Dr Meena Kandasamy. Photo courtesy Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW, Berlin), via kandasamy.co.uk

As transcribed from Dr Meena Kandasamy’s remarks during her session at the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference.

What constitutes as ‘Hindutva’? I’m sure everyone has a different viewpoint. One way to break down the toxic compound of Hindutva into its elemental form, [is to look at] two fundamental inequalities built into its system, into its philosophy and its daily practice: the oppression of caste, and the oppression of women. I say this not as my own academic finding, or as something I read in a research article; I say this in the feminist, caste-annihilation tradition of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, the revolutionary Dr Ambedkar, or Periyar and most recently Thirumavalavan, all of whom view the Hindu social order, or Hindutva, as a combination of caste inequality and male chauvinism.

Why do we call it Global Hindutva? This is a question Christophe Jaffrelot has addressed brilliantly, but Hindutva has been carried [forward from] and has borrowed heavily from its global influencers: the Italian Fascists, German Nazis and most recently, Donald Trump.

This term ‘Hindutva’, is one I want to problematise. There is a historical evolution that takes place from Sanatana Dharma, to Brahmanism, to Hindutva and to a broader Sangh Parivar. The basic concept of Sanatana Dharma, the core ideology, is inequality by birth. The philosophy of caste and patriarchy from the core of Sanatana doctrine, has also taken shape, is being called out as Brahmanism. After all, a particular community upholds a system of Vedic religion, and espouses this ideology. In fact, the rejection of divine priesthood is the reason why religions like Buddhism and Jainism that came up against Brahmanism are labeled as atheist religions by Hindutva forces. But as a minority population, to uphold hegemony, it was important to bring all people, culturally and spiritually, under the umbrella of something larger. The construction of ‘Hindu’ allowed this to happen, even as it ensured safety and security to those at the top of the caste pyramid.

Even as Hindutva masks and hides itself in the cultural platform under the garb of Hinduism, in the political platform, it seems to polarise vote banks and construct a Hindu majoritarian nationalism. When we speak about political Hindutva, we are in fact, speaking about the Sangh Parivar, of which the BJP is only a political wing. Because the Hindu in Hindutva is being subjected to such scrutiny, we might as well call it [Hindutva a Sangh Parivar; transcriber’s note: unclear].

The question now arises, why is the creation of internal enemies so important to Hindutva? How does it align with global Islamophobia? When the Congress party began to fight against British colonialism, there was a physical enemy. What the Congress in some way sought to do was cultivate patriotism. However in imperialism, where a physical enemy doesn’t exist, where enemies are virtual, where policies like liberalisation, globalisation, privatisation, are being forced upon a nation…where imperial nations dictate foreign policy, economic policy, and business… Hindutva, which benefits greatly from capitalism, does not want to address any of these. Hindutva embraces neo-imperialism, and any patriotism and inclusive nationalism is rendered irrelevant. What is important is to construct an internal – sometimes the Muslim, other times Christian.

And what are the multiple gains in this strategy of polarising Hindus? How does this help the traditional elite? Of course without the help of the traditional elites, no fascist movement has come to power. So the minority sentiment is used as a strategy to polarise the Hindus.

It pushes the Brahmin vs the non-Brahmin, or rather the Savarna vs Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasis, into the backseat. Polarising as bloc of Hindus ensures the safety of the Brahmins, the tiny elite minority that benefits the most from Hindutva, it also allows everything that exists in India that is not Islamic or Christian to come under the single umbrella of ‘Hindu’. Radical religions that rose against Hinduism have become Hinduism, small village gods are appropriated. This sinister construction by the Sangh Parivar ensures that by default, the religion of the Brahmins, or rather, the religion that declares the supremacy of the Brahmins, becomes the religion of the majority of the people.

How does caste become foundational for Hindu majoritarian nationalism? Caste fanaticism is fundamental to the development and establishment of a Hindu majoritarian nationalism. When people begin to rally along the lines of language, ethnicity or region, alongside the demand for social justice, it inevitably leads to the dilution of the individual or specific caste identity. Under a broader egalitarian identity, caste identity begins to blur. When OBCs demand social justice and reservation and a bloc, this struggle consumes [transcriber’s note: unclear] the particular identity. For the Sangh Parivar however, castes must organise on their own, independently. Which is why Konguvellallars must organise as Konguvellallars and so on. They cannot organise under a broader rubric of OBC or SC identity. This leads to an inevitable situation where individual caste differences are sharpened, pushing towards fragmentation on the basis of caste, and the consolidation, uniformity under unity, under the identity of Hindu.

This is where I want to argue, both as a feminist and an anti-caste activist, that caste annihilation and feminism are inexplicably interlinked, and they alone have the power to truly dismantle the power of Hindutva. Where caste sentiment is developed, male chauvinism will sustain. The oppression is crucial to maintaining this caste order. Likewise, women who are feminists, liberated and independent, will reject the oppression placed on them by caste. In Tamil Nadu, the recent controversy around the Manusmriti brought to the fore why Hindutva wants to uphold this text and everything it represents. The political gains of Hindutva are not only used for power capture, their dream is not just the BJP staying in power again; political gain of Hindutva which comes through polarising Hindus, is to construct a Hindu majoritarian nationalism. Only such a nationalism shall allow for minority hatred, for the suppression of women, for the perpetuation of caste atrocities, inequalities and exploitations.

What is the task of progressive academia in this revolutionary struggle against Hindutva? Dismantling global Hindutva involves within the space of academia, resistance to appropriation. This is where the real academic task lies. In Hindutva, the Sangh Parivar has been successful in swallowing any discourse and tailoring it. “Post-colonial” has been stretched like jelly to such an extent that many Sanghis proudly argue that caste was a British invention; a product of the colonial empire. They are not interested in nuance.

Within the latest of trend of decolonisation theory, there is a separate affliction where British colonial regime is rejected not toward some egalitarian future, but to hark us backward to a so-called glorious Hindutva — a past where Dalit, Bahuja, women were all denied education, when 100 years ago, only two women in 100 would read or write in a Madras Presidency. These are the same people who introduced the national education policy that takes us back to the oppressive Sanatan, Manuvadi system of hereditary vocation. But the Union Minister will say this is an attempt to ‘decolonise’ the Indian curriculum. An accused in the Malegaon terror blast will be invited as the eminent speaker to talk about the need to come out of the colonial mindset.

Calls to reject colonial education and retrieve indigenous knowledge are used sinisterly by the Sangh Parivar. The same people who actively deny affirmative action to Dalits, Bahujans and Adivasis in India, are the first to queue up [transcriber’s note; unclear, could be ‘for migration’] abroad. They pose as a minority and attempt to silence and adverse criticism of the thousands of caste atrocities and rape culture in India. And now, they have invented a new term, Hinduphobia.

I’m a writer who regularly flirts with academia from a safe distance. I admire the courage that it has taken to put this conference together. This battle to dismantle Hindutva has always been ongoing, and as we take it forward, I want to say in conclusion that as long as Hindutva exists it would mean the perpetuation of the caste system and women’s oppression. The task of dismantling Hindutva cannot occur without caste annihilation, without women’s liberation, it cannot [be dismantled] without a formidable challenge to capitalism.

I know that the conclusion is when a writer or a speaker makes the most effective point; I want to use the space of my conclusion to quote from Thol. Thirumavalavan’s reading of Dr Ambedkar in Uproot Hindutva, a book of speeches I had the honour of translating. He said, “Revolutionary Ambedkar launched a multi-pronged attack against Hindutva. If all his writing and all his speeches could be condensed into one line, it would read: we shall uproot Hindutva, we shall create equality. The essence of all of Ambedkar’s writing is, we shall uproot Hindutva. Hindutva is opposed to equality, so we are opposed to Hindutva. Hindutva is against democracy, so we are against Hindutva.”

This story first appeared on news9live.com