That the recent wave of suicides by Muslim so called 'terrorists', is a devellopment of modernism is agknowledged, in fact the Koran also does not enjoy in the veiling of women either. Yet although the ritual burning of widows became illegal after the British governor of Bengal, Lord Bentinck, banned it in 1829, the practice has acquired iconic status as an `act of spiritual sacrifice' and like similar practices, such as dowry murders, female infanticide, and, latterly, the abortion of females when the sex of a fetus has been determined by amniocentesis, has proved difficult to eradicate.
Thus on 4 October 1987 in the village of Deorala near Jaipur in Rajasthan, Roop Kanwar, a beautiful 18-year-old bride of less than eight months mounted the funeral pyre of Maal Singh, her 24-year-old husband. Taking her dead husband's head in her lap, in the prescribed manner, Roop was burned alive. In her final moments one arm was seen to stretch out from the flames.
In 1988 again despite laws enacted now with the specific purpose of banning pro-sati propaganda in local and national elections, 4,000 visitors attended the anniversary of Roop Kanwar's sati.
Fundamentalism or tradition? Murder or suicide? The ultimate symbol of female oppression or an ironic, if extreme, demonstration of a `woman's right to choose'?
For its supporters, who included the weighty figure of Shankayracharya of Puri, one of the four `pontiffs' or heads of the Advaita religious tradition, sati is a profoundly spiritual act by which a woman achieves immortality for herself and her husband. By remaining at his side during the cremation, she shelters him from the spiritual dangers of death, cancelling any karmic shortcomings accrued during his lifetime, as well as offering benefits to those who witness her act. Like the suicide martyrs in Chechnya and Israel-Palestine, the sati's family derives spiritual benefit from her act of sacrifice: the blessings she accrues are enjoyed by seven generations before and after her.
For its detractors, who include the Shankayracharya of Kanchipuram, sati is far from being a necessary part of Hindu tradition. According to this authority the philosopher, seer, and teacher Adi Shankara, from whom all the Shankayracharyas derive their spiritual authority, condemned the practice more than a thousand years before.
Unlike the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there is no single text, such as the Bible or the Koran, identified with the Word of God or supreme religious authority in India. The Hindu scriptures consist of a massive body of texts dating back more than four thousand years and added to over the centuries: the example, par excellence, of what is termed `cumulative tradition'. Claims that there are references to sati in the Rig Veda, one of the oldest of the Vedic texts, and the Mahabharata, the most famous of the Hindu epics, have been challenged by scholars who argue that the custom is of much more recent origin. Narasimhan points out that the Baghavad Gita, the section of the Mahabharata that has come to be seen as the supreme statement of Hindu ethics, argues that morality must be disinterested, condemning actions based on the expectation of future rewards: `hence immolation in the expectation of felicity in an afterlife can only be immoral'. In justification of sati the Shankayracharya of Puri cited sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts that date from the period of turbulence and upheaval following the Moghul conquests.
This seems consistent with the scholarly view that sati may be an `invented' patriarchal tradition that originated among the nobility (the Kshatriya class) rather than the priestly class of Brahmins, as a means of ensuring that their women were not violated by invading armies.The Rajputs of Rajasthan, who take pride in their warrior traditions, encouraged their women to immolate themselves in a rite known as jauhar rather than submit to being raped by invaders. In 1295, before the fall of Jaisalmer, 24,000 women are said to have been burned to death; just before the fall of Chittor in 1569, 300 women led by Queen Padmimi committed mass suicide inside the fortress rather than be taken captive and violated by the invading Afghan armies of Ala-ud-din. Immolation by a widow in dedication to her husband' should not be allowed to constitute an offence in law. The head of the Janata party in Rajasthan, Kalyan Singh Kalvi, responded to the criticism that sati demeans women by stating: `In our culture, we worship the motherland, dharma, and nari', thereby making a direct connection between motherland, religion, and woman.
Rather than being seen as the defense of an exotic item of religious heritage threatened with extinction, the pro-sati agitation can be seen as part of a counter-feminist or patriarchal protest movement that is common ground among fundamentalists in all traditions.
