A Gujarat in the making
With little resistance to its aggressive onslaught, the
sangh parivar looks well set to meet its 2006 deadline
for reshaping Orissa into the next ‘laboratory for Hindutva’
Combat, October 2003, original
In Gujarat, Hindu extremists killed 2,000 people in February-March
of 2002. Muslims live in fear there, victims of pathological
Raped, lynched, torched, ghettoised. A year and half later,
Muslims in Gujarat are afraid to return to their villages,
many still flee from town to town. Ghosts haunted by history.
Country, community, police, courts — institutions of betrayal
that broker their destitution. This is India today.
The National Human Rights Commission recognised the impossibility
of achieving justice in Gujarat. The Best Bakery murder
trial flaunted dangerous liaisons between government, judiciary
and law enforcement. Those who speak out are vulnerable.
Outcry against the consolidation of Hindu rightwing forces
in India is subdued. In a world intent on placing Islam
and Muslims at the centre of ‘evil’, Hindu nationalism
escapes the global imagination.
Orissa is Hindutva’s next laboratory. This July, in a
small room on Janpath in Bhubaneswar, workers diligently
fashioned saffron armbands. Subash Chouhan, state convenor
for the Bajrang Dal, the paramilitary wing of Hindutva,
spoke with zeal of current hopes for ‘turning’ Orissa.
Christian missionaries and ‘Islam fanatics’ are vigorously
converting Adivasis (tribals) to Christianity and Dalits
(erstwhile ‘untouchable’ castes) to Islam, Chouhan emphasised.
He stressed the imperative to consolidate ‘Hindutva shakti’
to educate, purify and strengthen the state.
Western Orissa, dominated by upper caste landholders and
traders, is a hotbed for the promulgation of Hindu militancy,
while Adivasi areas are besieged with aggressive Hinduisation
through conversion. Praveen Togadia, international general
secretary of the VHP, visited Orissa in January and August
2003 to rally Hindu extremists. He advocated that Orissa
join Hindutva in its movement for a Hindu state in India.
‘Ram Rajya’, he promised, would come.
In Orissa, the sangh parivar is targeting Christians,
Adivasis, Muslims, Dalits and other marginalised peoples.
The network divides its energies between charitable, political
and recruitment work. It aims at men, women and youth through
religious and popular institutions. The sangh has set up
various trusts in Orissa to enable fund raising, such as
the Friends of Tribal Society, Samarpan Charitable Trust,
Yasodha Sadan, and Odisha International Centre.
There are around 30 dominant sangh organisations in Orissa.
This formidable mobilisation is the largest base of organised
volunteers in the state. The RSS, responsible for Gandhi’s
death, was founded in 1925 as the cultural umbrella. It
operates 2,500 shakhas in Orissa with a 1,00,000 strong
cadre. The VHP, created in 1964, has a membership of 60,000
in the state. Born in 1984, at the onset of the Ramjamanbhoomi
movement, banned and reinstated since the demolition of
the Babri Masjid in 1992, the Bajrang Dal has 20,000 members
working in 200 akharas in the state.
Membership of the BJP stands at 4,50,000. The Bharatiya
Mazdoor sangh manages 171 trade unions with a cadre of
1,82,000. The 30,000 strong Bharatiya Kisan sangh functions
in 100 blocks. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad,
an RSS inspired student body, functions in 299 colleges
with 20,000 members. The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, the RSS
women’s wing, has 80 centres. The Durga Vahini, with centres
for women’s training and empowerment, has 7,000 outfits
in 117 sites in Orissa.
on constructing the ‘ideal’ woman who decries the ‘loose
morals’ of feminism, the sangh seeks to train Hindu
women to confront the ‘undesirable’ sexual behaviour "endemic" to
Muslims and Christians. Such training endorses ‘masculanisation’
of the Hindu male looking to protect the fictively threatened
In October 2002, a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district
in Orissa declared that it had formed the first Hindu ‘suicide
squad’. Responding to Bal Thackeray’s call, over 100 young
men and women signed up to fight ‘Islamic terrorism’. The
Shiv Sena appealed to every Hindu family in the state to
contribute to its cadre. Squad members, it is speculated,
will receive training at Shiv Sena nerve centres in Mumbai
Why Orissa? The state is in disarray, the leadership labours
to sustain a coalition government headed by the Biju Janata
Dal and the BJP. The government is shrouded in saffron.
As the sangh infiltrates into civic and political institutions
seeking to ‘repeat’ Gujarat not many are paying attention.
