bharatiya Janshakti Party, both of which merged with the BJP.

Regional Hindu Nationalist Parties:
Bangali Nabanirman Sena (Assam)
Akhand Hindustan Morcha (National Capital Region)
Asom Bharatiya Janata Party (Assam)
Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (Kerala)
Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) (Maharashtra)
Shiv Sena (Maharashtra)
Goa Suraksha Manch (Goa)
Hindu samaj party (Tamil Nadu)
Hindu Samhati (West Bengal)
Hindu Makkal Katchi (Tamil Nadu)
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (Maharashtra)
Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (Goa)

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)and RSS

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) translates to Indian People's Party. It is one of the two major Indian political parties along with the Indian National Congress. Since 2014, it has been the ruling political party in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP is aligned with right-wing politics, and its policies adhere to Hindutva, a Hindu nationalist ideology. It has close ideological and organisational links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteer paramilitary organisation. As of September 2023, it is the country's biggest political party in terms of representation in the Parliament of India as well as state legislatures. [Source: Wikipedia]

The BJP is unique among India's political parties in that neither it nor its political predecessors were ever associated with the Congress. Instead, it grew out of an alternative nationalist organization — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS — National Volunteer Organisation). The BJP still is affiliated with the network of organizations popularly referred to as the RSS family.

The RSS is a powerful Hindu fascist, supremacist movement linked with the BJP and made up of around three dozen social. educational, cultural and political organizations and 48,000 “shakas”, or local chapters, in the early 2000s. RSS members say that their goal is to create ideal Hindu citizens. They look back on the Muslim-Mogul and British periods as a source of humiliation.

Shiv Sena and Bal Thackery

Shiv Sena is one of India’s most notorious right-wing Hindu extremist group. Named after a Hindu warrior king who defeated an invading Muslim army in the 17th century, it has ruled the government in Mumbai (Bombay) and the western Indian state of Maharashtra. After its came it power its morality squads were active attacking those with views different from their own. They closed plays, threatened artists, blacklisted books and attacked theaters showing controversial films. Shiv Sen and the BJP allied to win an election un 1995.

Shiv Sena is led and was founded in 1966 by Bal Thackery, a former political cartoonist noted for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and admiration for the German Nazi Party. Once describing himself as the "Hitler of Bombay," he lived in a modern suburban Bombay home and greeted his followers dressed in saffron pajamas, and encouraged them to his kiss feet. As of the early 2000s, Thackery had never been elected and held no political position. He hds been the force behind the rise of Shiv Sena to power in Bombay and Maharashtra state and had been blamed for inciting anti-Muslim riots that left hundreds dead in Bombay in 1993. .

Thackery has said that democracy has ruined India and said “Pakistan is not worthy of friendship.” He has incited riots by condemning Muslims as cow killers and accusing them of having too many children. India is for Hindus he claims. "In Rome, you have to be a Roman. In Britain you have to be a Britisher. So what is the matter if we say, ‘in Hindustan you have to be Hindustani? India is a Hindu country; it is a matter of fact. And where is the reason to be sorry for that?...Indian Muslims are a cancer for this country. Cancer is an incurable disease. Its only cure is operation. O Hindus, take weapons in your hands and remove this cancer from the roots.’”

Thackery praised the mob that attached the mosque at Ayodhya and said the event made him "the happiest man in the world." After the 1998 nuclear tests Bal Thackeray said, "We have to prove that we are not eunuchs." In a speech at a Hindu festival he encouraged Hindus to form suicide squads and said, “violence is the only way.’

Explaining a government crackdown on drinking in Bombay, Thackery said, he was told "young girls and boys danced naked and smoke drugs. This is not our culture. I don’t want hippies in this country. To protect the values and traditions of India, I had to close down the pubs." Even so he has a framed photographs of himself and Michael Jackson and likes to boast that Jackson honored him by using his toilet. He even has photograph of the toilet, which Jackson used during a concert appearance in Mumbai.

Shiv Sena Activities

Thackery pressured bookstores to stop selling books he didn't like and incited crowds into burning stacks of magazines with pro-Muslim articles. He also lashed out against immigrant workers from Bangladesh and foreign companies and accused Muslims of “breeding’ too much. His “storm troopers” were happy to raise hell to protect him and preserve the cult of fear that surrounded him. They beat up a journalist who made critical statements against Thackery and closed theaters showing plays critical of Thackery.

