Myths and Dreams:

Hindutva Nationalism and the Indian Diaspora

by Angana Chatterji

Dissident Voice
March 10, 2003


The mobilisation of Hindutva across the United States has damaging effects on the business community, academy, and society at large. It impacts how culture is shaped and community built in diaspora. It affects how decisions connected to India are made, collapsing Indian issues into Hindu issues. It influences how 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 money for harmful development in India, the Indian community 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 the 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 idea 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 to betray. It is prevalent to claim India as a Hindu nation, at least a nation of “soft 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 to democracy?


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 as a “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 in 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. Development implemented by institutions affiliated with the Sangh Parivar only lays the groundwork for hate and civil polarisation. It fundamentally violates the 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 at risk, that Muslims are reproducing at a rate that threatens the Hindu majority of India.


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 of assimilation to which they have been subjected. The interpretation that they are an “underclass” of Hindus, who, with “necessary evolution,” may return to the 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 their 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 and ensure the human rights of the poor. This is possible only if we work with local movements to develop secular frameworks for change.


Those affiliated with Hindutva in the United States must be contested as they fashion an India of their imagination. The intensity and power of becoming in this 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 originate of an India that never was or should be. These myths nurture dreams where the Hindu prabashi (ex-patriot) can return to purge the motherland from impurities, to cleanse what is polluted, to restore honour and claim victory.


In the United States, the fervour of long distance Hindutva nationalism is intense. 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 is not support for Hindutva, only pride in the glory of India’s past, so from it one might craft India’s future. To rail, as so many do, against the persistence of structural inequities, of the horrors of history, of the politics of caste and cows in the present, is only to bear incriminating evidence of one’s own bastardisation, loss of purity, lack of faith and pride in “Indianness”. What is this Indianness? Indic culture, chaste, beautiful, Hindu, despoiled by conquest and colonisation. How is it manifest, fortified? A return to its origins, a proclamation of its sanctity. What is left out? The reality of India.


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


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