February-March  2004 
Year 10    No.96

Special Report

Hindu nationalism and Orissa:
Minorities as other


In October 2003 Angana Chatterji wrote a report on Orissa for Communalism Combat about the political economy of Hindutva in the state. In this article, she continues to map the entrenchment of the sangh parivar. Information used in this article is derived from multiple sources, including interviews with persons affiliated with sangh organisations. As relevant, quotations are anonymous or pseudonyms have been used, and place names changed, listed or omitted, at the request of the contributor. Insertion(s) within [] in the quotations are the author’s.

Your god has no eyes. He cannot have a soul. Your god is violent, just like you are.’ A Hindu neigh-
bour charges Hasina Begum. With her technician husband, Hasina’s is the only Muslim family in a housing society in a small town in Orissa. They relocated in 2003. Hasina and her husband are isolated with few acquaintances in the area. Geeta, a Hindu woman, befriended Hasina only to be confronted by others about such association with Muslims. Geeta slowly withdrew, saying. ‘We like you but we have to live in society here, do we carry you with us, or carry them? What choice do we have?’ Geeta and Hasina do not speak any more.

Hasina Begum tells me, "We know that many Hindus hate Muslims and I know that Hindus are in power. I am afraid for my daughter. I want her to stay at home with me. She does not listen. So many times I am afraid for her, I beat her to make her stay at home. She has marks on her back from my beating her. I am ashamed. I feel isolated. If something happens to us, if someone attacks us, robs us, who will be with us? We are asked, ‘You have no idols, so who is your god? Are you godless?’ I know that we are not welcome here. There are stories about us ‘Pathans’ that circulate in the market place. We have heard about Gujarat." People tell Hasina that nothing has really happened, that she has not been attacked, that she is overreacting. She replies, "Fear is attacking me. I feel that they are watching me."

Subash Chouhan, state convenor for the Bajrang Dal, the paramilitary wing of Hindutva, claims, "In the country, Orissa is the second Hindu Rajya [state]. Today, Sai [Christian] missionary and Islam, they both want to convert the entire pradesh [state] into Sai and Islam. In the Tribal belt they have been planning to convert the people into Christians and Harijans into Muslims. This work is moving with force in Orissa. This is the reason the Bajrang Dal and VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad] have taken up the task of consolidating Hindu shakti in Orissa. In the entire state we have selected some [key] districts, such as Sai based Sundargarh district, Gajapati zilla, Phulbani, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Koraput, Nabarangpur districts – we are undertaking seva [service] work here, hospitals, one-teacher schools, Hari Katha Yojana, orphanage, these types of jojona and seva work are being undertaken all over the state."

A secular activist responds, "The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS] and sangh parivar sailed in with the cyclone [in 1999], we are now drowning in their midst. They are too many and everywhere. They are kind and giving to people who abide by them, even as they are watchful and intolerant of people who disobey them. They do more than the government, they work hard and say that they are against corruption. But at what price? They are for a ‘clean’ Orissa, they are cleaning out the filth, and Christians and Muslims are the filth they want to sweep out."

Citizen’s groups have formed various campaigns to combat communalism in the state. Since 2002, secular meetings and marches have taken place in Beherampur, Cuttack, Balesore, Bhadrak, Bhubaneswar and Sambalpur. Community and citizen’s leaders speak of alliance building. They warn about the futility of partnerships with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and sangh parivar vigilantes, cautioning that alliance building requires shared commitments. They urge for rallying progressive, democratic forces across the state.

Throughout Orissa, land reform movements, Adivasi and Dalit organisation for self-determination, and resistance movements confronting the devastation of dominant development and globalisation act as a bulwark against the escalation of the sangh parivar. Adivasi and Dalit self-determination exists in opposition to the State. Adivasis and Dalits, within politicised contexts, do not identify as Hindus and resist their incorporation into the Brahminical (and elite) social order. In a Hindu majority state in India, Brahminism enforces the supremacy of ‘Hinduness’, and defines norms, values, ethics and morality. Ethnic, minority and marginalised groups are subject to the political and economic violence of Brahminism via which they are forced to frame their political and cultural aspirations.

The secular activist continues, "[In retaliation] the sangh parivar is consolidating its position in the mining belt and in all sensitive and Tribal areas in Orissa, where there are popular Dalit or Adivasi struggles for self-determination, trying to undercut them. Several developments are taking place on the mining front, where the sangh divides poor people, who, driven out by corporations, are organising to resist." In Nayagarh district, Dalit communities watch Hindutva’s voracious march. They speak of malignant fictions circulated by the Hindutvavadis that Christian missionary activity is placing Hinduism at risk. Dalits, Adivasis, Christians, Hindus and Muslims speak of how their villages and watersheds intertwine, and how crops are dependent on the run-off water from each other’s lands. They say that they cannot afford to hate each other.

In a massive mobilisation drive in the mid 1980s, the Jagannath Rath Yatra passed through Hindu, Christian, Dalit and Adivasi villages across Orissa. The Yatra traversed a thousand sites between March 1986 and May 1988, drawing 3-4,000 people in each place. Local people met expenses totalling 2-4 million rupees. As an outcome of this process, 1,600 permanent mobilisation units managed by 500 committees were set up. The VHP and Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams run these units, carrying out their mission via Kirtan Mandals, Satsangs and Yuvak Kendras.

Today, the annual Jagannath Yatra and other Hindutva organised religio-nationalist spectacles continue across the state. Muslims, and Adivasi and Dalit groups connected to self-determination movements in dissent to the sangh parivar, are afraid as thundering mobs engulf their villages. On April 11, 2003, communal tensions spiralled in Rajgangapur, an industrial town 400 kilometres from Bhubaneswar, during a procession for Hanuman on Ramnavmi. Two people were killed in police firing.

Over the last decade, the sangh has amassed 30 major organisations including political, charitable, militant and educational groups, trade and students unions, women’s groups, with a massive base of a few million, the largest volunteer enlistment in the state. The Prakalpa Samanvaya Samiti is a pivotal sangh organisation synchronising the activities of various faith and welfare outfits. The Prakalpa Samiti operates a school at Chakapad, three student hostels, 20 weekly balwadis, and 300 night schools. It attends to 20,000 patients each month through medicine distribution centres and three mobile vans. The Prakalpa Samiti acts to drive Christians to Hinduism.

In Orissa, the RSS charges that hostile Hinduisation is a ‘rational’ and necessary response to, among other factors, the growth of missionary activity leading to an increase in the Christian population. Numerous groups are conflicted about the need to direct ‘equal’ energy in assessing Hindutva, Christian missionisation and Islamic fundamentalism in India. Violent Islamic fundamentalism certainly requires deep scrutiny in South Asia, even as Hindutva must command particular emphasis in India. Hindu nationalism is linked to a state that authorises Hindutva’s actions, lending it dangerous legitimacy.

Fundamentalist Christianity, linked to the United States, is endorsed by the current Bush administration. Evidence suggests (American) evangelist participation in intelligence operations in Latin America and elsewhere. Such activity and its relationship to India should concern us only as it actually takes place. Christians constitute less than three per cent of the population in Orissa, with a one per cent increase since 1981. Neither does the Christian population in India record any appreciable increase from 2.6 per cent in 1971, to 2.43 in 1981, 2.34 in 1991 and 2.6 in 2001.

The sangh parivar converts minorities to dominant Hinduism without distinguishing between forcible conversions and the right to proselytise, and uses the converted for sadistic ends. The sangh does not acknowledge that Tribal and Dalit conversions to Christianity are rarely coercive and occur in response to oppressive and entrenched caste inequities, gender violence, and chronic poverty. The sangh’s claim that Christians in India are anti-national facilitates violence against them. Dalit Christian activists seek empowerment and understand ‘decastification’ as necessary to fighting Hindutva. They also speak of challenging inherent inequities that are often reproduced through the church, where, they say, pews are filled on Sunday mornings with compliant people sitting in rows ordered along caste hierarchies.

The sangh’s voracious assault organises the disenfranchised into a vicious political economy structured by the caste system. RSS cadres working in Sambalpur district stress how critical it is that Adivasis and Dalits are converted to Hinduism. They organise Adivasi rallies where ‘Garbh se kaho hum Hindu hai’ (say with pride that I am a Hindu) pierces the air. Badal Satpaty, an RSS office bearer, stresses the importance of Adivasi conversions for Orissa. "Vanavasis [derogatory term for Adivasis] are given land by the government. If Vanavasis see themselves as outside Hinduism, then their lands too are non-Hindu lands that are anti-development and cannot be used for the betterment of the nation. Bharat is a Hindu nation, and these people and their lands are anti-national."

Whose nation? Adivasis are 8.01 per cent of the nation’s inhabitants, yet 40 per cent of the displaced population. The Transfer of Immovable Property (by Scheduled Tribes) Regulation of 1956 provides against land transfers in Scheduled Areas. Outside Scheduled Areas, the Orissa Land Reforms Act of 1960 and subsequent amendments guard against Tribal land alienation. In practice, an extensive ‘land grab’ has resulted from debt bondage and indenture related to land leasing and mortgage of Adivasi and Dalit lands to large farmers and moneylenders, consolidation of land holdings, strategic marriage alliances and corruption.

Adivasis living in forest villages are often evicted; their right to land dismissed by the state’s insistence on ‘evidence’ of ownership and residency. Such demands evince the betrayal of old claims with new boundaries, maps, roads, checkposts that insert violence into the everyday life of the Adivasi. Tribal testimonies are converted into ‘lies’ by the apparatus of the state. A Gond Adivasi elder testifies, "We live in the village in the forest. We have lived here for generations. Our houses are made of local mud, our roofs from local leaves from the forests. Our diet, our thoughts, our language tells you that we have been living here. You can see the shadows of our ancestors reflected in the pond, our songs mimic the birds, they tell stories of the forest, our feet walk these lands over and over. These [imprints] are our land records. The forester does not believe us. Our lives are lies to them."

In India today, about 86 per cent of Dalit families are landless or marginal landholders, and 63 per cent subsist on incomes from daily wage labour. Social violence against Dalits remains institutionalised. Legitimation of Adivasi and Dalit rights has been a process laden with inequities, and the notification and denotification of Tribes is often used as a political tool to undermine Adivasi self-determination by not recognising their status, claims and rights vis-à-vis the state. The amputation of Adivasi tenure on forestlands has contributed to cultural genocide in Orissa that supports the consolidation of national territory, corporate liberalisation and the ethic of conservation inherent to modern nation states.

In July 2003, the Orissa government permitted the unconstitutional transfer of lands in Schedule V areas for mining and industrial use. Orissa’s decision contradicts the 1997 Samata versus Andhra Pradesh judgement, where the apex court had ruled against the government’s lease of Tribal forest and other lands in Scheduled Areas to non-Tribals for mining and industrial operations.

Beginning January 23, 2004, four Adivasi villages, Borobhota, Kinari, Kothduar, Sindhabahili, and their agricultural fields in south east Kalahandi district, have been razed by Sterlite industries, a multinational corporation building an aluminium refinery near Lanjigarh, adjacent to Kashipur. Sterlite’s finances are generated from its partner company, Vedanta Resources. Non-resident Indians operate Sterlite and Vedanta, launched in London in December 2003. Sterlite has a controversial history. Company chairperson and managing director, Anil Agarwal has denied knowledge of the Samata judgement in the past. The Lanjigarh project will mine bauxite at 4,000 feet from the north west rim of the Niyamgiri mountains. The villagers, forcibly evicted, without requisite compensation or rehabilitation, are living in camps under police ‘guard’, their right to life placed on hold.

State sponsored development in Orissa forces the incorporation of the poor into the dominant order. The sangh parivar conspires with the Biju Janata Dal-BJP coalition government in Bhubaneswar to enable this inequitable amalgamation. Sangh activists have infiltrated deep into state run development agencies such as the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART), an autonomous institution that works to create rural development partnerships between voluntary organisations and the government. CAPART supports numerous RSS activities in Orissa diverting funds for Hindutva.

Badal Satpaty of the RSS says, "It is because these people [Dalits, Adivasis] refuse to integrate that all these problems arise. Why do they ask for special rights? The motherland is good to us all. These people are lazy, they live in filth, they are illiterate. How can we take them seriously without civilising them? The RSS seeks to help in this mission, for the betterment of the poor. The RSS is working with, first, the Hindu Dalits to mobilise them and tell them about the dangers of defection. Then, we are bringing Christian Dalits and Adivasis back to the Hindu fold through education and re-conversion. We are also helping them economically."

