Minorities as other
By Angana Chatterji, Communalism Combat Special Report, February-March,
In October 2003 Angana Chatterji wrote a report on Orissa
for Communalism Combat about the political economy of Hindutva
the state. In this article, she continues to map the entrenchment
of the sangh parivar. Information used in this article is derived
from multiple sources, including interviews with persons affiliated
with sangh organisations. As relevant, quotations are anonymous
or pseudonyms have been used, and place names changed, listed
or omitted, at the request of the contributor. Insertion(s) within
 in the quotations are the author’s.
'Your god has no eyes. He cannot have a soul. Your god is
violent, just like you are.’ A Hindu neighbour charges Hasina Begum.
With her technician husband, Hasina’s
is the only Muslim family in a housing society in a small town
in Orissa. They relocated in 2003. Hasina and her husband are
isolated with few acquaintances in the area. Geeta, a Hindu woman,
befriended Hasina only to be confronted by others about such
association with Muslims. Geeta slowly withdrew, saying. ‘We
like you but we have to live in society here, do we carry you
with us, or carry them? What choice do we have?’ Geeta
and Hasina do not speak any more.
Hasina Begum tells me, "We know that many Hindus hate Muslims
and I know that Hindus are in power. I am afraid for my daughter.
I want her to stay at home with me. She does not listen. So many
times I am afraid for her, I beat her to make her stay at home.
She has marks on her back from my beating her. I am ashamed.
I feel isolated. If something happens to us, if someone attacks
us, robs us, who will be with us? We are asked, ‘You have
no idols, so who is your god? Are you godless?’ I know
that we are not welcome here. There are stories about us ‘Pathans’ that
circulate in the market place. We have heard about Gujarat." People
tell Hasina that nothing has really happened, that she has not
been attacked, that she is overreacting. She replies, "Fear
is attacking me. I feel that they are watching me."
Subash Chouhan, state convenor for the Bajrang Dal, the paramilitary
wing of Hindutva, claims, "In the country, Orissa is the
second Hindu Rajya [state]. Today, Sai [Christian] missionary
and Islam, they both want to convert the entire pradesh [state]
into Sai and Islam. In the Tribal belt they have been planning
to convert the people into Christians and Harijans into Muslims.
This work is moving with force in Orissa. This is the reason
the Bajrang Dal and VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad] have taken up
the task of consolidating Hindu shakti in Orissa. In the entire
state we have selected some [key] districts, such as Sai based
Sundargarh district, Gajapati zilla, Phulbani, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj,
Koraput, Nabarangpur districts – we are undertaking seva
[service] work here, hospitals, one-teacher schools, Hari Katha
Yojana, orphanage, these types of jojona and seva work are being
undertaken all over the state."
A secular activist responds, "The Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh [RSS] and sangh parivar sailed in with the cyclone [in
1999], we are now drowning in their midst. They are too many
and everywhere. They are kind and giving to people who abide
by them, even as they are watchful and intolerant of people who
disobey them. They do more than the government, they work hard
and say that they are against corruption. But at what price?
They are for a ‘clean’ Orissa, they are cleaning
out the filth, and Christians and Muslims are the filth they
want to sweep out."
Citizen’s groups have formed various campaigns to combat
communalism in the state. Since 2002, secular meetings and marches
have taken place in Beherampur, Cuttack, Balesore, Bhadrak, Bhubaneswar
and Sambalpur. Community and citizen’s leaders speak of
alliance building. They warn about the futility of partnerships
with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and sangh parivar vigilantes,
cautioning that alliance building requires shared commitments.
They urge for rallying progressive, democratic forces across
Throughout Orissa, land reform movements, Adivasi and Dalit
organisation for self-determination, and resistance movements
confronting the devastation of dominant development and globalisation
act as a bulwark against the escalation of the sangh parivar.
