Myths and Dreams:
Nationalism and the Indian Diaspora
by Angana Chatterji
Voice, March 10, 2003 original
First published: Op-ed, Asian Age, Daily Newspaper, New Delhi, March 09,
mobilisation of Hindutva across the United States
has damaging effects on the business
community, academy, and society at large. It
shaped and community built in diaspora. It affects how decisions connected
to India are made, collapsing Indian issues into Hindu issues. It influences
funding is allocated at universities, curriculum developed, temple organisation
undertaken, development aid disbursed, and hate campaigns mounted against
minority and progressive groups.
In the United States, funding for Hindu extremism is lavish and contentious. Amidst
the recent exposure of the India
Development and Relief Fund’s collection of hate
for harmful development in India, the Indian
is divided on the issue of supporting development through Hindutva affiliated
organisations. Development is increasingly a vehicle through which the
conscription for Hindu rightwing extremism takes place. The actions of Ekal
Vidyalaya, Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, Vivekananda Kendra, Sewa Bharati and
other groups offer incriminating evidence of this. As Hindu nationalism infects
grassroots across India, Indians in the United States are questioning the
consequences of financing Hindutva.
As we watch, L. K. Advani, Praveen Togadia and Narendra Modi continue their
outrageous crusade, building support for an authoritarian Hindu nationalist
movement. Intent on demonstrating the incompatibility of according minorities
equal citizenship in India, the Sangh Parivar is popularising the contemptible
of India as a Hindu nation that “tolerates minorities even better” than
democratically challenged Pakistan or Bangladesh. In the nightmare of India’s
present, secularism is fast becoming a commitment that the nation is willing
betray. It is prevalent to claim India as a Hindu nation, at least a nation
Hindutva.” Hindutva, soft Hindutva, moderate Hindutva – ideologies soft on
genocidee. India is a secular republic, inclusive of diverse faith and non-faith
groups. How can an India no longer committed to secularism remain committed
The acceptability of a Hindu nation is predicated on the infidelity of non-Hindus,
and assumptions of Muslim and Christian betrayal are imperative to legitimating
Hindutva. The Sangh is assembling the political, social and economic conditions
in which to be non-Hindu in India is no longer tenable, offering genocide
“rational” response to the untruth of betrayal. What does loyalty look like
when you are disempowered, afraid, discriminated against? Have we asked ourselves
that as a nation?
Diaspora Indians must acknowledge the ascent of authoritarianism and tyranny
in India and stop Sangh apologists in the United States from justifying hatred
the name of cultural nationalism. Organisations in the United States supporting
India’s development must recognise the necessity of secularising development,
and be vigilantly critical of development administered by sectarian organisations.
implemented by institutions affiliated with the Sangh
Parivar only lays the groundwork
for hate and civil polarisation. It fundamentally
terms on which disenfranchised communities wish to determine their right
to life and livelihood. Dalits, adivasis, Christians,
Hindus and Muslims across India
speak of how their villages and watersheds intertwine, how crops are dependent
on the run-off water from each other’s lands, and how they cannot afford
to hate each other. In the guise of implementing
development, Hindutva promotes
malignant fictions that Christian missionary activity is placing Hinduism
that Muslims are reproducing at a rate that threatens the Hindu majority
Among adivasi communities, such “development” inflicts their forcible
incorporation into Hinduism. This is unacceptable even if adivasis materially
benefit from development because it facilitates cultural genocide. Adivasi
self-determination movements have been struggling to rewrite the history
assimilation to which they have been subjected. The interpretation that they
an “underclass” of Hindus, who, with “necessary evolution,” may return to
fold is blatant ethnocentrism. Hinduisation is a ruinous process of colonisation.
Such practice is unethical regardless of who undertakes it and how much
economic development results.
Indians in America working for India’s development must prioritise the
self-determination of local communities, and struggle against the institutionalised
inequities of caste, religion, tribe, class and gender. They cannot base
aspirations for India’s future on the absurdly unsustainable development
modelled by the United States or support the frameworks of cultural annihilation
through which development is imagined and modernisation attempted by the Sangh.
It is not a matter of building wells or developing roads, it is also a matter
of deciding how needs and priorities are determined, access and decision
making is enabled, how cultural difference is affirmed and identity politics
supported. Development is the construction of political will toward rethinking
inequitable relations of power. It is a mechanism expected to produce equity
ensure the human rights of the poor. This is possible only if we work with
movements to develop secular frameworks for change.
Those affiliated with Hindutva in the United States must be contested as
fashion an India of their imagination. The intensity and power of becoming
new world, amidst vast differences, racism, assimilation, forces of
homogenisation, is compounded by a hollow disconnection from what is most meaningful
-- culture, home, identity, history. The greater the alienation, the
greater the desire to grasp at fiction. In this abyss of diaspora, myths
of an India that never was or should be. These myths nurture dreams where
Hindu prabashi (ex-patriot) can return to purge the motherland from impurities,
cleanse what is polluted, to restore honour and claim victory.
In the United States, the fervour of long distance Hindutva nationalism is
Dangerous stories circulate. Muslims are polygamous terrorists whose
deliberate identification and massacre in Gujarat is justifiable, even necessary.
The campaign for trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir is logical. Ayodhya is
a defensible expression of cultural pride. In this unreflective chasm of proxy
nationalism, a substantial community is supportive of Hindutva or unconcerned
with its wretchedness. Others misrepresent that support for a Hindu India
support for Hindutva, only pride in the glory of India’s past, so from it
craft India’s future. To rail, as so many do, against the persistence of
inequities, of the horrors of history, of the politics of caste and cows
present, is only to bear incriminating evidence of one’s own bastardisation,
of purity, lack of faith and pride in “Indianness”. What is this Indianness?
culture, chaste, beautiful, Hindu, despoiled by conquest and colonisation.
it manifest, fortified? A return to its origins, a proclamation of its sanctity.
is left out? The reality of India.
Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the
Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco