Hindu fundamentalism

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Hindu fundamentalism

Why do people in India’s dominant Hindu majority want to link religion and nation? Urvashi Butalia thinks about what this means for all Indians.


Youth against fundamentalism: All India Students’ Association rally against rightwing Hindu groups in Kolkata. ‘Love Azadi’ (freedom to love) is against the order by the Hindu Mahasabha organization that it will force couples to get married if people see them together in public. © AP Photo/Bikas Das

‘Call me after 9,’ a professor friend at Jadavpur University in Kolkata texted me a few days ago. ‘We’re all going to the beef fest.’ A beef fest is when the public eat beef to protest at the government banning beef in some states. Maharashtra already has this law. It stops Muslims, Dalits, Christians and beef-eating Hindus from eating an important food (a basic democratic right). The nationalist Hindus support the ban because Hindus believe the cow is sacred and people should not eat it.

Other rightwing states in India are thinking about banning beef too. Haryana, in the north, has already banned it. And in Uttar Pradesh, next to Delhi, there is a big campaign: you can see gau mata ko rashtra pashu banao (‘make mother cow the national animal’) written on the walls of buildings along the roads. The cows don’t know much about religion or nation; but they’ve become important in this fight.

Rightwing Hindus have demanded a ban on killing cows for a long time. But the government has stopped this, for a good reason. India is a secular country. The constitution says it must support the democratic rights of its minority populations. Food is important in this: it is as important as where you live and what you do. 150 million Muslims live in India, and they often eat beef – it is one of their main sources of protein. Other groups also eat beef: eg. the Dalits. The beef industry employs hundreds of thousands of people. So how can it be banned?

But people do not think about this in the fight for the Hindu nation. They get one more Hindu point for a Hindu government – and that’s enough.

The majority under attack

India is already very Hindu, but the Hinduization is getting stronger. Why is necessary in a country where the population is 80-per-cent Hindu already? (but being Hindu means different things to different people).

In India, upper-caste Hindus, mostly men, have nearly all the important top jobs in industry, institutions and educational projects. Minorities do not have good rights or status. There are many minorities in the country – but the Hindus worry about the largest group, Muslims, the most.

About 15 per cent of India’s population today is Muslim. But Hindus think that, because Muslims have many children, they will soon be more than the Hindu population. This is not possible mathematically.

A few years ago, if people talked about Hindu fundamentalism, we would laugh at them and say that Hinduism is not a religion, it’s a philosophy; there’s no one book on which it is based, so there’s no question of fundamentalism.

But in the last twenty years so much has changed – many minorities are under attack. And not just religious minorities or even just people: it’s also books, films, discussions, plays and more. After the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came into power, for example, the heads of nearly all important institutions have been replaced with Hindu loyalists.

Here are some examples of attacks: in Mangalore, people attack women violently if they drink in a pub because drinking is against Hindu tradition; in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Delhi, people vandalize churches, maybe to show Christians ‘their place’; in Madhya Pradesh, tribal people are forced to convert to Hinduism; in Delhi, publishers have to take books out of shops that are anti-Hindu or critical of Hindus; in Muzaffarnagar, there are attacks of Muslims, many are killed, women are raped.

Women are a big target: fundamentalism goes well with patriarchy (control by men). So Hindu men think they can stop women marrying the man they choose, or not ‘allow’ them to hold hands or kiss in public.


Tejomaya Bharat, a reading textbook, given out to 42,000 schools in Gujarat. It says that stem-cell research, television and cars were all inspired by very old Hindu texts. ‘It is better to die for one’s religion,’ says page 118. ‘A different religion brings sorrow.’

India is a very large country. Maybe these things are just a small percentage of Hindus. They say most Hindus are not violent or intolerant. But it is very worrying when the politicians, and in particular our Prime Minister, keep silent about these things. It seems they support the project to create a new Hindu nation.

The minority situation is complicated. If Hindus are treated badly in Pakistan, people say minorities should be treated badly in India too. And there is an irrational fear: that India is in a ‘sandwich’ between two Muslim countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, so they need to protect themselves from possible attack (eg. Bangladeshi refugees) and terrorism.

A lawyer friend of mine said, ‘It is worrying that Hinduness is coming more into our daily lives. We cannot eat what we want to. We have to look over our shoulder for everything we write or publish; that is so worrying.’

The Indians living outside India

Many Indians who live outside India (the diaspora) also support this assertive Hinduness, she says. They are doctors, academics, engineers, IT experts and students and mostly conservative. They think they are a ‘model minority’ and don’t understand why, in the country they have chosen to live (mostly the United States), they are ignored. ‘For nearly three generations, since India’s nominal independence in 1947,’ says a new book Rearming Hinduism, ‘Hinduism has been a religion lived in silence.’

But how does the feeling of being a minority under attack become a feeling of having no power as a majority? The internet has become a powerful tool: it’s used to get support for campaigns, get new members, argue and harrass people, and communicate with the middle classes, who often don’t get involved.


Indian Muslims throw flower petals on people from the militant Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Bhopal, February 2014. The RSS want to turn India into a completely Hindu nation. It is the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). AP Photo/Rajeev Gupta

Rajiv Malhotra, fighting for Hinduism from the US, uses the internet to make some amazing claims: he says Christianity and Islam are less than 2,000 years old – so what was there in the world before them? Hinduism. He says Hinduism used to cover a very large area: from Kabul to Indonesia, from Kazakhstan to Kanya Kumari; but today – it is only 20 per cent of this. Also, Hindus have lost their rivers – and water, the lifeblood – to Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh.

Hindu groups fought in 2005 to get back this power. They tried to get textbooks in schools in California to make their content more Hindu ‘accurate’. This new Hinduism in the Indian communities living abroad has close links with the ruling BJP. A lot of Narendra Modi’s election campaign was organised by non-resident Indians.

What does this mean for India? What will happen in India if no-one is punished for violent acts, and if the diaspora fight to get cultural and intellectual space? The dangers are clear: the Prime Minister recently criticized court judgments that defended freedom of speech. He said the court must be careful with the ‘five-star activists’. He was speaking against NGOs and other groups who have been fighting against the Hinduization of India.

There are never easy answers in India. But we know the danger is real. We could do nothing and say it would be difficult to destroy the diversity in India. Or we could do what India’s civil society has always done: fight to protect everything that is good about this country – its diversity, its secularism, its plurality, its freedom and its people.

Urvashi Butalia is a feminist publisher and writer based in India. She is the director of the publishing house Zubaan.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2015/06/01/india-hindu-fundamentalism/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).