‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’: Western academic perspective

Idea of Hindutva is selected purist form of Hindu religion that promotes Brahmins, purity, piety based on caste system


Shazia Anwer Cheema September 21, 2021
The writer is a PhD scholar of Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication at Charles University Prague. She can be reached at [email protected] and tweets @ShaziaAnwerCh

The late 70s to 80s are the peak time of drugs, hippie culture, and Harry Krishna Harry Rama. The idea of salvation in colourful, mythical magic land on the name of Ashrams and Yogis was a popular phenomenon. Especially youth, in the quest for finding meaning for their existence on earth, followed the centuries-old mythologies which looked exotic at one point and harmless on the other. That was why no one paid attention to a forthcoming tsunami of ideas based on these mythologies.

India — the land of colors, diverse cultures, magic, and Hinduism — got attention in the west. People from India opened their religious training centres, called Ashrams, and thousands of Indians living abroad decided to take ‘Yogue’ as a profession. People paid to live in those religious centres to learn a different way of life featuring centuries-old wisdom and philosophy. The exotic yellow became fashionable besides nose piercing. Western academia and intelligentsia seemed comfortable with that till the basic crux of these practices “Hinduism” got politicised — unfortunately, not by outsiders but from India itself — and that tainted all that colorful salvation rituals, providing the infamous term of Hindutva.

This formation of Hinduism was a political version of Hindu ideology. For political use and political gain it filters out the most cherished aspect of harmony and co-existence and propagates the extreme version of religion for politics, power and wealth. The idea of Hindutva is a selected purist form of Hindu religion that promotes Brahmins, purity and piety based on the caste system leaving no space for non-Brahmin and non-Hindus.

The “narcissist-ness” of Hindutva came to the surface as daylight during the period of the current political government and grab global attention by creating unrest in the society. Their ideology of Hindu Brahman being the first and supreme is totally indigestible for human rights, and the list of crimes based on the very idea is long enough to call for global attention.

I had an opportunity to attend an online international conference titled ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ which was the first academic attempt initiated by academia to understand the undercurrents of Hindutva and its impact on western societies including western campuses of renowned universities. The conference was addressed by speakers from leading universities in the world including Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, University of Chicago, and Berkeley. Over 600 academics across the world attended the online event.

Participants expressed their concerns that Hindutva is becoming a global phenomenon and western universities are also not safe from its influence among South Asian students. They were of the view that hatred is being generated by the Hindutva narrative and this is not against any religion rather against humanity because this philosophy places Hindutva as a vehicle, and the message is actually the supremacy of Brahmin Varna over any human. Speakers were of the view that in the western world, Hinduism was promoted as a culture rather than a religion during the last half a century but now it has changed its face as a brutal and extremist religious monster that wants to kill everybody except Brahmins.

Hindutva wants to change the outlook of followers to see the world with only Hindutva extremist ideology. This purist approach is contrary to basic human rights ensured by the modern world to people. Hindutva has a history of ill-treatment of women, zero respect for transgender rights, minority exploitation, and extreme policies towards Muslims, Christians, Jews and non-Brahmins. It violates the basic fundamental rights of everybody who is not Brahmin.

The conference highlighted that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is promoting Hindutva. Motivated by the Nazi ideology, its regulatory principle is to transform India from a secular democracy to a Brahmin state where Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities are demoted to the position of second-class citizens. Speakers were of the view that Hindutva is a political philosophy styled after European fascism of the early twentieth century, an ideology that privileges a cult of personality and authoritarian leadership.

In the name of Hindutva, the current government of India has instituted discriminatory policies including beef bans, restrictions on religious conversion and interfaith weddings, and the introduction of religious discrimination into India’s citizenship laws. These measures led to a horrifying rise in religious and caste-based violence, including hate crimes, lynching and rapes directed against Muslims, non-confirming Dalits, Sikhs, Christians, Adivasis, and dissident Hindus. Women of these communities are specially targeted. Speakers of the conference were of the view that the term Hindutva is a strategy based on violence, hatred and terrorism. It is an enemy to democracy and has been targeting freedom of speech since the BJP came into power. Several cases of harassment of journalists were cited by speakers and participants.

Noted speakers of the conference included Gyan Prakash, Christophe Jaffrelot, Meena Kandasamy, Anand Patwardhan, Jens Lerche, Pritam Singh, Vamsi Vakulbharnaman, Gajendran Ayyathurani, Meena Dhanda, Bhanwar Megawanshi, Leena Manimekalai, Akansha, P Sivakami, Mohammad Junaid, Arkotong Longkumer, Yasmin Saika and Nandini Sundar, Raja Bhattar, Brij Maharaj, Sunita Vishwanath, Anjali Arondekar, Demetrius Eudell, and Deepa Kumari.

We have read in history that power-hungry groups had used either social norms or religion to grab the society strongly so their deeds cannot be questioned. Today’s India is going through the same phase where Hindutva is being used to subjugate non-Brahmins while the majority of Hindus are desperately raising voice that this idea and the group has nothing to with their practices because Hinduism over the last one thousand years interacted and mingled with several religions and even with indigenous cultures, and established the philosophy of coexistence and harmony.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2021.

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