Starting with the 19th century, even some of the Hindu reformer Dayananda's ideas reveal for example an affinity for in this case the 'fundamentalism', found in the Abrahamic traditions. He believed that the Indian scriptures-the Vedas were the highest revelations ever vouchsafed to humanity, and contained all knowledge, scientific as well as spiritual. 'All the knowledge that is extant in the world' he would claim 'originated in Aryavarta'-the Land of Arya, his name for ancient India, a mythical realm whose kings ruled over all the earth and taught wisdom to all their peoples. Through their vast knowledge the ancient Indians were able to produce the weapons of war described in the great epics such as the Mahabharata. 'Since the knowledge of the Vedas is of general applicability, all references to kings and battles are in fact political or military directives. ' The sentiment is identical to that of the Islamists who recall the age of the 'Rightly Guided Caliphs' as an era of justice and prosperity (although in actual fact, three of the first four caliphs were brutally murdered). His point about military directives is strikingly similar to an argument employed by the Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb in Milestones, the tract he wrote while in prison in Egypt before his execution in 1966. Muhammad's Companions, according to Qutb, used the Koran not just for aesthetic or even moral guidance, but as a manual for action 'as a soldier on the battlefield' reads his daily bulletin .
Dayananda's ideas first took root among Hindus in the Punjab, which has large Muslim and Sikh populations, and it was Punjabi leaders of the Arya Samaj who founded the Punjab Hindu Provincial Sabha (council), the first politically oriented Hindu group, in 1909. By 1921 it had become the All-India Hindu Mahasabha (great council), gone of the best-known institutions of Hindu reaction' . The council actively fostered the growth of the RS S (see p.1 of this series), now a highly professional organization with 25,000 branches throughout the country, the RS S has lent its organizational skills to two political parties, the Jana Sangh and its de facto successor, the BJP. Both L. K. Advani, recent president of the BJP, and the Indian Prime Minister (until 2004) A. B. Vajpayee started their careers as RSS organizers.
The parallels with the Muslim Brotherhood founded in British-dominated Egypt in 1928, just three years after the RSS, are compelling. Both movements adopted something of the style of their colonial masters: the Muslim Brotherhood had affinities with the Boy Scout Movement and Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) organizations that stressed the importance of physical activity, with paramilitary overtones. The khaki shorts worn by RSS volunteers during their drills were modelled on the uniform of the British Indian police. Both organizations discouraged democratic dissent under an authoritarian style of leadership. Both organizations encouraged male bonding by excluding women (though both allowed the creation of smaller all-female organizations). Both opposed the mixing of sexes within the organization as contrary to religious norms.
Like the Muslim Brothers, members of the RSS are organized into groups that transcend or substitute for family ties. Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, grouped his followers into 'families and battalions'; young Palestinians who today volunteer for suicide missions are organized into 'friendship packs' who may act as family substitutes, while holding them to their decision. The organizers of the RSS model themselves on Hindu renunciates. 'Dedicated to a higher goal [they] are supposed to abandon family ties and material wealth.' Like the Palestinian and Lebanese volunteers belonging to the Shia Hezbollah, they are generally young, unmarried men in their twenties. They wear Indian-style dress and are expected to lead an exemplary, ascetic existence, although some may marry and have families after a period of service. Organizers serve without salary, but their material needs are taken care of Some volunteers are provided with motor scooters for getting around town. Both the Brotherhood and the RSS consciously blend elements of modernity with aspects of tradition. Al-Banna sought to infuse his organization with some of the spiritual values of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) without its devotional excesses. As leader he called himself the murshid, or guide, a title usually reserved for the leaders of Sufi orders; his favourite reading, al-Ghazali's Revitalization of the religious sciences, is strongly informed by Sufi mysticism. In a similar manner the RSS leaders blended the prestige of secular learning with spiritual knowledge. The founder K. B. Hedgewarwho ranthe organization from 1925 to 1940 was known to his followers by the honorific Doctoji. His successor, M. S. Golwalkar (1940-73), was called Guruji. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the RSS blended indigenous ideas of spiritual leadership with organizational techniques borrowed from Western bureaucracy.
The Hindu movement's leading intellectual was V. D. Savarkar (1883-1966), who held the presidency of the Hindu Mahasabha from 1937 to 1942. Like Sayyid Qutb he wrote his most influential work, Hindutva, 'Hindu-ness', in prison, where he spent many years after his detention by the British in 1910. Hindutva is a manifesto for religious nationalism. As Daniel Gold explains, Savarkar's 'idea of Hindu Nation stands in contrast to the idea of a composite, territorially defined political entity that developed among the secular nationalists and would be enshrined in the Indian constitution. The modern western idea of nation, according to Savarkar, does not do justice to the ancient glory of the Hindu people, the indigenous and numerically dominant population of the subcontinent. The people whose culture grew up and developed in greater Indiafrom the Himalayas to the southern seas, by some accounts from Iran to Singapore-this, for Savarkar was the Hindu Nation. The subcontinent is their motherland, and Hinduness is the quality of their national culture. ' Hindutva is not the same as Hindu religious orthodoxy because, according to Savarkar, its spirit is manifest in other South Asian religions, including Jainism, Sikhism, and Indian Buddhism. Muslims and Christians, by con trast, are seen as foreign elements in the subcontinent, which rightly belongs to Hindus. 'Hindus should actively reject any alien dominance: they have done so in the past and should renew their struggle valiantly whenever necessary.' For Savarkar India is both 'Fatherland' and 'Holyland': as Gold points out, this definition deliberately excludes Muslims and Christians for whom India is not a holy land. 'From the viewpoint of Hindu cultural nationalism, Savarkar's formulation effectively isolates the perceived other.
Golwalkar, like his Indian contemporary, the Islamist ideologue Mawdudi, expressed his admiration for the Nazis in Germany, who held similar ideas about national purity. 'Germany has shocked the world by purging the country of the sernitic races-the Jews,' he wrote in 1939 before the full horror of Nazi atrocities had taken place. 'Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races [sic] and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.'
As suggested in the previous link, there is a 'fundamentalistic' element in Dayananda's elevation of the Vedas to the surnmum of human knowledge along with his myth of the golden age of Aryavartic kings. But the predominant tone, and its consequences, are nationalist. Hindutva secularizes Hinduism by sacralizing the nation, bringing the cosmic whole within the realm of human organization. As Gold astutely observes, 'If personal religion entails among other things the identification of the individual with some larger whole, then the Hindu Nation may appear as a whole more immediately visible and attainable than the ritual cosmos of traditional Hinduisrn.' The problem, of course, is that such a sacralization of nationality is explicitly antipluralistic. Both Arya Samaj and the RSS define their religion in contradistinction to other groups. The 'Hinduization` of Indian nationalism generated a reciprocal response among Muslims that led to the traumatic partition of the subcontinent in 1947, with many thousands killed or maimed in communal rioting. The shock of the sainted Mahatma Gandhi's assassination by an RSS member in January 1948 allowed Nehru to ban the RSS and its affiliates, enabling Congress to foist upon India a secular Constitution that lies 'squarely in the best Western tradition'. As Sunil Khilnani observes, 'Constitutional democracy based on universal suffrage did not emerge from popular pressures for it within Indian society, it was not wrested by the people from the state; it was given to them by the political choice of an intellectual elite.'
The sacralization of Indian identity would remain a potent, corrosive force in the body politic, a sleeping giant that could all too easily be woken by politicians willing to play the communal card. job reservations or affirmative action programmes aimed at protecting 'scheduled castes' (the former Untouchables), could be presented as clashing with the rights or aspirations of the majority. In the words British, who in recognition of their help against the great rebellion or'Mutiny'of 1857 recruited Sikhs into the army, allowing them to keep their long hair, turbans, and other marks of distinction. 'Building upon the tradition emanating from the sixth and tenth gurus, the British helped in shaping the notion of the Sikhs as a martial race and indeed as a distinct and separate nation.'35 Like other fundamentalist leaders Bhindranwale strongly resisted the pressures towards assimilation, whether Hinduistic or secular Western. In his preaching he called for a return to the original teachings of the ten gurus and strict adherence to their codes of moral conduct. Like fundamentalist preachers in other traditions he paid more attention to politics and social behaviour than to the cosmological questions the religion addresses.
In defending his community against the perceived cultural encroachments of Hindu Punjabis, Bhindranwale unleashed a campaign of terror that cost hundreds of innocent Hindu lives. To the symbolic or latent militancy of Sikhism represented by beard, dagger, and sword he added two new items: the revolver and the motorcycle. Towards the end of 1983, fearing arrest, Bhindranwale and dozens of armed supporters installed themselves in the compound surrounding the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the holiest shrine of Sikhism, an area constantly thronged with visitors, pilgrims, priests, and auxiliary helpers. By taking refuge in the temple area, he challenged the government to defile the sanctuary-using the pilgrims and others as human shields, while permitting his followers to desecrate it. There are parallels here with the seizure of the sanctuary in Mecca, Islam's holiest shrine, by the Saudi rebel Juhaiman al-Utaibi in November 1979. Operation Blue Star, the Indian Army's attack on the Golden Temple in June 1984, resulted in more than a thousand deaths (including Bhindranwale's), many of them innocent pilgrims. Shortly afterwards Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who authorized the attack, was murdered by her trusted Sikh bodyguards. Nearly three thousand Sikhs lost their lives in the ensuing rioting in Delhi and other cities. In a retaliatory attack, Sikh terrorists may have been responsible for the crash of an Air India jumbo jet off the Irish coast in June 1985, killing all 32 9 people on board.
The second major challenge to India's secular constitution took place seven years later, in 1992, when a gang of Hindu militants destroyed the Babri Masjid (mosque of Babur) in the town of Ayodhya, south-east of Delhi. Ayodhya is the mythical birthplace of Lord Rama, hero of the Rayama, one of the great Indian epics, and an incarnation of the great god Vishnu. The Kingdom of Ayodhya over which Rama rules with his beautiful consort Sita after his exile and travails in the forest, epitomizes the golden age of Aryavarta as described by Dayananda. Rama's alleged birthplace, however, became the site of a mosque said to have been constructed on the orders of Babur, the first Moghul emperor, after a visit to the city in 1528. In 1949, two years after independence, local worshippers eported the miraculous appearance of Rama's image in the building. (Muslims, more skeptically, believed it had been put there by local Hindu activists.) An outbreak of communal rioting persuaded the local magistrate to close the building-but he allowed Hindu worshippers to visit it once a year on the anniversary of the image's appearance. The build-up to the crisis started in earnest in 1986 when a local court allowed the building to be opened for Hindu worship. in the ensuing riots bombs were set off, shops were burned, and at least twenty people died.
By 1989 the confrontation had became a major national issue, with an all-India campaign by Hindu activists to construct a new temple at the site. Small donations were sought from millions of ordinary people; villagers from all over India collaborated in making bricks for the temple's construction. Tensions escalated throughout the summer, with increasing communal rioting taking place as the elections approached. The government's efforts at mediation were unsuccessful, and in November the Congress faction led by Indira's son Rajiv Gandhi was defeated at the polls. His successor proved no more successful at defusing the tension. In December 1992, in defiance of the courts and their own religious leaders, a group of Hindu hotheads demolished the mosque during a ceremony for the dedication of the new temple, many of them using their bare hands. In an action that infuriated India's Muslims (and would have wide repercussions in Pakistan) the 13,000 police and militiamen who had been drafted to protect the site failed to intervene. The subsequent riots in Bombay and other cities were the worst since India's independence in 1947. In a series of pogroms thousands of innocent Muslims lost their lives: even in Bombay's affluent Colobar district where real estate prices rival those of Tokyo and New York, middle-class Muslims found it necessary to remove their names from lists of residents on apartment blocks, fearing lynching by the mob.
Sri Lanka provides a further example of South Asian religious nationalism. Here, in a situation that bears a certain resemblance to Ireland, the demand for recognition of its separate status by an island minority linked by religion and ethnicity to its larger neighbour (in this case Hindu Tamils of southern India) is perceived by members of the majority community-Sinhalese Buddhists-as a threat to the nation's integrity. Like Irish Catholicism the Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka has developed into a nationalist ideology in which religion has become a marker of communal identity. The reasons are largely historical. Sri Lankan Buddhists regard themselves as the survivors of the great Buddhist empire founded in India by King Asoka in the third century BCE. While in mainland India Buddhism eventually disappeared as society relapsed into the multiform patterns of worship which came to be known as Hinduism, the Sinhalese held to the Buddhist faith which eventually became politicized. In Sri Lanka (as in Burma), Buddhism provided the stirrings of anti-colonial sentiment by offering 'the only universally acceptable king who rescued Buddhism and our nationalism from oblivion.'
In 1956, the year of Britain's Suez debacle, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, leader of the opposition Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP), was able to win power on a proBuddhist, pro-Sinhalese ticket, replacing the upper-class, English-educated liberals of the United National Party who had governed the country since independence. The SLFP benefited hugely from celebration of the 25ooth anniversary of the Buddha's birth (Buddha Jayanti) the following year and from the previous publication of a report detailing the suppression of Buddhism under the British. The Jayanti enlarged upon and celebrated the national myth bonding the Buddhist faith to the land and the Sinhalese nation which 'had come into being with the blessing of the Buddha as a "chosen race" with a divine mission to fulfil, and now stands on the threshold of a new era leading to its "great destiny"'. The SLFP was aggressively supported by the United Monks' Front, which rejected the concept of secular nationhood in terms very similar to those that would be used by Ayatollah Khomeini in his famous Najaf lectures.
The 'Buddhisization' of Sri Lankan politics had the inevitable consequence of making non-Buddhists (Tamils and Muslims) feel excluded from the nation, provoking demands by Tamil separatists for a state of their own. The Tamil Tigers-as the activists called themselves-were concerned not only with securing political rights, but more importantly with maintaining a cultural, ethnic, and religious identity which had been suppressed or alienated as Sinhalese nationalism became increasingly reliant on Buddhist symbols. More than 60,000 people from both communities lost their lives in the ensuing civil war that lasted nearly two decades. In the late ig8os the Tigers resorted increasingly to the novel tactic-pioneered by the Shii Hezbollah in Lebanon-of suicide bombing. More often than not the victims were civilians. A steady campaign of assassinations (including that of the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in iggi, by a female bomber) and indiscriminate murder was kept up through the 1990’s. In 1996, 91 people died, and 1,400 were wounded, in the suicide bombing of Colombo's Central Bank; 18 were killed in the destruction of the twin-towered World Trade Centre in Colombo in 1997; 16 died in the suicidal attack on a Buddhist shrine in Kandy in 1998. Some, though not all, the Tigers were practising Hindus, who dedicated themselves to Shiva before sacrificing themselves-and others.
The example of Buddhism in Sri Lanka clearly demonstrates that none of the major religious traditions is immune from 'fundamentalism', to which violence is closely linked-though it might be better in this, as in most other contexts, to describe the process as the 'nationalization' or secularization of religion. Donald Swearer argues that by 'homogenizing' the Buddhist tradition and reducing it to a simplified core teaching along with a moralistic programme of right living linked to Sinhalese Buddhist identity, Bandaranaike (and his later successor President Jayawardine) 'ignored the polar dynamic between the transmundane and the mundane, a distinction basic not only to traditional Theravada Buddhism but to the other great historical religions as well. The absolutism of fundamentalism stems from this basic transformation of the religious worldview.' The narrowly ideological nature of 'fundamentalism', Swearer concludes, means that it is 'not religious in the classical sense of that term but rather a variant of a secular faith couched in religious language'. In this process traditional religious symbols are 'stripped of their symbolic power to evoke a multiplicity of meanings'. Like Juergensmeyer, Swearer sees nationalism as triumphing over religion, rather than the reverse: 'Religions thus harnessed to nationalism are often regarded as more pure and orthodox than the traditional forms they seek to supplant; in turn nationalism readily takes on the character of a fervid, absolutistic revival of religion. In the case of Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, the search for national identity is prior and conditions the fundamentalism of the religion(s) incorporated into nationalism.'
I pointed out that in spite of hurriedly written media reports following 9/11/2001 positioning that bin Laden's ideology of global jihad has its origins in Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's writings because both are Wahhabis, the reality is that bin Laden's ideology owes far more to the writings of the medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyya and his contemporary interpreter, Sayyid Qutb.
Ibn Abd al-Wahhab legitimated jihad only in cases in which Muslims had experienced an actual aggression. He did not glorify martyrdom because he believed that the only intent a person should have in carrying out jihad was defense of God and God's community, not the desire for personal rewards or glory, whether on earth or in the Afterlife. Further, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab did not permit the use of jihad in aggressive activities directed against others. By limiting jihad to cases that were strictly defensive in nature, he precluded the possibility of using it as a means of consolidating political power or forcibly spreading Wahhabi rule on a religious basis.
However by early 2005 now, without doubt the most-used nomenclature nowadays is `Salafi'. The term Salafism was used at the end of the nineteenth century to designate a reform movement initiated by Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani.