For the 36.7 million who reside in Orissa, Hindutva’s predatory
advance aggravates and capitalises on social panic in a
land haunted by inequity.
Orissa houses 5,77,775 Muslims and 6,20,000 Christians,
5.1 million Dalits from 93 caste groups, and over 7 million
Adivasis from 62 tribes. Around 87 percent of Orissa’s
population live in villages. Nearly half the population
(47.15 percent) lives in poverty, with a very large mass
of rural poor. Almost a quarter of the state’s population
(24 percent) is Adivasi, of which 68.9 percent is impoverished,
66 percent illiterate and only 2 percent have completed
a college education. 54.9 percent of the Dalits live in
poverty. Concentrated in Cuttack, Jagasinhapur and Puri
districts, 70 percent of the Muslims are poor. In March
2002, Orissa’s debt amounted to 24,000 crore rupees, more
than 61 percent of the gross domestic product of the state.
In 2001-2002, the government of Orissa signed a memorandum
of understanding with New Delhi to secure a structural
adjustment loan of Rs. 3,000 crore from the World Bank
and an aid package of Rs. 200 crore from the department
for international development, the overseas development
branch of the government of the United Kingdom. This is
conditional assistance, laden with extensive and hazardous
consequences. People’s movements protested this agreement
for tied aid that supports irresponsible corporatisation
and works against the self-determination of the poor.
Consecutive governments, including the present coalition,
have failed to address entrenched gender and class oppressions
as exploitative relations endure between the poverty-stricken
and a coterie of moneylenders, government officials, police
and politicians in Orissa, perpetuating displacement, land
alienation, and untouchability. Floods have affected three
million in 2003. Agricultural labourers are faced with
serious food shortages with no alternative means for income
generation. Scarcity has led to starvation deaths and people
have committed suicide. Infant mortality, 236 in 1000,
is the highest in the Union.
In the recent past, Rayagada district has witnessed despairing
efforts to survive — the sale of children by families.
In Jajpur district, a mother, a daily wage earner in a
stone quarry, sold her 45-day-old child for Rs. 60 this
July. These measures have not evoked reflection and commitment
on the part of the State. Rather, unconscionable attempts
have been made to show that such action is emblematic of
Adivasi and Dalit cultures.
Systematic disregard for the human rights of ‘lower’ caste,
Adivasi and Dalit peoples is a social and structural predicament.
In December 2000, Rayagada witnessed state repression of
Adivasi communities protesting bauxite mining by a consortium
of industries in Kashipur that is detrimental to their
livelihood. The industries were in breach of constitutional
provisions barring the sale or lease of tribal lands without
Adivasi consent. In response, state police fired on non-violent
dissent, killing Abhilas Jhodia, Raghu Jhodia and Damodar
The absence of adequate social reform, the disasters of
dominant development, economic liberalisation and corporate
globalisation further antagonise already overburdened minority
and disenfranchised groups, pitting them against each other.
Hindutva targets the religion and culture of the disempowered
as globalisation abuses their labour and livelihood resources.
Such conditions produce the contexts in which marginalised
peoples embrace identity-based oppositional movements.
The sangh exploits the fabric of inequity and poverty
deviously to weave solidarity built on tales of a mythic
Hindu past. Hindutva defames history, speaking of Muslims
as the ‘fallen traitors’ among Hindus who converted to
Islam. This revisionist history obfuscates the severity
of inequity within Hindu society that led to conversions
historically. Alternatively, Hindutva misrepresents Muslims
as ‘terrorists’ and ‘foreigners’, Christians as ‘polluted’.
Adivasis are falsely presented as Hindus who must be ‘reconnected’
to Hinduism through Hindutva. Dalit and lower caste people
are raw material for manufacturing foot soldiers of dissension.
At the same time, caste oppression prevails in the sangh
parivar’s mistreatment of Dalits in Orissa, who have been
assaulted for participating in Hindu religious ceremonies.
In April 2001, a Dalit community member was fined Rs. 4,000
and beaten for entering a Hindu temple in Bargarh.
Muslim communities are often socially ostracised in Orissa.
Cultural and religious differences are diagnosed
as abnormal. A Muslim community member from Dhenkanal said, "When
Hindus celebrate a puja we are expected to pay our respects
and even offer contributions. For them this is an example
of goodwill, of how we are accepted into their society,
indeed we are no different as long as we do not act differently."
woman added, "Women face double discrimination,
from men of our own community as well as from the outside".
Women fear the sangh will perpetrate violence on their
bodies to attack the social group to which they belong.
