By Shiba Kurian
A global scholarly conference, which is being co-sponsored by a group of 50 plus universities in the US, has drawn the ire of several right-wing Hindu organisations in India and the US. “Dismantling Global Hindutva: Multidisciplinary Perspectives” is a virtual conference, which aims to “bring together scholars of South Asia specialising in gender, economics, political science, caste, religion, healthcare, and media in order to try to understand the complex and multi-faceted phenomenon of Hindutva.” The conference is scheduled for September 10.
However, the concept or the word “dismantling” has not gone down well with right-wing groups that espouse the Hindutva ideology. Voices against the event have been growing — many are terming it “Hindu genocide,” “Hinduphobia,” and an attempt to defame Hindus; some demanding a ban on students seeking loans to study at the supporting universities. A right-wing Hindu organisation called Hindu Janajagruti Samiti even shot a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the Ministry of External Affairs, to take action against the organisers, participants and supporters of the international conference. Incidentally, former members of this organisation are accused in the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru.
The organisers, meanwhile, issued statements that the speakers were receiving threats from various Hindu groups, both in India and the US, allegedly due to which they did not reveal the names of many speakers until recently. Some speakers have pulled out of the event, although the exact reason is unknown.
Author and activist Meena Kandasamy is one of 25 plus speakers at the event, who will discuss “what is global Hindutva” on Friday, September 10. She spoke with TNM on the threats she has been facing, why the right-wing groups are feeling threatened by the academic conference, how Hindutva and Hinduism often get diluted, and why Hindutva threatens academics. Excerpts from the conversation:
You are no stranger to threats and trolling on social media platforms. How are the threats in the wake of your participation in the global Hindutva event different?
The scale of their operations is different now, compared to the individual trolling, where it is systematic targeting as well as shutting down voices. The right-wing groups have been systematic and organised in targeting this conference. I was recently on a Clubhouse platform discussion on how to disrupt the conference and hold a similar conference on the same day to build support for right-wing groups on campuses. They are part of the “global Hindutva” event because they no longer look at it as an India-specific agenda.
What is upsetting them is that the topic is being given the halo of academic recognition and a theoretical framework. As long as these voices exist in various ways inside the country, these groups are not bothered. I believe the fact that this comes within an international university system leaves them a tad rattled.
Also, crying out that people are “destroying Sanatana Dharma” and “uprooting Hindutva” is not new to Hindu politics and social grassroots movements. So, why this outpouring now? Apart from the academic and international aspects, they certainly want to carve out the image that they are victims. The victim narrative gets destroyed when people talk about abuse.
You said that Hindutva is no longer an India-specific agenda. How have the dynamics of the ideology changed over the years and does geopolitics play a role?
Certain aspects of Hindutva ideology remain the core, while other aspects evolve over time. For instance, the unsaid, untold supremacy of the Brahmins has always been core to the construction of Hindutva. It is either explicit or implicit, but nobody within the system challenges it.
Hindutva fundamentally believes in the sanatana dharma, which is the philosophical basis for Hinduism and Hindutva. It says that society is an unequal construction, and that this graded hierarchy has to be upheld for the smooth functioning of society.
Misogyny or patriarchy is another aspect that has been inbuilt into the mechanism. Any form of Hindutva, over the years, has always had a specific role for women. It looks at them as problematic, secondary citizens.
Hatred towards religious minorities has also not changed over the years. What changed superficially is that Hindutva, in the ’30s, would have been influenced by (Benito) Mussolini and the Italian fascists during the Third Reich (1933-1945). They would have been influenced by the Nazis. MS Golwalkar (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS chief) was supporting Adolf Hitler, saying this is how the minorities should be treated in our country. Today, it takes the shape of Islamophobia. Narendra Modi would be glad to join hands with Donald Trump for his kind of Islamophobia.
So, yes, the core of Hindutva remains the same, while it has changed to accommodate geopolitical concerns, where the international friends may change based on international politics.
Today, the definition of Hinduism (the religion) has been alloyed with Hindutva (ideology), or rather, the right-wing propaganda has diluted the distinction. Do you think obfuscating the two terms has fuelled the multiple shades of hate campaigns we are witnessing today?
Millions of people — irrespective of the ideology they adhere to — will be, by default, considered Hindus. This could be by way of going to a Murugan temple, having Hindu names, or being born into a Hindu family. The agenda of Hindutva could be against Hindus, and this is something the Hindus themselves should realise. They have to realise that this is a system that upholds the caste order. There is no benefit for a lot of Hindus under the “caste system” or the sanatana dharma or the political Hindutva.
I don’t even need to talk about the caste system in India; look at the Modi government and the farm laws. The majority of the people involved in farming happen to be Hindus, who constitute nearly 80% of the population in India. Clearly, the government is anti-farmers, and by extension, against Hindus, who could be a Hindu woman who goes to the fields or a Hindu man who is driving the tractor.
This is the time to call for a rupture between an ordinary person and those who fragment and heighten the division between caste groupings. The latter group wants to consolidate broader Hindu identity, make every caste identity sharper, so that every caste set fights with each other.
What does an ordinary Hindu person have to do with this system? Do the majority of the Dalit Bahujan, who are considered Hindus, benefit out from this system? Shouldn’t they also be opposing Hindutva and radical restructuring of Hinduism? Does Hinduism necessarily have to mean caste system? Is there a way to put an end to the filter of Manusmriti that looks down on women?
Not all 966 million or so Hindus in India or more across the globe subscribe to Hindutva. Even those who do have to politically understand how oppressive the system is. We no longer can pretend these issues are new. The academic circle is finally waking up to it.
In a recent instance, a professor of the Central University of Kerala was suspended for criticising right-wing politics, based on the complaint of his students (from ABVP, the student wing of RSS). They chose to file a complaint instead of debating. Wouldn’t such self-censorship in classrooms, if left unaddressed, take the hate politics to dangerous levels?
The RSS has a specific interest in education because to capture education is to capture young minds. They have been doing this in most universities. There was a protest at Delhi University against some of my work included in the syllabus. In Rohit Vemula‘s incident, we know what the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) did. They have been on all campuses, polarising student politics and causing self-censorship in classrooms.
A lot of academics are in prison now, many scholars are accused and imprisoned in the Bhima Koregaon case — these are examples of a crackdown on academic freedom. This, on multiple levels, has destroyed the scholarship/fellowship structures. There is a lot of pushback against the reservation policy, for students and teachers. There is a stranglehold of Brahmanism, on so many levels, within institutions that go unchallenged. In fact, one of the reasons Hindutva is so popular is because many young people, who are unemployed, get subsumed into this hate politics.
This story first appeared on thenewsminute.com