He strove to reform Islam in order to adapt it to the challenge of colonisation and westernisation. But Afghani was more an activist than a theologian. His call for a return to the true tenets of Islam was a means of castigating the backwardness of the religious establishment rather than an appeal for the implementation of sharia. In fact there is little in common between Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani and Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban.
The historical Salafi movement was the forerunner of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists, for whom it remains a reference point. In his book Aux sources du renouveau musulman,Tariq Ramadan advocates a return to the `founding fathers', from al-Afghani to al-Banna, with a view to integrating Muslims in the West.' Salafism was originally meant to answer the challenge of the West. But `Salafi' no longer refers to a global political project to reform and modernise Muslim societies. The idea is to ignore the West. Salafism is now associated with a conservative program of purifying Islam from cultural influences (from traditional Muslim societies as well as from the West).
P.S. To ad a more recent example: Where fundamentalist Muslims before were accused of prompting the Government of Saudi Arabia in 2003 to make changes in schoolbooks, as a move almost in the opposite direction in 1998 and 1999, proposals for changes in school textbooks in India were to reflect in this case the ‘Hindutva’ world view. This meant an incorporation in government schools in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi and elsewhere that extol: `Greater India' as the Aryan homeland and the birthplace of humanity, and from whom the Persians, Greeks, Egyptians and Native Americans and indeed Jesus (said to have roamed the Himalayas) gained their knowledge and wisdom.
The pre-arya Indus Valley civilization is described as Vedic. Aryan culture is the core of Indian culture. India had however been invaded for 3000 years by `greedy marauders' against whom the gods and then the Hindus fought. Muslim rule is described as foreign rule, spread by the sword. In Gujarat, a current history and civics textbook states that `Aryans were the most illustrious race in history. They were a tall, fair complexioned, good-looking and cultured people.' In a social studies text, Hitler is described as `instilling the spirit of adventure in the common people'. The Holocaust is not mentioned (UK Guardian Newspaper, 25 January 2000). Similarly, those Hindutva tendencies whose Aryanism has been unleashed in recent years describe their primordialist projects as the `decolonization' of the Hindu mind.
Of significance in the Hindutva use of the Bhagavad Gita is not the complex ethical and moral epistemology that it contains, nor, indeed, the dispersed ending of the Mahabharata, but instead the primitive message that any kind of violence, if undertaken for the protection of dharma, is a bounden obligation, regardless of the abhorrence of violence for any individual sensibility. Hence, violence becomes an unavoidable religious duty under dharmic principles for anyone who claims to be a Hindu. Leaving aside the bleak rendering of Hinduism, this is a highly unethical position, containing no moral or ethical principles, only an elementary code of collective narcissism. The sensibility here is singularly about violence and killing and there is a glaring absence of an ethics of collectivism, responsibility, love or care that can include the `other', indeed even include others who may be dissenting Hindus. In the propagation of such self-absorbed, nihilistic ideological positions, the Hindutva movement is unleashing many demons for the future.
A partial explanation is offered by the intensification since the 1980s of ethnic, religious and nationalist resurgence in various parts of the world as a `paradox' of processes of economic, social and technological `globalization' and their concomitant uncertainties - especially outside the West where the impact of globalization has been both asymmetric and inextricably linked to the economic immiseration and socio-political marginalization of large populations. However, the dramatic rise of Hindu nationalism has also unravelled older, if now seemingly provisional, certainties about the meanings of secularism and secular nationalism for national populations living under, and immediately amenable to the charm of religions. The persistence of Hindu nationalism also poses sharp questions about the understanding of religious and cultural politics that informed the national, anti-colonial movement of Gandhi and Nehru.
The concept of Hindutva, the imputation of a core essence to 'Hinduness', or the 'beingness of a Hindu' that was imagined to be constitutive of Hindu identity is of recent lineage. 'Hindutva', a neo-Sanskrit term, does not have a basis in tradition. (The Sanskrit masculine suffix, '-tva', appended to `Hindu' creates an abstract noun, representing 'Hinduness'.) Popularized in Bengal during the 1890s by Chandranath Basu and used by national figures such as Tilak, its contemporary usage derives largely from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
Yet both `Hindu' and Hindu nationalist political and ideological formations have been far more influential since the nineteenth century than their post-Nehruvian designation as marginal tendencies might suggest. Ideologies of archaic primordialism have formed the core political lexicon of Hindu nationalist, and many Indian nationalist, tendencies. If archaic Indian civilizations have provided resources for both Indian and Hindu nationalism, it has also allowed for a thematic convergence between these different projects. At critical moments since the nineteenth century, abstracted conceptions of Hinduism have functioned to justify for both the superiority, however conceived, of `the Hindu ethos' as a basis for their nationalisms. This has even been the case when Indian nationalism was articulated (for example, by M. K. Gandhi) in principled anti-communal, `caste upliftment' and religious pluralist terms, an abstracted Hinduism being claimed to provide for the greatest co-existence of diversity.