In witch hunting for the ‘enemy within’ to blame for India’s
befallen present, the sangh demands absolute loyalty to
its tyranny, requiring an unequivocal display of obedience.
The sangh dictates the rightful gods to worship, prayers
to recite, legacies to remember. Hindutva imagines its
actions above the law. It makes the unification of Hindus
central to its mission. To do so, it organises Hindus to
fulfil their ‘manifest destiny’, fabricating Hinduism as
monolithic across the immense diversity of India.
Grassroots movements in resistance to the debacle of nation
making are combating the sangh. Where Dalits, Adivasis
and others are allied in subaltern struggles for land rights
and sustenance, Hindutva intervenes, seeking to divide
them. Grassroots democracy threatens upper-caste Hindu
dominance and contradicts elite aspirations. To domesticate
dissent, the sangh invigorates militant nationalism. In
village Orissa, emulating Gujarat, the sangh works to create
enmity between Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Christians.
Progressive citizen’s groups have initiated opposition,
including the ‘Campaign Against Communalism’ in Bhubaneswar.
Their capacity to contest despotic religiosity is linked
to redressing political oppression, redistributing economic
resources and overcoming injustice.
Fear of the sangh parivar runs deep in Orissa, producing
acquiescence. The sangh’s methods are sadistic, contributing
to violations of life and livelihood. In January 1999,
as the vehicle with Australian missionary Graham Staines
and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, was torched in Keonjhar
district, the mob’s homage to ‘Jai Bajrang Bali!’ pierced
the state. Then followed the murder of Catholic priest
Arul Das and the destruction of churches in Phulbani district.
After much delay, last month, the Orissa district and sessions
court delivered a verdict on the Staines’ murder case,
sentencing Dara Singh, the primary accused, to death, and
12 others to life imprisonment.
The Bajrang Dal continues its virulent onslaught in Orissa.
In June 2003, the Dal announced that it would organise
‘trishul diksha’ (trident distribution), despite chief
minister Naveen Patnaik’s ban. Praveen Togadia planned
on launching the trishul distribution campaign in Banamalipur
in Korda district to provoke an area with a significant
Muslim population. The Bajrang Dal plans to present trishuls
to 5,000 as part of the Janasampark Abhiyan (mass contact
programme) that anticipates reaching 100 million people
in 2,00,000 villages throughout India.
The objective? To spread aggression. Between July and
September 2003, the Bajrang Dal organised intensive programs
in Bhubaneswar, Sundergarh and Jajpur. Aimed at securing
a 1,50,000 membership in Orissa, this is part of a larger
campaign that targets Gajapati, Phulbani, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj,
Koraput, and Nabarangpur districts.
In Orissa today, the sangh mobilises for a Ram temple
among people for whom Ayodhya is a tale from afar. By 2006,
the birth centenary of RSS architect Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar,
sangh organisations promise that Orissa will be a poster
state for Hindutva. The sangh’s considerable advance in
rural and urban Orissa has helped the BJP consolidate its
position in the state, reflected in its gains in the state
Assembly from one seat in 1985 to 41 presently. In return
for its support, the sangh expects the government to tolerate
its excesses. In March 2002, a few hundred VHP and Bajrang
Dal activists burst into the Orissa Assembly and ransacked
the complex, objecting to alleged remarks made against
the two organisations by house members.
Development and education are key vehicles through which
conscription into Hindu extremism is taking place. After
the cyclone of 1999, relief work undertaken in a sectarian
manner by RSS organisations granted the sangh a foothold
through which to strengthen enrolment. Today, the Utkal
Bipannya Sahayata Samiti works on disaster mitigation with
facilities in 32 villages. The Dhayantari Shasthya Pratisthan
manages four hospitals and six mobile centres.
In offering social services and carrying out rural development
work, the sangh makes itself indispensable to its cadre
as a pseudo-moral and reformist force. This continues the
sangh parivar’s long history of implementing sectarian
development. Targeting the livelihood of the ‘other’ is
a technique of saffronisation. The Bajrang Dal has been
strident in stopping cow slaughter in Orissa, an important
source of income for poor Muslims who trade in meat and
leather. Muslims have been beaten and threatened by Hindutva
mobs. In India, amid the staggering poverty in which 350
million live, the participation of government agencies
in debating a ban on cow slaughter is contemptible. This
debate is not about animal rights. It arrogantly contravenes
the separation of religion and state. It is anti-Muslim,
anti-Dalit, anti-Christian and anti-poor.
