Dismantling Hindu Fundamentalism: Ethnic Nationalism with Fascist Undertones?

I’d like to start by saying that this is not an attack on the believers of Hindutva. More than anything, this is a lament of a 20-year-old who sees his world crumbling before him. Writing this essay from an objective, academic perspective has been extremely difficult for me and I hope that those who disagree with me do not see this as an attack on their beliefs. 

Today I will talk about my religion and how it is being destroyed. 

DISCLAIMER I: This is not an article detailing Hindu beliefs. Hinduism (like many religions of the world) is branched into multiple schools of thought, with different figures and concepts holding the helm for each of these schools. What I give here is an analysis of the most “extreme” (Oh, I hate that word) version of Hinduism (aka. Hindutva). If you are interested in the former topic, please refer to the suggested reading list I have attached at the end of the article.

DISCLAIMER II: Throughout this article, I refer to Hinduism as a religion. However, being a Hindu does not immediately mean one supports the tenants of Hindutva. The two are not mutually inclusive.

If you are a person who is aware of the happenings of the world, you might know that Hindus  are mobilising in India. This mobilisation of beliefs is being led by a textbook example of constructive primordialism, the concept of Hindutva and the Hindu state. 

It might be surprising for many to know that the word “Hindu” is not even Sanskrit. Thousands upon thousands of texts filled the volumes of ancient India and not one of them contains the word “Hindu”. The word appeared in the subcontinent only in the middle ages due to a quirk in the multitude of subcontinental dialects.

Allow me to blow your mind further. Hinduism is not even the real name of the religion. The “religion” people refer to today as Hinduism has no name. Some proponents call it Sanatana Dharma but that is a conversation for the pundits (pun intended). 

With this fact, I start my argument against Hindu fundamentalism.

The concept originated in the 1920s (fundamentalists aka. Sanghis will start disagreeing with me right about here) and was popularized through the works of an Indian nationalist and Hindu, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. It indicates to the Indian national, cultural, religious identity and entails the fundamental concept that a true Indian is one that partakes in “Hinduness”, one that is (allegedly) shared by all Hindus. 

Scholars call it a constructivist idea, to unify the multiple factions within the religion. Hinduism has faced multiple reformist movements across millennia and many religions have sprung up with Hinduism as the source (Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism). The foundational idea of Hindutva laid by Savarkar is one of the unity of the Indian religions, to bring all those which share the common Indian cultural background under one umbrella. 

Some say that Savarkar did not really mean all of this in his work, and this broader interpretation was brought together just for the sake of political mobilisation, but I beg to disagree. Savarkar was a self-proclaimed atheist, and one who has gone down the rabbit-hole of understanding Hindutva would surely agree that in the 1920s, this was, in fact, the agenda. However, it is not up to discussion that this tenet put forth by Savarkar is, in fact, the cornerstone of the Indian nationalist philosophy. 

But this sounds relatively… peaceful, right? What was all the drama about, then? 

One integral part of Savarkar’s work is geography, along with his intolerance for Muslims and everything non-Indian. Many scholars agree in saying that this ideology brought forth was a direct reaction to the pan-Islamist Khilafat Movement, where Indian Muslims were protesting to restore the caliph of the Ottoman Caliphate. To him, the Islamic ideology posed a serious threat to the Hindu Rashtra, the true Indian nation. The similarity to the Nazi concept of lebensraum is uncanny.

Savarkar demarcated clear geographical boundaries for his ideology- between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean. People in this area fell within the boundaries of the Indian culture, and ethnically, they would be an Indian who followed traditions and moorings set forth by historically “Indian” values. Anthropologically, even without the narrow interpretations gained by Hinduism later as years passed (Akramak Hindutva/ Aggressive Hindutva), Savarkar’s explanation of Hinduism fits in the textbook classification of ethnic nationalism. The concept was later immensely popularized by the Indian political parties in the 1980s through mass political mobilisation. Hinduism became a run-away process, as Thomas Eriksen might call it today. 

All of this is anthropology and politics. But the point I must make is something entirely different, revolving around the present-day scenario ensuing in the subcontinent. It has to do with the fascist undertones that Hindutva entails. Hindutva in its primal stages lacked these fascist undertones and could purely have been classified as ethnic nationalism. I am here to argue that it has transgressed that stage and shows all the hallmarks of a fascist idea.

No, I will not be throwing shit on anybody. I will use neither dramatic nor derogatory words to illustrate the idea above. Sit back, chill and read with an open mind. 

Prabhat Patnaik, an Indian Marxist economist and political commentator, wrote in his paper The Fascism of our Times (1993) that Hindutva shows these characteristics, that (according to him) are hallmarks of fascism:

  • Hindutva attempts to create a unified homogenous majority bringing together “Hindus”. 
  • It evokes a sense of anger and grievance against the “injustices of the past” done to Hindus by the Britishers and the Mughal emperors. 
  • A sense of cultural superiority and a reinterpretation of history based on the Hindutva perspective.
  • “Rejection” of criticism and a call to the majoritarian “masculine” race. 

Patnaik’s work was subject to a lot of criticism. Apart from the fact that he was a vocal Marxist coming from a country where the communists possess no hold (except for the southern state of Kerala), his work overlooked some key aspects of fascism. Scholars refuted stating that fascist countries in the past have linked their ideologies with their leaders, which is not the case with Hindutva. The second biggest refute to Patnaik was that Hindutva gives more emphasis to society over race. This emphasis is what had convinced the academia, in the majority, to call Hindutva the “Indian brand of ethnic nationalism” rather than a truly fascist ideology. 

(Image by IANS)

Let’s do a 180.

Remember the Savarkar dude? Here’s what he had to say about Nazi Germany in a speech in 1940.

“There is no reason to suppose that Hitler must be a human monster because he passes off as a Nazi or Churchill is a demigod because he calls himself a Democrat. Nazism proved undeniably the saviour of Germany under the set of circumstances Germany was placed in.”

This might be disturbing for some to read, but this is just the tip of the disturbance iceberg. Political parties and leaders identifying with the Hindutva concept have had a history of associating their ideas with the Nazis. This association ranges from mild sympathy to admiration and intellectual plagiarism.

It is safe to say that there are multiple examples of Nazi insignia running around the country right now. All the way from a shack named “Hitler’s Den” which proudly portrays the Nazi Swastika (no, not the Indian swastika) on its front doors to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act which passively repudiates Muslim immigrants a path to citizenship. Many scholars have quoted the similarities between the National Register of Citizens/the Citizen (Amendment) Act and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour/Reich Citizenship Law. 

The Semitic minority in Nazi Germany had to perish to make way for the superior Aryans. Nazis put Jews in concentration camps. In India, we call them detention camps. Allow me to quote Golwalkar, one of the most prominent ideologues of Hindutva, on the topic of minorities. 

“The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.”

I need not talk about the sorrowful state of the present-day Indian press, which has faced an immense chilling effect from government censorship. India ranks 142 on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Sans Frontiers, even below countries like South Sudan and Afghanistan. News about the atrocities committed by the Indian Armed Forces hardly reaches the public, with thousands of political activists who speak against government policies being charged with sedition. 

The biggest and foremost refute to Patnaik’s branding of Hindutva was the lack of a leader figure that is synonymous with the ideology. A leader so charismatic and vocal, a leader hailed as the saviour of the people. A leader who understood the problems faced by the masses and who offered an instant solution. A leader like Hitler. That leader did not exist in 1993. 

For fears of being charged with sedition and being branded as an anti-national, I will speak no further. 

A Hindu nationalist, if brought to a public debate on the topic, would refer to the atrocities committed against Hindus by the Brits and the Mughal Emperors. They would talk about terrorism and the state funding of terrorism done by Pakistan. They would talk about Sunni terror cells in Kerala and the drugs market monopolised by these terror cells in Mumbai and Goa. They would talk about the destruction of the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple in Ayodhya, and the sectarian violence wrought by Muslims in India and all over the world. Politically, they would talk about the issues faced by modern India coupled with the corruption and nepotism of the opposition (the centre-left party of India). They will talk about the great culture of ancient India and speak against positive discrimination. 

I am not here to investigate the truths of those allegations/facts. They all warrant an article of their own.

Although here, I will provide something that I have noticed as an observer and a member of society. This, as a student of history and politics, is the most frightful aspect of living in a country on the verge of being a dystopia. What I am about to say is not politically correct but bear with me. No disrespect in any way is intended.

I am talking about the people whom the society would brand as “smart” or “intelligent”. They are the students, the professionals who read the news, stay up to date and have opinions on the happenings of society. They are educated, aware and conscious. If the megalomania that is gripping India had just been limited to the illiterate, uneducated masses, then we could have termed it as an issue of ignorance and that of lack of awareness (in no way intending that those without education are inferior to the educated population). But that is truly not the case. I see my peers, who are educated even in the top universities of India and abroad, accepting the covenants of Hindutva. 

This (I believe) stems from the immense dissatisfaction that they had with the previous government led by the Indian National Congress party. The reason why they are supporting the regime is that they are conscious. 

The Third Reich rose after the failure of the Weimar Republic and the disgrace faced by Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, with the support of the German populace. The legislative process was hijacked after the Nazi party won the elections. The people believed. 

As a history student, the trends in India right now are frightening. As a Hindu, I feel that my peaceful religion, which has no established fundamentals and even questions the knowledge of the Creator, has been hijacked by villains for political gain. As an Indian who believes in the Constitution and the wellness of my people irrespective of cultural and religious moorings, I feel tormented. Fascism in India is no longer an undertone. It’s happening. 

My name is Pachu and this is my lament.

My sources and suggested readings:

A Political and Economic Dictionary of South Asia by Di Jivanta Schottli, Subrata K. Mitra, Siegried Wolf (https://books.google.it/books?id=yOIjCQAAQBAJ&pg=PT215&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false)

Hindutva by V.D Savarkar (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2159387.Hindutva?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=Kk36gKjspF&rank=1)

Why I am a Hindu by Dr Shashi Tharoor (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37810456-why-i-am-a-hindu?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=N47udb1Ce9&rank=1)

India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/356824.India_After_Gandhi)

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