Hindu nationalism: an annotated bibliography of online resources
by Matthew N. Lyons
June 2008 [links updated October 2014]
India’s Hindu nationalist movement is arguably the largest right-wing movement in the world, and one of the most aggressive. Yet many people outside India know little about it. Consider the following:
- Hindu nationalists, who demand Hindu cultural and political dominance of India, have perpetrated some of the most horrific political violence of recent decades, including the murder of thousands of Muslims and, to a lesser extent, persecution and occasional killing of Christians.
- During the 1990s, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party, or BJP) rose from a small, marginal party to challenge the Indian National Congress as the country’s dominant political force. The BJP headed a national coalition government from 1998 to 2004. In the 2004 general elections, the BJP lost power but Hindu nationalist parties still received over 93 million votes (24 percent of the total).
- The BJP is part of an extensive network known as the Sangh Parivar, which centers on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an all-male cadre organization that promotes a paramilitary ethos and a radical vision to reshape Indian society along authoritarian corporatist lines. The Sangh Parivar includes millions or tens of millions of active members. It includes India’s largest labor union and largest student organization, and massive media, educational, and social service operations.
- Hindu nationalists are active not only within India itself, but also within the global Indian diaspora, including the large ethnic Indian communities in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere. These activities have included large-scale fund-raising, propaganda, and, increasingly, lobbying efforts.
- Hindu nationalists have for years been cultivating close ties with both U.S. imperialism and right-wing Zionism (fueled by a shared hatred of “radical Islam”), as part of a long-term strategy to promote India’s political and military role in the world.
I have been researching Hindu nationalism (sometimes referred to as “Hindutva”) on and off for several years. Eventually I hope to write about it more systematically. For now, I thought it would be useful to distill a listing of some of the best resources I’ve located and make it available to others.
In this annotated bibliography, I’ve focused on free, online articles and web sites — excluding print sources and subscription databases. Even with that limitation, what’s here is just a small sampling. Each time I look I find more good writings on the topic.
Most Hindu nationalist organizations in India form part of the Sangh Parivar (translated variously as “Family of Associations” or “Family of the Sangh,” i.e., the RSS), whose major components include the following:
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Association, or RSS) – All-male cadre organization, whose members hold key positions within other branches of the Sangh Parivar; founded 1925; www.rss.org.
Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party, or BJP) – India’s second largest political party; founded 1980 as successor to Bharatiya Jana Sangh (which was founded 1951); www.bjp.org.
Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Council of Hindus, or VHP) – The Sangh Parivar’s religious/cultural arm; founded 1964; www.vhp.org.
Bajrang Dal (Army of Hanuman) – The VHP’s youth wing and the Sangh Parivar’s paramilitary arm; founded 1984; vhp.org/vhp-glance/youth/dim1-bajrang-dal.
Rashtra Sevika Samiti (National Women’s Volunteer Committee, or Samiti) – The Sangh Parivar’s women’s auxiliary; founded 1936; rashtrasevikasamiti.org/.
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP – Indian Students’ Association) – India’s largest student organization; founded 1948; www.abvp.org.
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS – Indian Workers’ Association) – India’s largest trade union; founded 1955; www.bms.org.in.
Vidya Bharti (Indian Knowledge) – Reportedly India’s largest educational organization; founded 1977; vidyabharti.net.
Swadeshi Jagaran Manch – Promotes economic nationalism; founded 1991; www.swadeshionline.in/category/image-galleries/swadeshi-jagran-manch.
Shiv Sena (Army of Shiva) – The only major Hindu nationalist organization in India that is not part of the Sangh Parivar, Shiv Sena is a regional political party in Maharashtra, the state in west-central India that includes Mumbai (Bombay). Founded 1966 by Bal Thackeray, who still controls the party; http://shivsena.org/.
Overseas branches of the Sangh Parivar include:
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (Hindu Volunteer Association, or HSS) – Overseas affiliate of RSS; www.hssus.org.