In Orissa, egregious infringements of human rights are
taking place with the disintegration of Adivasi and other
non-Hindu cultures through their hostile incorporation
into dominant Hinduism. Sectarian education campaigns undertaken
by RSS organisations demonise minorities through the teaching
of fundamentalist curricula. There are 391 Shishu Mandir
schools with 111,000 students in the state, preparing for
future leadership. Training camps in Bhadrak and Berhampur
aim at Adivasi youth.
Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram runs 1,534 projects and schools
in 21 Adivasi districts. The sangh has initiated 730 Ekal
Vidyalayas in 10 districts in Orissa, one teacher schools
that target Adivasis. The primary purpose of the schools
is to indoctrinate villages into Hindutva. The teachers
are offered Rs. 150-200 per month as honoraria, no salaries.
The schools are free, supported through donations from
organisations like the India Development Relief Fund. For
Adivasi peoples, this facilitates cultural genocide that
imperils self-determination movements struggling against
a violent history of assimilation. The sangh asserts Adivasi
political emancipation is a process of ‘tribalism’ that
jeopardises the nation.
The sangh drives spiritual centres that use religious
scriptures to incite sectarianism among Hindus. Vivekananda
Kendras and Hindu Jagran Manch are active in Orissa together
with Harikatha Yojana centres in 780 villages and 1,940
Satsang Kendras. There are 1,700 Bhagabat Tungis in Orissa,
cultural reform centres run by the sangh that aim at Hindus
and Christians. Another line of attack is to forcibly convert
Christians into Hinduism. Churches and members of the Christian
clergy are apprehensive. In Gajapati and Koraput, Christians
have sought state protection in the past.
Gajapati district, RSS and BJP workers torched 150 homes
and the village church in October 1999. A Dalit Christian
activist said, "RSS workers tell me that Christianity
brought colonialism to India, and I am responsible for
that legacy. How am I responsible? Feudalism, imperialism,
post-colonial betrayal. That is written across our bodies.
How am I responsible?" In June 2002, the VHP coerced
143 tribal Christians into converting to Hinduism in Sundargarh
district. The Dharma Prasar Bibhag claims to have converted
5,000 people to Hinduism in 2002.
Orissa passed a Freedom of Religion Act in 1967 protecting
against coercive conversions. The law, open to problematic
interpretations, was overturned in 1973 and returned in
1977. In 1989, the state government activated requirements
for religious conversion. In 1999, Orissa enacted a state
order prohibiting religious conversions without prior permission
of local police and district magistrates. Hindu fundamentalists
diligently manipulate these provisions to intimidate religious
minorities. Sangh organisations work with sympathetic police
cadre to ensure that Hindu’s do not convert.
sangh purposefully confuses the distinction between the
right to proselytise and the use of religion to cultivate
hate. Hindutva propaganda accuses Christian communities
of the former and labels it a crime. The sangh justifies
its use of the latter in the interests of a higher truth,
the ‘righteous’ action of reuniting Hindus. ‘Reconversion’
is working well among the Christian community in Orissa,
Subash Chouhan says, but not with Muslims. "Muslim
reconversions are going slowly because mullahs, maulvis
have created mosques and madrassas in village after village,
and guard their children like chickens. That is the kind
of people they are and that it why it is not so easy to
get them back." For Muslims, the Bajrang Dal anticipates
a different approach. Mr. Chouhan said that the Dal would
engage in militancy if needed to "get the job done".
Hindutva stampedes across Orissa, inciting tyranny to
establish itself. As power, culture and history shape the
imagination of a nation, genocide is emerging as India’s
brutal legacy. In denial, in silent and active complicity,
we allow Hindu extremists to march to the guttural call
of hate. Hindutva hijacks the nation’s aspirations. Its
doctrine of ‘blood, soil and race’ rewrites the circumstances
and complex histories that produced India. While the separation
of religion and State in India is attempted at the constitutional
level, Hindu militancy derives consent from Hindu cultural
Hindu ascendancy is assisted by the degree to which the
authority of religion and the enabling cultural and gender
hierarchies are enshrined deep within the popular psyche
of the nation. This dominance assumes that to restrict
religion to the private realm would deny India its historical
India, a land of 1.2 billion, a profusion of peoples,
is bound to the promise of a different destiny. In the
flux between yesterday and tomorrow, dreams and desires,
inequities and intimacies collide to infuse the hybridity
that is India. Her survival is contingent upon the Hindu
majority’s commitment to an inclusive, plural, secular
democracy. The idea of a Hindu state in India is filled
with discontent, held together by force. It must never
come to pass.
(Note: Information used in this article is derived from
multiple sources, including interviews with persons affiliated
with sangh organisations).
(Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural
Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies).