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December 31, 2015

The violence of Hindutva


December 31, 2015

“The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice.”

— Theodore Parker

The heralded anti-slavery struggle in the United States has been corrupted to reflect the current Hindutva reality in India. The Hindutva moral universe hardly bends towards justice for the discriminated minority communities. Instead, it bends towards cultural violence against other faiths, especially towards the largest minority in India, Muslims, who constitute 13.4 percent of the population.

The roots of the Hindu-Muslim antipathy goes back to when Muslim conquerors invaded India and introduced cultural and religious practices that, unlike all erstwhile religious creeds, refused to be subsumed under Hinduism. Despite several syncretic and pluralist reigns by Muslim monarchs, the extremist fringe in both faiths kept a lambent flame of hatred alive with revivalist movements frequently rooting for a cultural purity by stamping out the symbols of the rival creed.

In the case of Muslims, the Hindu revivalists’ ire assumed a paranoid proportion due to their belief that the Muslim identity was the only bulwark that stood in their way to paint India in the saffron colours of Hindu culture. The Hindutva ideology has been defined by its recent votaries as a way of life that is coterminous with the Indian identity. The conflation of Indian and Hindu identities is a clever stratagem by the Hindu revivalist movement to set the stage for a cultural purge of other faiths through cultural violence.

According to Johan Galtung, cultural violence is “any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimise violence in its direct or structural forms.” It is a kind of insidious violence that furnishes a justification for injustices and inequities against a persecuted community by changing the moral colour of a hideous act.

Cultural violence acts as a substratum of ideology for an iniquitous socio-political or socio-economic structure that inevitably leads towards acts of violence against the beliefs, property and lives of the dominated community.

The top elements in a structure of violence deify their own culture while subjecting the cultural of the underdogs to desacralisation. The disaggregation of culture in religion, ideology, and art helps one understand the anatomy of cultural violence. In the case of Hindu cultural violence against Muslims, religion is being used as a tool to direct the Hindu misanthropy and cultural xenophobia towards Muslims.

Hindu revivalist organisations like the RSS and their political front, BJP, rely on the religious precepts of the caste system to demonise Muslims as objects unworthy of equal treatment and therefore liable to be discriminated against in all spheres. The term ‘Hindutva’ signifies not only Hinduism but a deeper concept of adopting a way of life that is culturally Hindu. Anyone that does not follow the Hindutva creed is ex-communicated from his or her Indian roots.

The exclusivist Hindutva narrative has gained stridency lately in the shape of an organised campaign to force Muslims to reconvert to the faith of their ancient ancestors. The idea has been lent saffron hues by the Hindutva ‘Karsevaks’ who openly force Muslims to adopt Hindu apparel and names in an eponymous ‘Ghar wapsi’ campaign. The targets and the worst sufferers are the lower caste converts who are just above the Dalits in the social hierarchy.

RSS leaders openly say that Muslims can only survive in India as adherents to the Hindutva creed. Forced conversion is evidence of the classic cultural violence that sanctions atrocities against the Muslims in India. Attempts are being made openly to disrespect the core beliefs of Muslims through cultural isolation and marginalisation, the core tenets of classic cultural violence.

A state-abetted campaign is underway to erase the Muslim identity from Indian heritage sites and historical landmarks. The renaming of important cities and sites to remove Muslim names and Islamic connotations can be seen through the recent proposals to rename Allahabad, Lucknow and Ahmedabad.

Another anachronistic practice has been the ban on the slaughter of cows and consumption of beef. The beef ban has put 20,000 Muslims out of work in Aurangabad. Though the ban is detrimental to the rural economy, the RSS has persevered with it to damage the Muslim community. The Muslim population is being subjected to a wave of terror through physical attacks and the burning of their properties as a reprisal for slaughtering cows. One of the latest atrocities has been the public lynching of a Muslim at Dadri by an enraged mob for violating the ban on cow slaughter.

Apart from the above social excesses, the Hindutva fanatics in India, under the surreptitious watch of the Modi administration, are busy spawning a surreal culture of Hindu supremacy through a falsification of history and a revisionist historical discourse.

The Hindu search for identity finds expression in absurd claims. M S Golwalkar, one of the most revered leaders of the RSS, claims that the North Pole was in India at one point in time.

It is clear from the Hindutva narrative that violence is being legitimised through a carefully crafted narrative of Hindu cultural supremacy that calls for a cultural purge in order to preserve the purity of India. The attempted revocation of Article 170 in the Indian constitution to dilute the special autonomy enjoyed by the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and the beef ban through the high court, are concomitants of a sedulously imposed cultural violence against the Muslims.

The unjust and cruel demonisation of Muslims and denigration of their cultural practices along with the attempted erasure of Islamic symbols have evoked domestic as well as international opprobrium that has forced Indian civil society to take notice of the Hindutva excesses. However, the implacable ‘saffronisation’ of the Indian cultural landscape continues to reverse the trend without any serious effort from the Indian government.

The writer is a retired brigadier, and a PhD scholar in Peace and ConflictStudies at the National University of Science and Technology, Islamabad.

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