Where conversions to Hinduism are acquiescent and occur with the complicity of non-Hindus, acquiescence is produced by its intimacy with the dominant. For non-dominant groups, the landscape of Hindu supremacy shapes fear (of the dominant), desire (to acquire privileges), hope (for ‘acquittal’, to ‘pass’ as non-other) and internalised oppression. These complex forces create agency on the part of the marginalised. Such agency is manufactured in relation and response to Hindu ascendancy.

I spoke with a Dalit RSS worker who said: "The RSS is helping us build a Hindu samaj. We are poor, we have no assistance, we are fighting Christians and Muslims for development money. The Christians, they have foreign missionary money, what do we Hindu Dalits have? The Sai [Christians] are also converting our people to their religion. They eat meat, they touch leather, they have bad morals. I am scared for my children. We are thankful that the RSS has sworn to protect us." AC: "Have you seen these Christian missionaries?" Dalit RSS worker: "No, but I have heard that they are nearby." AC: "How many Hindus have been converted in your village, or in any of the neighbouring villages?" Dalit RSS worker: "Nobody yet, but the RSS tells us that they [the missionaries] might come soon. That is why we go to the RSS meetings, to become informed about the troubles facing us, and how we can be strong and protect ourselves, to become an army against these foreigners." Dalits continue to suffer social ostracism and economic deprivation. They are manipulated into joining the very Hindutva forces that have historically deprived Dalits of equity in order to use them against other mistreated communities.

At a 15,000 strong Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram organised rally in Bhubaneswar in December 2003, Dilip Singh Bhuria, chairperson, National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, commended the BJP for its pro-Adivasi policies. Adivasis have historically voted for the Congress party in Orissa and have not benefited from this loyalty. Mr. Bhuria said, "We are passing through a governance similar to Ram Rajya," posing Ram as the god, and BJP as the party, of Adivasis. Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram president, Jagadev Ram Oram insisted that Adivasis converting to Christianity should not be allowed to access the benefits of reservation. Through espousing another religion, he said, Adivasis no longer retain their Tribal status. Speakers condemned Christian conversions declaring ‘all Tribals are Hindus’.

Adivasis are taught by Ekal Vidyalayas about the ‘origins’ of Jagannath in Hinduism, as Jagannath, the famed Tribal god of Orissa, is Hinduised. Since the inception of Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, the Janata Dal, Congress and other political parties have endorsed the sangh parivar’s network of educational organisations, interpreting Hindutva education as secular. Consecutive governments have abdicated state responsibility in building a quality education system in the state. High levels of illiteracy among Dalits and Adivasis proliferate simultaneous to the denigration of non-Hindu traditions and cultures.

In the absence of viable educational institutions, Hindutva education offers a free, widely available and rigorous curriculum. Students from these schools succeed in state board examinations. Hindutva schools, run primarily by RSS organisations, are complemented by organisations that facilitate cultural regimentation. The facticity of hate in this curriculum, the dismissal of minorities, the assertion of Hindu supremacy is overlooked by many Hindus.

In the current climate, many Muslims retreat to madrassas. These institutions often teach orthodoxy, deliberately mischaracterised by the majority community as uniformly ‘fundamentalist’. Hasina Begum offers, "My daughter is in a good school but with those other children who do not like her. She wants to play with the neighbours but they curse at her. They physically push her around. Now we think we should find a madrassa for her. The madrassa is orthodox, but they will protect us. The education is better in the school but what if something happens to her?"

The adverse effects of the sangh parivar on the social and economic health of Muslim communities are apparent. Samshul Amin, a Muslim man from Bhadrak says, "We trade in leather. We always have. The RSS and Bajrang Dal tell lies about how we slaughter cows to shame Hindus. That we kill and send the cows to Muslims in Bangladesh." A Muslim businessman in Jagatsinghpur town confirms, "They threaten and at times beat Muslims on the road, starting from Bhadrak, from Balesore, onwards up to Calcutta, where the Bajrang Dal has a strong presence, there they are violent. They stop cow transportation on Jajpur road."

Subash Chouhan, Bajrang Dal state convenor, indicts, "There is so much cow slaughter, for example in Sundargarh, Bhadrak, thousands of cows. Every day about 200 trucks leave with cows for Bangladesh. We believe that the cow is our mother, but they want to kill the cow. Also, if the cow stays, it is a financial security for the home. So, if necessary we will use a suicide squad. To save the country and its sanskriti [culture], we will do whatever is necessary."