Sewa International – UK-based “service project” of the HSS that raises funds ostensibly for disaster relief and reconstruction; founded 1991; www.sewainternational.com/, US branch at www.sewausa.org/.
India Development and Relief Fund – Another “aid” organization with a covert Hindu nationalist agenda. www.idrf.org/.
Hindu Students Council (HSC) – College organization in U.S. and Canada, offshoot of VHP; founded 1990; www.hscnet.org/.
Arun R. Swamy, “Hindu Nationalism: What’s Religion Got to Do With It?” Occasional Papers Series, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, March 2003. 16 pp. www.apcss.org/Publications/Ocasional%20Papers/OPHinduNationalism.pdf
Swamy emphasizes that Hindu “fundamentalism” is a misnomer: “Hindu Nationalists are concerned with the strength and unity of Hindus as a political community not with their forms of worship” (p. 1). He also quotes B.D. Graham’s important distinction between Hindu traditionalists (who are “conservative in their approach, enlisting time-honored values to justify the continuation of a hierarchical social order”) and Hindu nationalists (who want “to remold Hindu society along corporatist lines and to fashion the state accordingly”) (p. 2).
The article offers a detailed overview of Hindu nationalism with emphasis on electoral politics. Swamy traces the movement’s development from its roots in 19th-century Hindu revivalist and reform movements through the crystallization of Hindutva ideology and organization in the 1920s to the BJP’s rise to power. He explores the Hindu nationalist parties’ shifting electoral strategies and the complex, “often strained” relations between the movement’s electoral and non-electoral wings. Swamy argues that the BJP’s dramatic rise in the 1990s was less a result of anti-Muslim mobilization than the party’s ability to exploit other grievances: upper-caste resentment against affirmative action policies, regional parties’ hostility toward the Indian National Congress, and “the perception among the urban middle class that India was not receiving the international respect it deserved” (p. 10).
Christophe Jaffrelot, “Introduction: The Invention of an Ethnic Nationalism,” Hindu Nationalism: A Reader (Princeton University Press, 2007). 23 pp. http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i8560.html
Jaffrelot is author of The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s, a leading scholarly work on the topic. His new reader presents samples of Hindu nationalist writings organized more or less chronologically. The introduction, available online, summarizes the movement’s history with particular emphasis on its roots in 19th-century Hindu reform initiatives and early formations such as the Hindu Mahasabha of the 1920s and 30s.
Jaffrelot argues that “the Hindutva doctrine resulted from an ambivalent reaction to the West and Islam,” at once imitative and hostile (especially toward the latter), and has promoted upper-caste values in the face of challenges from Dalits and other lower-caste groups. As elsewhere, Jaffrelot’s discussion of the Sangh Parivar centers on the tension between a relatively moderate populist strategy and a more militant, aggressive “ethno-religious mobilization” strategy, and he concludes that the movement is “deeply divided” in the wake of the BJP’s 2004 parliamentary defeat.
Mira Kamdar, “The Struggle for India’s Soul” World Policy Journal 19, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 11-27. soc.culture.tamil.narkive.com/86D98eF2/the-struggle-for-india-s-soul-1
This wide-ranging article centers on the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, in which Hindu nationalist gangs killed thousands of Muslims in attacks “which routinely included dismemberment, gang rape, beheadings, dousing bodies with petrol and burning them so as to render them unrecognizable, liquidating entire families, including women, children, babies, and fetuses ripped from the womb” (13). Kamdar rightly emphasizes that this was “state-sponsored terror,” carefully planned and organized, in which the BJP-controlled Gujarat state government was heavily complicit, and warns that critics of the Hindu right have faced both state repression and vigilante attacks. Kamdar also notes that Gujarat is one of India’s most prosperous states, belying claims that inter-communal violence results from economic distress.
Later sections of the article discuss the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, the work of Hindu nationalist groups abroad, especially in the U.S. — organizing, lobbying, building alliances, and raising funds for the movement back home — and the Bush administration’s unwillingness for geostrategic reasons to confront the Indian government over the Gujarat massacres. Yet Kamdar also cites “international opinion” and the threat of reduced foreign investment (along with domestic opposition and the BJP’s dependence on non-Hindu nationalist coalition partners) as factors limiting the Hindu right from imposing its agenda more aggressively.
