Gujarat: A Call for Kristallnacht?*

By Angana Chatterji

Dissident Voice

December 22, 2002



The tyranny of dogmatic Hinduism and Islam promotes and sustains cycles of violence in South Asia. The crusade of Islamic fundamentalism in the region is a recognized fact in response to which there is an increasing, and often strategically ineffectual, assemblage of force and political will. Hindu militancy in India is yet to receive similar scrutiny. Its rampage on secular India has been growing, with devastating consequences. The current elections in Gujarat are testimony to this.


In Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 127 of 181 seats. The BJP, compliant in the post-Godhra slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat, has been exonerated. The judge and jury have been the electorate, organized and delivered by the Hindu supremacist movement. In Gujarat, the party has rewarded the Hindutva movement’s use of hate and terror to divide and conquer. In return the BJP has been repaid with votes. What does this mean for India?


The BJP heads a 20 party coalition at the center. It has instigated and utilized Ayodhya and Gujarat for considerable electoral gains. It is aided by, among others, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The VHP (World Hindu Council) is Hindutva’s ideological platform, intent on consolidating its singular and violent mission to pulverize India into a Hindu extremist state. It is rallying to slay the opponents of Hindutva, and those committed to a secular India tolerant of the faithful and irreligious that inhabit its reality. Hindutva is well mobilized, well funded and well armed. Its ideology is venomous, its propaganda effective. Most Indians are watching their ascent in horror. The international community is silent. The conditions for a Kristallnacht are in place.


In a recent press conference, the VHP has declared that Muslims and other minorities will be subordinate citizens in India. In a democracy, the majority community has an ethical responsibility to enable affirmative action so disenfranchised minority class and ethnic groups can overcome institutionalized injustices. While the disbursement of affirmative action has been less than ideal, the Hindutva movement interprets its very existence as an absurd “accommodation” of minority demands.


Indian nationalism has been built at the prerogative of the Hindu elite, even while the Indian state confers rights to diverse individuals and communities within its borders. This has made India a vibrant democracy and a difficult country to govern. The disempowered have organized to demand that the state grant them their rights. India is a nation where 350 million live in conditions of poverty. Poor rural women labor 1.5 workdays. The police are often complicit in perpetrating social violence. Gay, lesbian and transgender communities, the elderly and disabled, have few rights. Educational opportunities for adivasis (tribals) are appalling. Irresponsible development displaces the poor without any refuge. Sikhs have faced persecution, Muslims, dalits and other minorities are often ostracized, and Christians have been forcibly converted to Hinduism. The response by the state and its citizens has been inadequate, at best.


Forces of resistance continue to challenge the dominance of the Hindu elite and middle class. In response, Hindutva revivalism seeks to consolidate the power of the majority through militant reform that defines Hindu majoritarianism as Indian nationalism. This majoritarianism makes secularism subservient to Hindu nationalism. Such an agenda requires that Hindutva assimilate the plural traditions within Hinduism to create a narrow centralized code that promises to unite Hindus. These principles are philosophically Brahmanical and universalistic, in action segregationist. This strategy thwarts the complex search for cultural identity that confronts the vast diversity of Indians living at the intersections of pre and post modernity, inequitable modernization and globalism. To realize its mission, Hindutva defines minority interests as oppositional to Hindu, and therefore national, interest. The struggles for justice of groups organized around ethnicity, religion, class, caste, tribe, gender, or culture become hostile to national unity. Hindutva is anathema to democracy.


Hindu militancy is on the rise, and minority groups are the major victims of this sectarian violence. Delhi, 1984, Gujarat, 2002, Ahmedabad, 1969. Hyderabad, 1981, Bhiwandi, 1984, Moradabad, 1980, Assam, 1983, Aligarh, 1978, Ayodhya, 1992. On and on. Muslim minorities in India are a primary target of Hindutva’s wrath, whose master narrative de-emphasizes Hindu-Muslim coexistence, and creates grievous misrepresentations of Indian Muslims as monolithic, anti-national, violent, and without exception allied with Islamic fundamentalism. In the Hindutva imagination, the village Muslim whose identity is shaped by kinship, region, language, and culture becomes synonymous with the Taliban.


It is terrifying that so many have responded with such vigor to the call of Hindutva. What counter movements, what capacity building, are necessary to disrupt this campaign of hate and genocide? How can the agenda for a tolerant and democratic India be made central to all action at the grassroots level, within institutions, political parties, trade unions, social movements, schools and universities, non governmental organizations, families and neighborhoods, public and private life?


Secularism in India has been fraught with contention. Secularism as a strategy to oppose communalism is increasingly defunct. Critics of the modern nation state and purists dispute secularism as impossible and imposed. Hindutva argues that secularism will destroy Hindu India. With increased communalization, secularism has become a bargaining tool in national politics, used to deceitful advantage by most political parties, a pretense useful in appeasing minority groups. Secular reform with a conscience has been marginalized within the Indian polity to accommodate Hindu hegemony. It limits necessary conversations regarding religious reform or a meaningful role for faith in our times.


If India is to endure, it is crucial that we conceive a nation where a profusion of cultures and histories coexist with equal rights, weaving a script for citizenship and change that is multicultural, hopeful, and pregnant with possibility. Inclusive and respectful of all.


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



* Kristallnacht, or “the Night of Broken Glass” is the pogrom carried out against the Jewish people in Germany and in the acquired territories of Austria and Sudetenland in 1938. The Nazi Regime orchestrated the pogrom.