Adivasi and Dalit self-determination exists in opposition to
the State. Adivasis and Dalits, within politicised contexts,
do not identify as Hindus and resist their incorporation into
the Brahminical (and elite) social order. In a Hindu majority
state in India, Brahminism enforces the supremacy of ‘Hinduness’,
and defines norms, values, ethics and morality. Ethnic, minority
and marginalised groups are subject to the political and economic
violence of Brahminism via which they are forced to frame their
political and cultural aspirations.
The secular activist continues, "[In retaliation] the sangh
parivar is consolidating its position in the mining belt and
in all sensitive and Tribal areas in Orissa, where there are
popular Dalit or Adivasi struggles for self-determination, trying
to undercut them. Several developments are taking place on the
mining front, where the sangh divides poor people, who, driven
out by corporations, are organising to resist." In Nayagarh
district, Dalit communities watch Hindutva’s voracious
march. They speak of malignant fictions circulated by the Hindutvavadis
that Christian missionary activity is placing Hinduism at risk.
Dalits, Adivasis, Christians, Hindus and Muslims speak of how
their villages and watersheds intertwine, and how crops are dependent
on the run-off water from each other’s lands. They say
that they cannot afford to hate each other.
In a massive mobilisation drive in the mid 1980s, the Jagannath
Rath Yatra passed through Hindu, Christian, Dalit and Adivasi
villages across Orissa. The Yatra traversed a thousand sites
between March 1986 and May 1988, drawing 3-4,000 people in each
place. Local people met expenses totalling 2-4 million rupees.
As an outcome of this process, 1,600 permanent mobilisation units
managed by 500 committees were set up. The VHP and Vanavasi Kalyan
Ashrams run these units, carrying out their mission via Kirtan
Mandals, Satsangs and Yuvak Kendras.
Today, the annual Jagannath Yatra and other Hindutva organised
religio-nationalist spectacles continue across the state. Muslims,
and Adivasi and Dalit groups connected to self-determination
movements in dissent to the sangh parivar, are afraid as thundering
mobs engulf their villages. On April 11, 2003, communal tensions
spiralled in Rajgangapur, an industrial town 400 kilometres from
Bhubaneswar, during a procession for Hanuman on Ramnavmi. Two
people were killed in police firing.
Over the last decade, the sangh has amassed 30 major organisations
including political, charitable, militant and educational groups,
trade and students unions, women’s groups, with a massive
base of a few million, the largest volunteer enlistment in the
state. The Prakalpa Samanvaya Samiti is a pivotal sangh organisation
synchronising the activities of various faith and welfare outfits.
The Prakalpa Samiti operates a school at Chakapad, three student
hostels, 20 weekly balwadis, and 300 night schools. It attends
to 20,000 patients each month through medicine distribution centres
and three mobile vans. The Prakalpa Samiti acts to drive Christians
In Orissa, the RSS charges that hostile Hinduisation is a ‘rational’ and
necessary response to, among other factors, the growth of missionary
activity leading to an increase in the Christian population.
Numerous groups are conflicted about the need to direct ‘equal’ energy
in assessing Hindutva, Christian missionisation and Islamic fundamentalism
in India. Violent Islamic fundamentalism certainly requires deep
scrutiny in South Asia, even as Hindutva must command particular
emphasis in India. Hindu nationalism is linked to a state that
authorises Hindutva’s actions, lending it dangerous legitimacy.
Fundamentalist Christianity, linked to the United States, is
endorsed by the current Bush administration. Evidence suggests
(American) evangelist participation in intelligence operations
in Latin America and elsewhere. Such activity and its relationship
to India should concern us only as it actually takes place. Christians
constitute less than three per cent of the population in Orissa,
with a one per cent increase since 1981. Neither does the Christian
population in India record any appreciable increase from 2.6
per cent in 1971, to 2.43 in 1981, 2.34 in 1991 and 2.6 in 2001.