Tanika Sarkar, “A Will to violence,” November 2002, published in India Together, 10 February 2008. www.indiatogether.org/women/violence/will2viol.htm
This article criticizes standard media portrayals of the Hindu nationalist movement in two respects. First, Sarkar argues, division within the Sangh parivar has been exaggerated, and is less important than the dense network of grassroots institutions “that bind and unite the two poles…. [I]t is from here that the BJP draws its power and its electoral success.” Second, despite the visibility of a few BJP women leaders, women have no real power in the movement because the RSS (the movement’s “decision making apex”) is an all-male organization. Even the Sangh’s women’s organizations promote “a deeply patriarchal mindset” coupled with a “will to violence.” The ideal Sangh woman is a mother who produces sons to kill and die for the “motherland.”
Tanika Sarkar, “Semiotics of Terror: Muslim Children and Women in Hindu Rashtra.” EPW Commentary, 13 July 2002. www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/TanikaSarkarJUL02.html
Sarkar argues that the massive 2002 Gujarat pogrom represented a major triumph and fulfillment for the Hindu nationalist movement, reflecting the unity of purpose among the Sangh Parivar’s diverse affiliates and the movement’s extensive “penetration of state and grass roots institutions — from police to hospitals.” The pogrom also embodied a new level of public sadism, best exemplified in the torture and killing of hundreds or thousands of Muslim women and babies, which Sarkar details in several horrifying paragraphs. This pattern of violence, Sarkar argues, was fueled by Hindu nationalism’s “dark sexual obsession about allegedly ultra-virile Muslim male bodies and overfertile Muslim female ones.”
Thus “Hindu mobs swooped down upon Muslim women and children with multiple but related aims. First, to possess and dishonour them and their men, second to taste what is denied to them and what, according to their understanding, explains Muslim virility. Third, to physically destroy the vagina and the womb, and, thereby, to symbolically destroy the sources of pleasure, reproduction and nurture for Muslim men, and for Muslim children. Then, by beatings, to punish the fertile female body. Then, by physically destroying the children, to signify an end to Muslim growth. Then, by cutting up the foetus and burning it, to achieve a symbolic destruction of future generations, of the very future of Muslims themselves. The burning of men, women, and children…was also to desecrate Muslim deaths by denying them an Islamic burial, and forcing a Hindu cremation upon them…”
Martha C. Nussbaum, “Body of the Nation: Why Women Were Mutilated in Gujarat,” Boston Review, 29 July 2004. www.countercurrents.org/guj-nussbaum290704.htm
This article seeks to explain the gruesome sexual violence against women that was central to the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. In doing so, Nussbaum draws on Tanika Sarkar’s historical account of how women have been identified with the Hindu nation, more general feminist analyses of women’s objectification, and discussions of misogynistic disgust pioneered by Andrea Dworkin. Nussbaum also rightly notes strong parallels between Hindu nationalist misogyny and European fascism, although she overstates the connection in claiming that “the construction of Hinduism put forward by the Hindu right is…in most respects borrowed from European fascism.”
Jyotirmaya Sharma, “The Women Of The Sangh,”
The Hindu, 24 September 2004. www.countercurrents.org/gender-sharma240904.htm
This short article draws on Paula Bacchetta’s Gender in the Hindu Nation: RSS Women as Ideologues to discuss subtle but important differences in the portrayal of women between the RSS and its female auxiliary, Samiti. While the RSS portrays the ideal woman as “a chaste mother, victimised by Muslims and in constant need of protection by her sons,” Samiti promotes a vision of Hindu women who retain some warrior qualities. At the same time, Samiti is even more rigid than the RSS in portraying “Muslim men as entities that degrade women and Muslim women as weak and inferior compared to Hindu women.”