In her reassessment of the relationship between early Hindu nationalism and fascism, Marzia Casolari has highlighted the direct, barely mediated relation between the organizational structure and ideology of the early RSS after the mid-1920s and Italian fascism, in particular the Fascist Balilla and Avanguardisti movements and fascist military academies and training schools. Fascist Italy was already a source of inspiration for Hindu nationalist movements in the 1920s and (with Nazi Germany) 1930s, especially in their desire to demonstrate organized Hindu strength and militarize the Hindu nation. British reports had highlighted how, from 1927, Moonje, who had key responsibility for organizing RSS branches in Maharashtra and in the central Provinces, was inspired to model the RSS on the Fascist and Nazi movements (Casolari, Hindutva's Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s: archival evidence, Economic and Political Weekly, 22 January. 2000).
However, it is useful to employ an analytical distinction between fascist political ideologies, social movements, organizational and institutional forms, and cultural aesthetics and between all these and fascism as an exceptional form of state power.
Of additional importance here is the conception of both state and civil society and their forms of ordering within fascist political ideologies. A corporatist orientation to economic issues, economic nationalism or an organicist economic 'egalitarianism' has not been incongruent with classical fascism; indeed a corporately governed and qualified economic redistributivist ideal has been a key characteristic of fascist states. In ideological, aesthetic, social movement and organizational terms, characterising the RSS as fascist is by no means unwarranted. However, disclosing the fascism of the RSS and its family of affiliated organization by demonstrating historical connections with the fascist and Nazi regimes is not politically sufficient because contemporary fascisms can be precisely predicated on the widespread memory of the past existence of those regimes from the 1920s to the mid-1940s. In other words, the possibility is there that movements can come into being for which no historical, ideological or inspirational relation to past fascism or Nazism can be demonstrated, but which can share many of the definitive social and political characteristics of the latter.
Hence, over the last decade there has emerged an enormous body of autodidact and dilletantist literature published in India and the US (indeed, also Pakistan -reflecting another current of archaic nationalist legitimation for a recently born nation) preoccupied with demonstrating that Aryans were indigenous to India, had then migrated to central Asia, Europe and elsewhere (indeed everywhere that ancient civilizations have been found), and that India is the original Aryan homeland. The most contentious of its claims is that the Indus Valley civilization was Aryan, its language Sanskritic, and its gods and goddesses Vedic. The Indus Valley civilization has also been erroneously redesignated in Hindutva literature as the `Indus Saraswati civilization', because 'Saraswati' is a Rig Vedic deity, a later Hindu name for a goddess, and an unidentified river. (Archaic Avestan literature also refers to its version of 'Saraswati'.) Hindutva adherents have claimed that 'Saraswati' refers to an ancient river bed in the north and north-west of the subcontinent recently discovered by Landsat imaging, demonstrating again the older Hindutva Aryanist obsessions with river, water and landscape, though the actual referent of the Avestan and Rig Vedic literature is unknown. Central to Hindutva claims is the resurrection of an earlier European idea, the basis of Romantic and early Enlightenment attacks on clerical authority and the biblical chronology of humankind, that India received the first revelation and was the cradle of world civilizations. However, Hindutva supporters of these views contend that the denial of Aryan autochthony in India is an example of `racist', `colonialist' and `Christian' chauvinism (although their anger at recently discovered Western racism is not matched by anything like a similar rage at caste - some disagreeable aspects of the latter are ascribed to `Muslim influences', whereas varna is unhesitatingly defended as a natural order). Hindutva writers are arguing against late nineteenth-sand early twentieth-century paradigms that few contemporary scholars accept. However, their interventions, against what they have dubbed the Western `Aryan Invasion Theory' (AIT), in contrast to their `out of India' (OIT) claims, have dramatically affected contemporary Indological and South Asianist disciplines within and outside India. Hindutva claims about the Indus Valley civilization have not been substantiated and contrary evidence is overwhelming (see variously Mallory 1989, Jha 1998, Sharma 1999, Thapar 'Hindutva and history', Frontline, 13 October 2000, Witzel and Farmer `Horseplay at Harappa', Frontline, 13 October 2000).
