Multidisciplinary Perspectives

For decades now, scholars have been studying Hindutva: from its early articulation in the work of Savarkar, where he contrasted Hindutva’s muscularity with the effeteness of Hinduism; to its adoption by groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other affiliates; to the spread of its ideas into civil society; and the rise of its practitioners to political power, making it the de facto ideology of the current Indian state. Distinct from Hinduism, Hindutva is a set of often inchoate and even contradictory ideas and values. Hindutva has separated itself even more from the myriad religious practices of Hindus across India and in the diaspora, as its votaries have hardened their attitudes to non-Hindus, Dalits, Adivasis, sexual minorities, and even Hindu women. Those who believe in Hindutva, and thus in the establishment of a Hindu rashtra, are determined to alter the constitutional order of India and to undo India’s commitment to secularism and pluralist democracy.

Scholarship in a variety of disciplines have revealed Hindutva’s profound implications not only for our understanding of India’s democracy, but also for its changing civil and caste order. Scholars are also studying the violence practiced by people who mobilize in the name of Hindutva, and who have transformed the greeting “Jai Siya-Ram” into the rallying cry “Jai Shri Ram.” Scholars continue to study the long history of Hindutva as a credo in the diaspora, and also the finance networks overseas that enable the growth of its political allies and affiliates in India. Further, scholars have charted at length the methods by which a populist conservatism has transformed itself into both an aspirational ethno-nationalism and provided the bedrock for authoritarian governance in India. Most recently, the capacity of Hindutva-identified groups to use contemporary social media to further their cause and mobilize both voters and crowds has also received scholarly attention. The wide reach and century-long history of Hindutva thus requires the comparative analyses made available by a multi-disciplinary framework, which is what this conference makes available.

Thus, this conference brings together scholars of South Asia specializing in gender, economics, political science, caste, religion, healthcare, and media in order to try to understand the complex and multi-faceted phenomenon of Hindutva.

Global Hindutva

This rise of militant Hindu groups in India and the corresponding escalation of violence against religious minorities and other marginalized communities is well documented, including by global media. International attention has also been directed at the exclusionary Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 pushed through by the ruling Hindutva-aligned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the aggressive crackdown on all forms of democratic dissent, and the intimidation and imprisonment of journalists, human rights groups and activists working to empower marginalized caste and tribal communities. This overall erosion of democratic practices and freedoms in India has been noted by global research networks. There has also been some useful scholarship, journalism and community-based activism on the links between Hindutva and racism and caste-ism. We need now to develop a comprehensive understanding of Hindutva and its global implications through its different iterations in the large Indian Diaspora and its potential for building links with other supremacist ideologies, especially as Hindutva groups expand their influence well beyond India.

The BJP and its various affiliate groups have been adept at building connections with the vast Hindu diaspora, particularly in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. This reach has contributed materially and ideologically to the strengthening of Hindutva in India. Moreover even as such groups have leveraged racialized minority protections in, for instance, the US, they have continued to support caste-discriminatory practices and have found common cause with far right and white supremacist groups in Europe and the US.

When it comes to caste, Hindutva claims to offer a unified Hindu identity that cuts across caste lines. But, as rising atrocities against Dalits show, this promise is hollow. Not only do upper-caste vigilante groups affiliated with Sangh Parivar organizations attack Dalits, on many occasions, they do so with impunity, with the state being complicit in such violence. This should come as no surprise: the RSS charter, Integral Humanism, calls for the caste system to be “kept alive” (just as European fascists historically supported the perpetuation of class hierarchies). Like Brahminism, Hindutva is fundamentally oppressive to all Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi communities. Indeed, Hindutva can be understood as Brahminism in its most militant and fascist form.

It is also important to recognize the economic turmoil unleashed by the authoritarian economic policies and policy-making framework of the BJP government, including the failed demonetization policies and the ill-conceived agricultural reform policies. Such erratic and draconian policy making has led to stalled economic growth, dangerous declines in basic living standards, and loss of protections for the most vulnerable labor and agricultural communities in India.

This conference will convene panels on a variety of interlinked topics that address the threat and power of Hindutva. Scholars, journalists, and activists will examine the historical development of Hindutva, the fascist dimensions of the ideology, its alignment with other supremacist movements and define all that is at stake across a range of political, socio-cultural, and economic issues. We also aim for the conference to be a space for examining the history of dissent and resistance against Hindutva. Dalit and Feminist traditions have long resisted the singular narrative of Hinduism adopted by Hindu Supremacists. A broader coalition of activists from progressive communities have mobilized to enable both material and ideological divestment from Hindutva. Drawing inspiration from such collectivities, we expect to develop resources for anti-Hindutva pedagogy and organizing in educational and cultural institutions everywhere.

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