In Pitaipura village, in Jagatsinghpur district, a disturbing event occurred in the winter of 2001 after Muslim graveyard lands were placed in dispute. According to Hakim Bhai, a resident of the village, "The land record for the village divides the 25 acres into two plots, one listed as a ‘kabarstan’ [graveyard] and another as ‘gorostan’ [also graveyard]. But villagers insist that ‘gorostan’ is ‘gaochar’ [grazing land] not a kabarstan. We were harassed when funeral processions arrived or we read namaaz during Id. We sat down together to resolve the dispute without any success. Then we filed a case in court. The court did not resolve the case for the longest time. The court then began mediating and declared a part of the land as a graveyard and held the rest as disputed. Once, the night before the official was coming to measure the land, Hindus from the village stole into the graveyard and placed a murti [idol] to mark it as their land. We found out and went inside and took it out. The next morning when the official arrived, Hindus were angry that we had taken the murti out. They threw stones at us, we threw stones back at them. The crowd ran from the graveyard pelting each other. We were near the Ma Durga temple. The Hindus started accusing us of throwing stones at the temple. Then it began."

Another resident inserts, "Perhaps our stones had fallen on the temple compound. But we were not destroying the temple, we were responding to each other. Once the word spread that we were destroying the temple, RSS youth arrived from Bhubaneswar and mobilised people from surrounding villages. They went around with loudspeakers to 20-30 Hindu villages accusing us of destroying the temple. Our basti [hamlet] is in the middle of the village, between Hindu hamlets. Five Muslim homes were burnt in our basti and men were beaten. The police could not do anything. For three days during that time we were very afraid, some hid in the forests. A peace rally came to our village. They have not returned. The case is pending. No resolution has happened. If we are left alone things might escalate. Then what?" Hakim Bhai responds, "The RSS continues its meetings in the Hindu hamlets regularly since the incident. These meetings are not publicised, they spread through word of mouth. We Muslims have now made our own shops in the basti, we have retreated to ourselves. Our women are afraid and they do not want to go out of the basti. When we go out Hindus call us names. Call us ‘Pathans’. We are becoming isolated." Shazia, a woman, adds, "Even our dead cannot rest in peace."

The extent to which violence is inscribed disproportionately on women’s bodies and memories is rarely named or languaged. A Muslim woman in another district requests anonymity. She says, "We came from Chhota Nagpur, displaced from a mining town. Our village is surrounded by the RSS. We live like moles, I teach my children to be unseen. If we are quiet people will leave us alone. The men, it is not easy for them. Last month there was violence in our village. Bajrang Bali’s called us names, they threatened we would never work again. Said we were dirty, that when we kill cows, we do violence to Hinduism. They said they were watching us. My husband came back, shaken. He brought fear with him into the house. He forced me to have intercourse. It was not about intimacy, it is about power, about feeling helpless and wanting control. So, here it is, in our kitchen, in our bedroom, in our home. Even as we wait for it to strike, it already has."

The violence that accompanies Hinduism is not new. Hindutva is its variant. It is not about groups and peoples, but about the country, who belongs and who doesn’t. The imbrication of state disregard for Adivasi and Dalit human rights with the grassroots mobilisation of Hindutva make Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis, women’s rights volatile in Orissa.

Hindutva corroborates the impairment of women’s rights that are already structurally limited in Orissa, together with women’s access to land, livelihood and well-being resources. A host of xenophobic women’s organisations are in place, including the BJP Mohila Morcha and the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti. Established in 1936, the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti has been active in the crusade against cow slaughter in Orissa. The Samiti organises state and district level meetings, as well as daily and weekly sakha and prayer meets in villages, towns and cities "to encourage physical education, intellectual development, mental acumen".

Bidyut Lata Raja, leader of the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, says that the parivar helps discipline the mind and weans people from ‘pointless’ activity. She says that the parivar functions as a family, each taking care of the other. "The parivar seeks to create unity. Dalits and Adivasis say that Hindus are outsiders. How can that be? We must create consciousness that we are all one." They seek to complement economic development with building moral character to unite India through shared nationalism. The Samiti supervises Balmandirs and Udyog Mandirs, celebrates the anniversaries of influential sangh leaders and religious festivals, hosts classes on culture and ethics, organises Bhajan and Kirtan recitals, and runs women’s schools and hostels. The Samiti concentrates its volunteer-based social work services in Adivasi areas, seeking to bring ‘enlightenment’.

The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti seeks to organise and train women in self-defence, "to increase their physical and mental capacity to encourage them to protect their nation, dharma and culture". Stringently heterosexist and mired in sexism, the Samiti is dedicated to supporting women in their youth, in marriage and motherhood, work, and leadership, indoctrinating the practice of Hindutva as patriotic, the saffron flag as the national emblem, insisting on the loyalty of its followers to their husbands, families and the Hindutva leadership.

The sangh parivar asserts that relations between higher caste, Dalit and Adivasi groups have improved in rural Orissa. It ignores that lower class and caste and Adivasi people are seldom acknowledged as social equals. In an interesting display, while all residents of a particular village, including Adivasis, may contribute financially to the major annual Hindu pujas (prayers), higher caste people control the preparations and ceremony. It may be appropriate for a member of the Dalit or Muslim community, if invited, to eat at a general caste home usually seated in a demarcated space, and internalise the invitation as demonstrative of the ‘charity’ and ‘tolerance’ of the upper caste toward ‘lower caste’ people. The reverse is nearly impossible. Inter-caste alliances, marriage between non-comparable social castes, are more evident even while often socially ostracised.

Associations among Hindus and non-Hindus remain strained in the state and frequently prohibited. In upper caste rural Orissa, poor Muslim communities are as socially unacceptable as Adivasis, and constitute a ‘lower’ social strata than Dalits. Gender and ethnicity are central to how resources and power are allocated and rights disbursed, both nationally and locally, and are salient to the organisation of legal, cultural, economic and political infrastructure and institutions. The imposition of Brahminical language, ritual and memory seeks to incorporate the marginal into the dominant polity simultaneous to segregationist arrangements for water use, food and forest resource sharing.

BJP and sangh parivar organisations have a significant strategy of manoeuvring Muslims in middle class neighbourhoods and villages by forming alliances with the local leadership. In Banamalipur and Jadupur village, neighbouring Bhubaneswar in Khurda district, Muslims leaders spoke of their alliance with the BJP. Poor communities in these villages say this allows local Muslim politicians access to electoral seats leaving the disenfranchised without trustworthy representation. Minority resistance is frail with few options, progressive Muslims say. A Muslim activist from Bhubaneswar states, "We are isolated. We do not want to identify with the madrassas and we do not have a mass movement that accepts us."

The actions of sangh organisations are often triangulated, with parallel components for edification, mobilisation and service. For example, Vidya Bharati (known as Shiksha Vikas Samiti) directs 391 Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools in Orissa. Sangh students are inducted into the cadre via a formal curriculum that emphasises Hindu nationalism, along with informal training in cultural values and defence. In addition, these students and their families are expected to volunteer in mobilisation and developmental work, in local fundraising. They are even expected to participate in temple inaugurations.

Religion, development, polity and education are used by sangh parivar organisations to facilitate recruitment into Hindu extremism. An army of parivar organisations fundraise abroad as registered charities to support sectarian development in India. Funds from the US and UK amounting to millions of dollars were raised by sangh organisations during the Gujarat earthquake and Orissa cyclone, substantially aiding the expansion of sangh networks in both states.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recently designated India as a ‘country of particular concern’, asking for US investigations into RSS organisations registered as charities in the US. India Development Relief Fund is one such organisation that, post cyclone, raised $90,660 for Sookruti, $23,255 for Orissa Cyclone Rehabilitation Foundation, and $37,560 for Utkal Bipannya Sahayata Samiti, as documented in the report ‘Foreign Exchange of Hate’ in 2002.

In the United Kingdom, Sewa International UK (the fundraising wing of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS equivalent in UK and US) sent a majority of the £260,000 raised for cyclone relief to Utkal Bipannya Sahayata Samiti, an RSS organisation in Orissa, detailed in the report, ‘In Bad Faith? British Charity and Hindu Extremism’ by Awaaz, 2004. Currently, Utkal Bipannya Sahayata Samiti undertakes sectarian disaster relief work and has been working with approximately 50,000 beneficiaries after the floods of 2001, funded by RSS organisations abroad.