The sangh parivar converts minorities to dominant Hinduism without
distinguishing between forcible conversions and the right to
proselytise, and uses the converted for sadistic ends. The sangh
does not acknowledge that Tribal and Dalit conversions to Christianity
are rarely coercive and occur in response to oppressive and entrenched
caste inequities, gender violence, and chronic poverty. The sangh’s
claim that Christians in India are anti-national facilitates
violence against them. Dalit Christian activists seek empowerment
and understand ‘decastification’ as necessary to
fighting Hindutva. They also speak of challenging inherent inequities
that are often reproduced through the church, where, they say,
pews are filled on Sunday mornings with compliant people sitting
in rows ordered along caste hierarchies.
The sangh’s voracious assault organises the disenfranchised
into a vicious political economy structured by the caste system.
RSS cadres working in Sambalpur district stress how critical
it is that Adivasis and Dalits are converted to Hinduism. They
organise Adivasi rallies where ‘Garbh se kaho hum Hindu
hai’ (say with pride that I am a Hindu) pierces the air.
Badal Satpaty, an RSS office bearer, stresses the importance
of Adivasi conversions for Orissa. "Vanavasis [derogatory
term for Adivasis] are given land by the government. If Vanavasis
see themselves as outside Hinduism, then their lands too are
non-Hindu lands that are anti-development and cannot be used
for the betterment of the nation. Bharat is a Hindu nation, and
these people and their lands are anti-national."
Whose nation? Adivasis are 8.01 per cent of the nation’s
inhabitants, yet 40 per cent of the displaced population. The
Transfer of Immovable Property (by Scheduled Tribes) Regulation
of 1956 provides against land transfers in Scheduled Areas. Outside
Scheduled Areas, the Orissa Land Reforms Act of 1960 and subsequent
amendments guard against Tribal land alienation. In practice,
an extensive ‘land grab’ has resulted from debt bondage
and indenture related to land leasing and mortgage of Adivasi
and Dalit lands to large farmers and moneylenders, consolidation
of land holdings, strategic marriage alliances and corruption.
Adivasis living in forest villages are often evicted; their
right to land dismissed by the state’s insistence on ‘evidence’ of
ownership and residency. Such demands evince the betrayal of
old claims with new boundaries, maps, roads, checkposts that
insert violence into the everyday life of the Adivasi. Tribal
testimonies are converted into ‘lies’ by the apparatus
of the state. A Gond Adivasi elder testifies, "We live in
the village in the forest. We have lived here for generations.
Our houses are made of local mud, our roofs from local leaves
from the forests. Our diet, our thoughts, our language tells
you that we have been living here. You can see the shadows of
our ancestors reflected in the pond, our songs mimic the birds,
they tell stories of the forest, our feet walk these lands over
and over. These [imprints] are our land records. The forester
does not believe us. Our lives are lies to them."
In India today, about 86 per cent of Dalit families are landless
or marginal landholders, and 63 per cent subsist on incomes from
daily wage labour. Social violence against Dalits remains institutionalised.
Legitimation of Adivasi and Dalit rights has been a process laden
with inequities, and the notification and denotification of Tribes
is often used as a political tool to undermine Adivasi self-determination
by not recognising their status, claims and rights vis-à-vis
the state. The amputation of Adivasi tenure on forestlands has
contributed to cultural genocide in Orissa that supports the
consolidation of national territory, corporate liberalisation
and the ethic of conservation inherent to modern nation states.
In July 2003, the Orissa government permitted the unconstitutional
transfer of lands in Schedule V areas for mining and industrial
use. Orissa’s decision contradicts the 1997 Samata versus
Andhra Pradesh judgement, where the apex court had ruled against
the government’s lease of Tribal forest and other lands
in Scheduled Areas to non-Tribals for mining and industrial operations.
Beginning January 23, 2004, four Adivasi villages, Borobhota,
Kinari, Kothduar, Sindhabahili, and their agricultural fields
in south east Kalahandi district, have been razed by Sterlite
industries, a multinational corporation building an aluminium
refinery near Lanjigarh, adjacent to Kashipur. Sterlite’s
finances are generated from its partner company, Vedanta Resources.
Non-resident Indians operate Sterlite and Vedanta, launched in
London in December 2003. Sterlite has a controversial history.
Company chairperson and managing director, Anil Agarwal has denied
knowledge of the Samata judgement in the past. The Lanjigarh
project will mine bauxite at 4,000 feet from the north west rim
of the Niyamgiri mountains. The villagers, forcibly evicted,
without requisite compensation or rehabilitation, are living
in camps under police ‘guard’, their right to life
placed on hold.
State sponsored development in Orissa forces the incorporation
of the poor into the dominant order. The sangh parivar conspires
with the Biju Janata Dal-BJP coalition government in Bhubaneswar
to enable this inequitable amalgamation. Sangh activists have
infiltrated deep into state run development agencies such as
the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural
Technology (CAPART), an autonomous institution that works to
create rural development partnerships between voluntary organisations
and the government. CAPART supports numerous RSS activities in
Orissa diverting funds for Hindutva.
Badal Satpaty of the RSS says, "It is because these people
[Dalits, Adivasis] refuse to integrate that all these problems
arise. Why do they ask for special rights? The motherland is
good to us all. These people are lazy, they live in filth, they
are illiterate. How can we take them seriously without civilising
them? The RSS seeks to help in this mission, for the betterment
of the poor. The RSS is working with, first, the Hindu Dalits
to mobilise them and tell them about the dangers of defection.
Then, we are bringing Christian Dalits and Adivasis back to the
Hindu fold through education and re-conversion. We are also helping
Where conversions to Hinduism are acquiescent and occur with
the complicity of non-Hindus, acquiescence is produced by its
intimacy with the dominant. For non-dominant groups, the landscape
of Hindu supremacy shapes fear (of the dominant), desire (to
acquire privileges), hope (for ‘acquittal’, to ‘pass’ as
non-other) and internalised oppression. These complex forces
create agency on the part of the marginalised. Such agency is
manufactured in relation and response to Hindu ascendancy.
I spoke with a Dalit RSS worker who said: "The RSS is helping
us build a Hindu samaj. We are poor, we have no assistance, we
are fighting Christians and Muslims for development money. The
Christians, they have foreign missionary money, what do we Hindu
Dalits have? The Sai [Christians] are also converting our people
to their religion. They eat meat, they touch leather, they have
bad morals. I am scared for my children. We are thankful that
the RSS has sworn to protect us." AC: "Have you seen
these Christian missionaries?" Dalit RSS worker: "No,
but I have heard that they are nearby." AC: "How many
Hindus have been converted in your village, or in any of the
neighbouring villages?" Dalit RSS worker: "Nobody yet,
but the RSS tells us that they [the missionaries] might come
soon. That is why we go to the RSS meetings, to become informed
about the troubles facing us, and how we can be strong and protect
ourselves, to become an army against these foreigners." Dalits
continue to suffer social ostracism and economic deprivation.
They are manipulated into joining the very Hindutva forces that
have historically deprived Dalits of equity in order to use them
against other mistreated communities.
At a 15,000 strong Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram organised rally in
Bhubaneswar in December 2003, Dilip Singh Bhuria, chairperson,
National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes,
commended the BJP for its pro-Adivasi policies. Adivasis have
historically voted for the Congress party in Orissa and have
not benefited from this loyalty. Mr. Bhuria said, "We are
passing through a governance similar to Ram Rajya," posing
Ram as the god, and BJP as the party, of Adivasis. Vanavasi Kalyan
Ashram president, Jagadev Ram Oram insisted that Adivasis converting
to Christianity should not be allowed to access the benefits
of reservation. Through espousing another religion, he said,
Adivasis no longer retain their Tribal status. Speakers condemned
Christian conversions declaring ‘all Tribals are Hindus’.