Thackery was responsible for changing the name of Bombay to Mumbai as a protest against British colonialism. Mumbai is named after a Hindu goddess. He calls India "Hindustan." Hindu extremists under him have condemned Madonna for wearing Hindu markings on her face with "clothes through which her nipples were clearly visibility and while gyrating in a sexually suggestive manner."

Hindu nationalists led by Bal Thackery attacked quotas that favor Dalits (Untouchables) and the naming of a university after the Dalit leader Ambedkar. Thackery kept the Pakistani national cricket team from playing in Mumbai by ruling that no Pakistanis can play cricket in the city. He said, "I will not allow them to step foot in my motherland."

Shiv Sena morality squads roamed Bombay, tearing down billboard with leggy models and scolding barmaids who worked after 8:30 at night. They forced filmmakers to take love scenes between a Hindu boy and Muslim girl out of a movie and attacked television stations that showed an interview with a leader in Pakistani Kashmir and burned magazines that showed most Kashmiri supported independence and trashed a cinema for showing a film about a lesbian relationship. Shin Shiva and other Hindu extremists have raided stores selling Valentine's day cards. Explaining why, one activist told AFP, "It is a Western way of romance and will simply spoil the Indian youth.”

Gangs led Shiv Sena have been fingered for stirring up trouble that lead to the 1992 destruction of the mosque in Adoyda and the riots in Bombay that followed. Thackery denies any involvement in the riot but says, "I have created enemies. I am on a hit list. But my enemies know full well if anything happens to me, there will be flare-ups across the country. There will be communal riots everywhere. People will not keep quiet. So much love people have for me. Charges were brought against Thackeray for inciting violence in the early 1990s. The charges were dropped in 2000 when a judge ruled the statute of limitations was up.

Vishwa Hindu Parisahd and Ananda Marga

Vishwa Hindu Parisahd (VHP, World Hindu Council) is another Hindu extremist group. They are deeply involved in trying to build a Hindu temple at the site of the destroyed mosque in Ayodha. Its followers carry swords and tridents — symbols from Hindu mythology. It and its youth wing the Bajrang Dal have been described as pseudo-religious paramilitary groups who attract disenfranchised young men the same way Muslim extremist groups do. Some of its so-called sadhu have little religious training and are at the forefront of the violence. Many of its members act like football hooligans and get drunk and stoned and harass women and don’t pay for snacks purchased from vendors.

Vishwa Hindu Parisahd was deeply involved in the violence in Gujarat in 2002.. Most of those killed on the train that set off the violence in 2002 were members of Vishwa Hindu Parisahd. One of its leaders told AP, “India is a country for the Hindus and not made for Muslims. They have Pakistan, where they can live if they want.” Another told the Washington Post that it was a tragedy that Gandhi was assassinated. The tragedy was it didn’t happen sooner.

The Bajrang Dal runs training camps for youth and teaches them karate, bamboo stick fighting and air rifle shooting. It had 1,5 million members in the early 2000s, some whom had been involved in mob violence. There are reports that groups like Bajrang Dal are stockpiling weapons in the event another round violence and rioting occurs. Among the weapons that have been uncovered are acid-filled light bulbs, home-made mini-canons and pistols.

Ananda Marga is a Hindu fundamentalist group founded in 1955 that according to Interpol has been responsible for "many acts and threats of violence against Indian Government buildings and personnel." It has been involved in a prolonged property dispute with the West Bengal government, which is dominated by Communists.

In 1995, Ananda Marga obtained 77 cases of weapons, including 300 Kalashikovs, 20,000 rounds of ammunition, 15 9-millimeter pistils, sniper rifles with night vision equipment, 10 rocket launchers, 200 rocket grenades and 100 hand grenades by getting a Danish national to buy the weapons for them from a British arms dealer, who arranged the shipment of weapons from Latvia and Bulgaria to Calcutta, from where it was transported by plane and dropped by parachute near the rebel group’s stronghold neat Purulia, India.