RSS cadres mobilise sakhas around minority villages in Orissa. Each sakha begins with an organiser and a few members who meticulously monitor the area, teaching people to describe themselves as ‘communal’, a new identity that denotes Hindu cultural pride. Minorities worry as, under the watchful eye of the RSS, cricket conflicts, harmless fracas between children’s winning and losing teams, turn into communal skirmishes. Green flags of stars and crescent used by madrassas are depicted as adhering to Pakistan, linked to terrorism and the Inter Services Intelligence.

VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal leaders and their cadre in Orissa reiterate that charges of fundamentalism cannot apply to Hindutva. It is not an ideology, they say, but integral practice, a lifestyle for nationhood. Hindutva functions as a meta narrative in manufacturing foundational truths to build and govern the nation. Hindutva assimilates the plural traditions within Hinduism to create a narrow centralised code that promises to unite Hindus. These principles are universalistic, in action segregationist. This strategy thwarts the complex search for cultural identity that confronts the vast diversity of peoples in India living at the pre and post modern intersections of nation making and globalism.

Hindutva justifies practices of domination in ways that ignore the power dynamics of its discourse. There is no pluralism in its agenda – Hindutva is the only ‘right’ way to be human within its specified territory, any other must be annihilated. Hindutva invokes difference and plurality in the name of domination. What are the effects of Hindutva’s discourse? Hate. Cruelty. Terror. To realise its mission, Hindutva, anathema to democracy, defines minority interests as oppositional to Hindu, and therefore national, interest. The struggles for justice of marginal groups organised around ethnicity, religion, class, caste, tribe, gender, or culture become hostile to national unity.

Elite aspirations in nation making, the annexation of territory and resources from the disempowered, the imposition of violent ideologies and alienating identities, and subaltern resistance, have produced contested meanings and practices of democracy. Through the amassment of identity politics, reinvention of history, the normalisation of difference, the extension of its power into private and social life, Hindu majoritarianism exhibits scorn for those it finds unincorporable and inassimilable into its governing imaginary. Hindu nationalism is aided by the State as it operates as legatee to its imperial coloniser, inheriting and modifying its biopolitics.

What are the reasons for Hindutva’s conquest in rural and urban Orissa? What prevents a resonant secular counter-response? Praveen Togadia, international secretary of the VHP, visited Jajpur on February 16 and Beherampur on February 29, continuing his seditious campaign for Hindutva amidst rousing protests from local groups. Since the assembly elections, the BJP has gained in strength. As Orissa gears up for the next round, the BJP is using the ‘jal, jungle, zameen’ (water, forest, land) platform, appropriated from land reform movements, to persuade Adivasis in Orissa. The Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram is the key strategist and organiser for the BJP in the Tribal belt. Having won Chhattisgarh, the BJP is confident. Tribal culture is being glorified as artefact, objectified, made distant from its political reality while the relentless decimation of these very cultures continues.

Subash Chouhan of the Bajrang Dal resumes, "We in the VHP believe that this country belongs to the Hindus. It is not a dharamsala [guesthouse] and people cannot just come here and settle down and do whatever they want. That is not going to happen. We will not let that happen. Whatever happens here will happen with the consent of the Hindus. If you come to another’s house and live as a guest and then start doing what you please, that is not going to happen. Whatever happens here, say politics happen, it will have to be Hindutva politics, with Hindutva’s consent. India is a world power, what is in India is nowhere else, and we want to create India nicely in the image of Ram Rajya."

Hindutva’s production of culture and nation escalates, celebrated by breakdown, rupture, violence. As I write this, the second year closes on Gujarat. Justice remains beyond reach for Muslim minorities in the complex duplicity of State negligence, judicial oversight, and the deep fragmentation of the political community in India. Gujarat represents an end and a beginning, a marker in Hindutva’s malevolent reach for a Hindu State. The end of lives, the culmination of brutality. I am reminded of a Dalit boy, age eight, in a decimated colony in Ahmedabad, in June 2002, who said, "I am not afraid of death. I am frightened by life. Look what happens in life," as Muslim and Dalit women stared each other into silence across a boundary wall.

(Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is currently completing a book on this subject, titled, ‘Violent Gods. Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present’, forthcoming from Three Essays Press Collective in Delhi).


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