Adivasis are taught by Ekal Vidyalayas about the ‘origins’ of
Jagannath in Hinduism, as Jagannath, the famed Tribal god of
Orissa, is Hinduised. Since the inception of Saraswati Shishu
Mandirs, the Janata Dal, Congress and other political parties
have endorsed the sangh parivar’s network of educational
organisations, interpreting Hindutva education as secular. Consecutive
governments have abdicated state responsibility in building a
quality education system in the state. High levels of illiteracy
among Dalits and Adivasis proliferate simultaneous to the denigration
of non-Hindu traditions and cultures.
In the absence of viable educational institutions, Hindutva
education offers a free, widely available and rigorous curriculum.
Students from these schools succeed in state board examinations.
Hindutva schools, run primarily by RSS organisations, are complemented
by organisations that facilitate cultural regimentation. The
facticity of hate in this curriculum, the dismissal of minorities,
the assertion of Hindu supremacy is overlooked by many Hindus.
In the current climate, many Muslims retreat to madrassas. These
institutions often teach orthodoxy, deliberately mischaracterised
by the majority community as uniformly ‘fundamentalist’.
Hasina Begum offers, "My daughter is in a good school but
with those other children who do not like her. She wants to play
with the neighbours but they curse at her. They physically push
her around. Now we think we should find a madrassa for her. The
madrassa is orthodox, but they will protect us. The education
is better in the school but what if something happens to her?"
The adverse effects of the sangh parivar on the social and economic
health of Muslim communities are apparent. Samshul Amin, a Muslim
man from Bhadrak says, "We trade in leather. We always have.
The RSS and Bajrang Dal tell lies about how we slaughter cows
to shame Hindus. That we kill and send the cows to Muslims in
Bangladesh." A Muslim businessman in Jagatsinghpur town
confirms, "They threaten and at times beat Muslims on the
road, starting from Bhadrak, from Balesore, onwards up to Calcutta,
where the Bajrang Dal has a strong presence, there they are violent.
They stop cow transportation on Jajpur road."
Subash Chouhan, Bajrang Dal state convenor, indicts, "There
is so much cow slaughter, for example in Sundargarh, Bhadrak,
thousands of cows. Every day about 200 trucks leave with cows
for Bangladesh. We believe that the cow is our mother, but they
want to kill the cow. Also, if the cow stays, it is a financial
security for the home. So, if necessary we will use a suicide
squad. To save the country and its sanskriti [culture], we will
do whatever is necessary."
In Pitaipura village, in Jagatsinghpur district, a disturbing
event occurred in the winter of 2001 after Muslim graveyard lands
were placed in dispute. According to Hakim Bhai, a resident of
the village, "The land record for the village divides the
25 acres into two plots, one listed as a ‘kabarstan’ [graveyard]
and another as ‘gorostan’ [also graveyard]. But villagers
insist that ‘gorostan’ is ‘gaochar’ [grazing
land] not a kabarstan. We were harassed when funeral processions
arrived or we read namaaz during Id. We sat down together to
resolve the dispute without any success. Then we filed a case
in court. The court did not resolve the case for the longest
time. The court then began mediating and declared a part of the
land as a graveyard and held the rest as disputed. Once, the
night before the official was coming to measure the land, Hindus
from the village stole into the graveyard and placed a murti
[idol] to mark it as their land. We found out and went inside
and took it out. The next morning when the official arrived,
Hindus were angry that we had taken the murti out. They threw
stones at us, we threw stones back at them. The crowd ran from
the graveyard pelting each other. We were near the Ma Durga temple.
The Hindus started accusing us of throwing stones at the temple.
Then it began."
Another resident inserts, "Perhaps our stones had fallen
on the temple compound. But we were not destroying the temple,
we were responding to each other. Once the word spread that we
were destroying the temple, RSS youth arrived from Bhubaneswar
and mobilised people from surrounding villages. They went around
with loudspeakers to 20-30 Hindu villages accusing us of destroying
the temple. Our basti [hamlet] is in the middle of the village,
between Hindu hamlets. Five Muslim homes were burnt in our basti
and men were beaten. The police could not do anything. For three
days during that time we were very afraid, some hid in the forests.