Roots and Development of Political Hinduism

In a review of the book: “The Hindus: An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger, Pankaj Mishra wrote in the New York Times, “The Hindu nationalists of today, who long for India to become a muscular international power, stand in a direct line of 19th-century Indian reform movements devoted to purifying and reviving a Hinduism perceived as having grown too fragmented and weak. These mostly upper-caste and middle-class nationalists have accelerated the modernization and homogenization of “Hinduism.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, New York Times, April 24, 2009 ***]

“Still, the nontextual, syncretic religious and philosophical traditions of India that escaped the attention of British scholars flourish even today. Popular devotional cults, shrines, festivals, rites and legends that vary across India still form the worldview of a majority of Indians. ..Far from being a slave to mindless superstition, popular religious legend conveys a darkly ambiguous view of human action. Revered as heroes in one region, the characters of the great epics “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata” can be regarded as villains in another. Demons and gods are dialectically interrelated in a complex cosmic order that would make little sense to the theologians of the so-called war on terror. ***


Aum, the symbol of Arya Samaj

“Doniger sets herself the ambitious task of writing “a narrative alternative to the one constituted by the most famous texts in Sanskrit.” As she puts it, “It’s not all about Brahmins, Sanskrit, the Gita.” It’s also not about perfidious Muslims who destroyed innumerable Hindu temples and forcibly converted millions of Indians to Islam. Doniger, who cannot but be aware of the political historiography of Hindu nationalists, the most powerful interpreters of Indian religions in both India and abroad today, also wishes to provide an “alternative to the narrative of Hindu history that they tell.” ***

“She writes at length about the devotional “bhakti” tradition, an ecstatic and radically egalitarian form of Hindu religiosity which, though possessing royal and literary lineage, was “also a folk and oral phenomenon,” accommodating women, low-caste men and illiterates. She explores, contra Marx, the role of monkeys as the “human unconscious” in the “Ramayana,” the bible of muscular Hinduism, while casting a sympathetic eye on its chief ogre, Ravana. And she examines the mythology and ritual of Tantra, the most misunderstood of Indian traditions. ***

“She doesn’t neglect high-table Hinduism. Her chapter on violence in the “Mahabharata” is particularly insightful, highlighting the tragic aspects of the great epic, and unraveling, in the process, the hoary cliché of Hindus as doctrinally pacifist. Both “dharma” and “karma” get their due. Those who tilt at organized religions today on behalf of a residual Enlightenment rationalism may be startled to learn that atheism and agnosticism have long traditions in Indian religions and philosophies. ***

“Doniger’s chapter on the centuries of Muslim rule over India helps dilute the lurid mythology of Hindu nationalists. Motivated by realpolitik rather than religious fundamentalism, the Mughals destroyed temples; they also built and patronized them. Not only is there “no evidence of massive coercive conversion” to Islam, but also so much of what we know as popular Hinduism — the currently popular devotional cults of Rama and Krishna, the network of pilgrimages, ashrams and sects — acquired its distinctive form during Mughal rule. ***

“Yet it is impossible not to admire a book that strides so intrepidly into a polemical arena almost as treacherous as Israel-―Arab relations. During a lecture in London in 2003, Doniger escaped being hit by an egg thrown by a Hindu nationalist apparently angry at the “sexual thrust” of her interpretation of the “sacred” “Ramayana.” This book will no doubt further expose her to the fury of the modern-day Indian heirs of the British imperialists who invented “Hinduism.” Happily, it will also serve as a salutary antidote to the fanatics who perceive — correctly — the fluid existential identities and commodious metaphysic of practiced Indian religions as a threat to their project of a culturally homogenous and militant nation-state.”

Book: “The Hindus: An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger, Penguin Press,, 2009]


1939 meeting of the Hindu nationalst group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)

Rise of Political Hinduism

During the 1930s and 1940s, again responding to institutional models from Europe, the more activist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS--National Volunteer Organisation) emerged to protect Hinduism. The RSS had been founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1944), a native of Maharashtra who was concerned that Hinduism was in danger of extinction from its external foes and needed a strong, militant force of devotees to protect it. Members believe that the Indian nation is the divine mother to whom the citizen devotes mind and body through karma-yoga , or disciplined service. Training consists of daily early morning meetings at which the saffron, white, and green Indian flag and the swallow-tailed, red-ocher RSS banner are raised as rows of members salute silently. [Source: Library of Congress *]

