Hindu nationalism is an ideology that seeks to create a Hindu rashtra (nation) by redefining Indianness on the basis of religion and culture. It is a hegemonic attempt to essentialize India as Hindu and to homogenize it under the ideology of "one nation, one religion, and one culture." The 1990s witnessed a series of well-coordinated attacks against the Christian community in many parts of India, particularly in Gujarat, by the proponents of Hindu nationalism.
Conversion is probably the central and the most controversial issue in the conflict between the Hindu nationalists and Christians. And since the phenomenal rise of Hindutva in the 1990s, the context in which Christians live and serve has radically changed in many parts of India, particularly in places like Gujarat where the Hindu nationalists have a firm foundation.
Tushar A. Gandhi describes in his book ‘Let’s kill Gandhi !’ that communal violence was unheard of in the state of Orissa before Gandhi was killed by Nathuram Godse--an activist of the Hindu Mahasabha whose leader went on to found the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Today Godse is something of a hero on BJP and RSS websites.
Picturing the atmosphere at the time Nehru, believed that the murder of Gandhi was part of a “fairly widespread conspiracy” on the part of the Hindu right to seize power; he saw the situation as analogous to that in Europe on the eve of the fascist takeovers. And he believed that the RSS was the power behind this conspiracy. In December 1947, he had already written to the provincial governors:
We have a great deal of evidence to show that the RSS is an organization which is in the nature of a private army and which is definitely proceeding on the strictest Nazi lines, even following the technique of organization…I have some knowledge of the way the Nazi movement developed in Germany. It attracted by its superficial trappings and strict discipline considerable numbers of lower middle class young men and women who are normally not too intelligent and for whom life appears to offer little to attract them.
During the 1950’s, Nehru’s staunch insistence on state secularism and his watchfulness about the danger from the Hindu right, together with the lack of any issue favoring their rise, gave the organizations of the Hindu right a weak political presence.
RSS had always understood its role as that of the sun in a solar system, the center of a family of affiliated organizations. By encouraging the formation of distinct entities with similar ideologies, it could encourage the idea that this ideology was that of the nation as a whole, or of Hindu people as a whole.
In the 1960’s a new political party, the Jana Sangh, came to be closely identified with RSS. It adopted goals, such as a ban on cow slaughter, that had considerable traditional resonance and that began to garner some popularity. Finally, the India-China war of 1962 gave Hindu nationalism an agenda against the dominant Congress Party.
The involvement within the BJP movement of the Jana Sangh, the RSS, and the Congress was extremely significant. On the one hand, the participation of these communalist groups was important because their activist networks were national in scope, and they were able to provide an organizational structure to the movement. The RSS and Jana Sangh, in particular, were essential in organizing street protests and popular agitations. RSS activists subsequently became a major force in the movement.
Since then, particularly Orissa (highlighted by Gujarat), has been a hotbed for the promulgation of Hindu militancy.
For example on 16 March 2002, days after Gujarat, a few hundred VHP and Bajrang Dal activists burst into the Orissa Assembly and ransacked the complex, demanding the construction of the temple in Ayodhya and objecting to alleged remarks made against the two organizations by house members.
Currently, the BJP/RSS network in Orissa divides its energies between recruitment, developmental/charitable, and political work. Whereby it operates 2500 shakhas (chapters) in Orissa, with a 100,000 strong cadre.
In 2006 (the birth centenary of RSS/Rashtriva Swavamsevak Sangh architect Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar) Sangh Parivar organizations hence promised that Orissa will be a poster state for ‘Hindutva’.
In fact it was as early as October 2002, that the Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district in Orissa declared that it had formed the first Hindu “suicide squad”. And in July 2003, in a room on Janpath in Bhubaneswar, state convenor for the Bajrang Dal, the paramilitary wing of Hindutva, spoke with zeal of current hopes for “turning” Orissa.
To counter Christian missionaries converting adivasis to Christianity, he Sangh inaugurated various trusts in Orissa to enable fundraising, such as the Friends of Tribal Society, Samarpan Charitable Trust, Yasodha Sadan, and Odisha International Centre.
While Christians constitute less than 3 percent of the population in Orissa, devide and conquer effectively realized, Hindutva propaganda accuses Christian communities of forcible conversion and labels it a crime. The Sangh hereby does not acknowledge that tribal and dalit conversions to Christianity are rarely coercive and often occur in response to oppressive and entrenched caste inequities, gender violence, and chronic poverty.
When Praveen Togadia, International Secretary of the VHP, visited Orissa in August 2003 he advocated that Orissa be part of a ‘Hindu state in India’. Ram Rajya (rule of Ram, an energizing myth in the discourse of Hindu nation), he promised, would come.
In May 2003, the Bajrang Dal and VHP declared that they would present trishuls to 5000 as part of the Janasampark Abhiyan (mass contact programme) that anticipates reaching 100 million people in 200,000 villages throughout India. In June 2003, in preparation for the 2004 elections, the Bajrang Dal announced that it would organize trishul diksha (trident distribution- a weapon used by the mythological Shiv). Aimed at securing membership in Orissa, this was part of a larger campaign, in preparation for the 2004 elections.
Despite the BJP's national defeat, the BJP coalition was returned to victory in Orissa, winning 18 of 21 parliamentary seats.
Yet for the 36.7 million who reside in Orissa, Hindutva's predatory advance aggravates, and exploits the social panic of a land haunted by inequity.
Orissa houses 577,775 Muslims and 620,000 Christians, 5.1 million dalits from 93 caste groups, and more than 7 million adivasis from 62 tribes. Eighty-seven percent of Orissa's population live in villages: 47.15 percent of the population live in poverty, with 57 percent of Orissa's rural population living in poverty. Women are the worst affected across tribal, caste, and class boundaries as they rarely hold shared or individual titles to either household or agricultural land. Such inequities resonate across the nation where poor rural women labor 1.5 workdays.
And whereby Vanavasis 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.
An extensive `land grab' has resulted from debt bondage and indenturement 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. While occupations such as agricultural labor necessitate contact between adivasi and caste groups, adivasi lives are predominantly isolated, geographically and socially. Adivasis are often considered, and consider themselves, a subordinate group within the Hindu caste hierarchy. While Hindu adivasis are much less discriminated against as Christian adivasis.
Systematic disregard for the human rights of lower caste, adivasi and dalit peoples is a social and structural predicament in Orissa. A Deori adivasi activist in Orissa told us, We adivasis are not Hindus. We are being forced to become something we are not, and then fight for it [Hindutva] with our lives. We would rather organize to fight for our own future.”
Tribal culture, glorified as artifact, distanced from its political reality, allows the systematic objectification and disfigurement of culture in which Hindutva's mobilization of new identities and affinities is internalized by minorities, acquiring urgency and redemptive capacity.
The BJP-BJD and Sangh Parivar organizations also have a significant strategy of maneuvering Muslims in middle-class neighborhoods and villages by forming alliances with the local leadership. In Banamalipur and Jadupur village, near Bhubaneswar in Khurda district, Muslim leaders spoke of their allegiance to the BJP in January 2004, testifying that they would ensure a BJP win in the area. Poor communities in these villages say this allows local Muslim politicians access to electoral seats, leaving the disenfranchised without trustworthy representation.
Thus the state is in disarray, as the Sangh infiltrates into civic and political institutions.
Literacy rate in Orissa is 49.09 percent, with female literacy rates at 34.68 percent and male literacy rates at 63.09 percent. Twenty-four percent of the state's population is adivasi, of whom 68.9 percent are impoverished, 66 percent are illiterate, and only 2 percent have completed a college education; 54.9 percent of dalits live in poverty.
Government of Orissa figures suggest that the intensity of poverty in Orissa is very high. Parallel to a disturbing increase in actual poverty, an emerging middle class masks the reality of despair among the economically marginalized.
Infant mortality, 236 in 1000, is the highest in the union.
Also in Orissa, approximately 2.5 hectares of irrigable agricultural land (cultivable twice each year) are required by a family of five to cultivate rice for subsistence. The average land holding is 1.29 hectares per family. Land reforms, inaugurated via the Orissa Land Reforms Act of 1960, have been uneven, followed by the onslaught of state-sponsored development in Orissa, linking the aspirations and labor of the poor to dominant development, and their incorporation into the Brahminical social order.
Despite prolific peasant and adivasi struggles, their dispossession has been continued by the postcolonial state since 1948, when 24 princely states merged to create Orissa. Mayurbhanj, a district in north Orissa, was formed in 1949,( From the former state of Mayurbhanj.) with an adivasi population of 58.5 percent, including a concentration of Bhunya, Bhumija, Bathuri, Ho, Gond, and Santal tribes. Historically, dalit groups in the district have lived in close relation with Juang and Paudi Bhunya adivasis, just as Dom and Pano dalits lived in relationship to Konda and Saora adivasis in south Orissa. Mayurbhanj exemplifies how chronic poverty, illiteracy, Sanskritization, and inequitable relationships between adivasis and non-adivasis, as reported by the Tribal Research Bureau, have created ensuing contexts for social fragmentation and adivasi assimilation.
Even as the passage of the 72nd and 73rd Constitutional Amendments in 1992 empowered panchayati rule, enforcing a national mandate for greater democratization and decentralization, land alienation and its concomitant dislocation have dramatically amplified adivasi and dalit migration and their dependence on forests for livelihood.
In independent India, the panchayat system of government, or Panchayati Raj (rule), refers to the three-tier structure of local governing bodies from village to district level: gram (village), samati (block-a collective administrative unit constituted a group of villages), and zilla (district-an administrative unit constituting a group of blocks).
There are 46,989 villages in Orissa, of which 29,302, with a population of 15.93 million, record forests as part of their land use. Deforestation has led to a massive scarcity of subsistence forest products. It has forced people, especially the poor, to migrate inter-state, seasonally and even permanently, to alternate rural areas, nearby towns, and faraway cities in search of work.
Simultaneously, there is out-migration from and considerable in-migration to Orissa from neighboring states, induced by political factors and poverty. Women, children, and (disproportionately) men migrate to semi-urban and urban areas in Orissa, to neighboring West Bengal, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh, or as far as Delhi and Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, working in recycling, as industrial labor, in building and road construction, head loading, Carrying (on their heads) bundles of timber and firewood for sale., and some in the tertiary sector. The ability to secure employment depends on kinship and familial ties, on connections, on the capacity to become proficient in ever expanding new arenas of labor even as deskilling accompanies the displacement of people from their native lands. Working conditions are horrific for the poor migrant, daily shelter is difficult to locate as pavements substitute for homes. Women and children experience violence, sexual abuse, health perils, meager and illegal wages, and police brutality, as part of the corruption structuring displacement.
Dominant development has failed to address entrenched oppressions as exploitative relations endure between the poverty-stricken and a coterie of moneylenders, government officials, police, and politicians in Orissa. The absence of adequate social and economic reform further antagonizes already overburdened minority and disenfranchised groups, pitting them against each other. Hindutya targets the religion and culture of the disempowered as liberalization abuses their labor and livelihood resources. Such conditions and the multiple displacements of place, history, and memory produce contexts in which marginalized peoples embrace identitarian and oppositional movements.