A peace rally came to our village. They have not returned. The
case is pending. No resolution has happened. If we are left alone
things might escalate. Then what?" Hakim Bhai responds, "The
RSS continues its meetings in the Hindu hamlets regularly since
the incident. These meetings are not publicised, they spread
through word of mouth. We Muslims have now made our own shops
in the basti, we have retreated to ourselves. Our women are afraid
and they do not want to go out of the basti. When we go out Hindus
call us names. Call us ‘Pathans’. We are becoming
isolated." Shazia, a woman, adds, "Even our dead cannot
rest in peace."
The extent to which violence is inscribed disproportionately
on women’s bodies and memories is rarely named or languaged.
A Muslim woman in another district requests anonymity. She says, "We
came from Chhota Nagpur, displaced from a mining town. Our village
is surrounded by the RSS. We live like moles, I teach my children
to be unseen. If we are quiet people will leave us alone. The
men, it is not easy for them. Last month there was violence in
our village. Bajrang Bali’s called us names, they threatened
we would never work again. Said we were dirty, that when we kill
cows, we do violence to Hinduism. They said they were watching
us. My husband came back, shaken. He brought fear with him into
the house. He forced me to have intercourse. It was not about
intimacy, it is about power, about feeling helpless and wanting
control. So, here it is, in our kitchen, in our bedroom, in our
home. Even as we wait for it to strike, it already has."
The violence that accompanies Hinduism is not new. Hindutva
is its variant. It is not about groups and peoples, but about
the country, who belongs and who doesn’t. The imbrication
of state disregard for Adivasi and Dalit human rights with the
grassroots mobilisation of Hindutva make Muslims, Christians,
Dalits, Adivasis, women’s rights volatile in Orissa.
Hindutva corroborates the impairment of women’s rights
that are already structurally limited in Orissa, together with
women’s access to land, livelihood and well-being resources.
A host of xenophobic women’s organisations are in place,
including the BJP Mohila Morcha and the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti.
Established in 1936, the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti has been active
in the crusade against cow slaughter in Orissa. The Samiti organises
state and district level meetings, as well as daily and weekly
sakha and prayer meets in villages, towns and cities "to
encourage physical education, intellectual development, mental
Bidyut Lata Raja, leader of the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, says
that the parivar helps discipline the mind and weans people from ‘pointless’ activity.
She says that the parivar functions as a family, each taking
care of the other. "The parivar seeks to create unity. Dalits
and Adivasis say that Hindus are outsiders. How can that be?
We must create consciousness that we are all one." They
seek to complement economic development with building moral character
to unite India through shared nationalism. The Samiti supervises
Balmandirs and Udyog Mandirs, celebrates the anniversaries of
influential sangh leaders and religious festivals, hosts classes
on culture and ethics, organises Bhajan and Kirtan recitals,
and runs women’s schools and hostels. The Samiti concentrates
its volunteer-based social work services in Adivasi areas, seeking
to bring ‘enlightenment’.
The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti seeks to organise and train women
in self-defence, "to increase their physical and mental
capacity to encourage them to protect their nation, dharma and
culture". Stringently heterosexist and mired in sexism,
the Samiti is dedicated to supporting women in their youth, in
marriage and motherhood, work, and leadership, indoctrinating
the practice of Hindutva as patriotic, the saffron flag as the
national emblem, insisting on the loyalty of its followers to
their husbands, families and the Hindutva leadership.
