Under the skin of militant Hinduism
When I wrote about Islam, I was hounded by Muslims. When I wrote about Hinduism, the Hindus attacked me. I have also faced angry Christians and Jews. Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains have been missing so far. Over a period of time, however, I have realised that the biggest violators of religious tolerance online are those claiming to be Hindus. Under the pretentious garb of being the self-appointed protectors of the world’s oldest religion, they have hounded me online — on this blog and on my Twitter account. For years, I thought I was the Chosen One. I was wrong, so terribly wrong.
A strange and completely unwarranted insecurity about being Indians and Hindus has bound this highly aggressive mob that seeks to suppress any rational discourse around religion — anything to do with Islam has to be condemned, shouted down, rubbished. Anything to do with Hinduism has to be compressed into a boundary defined by hatred and smallness, abuses and snarls — the stuff that all religions ask their faithful to rise above. So, from banning books and threatening writers to accentuating historical inaccuracies and living in a falsely-constructed past, a small group of Hindus are attempting to hijack the religion, turn it militant. Take it global.
A new report records that transition and gets under the skin of this phenomenon. “Hindu nationalists defend the advent of a Hindu state in India, while projecting the universal appeal of their ideology,” writes Ingrid Therwath of the Delhi-based Centre de Sciences Humaines. “Their very territorialised yet universal claims have been finding particular resonance among migrant populations, particularly in North America.”
She makes two strong observations about this phenomenon: “On the one hand, Hindu nationalist organisations have transferred their online activities mainly to the US, where the Indian diaspora is 3.2 million strong and constitute therefore a prime example of long-distance transnationalist nationalism,” she writes in Cyber-Hindutva: Hindu nationalism, the diaspora and the Web. “On the other hand, the morphological discrepancies between the online and the offline networks point to new strategies of discretion developed to evade the gaze of authorities in countries of residence. The recourse to such cartographies thus becomes crucial not only in understanding what sectarian or illegal movements do but also what they seek to hide.”
Unlike what we usually believe — that it is the uneducated, poor, with little or no access to information who create such wedges in society — the report “showcases the particular sociology of a mobile Hindu nationalist elite and provides a starting example of how an existing offline network is translated online.” This elite articulates the idea that India must become a Hindu state. By attributing modern mathematics and astronomy to the ancient Hindu civilisation, it uses “science and technology as pillars” of their stance.
The part about the politics of the Hindutva movement is well explained and those who don’t follow the subject can get a strong working knowledge. For the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the biggest proponent of Hindutva, the Indian identity is the same as Hindu identity, “and all members of religious minorities — mostly Muslims and Christians — should pay allegiance to the dominant religious community, at least in the public space”. RSS has a religious wing (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), a student wing (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), branches for peasants, workers and even for tribals. It also has its own political party (Bharatiya Janata Party). The entire structure is called the Sangh Parivar.
The background research is strong. “A corpus of 147 websites has been put together, starting from a few core RSS websites that were crawled four times till a satisfactory if not absolutely exhaustive list of pro-Hindutva groups was obtained. About 80 additional websites stand out at the periphery of the corpus. These are “frontier sites”: they do not belong to the pro-Hindutva universe but share a close proximity with the pro-Hindutva. They can share common concerns, have a dialogue, and are therefore in the same “virtual neighborhoods” to use the Arjun Appadurai’s expression. This corpus was, in spite of the occasionally violent overtones of the websites it contains, relatively easy to constitute.”
What do these neighbourhoods do? “The case of Rohit Vyasmaan, born in 1970 and living in Brooklyn, is worth mentioning: he was a member of the Bajrang Dal (militia of the RSS) and founder of Sword of Truth, one of the most virulent websites of the Hindutva universe. Sword of Truth does not have its own URL since 2008, but the entire content is archived on many websites, among which HinduUnity.org. There, one can still access a hit list of people who should, according to Sword of Truth, be attacked or even killed. They are accused of being “Anti-Hindu”, Muslim, communist and/or secular.”.
Every religion has its set of extremists, who are rejected by the sane, but whose voices are not heard. For Hindus, it is this mob. What I fail to understand is the following:
* Why should Hindus in India feel insecure?
* Why is the larger group of Hindus standing silently while this insignificant group makes noises about killing Muslims, Communists, Secularists or anyone who is not a Hindu?
* Why should Hindus worry about their religion when they have a far deeper base of spirituality to fall back on?
* Why is the vaster majority allowing this great hijack, and potentially turning one of the world’s most peaceful religions into one of the most violent?
* Why are some extremists trying to create more sub-religions, within Hinduism, when it clearly offers the broadest-possible paths to redemption — each individual can track her own?
* Why are governments ignoring such blatant hatemongering?
Finally, perhaps it’s not even about Hinduism. Organised religion, I believe, has lost its mandate to organise society. Today, with science on one side and spirituality on the other — and both moving towards each other for a scientist-sage merger — the space for religion has been appropriated by politics. And this is what “Hindu nationalists” represent.