Thus in northern India, government archeologists sift the earth for a lost river described in ancient Hindu texts. And in a small north Indian town, holy men, politicians and archeologists wrangle over rubble, buried for centuries, that has fueled horrific religious violence.
At its worst, the debate spills into violence, in 1992 a Hindu mob demolished a 16th-century mosque they believed was built atop an earlier Hindu temple marking the birthplace of their supreme god, Rama. The attack set off nationwide religious riots that left more than 2,000people dead. Legal battles over the site continues in India to date.
The debate over history includes reports from websites that satellite images had revealed Hanuman Bridge, a mythical causeway between what is now India and Sri Lanka that allowed Hanuman,the monkey god, to rescue a kidnapped Hindu goddess. Eminent astrophysicist J V Narlikar, when contacted in Pune, said he had seen reports claiming about the mythical bridge, but there was no evidence to suggest that what had been located had links with the bridge mentioned in the Ramayana. “There is no archaeological or literary evidence to support this claim,” historian R S Sharma told The Times of India in Patna. “The Ramayana itself is not that old. Nor had human habitation occurred 1.75 million years ago,” Sharma, an acknowledged authority on ancient Indian history, said. The oldest evidence of the Ramayana is around 400 BC and running across five strata, its shloka multiplying from 6,000 to 24,000, it comes up to 1200 AD. “Even if you want to rely on literary evidence, the oldest literary evidence available is only from 1500 BC.”
D N Jha, professor of history at Delhi University, said what had been captured by NASA’s cameras was a geological formation. The issue had “more to do with geology than history,” since the claim was 1.75 million years old. “To link that with Rama or Ramayana is ridiculous.” “Linking just anything found with Ramayana or Mahabharata may be mythology, but it certainly isn’t history,” said Jha.
Many scholars in the West on the other hand believe Hinduism developed after a nomadic Indo-European people infiltrated the Indus Valley civilization around 1500 B.C. Hindu nationalists want to show that Hinduism predated the invasion and the subcontinent’s first civilization was Hindu. That, in turn allows hard-liners to argue that non-Hindus are outsiders not truly Indians.
Although the British had little to noting to do with the creation of ‘Hinduism’ their census indeed could have had the potential to marginalize certain religious groups while giving others more members then before.
See following example to show how the above could have just as well be true; in the Punjab Census Report for 1891, the Census Superintendent describes 'sanathan-dharmi' as an idea with little apparent substance, actively promoted by middle class agents and manifested in modern organizational forms. In addition, it may be said that the spread of this new formulation mirrored that of the Arya Samaj, as it is first mentioned in the Punjab report, before spreading to the United Provinces report somewhat later.
According to the same 1891 report, being an Arya' is identified as the common characteristic of 'sanathan-dharmis'; second, the non-Arya Lahori Hindus, were being recorded as 'sanathan-dharmis', as opposed to positively stating their allegiance-this implies the conscious intervention of census enumerators, similar to that noted in the recording of Hindus in the Central Provinces; and third, 'numerous societies and clubs' are cited as `maintaining the orthodox faith. This made it often difficult to trace the development of the 'competing' networks of Arya and Sanatani organizations, because of the tendency to use the same terminology and the confluence of objectives among these organizations. And the the Sanatana Dharma Sabhas that emerged in the late 1870s and the idea of sanatana dharma as an unmediated symbol of orthodoxy, might have been rather modern.
Similar research therefore made John Zavos and other authors of the 1990’s conclude that in fact no core theology was developed, to be referred to by any well-read Sanatani in a debate with an Arya. Instead, Sanatanis relied on learned individuals like Shraddha Ram to travel from district to district, refuting the arguments of Dayananda and other reformers as they arose. This is significant, because of the emphasis it placed on practice and structure-as opposed to doctrine-as the defining elements of Hindu tradition. The main areas of Arya criticism in the 1880s were image worship and the position of Brahmans in Hindu society. Consequently, image worship and established caste hierarchies were identified as core features of the tradition signified by sanatana dharma, and defended by Sanatana Dharma Sabhas.