The sangh parivar asserts that relations between higher caste,
Dalit and Adivasi groups have improved in rural Orissa. It ignores
that lower class and caste and Adivasi people are seldom acknowledged
as social equals. In an interesting display, while all residents
of a particular village, including Adivasis, may contribute financially
to the major annual Hindu pujas (prayers), higher caste people
control the preparations and ceremony. It may be appropriate
for a member of the Dalit or Muslim community, if invited, to
eat at a general caste home usually seated in a demarcated space,
and internalise the invitation as demonstrative of the ‘charity’ and ‘tolerance’ of
the upper caste toward ‘lower caste’ people. The
reverse is nearly impossible. Inter-caste alliances, marriage
between non-comparable social castes, are more evident even while
often socially ostracised.
Associations among Hindus and non-Hindus remain strained in
the state and frequently prohibited. In upper caste rural Orissa,
poor Muslim communities are as socially unacceptable as Adivasis,
and constitute a ‘lower’ social strata than Dalits.
Gender and ethnicity are central to how resources and power are
allocated and rights disbursed, both nationally and locally,
and are salient to the organisation of legal, cultural, economic
and political infrastructure and institutions. The imposition
of Brahminical language, ritual and memory seeks to incorporate
the marginal into the dominant polity simultaneous to segregationist
arrangements for water use, food and forest resource sharing.
BJP and sangh parivar organisations have a significant strategy
of manoeuvring Muslims in middle class neighbourhoods and villages
by forming alliances with the local leadership. In Banamalipur
and Jadupur village, neighbouring Bhubaneswar in Khurda district,
Muslims leaders spoke of their alliance with the BJP. Poor communities
in these villages say this allows local Muslim politicians access
to electoral seats leaving the disenfranchised without trustworthy
representation. Minority resistance is frail with few options,
progressive Muslims say. A Muslim activist from Bhubaneswar states, "We
are isolated. We do not want to identify with the madrassas and
we do not have a mass movement that accepts us."
The actions of sangh organisations are often triangulated, with
parallel components for edification, mobilisation and service.
For example, Vidya Bharati (known as Shiksha Vikas Samiti) directs
391 Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools in Orissa. Sangh students
are inducted into the cadre via a formal curriculum that emphasises
Hindu nationalism, along with informal training in cultural values
and defence. In addition, these students and their families are
expected to volunteer in mobilisation and developmental work,
in local fundraising. They are even expected to participate in
Religion, development, polity and education are used by sangh
parivar organisations to facilitate recruitment into Hindu extremism.
An army of parivar organisations fundraise abroad as registered
charities to support sectarian development in India. Funds from
the US and UK amounting to millions of dollars were raised by
sangh organisations during the Gujarat earthquake and Orissa
cyclone, substantially aiding the expansion of sangh networks
in both states.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recently
designated India as a ‘country of particular concern’,
asking for US investigations into RSS organisations registered
as charities in the US. India Development Relief Fund is one
such organisation that, post cyclone, raised $90,660 for Sookruti,
$23,255 for Orissa Cyclone Rehabilitation Foundation, and $37,560
for Utkal Bipannya Sahayata Samiti, as documented in the report ‘Foreign
Exchange of Hate’ in 2002.
In the United Kingdom, Sewa International UK (the fundraising
wing of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS equivalent in UK and
US) sent a majority of the £260,000 raised for cyclone
relief to Utkal Bipannya Sahayata Samiti, an RSS organisation
in Orissa, detailed in the report, ‘In Bad Faith? British
Charity and Hindu Extremism’ by Awaaz, 2004. Currently,
Utkal Bipannya Sahayata Samiti undertakes sectarian disaster
relief work and has been working with approximately 50,000 beneficiaries
after the floods of 2001, funded by RSS organisations abroad.
RSS cadres mobilise sakhas around minority villages in Orissa.
Each sakha begins with an organiser and a few members who meticulously
monitor the area, teaching people to describe themselves as ‘communal’,
a new identity that denotes Hindu cultural pride. Minorities
worry as, under the watchful eye of the RSS, cricket conflicts,
harmless fracas between children’s winning and losing teams,
turn into communal skirmishes. Green flags of stars and crescent
used by madrassas are depicted as adhering to Pakistan, linked
to terrorism and the Inter Services Intelligence.
VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal leaders and their cadre in Orissa reiterate
that charges of fundamentalism cannot apply to Hindutva. It is
not an ideology, they say, but integral practice, a lifestyle
for nationhood. Hindutva functions as a meta narrative in manufacturing
foundational truths to build and govern the nation. Hindutva
assimilates the plural traditions within Hinduism to create a
narrow centralised code that promises to unite Hindus. These
principles are universalistic, in action segregationist. This
strategy thwarts the complex search for cultural identity that
confronts the vast diversity of peoples in India living at the
pre and post modern intersections of nation making and globalism.
Hindutva justifies practices of domination in ways that ignore
the power dynamics of its discourse. There is no pluralism in
its agenda – Hindutva is the only ‘right’ way
to be human within its specified territory, any other must be
annihilated. Hindutva invokes difference and plurality in the
name of domination. What are the effects of Hindutva’s
discourse? Hate. Cruelty. Terror. To realise its mission, Hindutva,
anathema to democracy, defines minority interests as oppositional
to Hindu, and therefore national, interest. The struggles for
justice of marginal groups organised around ethnicity, religion,
class, caste, tribe, gender, or culture become hostile to national
Elite aspirations in nation making, the annexation of territory
and resources from the disempowered, the imposition of violent
ideologies and alienating identities, and subaltern resistance,
have produced contested meanings and practices of democracy.
Through the amassment of identity politics, reinvention of history,
the normalisation of difference, the extension of its power into
private and social life, Hindu majoritarianism exhibits scorn
for those it finds unincorporable and inassimilable into its
governing imaginary. Hindu nationalism is aided by the State
as it operates as legatee to its imperial coloniser, inheriting
and modifying its biopolitics.
What are the reasons for Hindutva’s conquest in rural
and urban Orissa? What prevents a resonant secular counter-response?
Praveen Togadia, international secretary of the VHP, visited
Jajpur on February 16 and Beherampur on February 29, continuing
his seditious campaign for Hindutva amidst rousing protests from
local groups. Since the assembly elections, the BJP has gained
in strength. As Orissa gears up for the next round, the BJP is
using the ‘jal, jungle, zameen’ (water, forest, land)
platform, appropriated from land reform movements, to persuade
Adivasis in Orissa. The Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram is the key strategist
and organiser for the BJP in the Tribal belt. Having won Chhattisgarh,
the BJP is confident. Tribal culture is being glorified as artefact,
objectified, made distant from its political reality while the
relentless decimation of these very cultures continues.
Subash Chouhan of the Bajrang Dal resumes, "We in the VHP
believe that this country belongs to the Hindus. It is not a
dharamsala [guesthouse] and people cannot just come here and
settle down and do whatever they want. That is not going to happen.
We will not let that happen. Whatever happens here will happen
with the consent of the Hindus. If you come to another’s
house and live as a guest and then start doing what you please,
that is not going to happen. Whatever happens here, say politics
happen, it will have to be Hindutva politics, with Hindutva’s
consent. India is a world power, what is in India is nowhere
else, and we want to create India nicely in the image of Ram
Hindutva’s production of culture and nation escalates,
celebrated by breakdown, rupture, violence. As I write this,
the second year closes on Gujarat. Justice remains beyond reach
for Muslim minorities in the complex duplicity of State negligence,
judicial oversight, and the deep fragmentation of the political
community in India. Gujarat represents an end and a beginning,
a marker in Hindutva’s malevolent reach for a Hindu State.
The end of lives, the culmination of brutality. I am reminded
of a Dalit boy, age eight, in a decimated colony in Ahmedabad,
in June 2002, who said, "I am not afraid of death. I am
frightened by life. Look what happens in life," as Muslim
and Dalit women stared each other into silence across a boundary
(Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Social and Cultural
Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
She is currently completing a book on this subject, titled, ‘Violent
Gods. Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present’, forthcoming
from Three Essays Press Collective in Delhi).