This is illustrated by the words of a Christian dalit woman leader from Mayurbhanj, who emphasized the violence of forgetting that survival necessitates:
You ask about resistance, about standing up. It is not so easy. It can happen where there are movements swelling up. Here? I am not sure. We are isolated. Do we have choices? We are Christian dalits. Our family converted over twenty years ago. RSS workers have been coming to our village since last year to threaten us. They told us that we will have to become Hindus or leave Orissa. They also said that they would put a stop to the earth cutting [project] where we are laborers, and see to it that we do not get any money from the panchayat. We think about converting. So much it takes to keep changing ourselves, to escape fear. We keep our lives through bondage.
Yet the Sangh exploits the architecture of inequity and poverty to weave solidarity built on a mythic Hindu past. Such revisionist history however, obfuscates the severity of inequity within Hindu society that led to conversions historically.
Thus Adivasis are falsely presented as Hindus who must be`reconnected' to Hinduism through Hindutva. Dalit and `lower caste' people are raw material for manufacturing foot soldiers of dissension. In hunting for the enemy within to blame for India's befallen present, the Sangh demands absolute loyalty to its tyranny. requiring an unequivocal display of obedience. The Sangh dictates rightful gods to worship, prayers to recite, legacies to remember. Hindutva imagines its actions to be above the law. It makes the unification of Hindus central to its mission. To do so, it organizes Hindus to fulfill their `manifest destiny' fabricating Hinduism as uniform across the immense diversity of India.
Questions of ethnic, gender, and historical identity are infused with religion in ways that make necessary the organization of religiocultural movements. These movements live in relation to the state, and intervene in its imaginative, legislative, and juridical apparatus, infusing statecraft with the agenda of fundamentalism.
So a Dalit RSS worker comments: 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.
2008.world-journal.net: 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.
Another RSS worker adds: The Sai have been taking away our language and heritage, replacing them with foreign tongue and customs. How can we tolerate this?
In retelling history, the Sangh however infuses events with counter memory, erasing the fact that Christian missionary use of Oriya Language spoken in Orissa facilitated a literary revival in 1822, and that Christian schools today continue to teach both Oriya and English.
And where conversions to Hinduism 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 thus internalized oppression. These complex forces create agency on the part of the marginalized.
Also caste, oppression prevails in the Sangh Parivar's mistreatment of dalits in Orissa, who have been assaulted for participating in Hindu religious ceremonies. And thus Dalits, continue to suffer social ostracization and economic deprivation as 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.
And while women's resistance in grassroots movements linked to land and livelihood security is gaining strength in Orissa , women's right-wing movements, especially linked to Hindutva, are undoubtedly more cohesive and commanding.
A plethora of xenophobic women's organizations are in position, with women from middle- and upper middle-caste and class groups offering leadership. As with Hindu majoritarian women who assert the crass logic of sati (Hindu widow self-immolation), these women leaders are often privileged and the least economically, politically, culturally impacted by the capitulation stipulated by Hindutva.
The Sangh uses antagonistic and duplicitous techniques in mobilizing community, primary among them development, education, and forced conversions to Hinduism. In a drive in the mid-1980s the Jaganath Rath Yatra ,( a Hinduized Oriya tribal god) passed through Hindu, Christian, dalit, and adivasi villages across Orissa. Local people met expenses totaling 2-4 million rupees. The Yatra traversed a thousand sites between March 1986 and May 1988, drawing 3000-4000 people in each place. As an outcome of this process, 1600 permanent mobilization units managed by 500 committees were established. The VHP and Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams run these units, carrying out their mission via Kirtan Mandals, Satsangs, and Yuvak Kendras. (Cultural and youth centres)
Today, the annual Jaganath Yatra and other Hindutva-organized religionationalist exhibitions 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.
Another line of attack is to forcibly convert Christians into Hinduism. Churches and members of the Christian clergy are apprehensive. In Gajapati and Koraput, Christians have sought state protection in the past. In Gajapati district, RSS and BJP workers torched 150 homes and the village church in October 1999. A dalit Christian activist said, 'RSS workers tell me that Christianity brought colonialism to India, and I am responsible for that legacy. How am I responsible? Feudalism, imperialism, postcolonial betrayal. That is written across our bodies. How am I responsible?