There are then group drills in gymnastic exercises, sports, discussions of patriotic themes from a primarily Hindu viewpoint, group singing of nationalist songs, and a final assembly with saluting. Throughout India in the early 1990s, there were cells (shakha ) of fifty to 100 members from all walks of life (the RSS rejects class differences) who were devoted to the nation. Although it has attracted hundreds of thousands of members from all over India, the RSS has never projected itself as a political party, always remaining a national club that is ready to send its members to trouble spots for the defense of the nation and the national culture, embodied in Hinduism. The Jana Sangh, established in 1951, was the RSS's political arm until it joined the Janata Party in 1977 and its membership split away in 1980 to form the BJP. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Another activist organization is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP--World Hindu Council), founded in 1964. The VHP runs schools, medical centers, hostels, orphanages, and mass movements to support Hinduism wherever it is perceived as threatened. This ultraconservative organization played a role in the extensive agitation for the demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya, leading to the destruction of the structure during a huge demonstration in 1992. As a result of the VHP's complicity in the affair, the Ministry of Home Affairs imposed a two-year ban on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad under the Unlawful Activities Act. When the ban expired in December 1994, the government reimposed it for two additional years. *

Hinduism in Modern Politics

Professor Vinay Lal wrote: “Even as Gandhi took Indian politics by storm, some Hindus were forging a more virile and masculine conception of Hinduism, and by the 1930s, as contemporary research has indubitably established, they had established links with Italian fascists and Nazis. India was proudly declared to be the original homeland of the Aryans. Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, had been associated both with the Hindu Mahasabha, a political party which strove without much success to ensure the primacy of Hindu interests, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary organization which even today is viewed as the principal force behind the resurgence of Hindu militancy. [Source: Vinay Lal, “Hinduism” in “Encyclopedia of the Modern World,” ed. Peter N. Stearns (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), Vol IV, pp. 10-16.]

The idea of a Hindu rashtra or nation did not bear fruit, and well until the 1980s any political party that openly championed the cause of Hindus was destined to remain an orphan in politics. However, by the late 1980s Hindu nationalists were able to come out of their wilderness, and many of them galvanized their forces around a sixteenth-century mosque in the north Indian city of Ayodhya. They alleged that a Hindu temple, built to commemorate the birth of Lord Rama at that exact spot, had been destroyed to make way for the mosque in 1526, and they demanded the removal of the mosque, which was also described as a palpable reminder to Hindus of their humiliation at the hands of Muslim conquerors. Finally, on 6 December 1992, notwithstanding the assurances of the Indian state that they would not permit the mosque to be desecrated, the Babri Masjid was destroyed when a huge crowd set to work on taking it apart.


destruction of the Ayodhya Mosque in 1992

“In 1997, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a political party that represents the interests of Hindus, and had hitherto held office in only a few northern states, triumphed at the polls and became the leading partner in a coalition that would govern India until 2004. If the BJP did the more explicit work of Hinduism, the cultural work of a resurgent Hinduism was carried out by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an organization that seeks to install pride in Hindu culture, disseminate Hindu writings, oppose conversions from Hinduism to other faiths, and project a favorable view of Hinduism to the outside world. The VHP has also taken upon itself the responsibility to facilitate knowledge of Hinduism around the world, and to embrace the religion aggressively in public forums, and it has active chapters in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Fiji, Trinidad, and elsewhere in the Indian diaspora. During the BJP’s years in power, there were frequent reports of attempts by the BJP and VHP, hotly contested by secularists, to Hinduize cultural institutions, promote the “Hindu science” of astrology as a university-level course, drastically alter the content of Indian history textbooks, and the like. Though the electoral defeat of the BJP in 2004 put some of these concerns into cold storage, the more substantive question is whether the advocates of Hindutva.,

