For Dissent Against Hindu Extremism

by Angana Chatterji

July 28, 2002



The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, and other Hindu extremist organisations, collectively known as the Sangh Parivar (Hindu fundamentalist family of organisations), are utilising religion to foment communal violence toward organising ultra right, non-secular and undemocratic nationalism in India. Once again, this year has borne heartbreaking testimony to this. As the Sangh Parivar goosesteps to a future predicated on injustice and bigotry, we, as ordinary citizens, must not be lulled into complacent comfort that denies our own complicity. Minorities in contemporary India are becoming the evil “other” that must be annihilated or assimilated. For those of us not explicitly under attack, it is time to examine our privilege and use it to empower the conscience of a democratic and secular India, where necessary religious and social reforms are enacted. 


Hindu fundamentalism is well funded by Indians abroad. These organisations receive substantial contributions from Hindus in the United States and elsewhere. Outlook Magazine in its July 22, 2002, issue published an article by A. K. Sen, titled, “Deflections to the Right” highlighting a component of the chain of funding that sustains Hindu extremism. The article states that the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) is one of the more conspicuous charity organisations that fundraises in the United States to support RSS battalions in India. IDRF lists Sewa International as its counterpart in India. Sewa International and the various organisations that it oversees receive over two-thirds of IDRF funding. Sewa International, in its mission to transform India, states on its website in a section on “Experiments and Results” with “Social Harmony” that social consolidation can be achieved through social cohesion. Among other things, their website quotes Manya H. V. Sehadarji, Sarkaryawah of the RSS: “The ultimate object of all these endeavours is Hindu Sangathan -- consolidation and strengthening of the Hindu society.”  Hindu extremism, like other xenophobic movements, functions through carefully fashioning exclusionary principles whereby all non Hindus, and dissenting Hindus, identified as Hindu traitors, become second class citizens. In addition, justification of caste inequities, subordination of Dalits (“lower” caste communities), women, adivasis (tribal) and other minorities, and the consolidation of a cohesive middle class base are critical to its momentum.


In the United States, where substantial funding is raised for Hindu extremist agendas, the government must act to ensure that organisations that broker terror should not continue to enjoy their non-profit status within the country. It is interesting that in 1999, the VHP failed to gain recognition at the United Nations as “a cultural organization” because of its philosophical underpinnings. However the VHP of America is an independent charity registered in the United States in the 1970s, where it has received funds from a variety of individuals and organisations.


Non-resident Indians and Americans of Indian descent must examine the politics of hate encouraged by extremist Hindu organisations in the name of charity and social work. Indians, one of the most financially successful groups in the United States, must take seriously their moral obligation to ensure that their dollars are not funding malice and scrutinise the organisations that are on the receiving end in India. The issue is not whether these organisations are undertaking charitable work, but if they are doing so to promote separatist and non-secular ideals. Param Vaibhav Ke Path Par (On The Road To Great Glory) written by Sadanand Damodar Sapre, and published in 1997 by Suruchi Prakashan, Jhandewalan, New Delhi, the central publication house of the RSS, lists the 40+ organisations maintained by the RSS in India for its multivariate programs.


In addition, VHP and other Parivar outfits target the communalisation of education through the “Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram” and “Ekal Vidyalas” (schools). One strategy is to Hinduise adivasi communities, exploit divisions among the marginalised, and indoctrinate the youth, in order to both turn them against one another and use them as foot soldiers in the larger cause of religious nationalism. Such inculcation has had serious repercussions in Gujarat this year where tribals were manipulated into attacking Muslims during the carnage in February and March. While Hindu fundamentalists do not have a monopoly on religious intolerance in India, their actions are holding the country hostage. Well organised, wide spread and acting in the name of the majority religion in India, Hindu extremism is positioned to silence diversity through force and terror, the rhetoric of Hindu supremacy, and the positioning of minority groups as depraved enemies who must be punished.


Indians at home and abroad must oppose the deep infiltration of the Hindutva brigade into the press, as well as the political, military, bureaucratic, civic, business, educational, law and order institutions of India. Such infiltration is creating a nation where the constitution is violated by religious fundamentalists, with such violation tolerated by the state. While the current government at the centre holds open and close links to organisations within the Sangh Parivar, citizens are assured that secularism and democracy are sacred and secure. In reality, the government's handling of communal violations and sanctioning of communalism jeopardises our capacity to function as a nation.


The VHP, in its meeting with Muslim leaders in New Delhi on July 15, 2002, stated that if Muslims agree to resettle Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims in Gujarat would be rehabilitated. Hindus must understand that issues connected to the democratisation of Pakistan, ethical resolutions to Kashmir, or gender reforms within Islam are separate from India's commitment to upholding the rights of minorities or to reforms within Hinduism. Hindu extremism against Muslims and other minorities in India collapses distinctions that must be made to honour human rights in India. Also, Hindutva's discourse of history posits Hindus and Hinduism as under siege and preposterously asserts the idea of India as a Hindu nation. Such revisionist history strategically and hideously poses that a vengeful justice can be found for the crimes of history committed under non-Hindu rulers. Retribution is sought by attacking contemporary Indian Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others.


Hinduism is critical to the fabric of India, as are all the other cultures and religions that inhabit this land and frame the imagination of this nation. It will require considerable effort on our part to conceive a secular nation where religion is indeed separate from the integrity of the state, where pluralism guarantees rights and respect to the religious and non-religious alike. Every Hindu and every citizen must denounce that to be Indian is to be Hindu, challenge assertions that a secular constitution is anti-Hindu, and refute the call for a Hindu nation in India as anti-national. Patriotism and nationalism demand that all social, political and religious groups work for an India free of disenfranchisement, institutionalised violence, corruption and rampant inequities. We cannot permit India's secular and democratic fabric to be irreparably compromised. The politics of segregation and hate cannot determine the century before us.


Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.