At the instigation of Sangh organizations, in February 2004, seven women and a male pastor were tonsured by Hindu neighbours against their will in a dalit sahi in Kilipal, a heterogeneous caste village of more than 200 households, in Jagatsingpur district. Forty households inhabit Bauri sahi.
Hindu nationalists in the area, with increasing impetus from RSS and VHP organizations. commenced a vociferous anti-minority campaign. Christians in Kilipal were accused of violating Hinduism and actively targeted, and deprived of the right to use public water, roads, and grazing lands. They were intimidated and pressurized to `reconvert' to Hinduism. Enacted by local Hindus, the events of February 2004 occurred in the daytime, as Hindu dalit neighbors watched.
History, science, geography, literature, and religious texts written in Oriya are translated into Hindutva. The curriculum is increasingly centralized, censored, and obscurantist, interpreted to legitimate the sanctity of a `Hindu worldview' in India. Crafting the imagination of majoritarianism becomes a hyper-deliberate process vacated of ethics, it instantiates fictive memory via each assertion.
Since the inception of Saraswati Sishu Mandirs, the Janata Dal, Congress, and other political parties have endorsed the Sangh Parivar's network of educational organizations, 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 simultaneously with the denigration of non-Hindu traditions and cultures.
Social and informal education imparted to children by family and community varies by class and ethnicity. Nuanced with age, children are socialized into gender roles and caste identities, and acquire relevant occupational skills. Affluent villages and sahis increasingly have access to middle and even high schools in Orissa. Formal education holds certain value for many, trusted as a possible means of poverty alleviation. While families feel that formal education is important, parents (many of whom have little or no formal education) are often unable to provide an adequate support system. Schools advocate private tuition in an effort to help students with their homework and compensate for abysmal teacher pay scales. Even as an increasing number of boys and girls are attending and completing school, particularly within general caste communities, the paucity of direct employment opportunities connected to formal education undermines incentive for attendance and completion.
Non-formal and vocational education centers are operated by state and non-governmental organizations. Organizations with religious affiliations such as Islamic madrasas offer orthodox education. With the heightened impetus for privatization of education, Hindu religionatiotialist organizations undertake massive campaigns to inaugurate affordable schools in areas across Orissa where the government fails to provide public funding. Hindu nationalist groups operate informal and formal schools. 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. Institutions that facilitate cultural regimentation complement Hindutva schools, run primarily by RSS organizations. The dismissal of minorities in this curriculum, the assertion of Hindu supremacy, is overlooked by many Hindus. Thus in the current climate, numerous Muslims retreat to madrasas, and Christians to their own groups.
To domesticate dissent, the Sangh invigorates militant nationalism, threatened by grassroots democracy and forces of resistance as social movements challenge upper-caste Hindu dominance and contradict elite aspirations. In village Orissa, emulating Gujarat, the Sangh works to create enmity between dalits, adivasis, Muslims, and Christians. Where dalits, adivasis, and others are allied in subaltern struggles for land rights and sustenance, Hindutva intervenes, seeking to divide them.
Throughout Orissa, such organization for self-determination confronts the devastation of dominant development and globalization, acting as a bulwark against the escalation of the Sangh Parivar.
However, progressive citizen's groups have initiated campaigns to combat communalism in the state, including the Campaign Against Communalism in Bhubaneswar. Their capacity to contest despotic religiosity is linked to redressing political oppression, redistributing economic resources to ensure well-being and ecological sustain ability, and overcome injustice. People's movements in Orissa elaborate the distinctions between subsistence, well-being, and income generation. Leaders confirm that people's aspirations are linked to the achievability and sustainability of well-being. Subsistence refers to minimum requirements for living. Well-being assumes access to resources that permit individual labor and collective energy to devote themselves to the maintenance and development of culture and community. Well-being indicates a space beyond 'survival', from the realm of necessity to that of freedom.