Hindutva

Hindutva literally means 'Hindu-ness'. It is a political ideology that embraces the cultural justification of Hindu nationalism and the belief in establishing Hindu hegemony within India. The political ideology was formulated by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1922.It is used by the the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling political party of India, as well as by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), and other organisations, collectively called the Sangh Parivar. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Hindutva has been described as a militant form of Hinduism. Lal wrote: Its adherents swear by modern realpolitik and the idea of an India that is in its fundamentals a Hindu nation-state, were ever seriously committed to Hinduism, or whether they opportunistically rode the faith to political power. Indeed, one of Hindutva’s most famous ideologues, Vinayak Savarkar, openly stated his dislike for the word ‘Hinduism’, which he described as reminding him of a chaotic and rudderless faith that he thought could not be shepherded to lead India to glory in the modern age of brutal nation-state politics. If Hindu nationalists have arrogated to themselves the role of Hinduism’s defenders, it is also remarkable that many have trashed the faith. Thus the Bajrang Dal, the ‘Army of Hanuman’, which has openly resorted to violence to intimidate Muslims as well as soft Hindus, is quite oblivious of the fact that Hanuman has traditionally been viewed as the very personification of courage, selfless service, and learning. [Source: Vinay Lal, “Hinduism” in “Encyclopedia of the Modern World,” ed. Peter N. Stearns (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), Vol IV, pp. 10-16.]

Inspired by European fascism, the Hindutva movement has also been described as a variant of right-wing extremism and as "almost fascist in the classical sense", adhering to a concept of homogenized majority and cultural hegemony. Some have also described Hindutva as a separatist ideology. Some analysts dispute the identification of Hindutva with fascism, suggesting that Hindutva is an extreme form of conservatism or "ethnic absolutism". +

Issues for Hindu Nationalists

Hindu extremists object to what they describe as an invasion of Western culture and consumerism, which they view as a threat to India's Hindu identity. They mounted protests during a Michael Jackson tour and Miss World beauty pageant, vandalized works of art by a controversial contemporary painters, and stoned Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. Hindu nationalists were upset that U.S. President George W. Bush named his cat India. The West has been described as “anti-Hindu national and international forces...determined to finish off the Hindus...and everything for which they can be proud of.”

Hindu extremists have also attacked Christian schools as being fronts for forced conversions, especially of lower caste members, and attacked literacy campaigns as a Christian campaign to win converts. They have even attacked the Nobel committee of giving the peace prize to Mother Teresa.

For Hindu nationalist proving the superiority of Indian and Hindu culture and science over Western science and culture is of major importance. For Hindu nationalist the creation of nuclear weapons is one of India’s brightest moments. The supreme director of the RSS said, “our history has proved that we are a heroic intelligent race capable of becoming world leaders, but the one deficiency that we had was of weapons, good weapons.”

According to Hindu nationalist version of Indian history, world civilizations merged in Indian, not Egypt or Mesopotamia and Aryans were not invaders from the West but were India’s native people. According to “cultural knowledge” textbooks Lord ra, lived 886,000 year ago and is “the source of inspiration for Indian culture.”

Hindu nationalist have intimidated historians who wrote that ancient Hindus ate beef, forced history textbooks deemed to loberla to be rewritten. In response to activities by Hindu extremists, Sanskrit scholars have said, "Hinduism is a religion of tolerance."

Hindu Nationalists and Education

Conservatives and Hindu nationalist have infiltrated cultural, academic and government institutions with the aim of revising educational curriculum, replacing history textbooks, blocking new curriculums and insisting that all classes be taught in Hindi.[Source: New York Times]

A passage form a textbook used at Hindu schools reads: “Unfortunately, in the religious land of India, there is no provision for religious or cultural education.” It then says that a lack of instruction of Hindi “is part of the reason behind the current chaos in the nation. Today, revolutionary changes are being talked about in the Indian educational system. Religion, culture and nationalism are to be given prominence.”

Some history textbooks skip over the entire period between 1000 and 1800 when Muslims ruled the country. School textbooks in BJP-run Gujarat state claim that Aryans are indigenous to India and non-Hindus — Muslims, Christians, Parsis — are foreigners; call the state system " a precious gift from Aryans to all mankind;" and say untouchable "ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blame for their lack of progress.

A university textbook in BJP-run Maharashtra state claims "Islam teaches only atrocities." A cultural history textbook for eight graders encourages them to buy Indian products such as Neem brand soap, and boycott foreign products such as Palmolive,

Hindu Nationalists and Schools

Hindu nationalists run more than 25,000 educational institutions throughout India. Some of the schools are attended by poor members of lower castes and tribals (ethnic minorities). One such school, the Sewa Dham school in Mandoli, outside Delhi, is home to 300 boys, most from the tribal belt of central and northeast India. The children, who otherwise would have nothing, are given housing, food and schooling — all free of charge. Under a regimented schedule that lasts from 5:00am to 10:00pm, the students learn Hindu chants in Sanskrit, the merits of a vegetarian diet and are entertained with stories from Hindu mythology and told about great Hindu warriors who defeated evil Muslim invaders. There are also long sessions of calisthenics and yoga and drills with “lathis” (long, bamboo fighting sticks). [Source: New York Times]

Many of the schools are run by volunteers of the RSS and have been described as the Hindu equivalent of jihadi madrassahs that instruct their students how to be zealots and militants. Many are funded by charities funded by rich Indians in the United States and groups like the World Hindu Council of America and the Hindu Society of Ottawa in the same way that radical madrasshas in Pakistan are funded by Islamic charities endowed by rich Muslims.

Hindu nationalist schools have been accused of taking children when they are at vulnerable and impressionable age and brainwashing them. Christophe Jaffrelot, a professor at Paris University and authority on Hindu nationalism, told the New York Times,.”They want to shape the mind. That’s why you want to attract really young people...They really look ay their work as groundwork that will pay off in centuries.”

Vidya Bharatu is an educational charity founded din 1952 that runs 20,000 low-cost private schools for 2.4 million children, with an additional 1,000 new schools being opened every year in the early 2000s. The organization also runs schools that teach university level mathematics and astrology based on ancient Vedic texts.

Hindu Nationalists, Mosques and Temples

Hindu extremists want to see mosques and Muslim momuments taken down. Why not start with the Taj Mahal.some of them say.

Muslim-Hindu violence reached a new level in 1990 when the 400-year-old Babri mosque in the holy city Ayodhya at the south end of Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was stormed by Hindu extremists. Thirty people died and police were called in to hold back the crowds. Hindus claimed the mosque was built on the site of a former Hindu temple believed to have placed on the spot where the Hindu god Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) was born. They say the temple was deliberately destroyed in 1526 by the Muslim Mogul ruler Babar, who used pillars from the temple to build the mosque. The ancient epic the “Ramayana” says that Rama (Ram) was born in Ayodhya but many historians say that Ayodhya was established after the Ramayana was written.

Hindu extremists have indicated that the plan do the same thing to a Muslim shrine in the town of Chikmagalur in the state of Karnataka as the did the mosque in Ayodhya. The town contains a hill a Sufi shrine. Extremist Hindus are angered by its nearness to a sacred Hindu cave,

Political Hinduism and Violence

The spread of Hindu "communal" (that is, religious) sentiment parallels a similar rise in religious chauvinism and "fundamentalist" ideologies among religious minorities, including Muslims and Sikhs. Against this background of agitation, the periodic outbreak of communal riots in urban areas throughout India contributes to an atmosphere of religious tension that has been a hallmark of the national political scene during the twentieth century. Hindu-Muslim riots, especially in North India, reached a peak during the partition of India in 1947 and periodically escalated in urban areas in the early 1990s. [Source: Library of Congress]

This strife typically involves low-income groups from both communities in struggles over land, jobs, or local resources that coalesced around a religious focus after seemingly trivial incidents polarized the two communities. In practice, although members of other religious communities are the victims of violence, rioters are rarely motivated by religious instructors, although fundamentalist agitators are often implicated. The situation in North India became complicated during the 1980s by Sikh terrorism connected with the crisis in Punjab, the widespread anti-Sikh riots after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination in November 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards, and a series of terrorist or counterterrorist actions lasting into the 1990s. In all of these cases, many observers believe that religion has appeared as a cover for political and economic struggles. *

Alongside the more publicized violent outbreaks, there have been major nonviolent changes, as new sectarian movements continue to grow and as established movements change. For example, the Radhasoami Satsang movement of North India, which includes adherents in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, encompasses yogic ideas on the relationship between humans and the universe, the bhakti saint tradition including select Sikh influences, and the veneration of the enlightened guru. The dominant tendency of these new religions, following the example of the great teachers of the past that was reiterated by Mahatma Gandhi and most modern gurus, remains nonviolence to all living beings and acceptance of the remarkable diversity of Indian religion. *

A lot of Hindu nationalist violence is directed towards Muslims. See MUSLIM-HINDU VIOLENCE IN INDIA: AYODHYA MOSQUE AND THE TRAIN ATTACK IN GUJARAT factsanddetails.com

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except the Ayodhya Mosque picture, BBC

Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications

Last updated December 2023


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