David P. Arulanantham, “The paradox of the BJP’s stance toward external economic liberalisation: why a Hindu nationalist party furthered globalisation in India,” Asia Programme Working Paper. London: Chatham House Asia Program, December 2004. 15pp. www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/public/Research/Asia/wpdec04.pdf
The BJP “campaigned against policies favoring globalisation while in opposition during the early 1990s but aggressively pursued them while in power from 1998-2004” (p. 2). Arulanantham traces the details of this policy shift and argues that it reflects tension within the BJP between a pragmatic neo-liberal wing, which “represents younger and more recent converts” and much of the new middle class, and an ideologically hard-line economic nationalist wing, whose members tend to be older and more closely tied to the RSS. The pragmatists had the upper hand because the party needed them to win national elections. Once in power, the BJP-led government’s 1998 decision to test nuclear weapons proved its nationalist credentials and gave the pragmatists more political space to pursue neoliberal policies.
Ashok Malik, “The BJP, the RSS Family and Globalization in India,” Harvard Asia Quarterly 7, no. 1 (Winter 2003). Apparently no longer available on free web. Included in Globalization and Politics in India, edited by Baldev Raj Nayar (Oxford University Press, 2007).
Malik argues that, despite occasional protests against “Western-style decadence” or “American-style consumerism,” Hindu nationalists generally do not see globalization as a threat to Indian cultural products. Much of the article explores tensions within the Sangh Parivar between the BJP, which has generally embraced economic liberalization and globalization, and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh labor federation and the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, which have partly opposed these policies.
Achin Vanaik, “The New Indian Right,” New Left Review 9, May-June 2001. newleftreview.org/II/9/achin-vanaik-the-new-indian-right
This article offers a helpful overview of the Indian state’s shift to economic neoliberalism since 1991 (under all governing coalitions regardless of formal ideology) and the simultaneous rise of Hindu nationalism and the BJP. Vanaik offers only a vague, general connection between the two trends (arguing that “aggressive cultural self-assertion” helps assuage the social disorientation and despair caused by neoliberalism) and notes that the BJP’s rise owes less to economic factors than to the Congress Party’s degeneration. “From the point of view of capital, the BJP’s commitment to [neoliberalism] is praiseworthy but does not distinguish it from other bourgeois parties in Delhi.” To capital, the key question is whether Hindu chauvinist rule will strengthen political stability or undermine it.
Vanaik provides useful details about recent Sangh Parivar actions and campaigns, such as the BJP’s efforts as head of the government to “parachut[e] ‘its own people’ into strategic posts in the home, education and information ministries” and a temporary shift from attacking Muslims to attacking rural and small town Christians. (Though few in number, Christians have disproportionate influence within the elite and control 25-30 percent of all non-governmental charities.) Vanaik also argues that characterizing the BJP as fascist “not only grossly underestimates the true import of historical fascism, it encourages — in the name of anti-fascism — strategic alliances by the Left with bourgeois forces no less committed to neo-liberalism. It also, paradoxically, underestimates the nature of the Sangh’s distinctive rhythms and activities,” which are transforming Indian civil society whether or not Hindu nationalists control the state.
Meera Nanda, “Dharmic Ecology and the Neo-Pagan International: The Dangers of Religous Environmentalism in India.” Paper presented at 18th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, Lunds University, Sweden, 8 July 2004. www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/072004_D_Ecology_MeeraNanda.pdf
This paper argues that “religious environmentalism has become the Trojan horse for Hindutva,” a vehicle with which Hindu supremacists have gained legitimacy and built bridges to the anti-Enlightenment left in India. Further, Hindu nationalists have used “dharmic ecology” to attract support from western neo-pagans, which is worrisome because of Nazism’s deep historical ties with blood-and-soil paganism. (The author cautions that she has no evidence that the neo-pagans attracted to Hindu nationalism are themselves Nazis.) The paper is a bit thin on details, but presents important arguments and a helpful framework for further research.
Meera Nanda, “Postmodernism, Hindu nationalism and ‘Vedic Science,'” Frontline 20, no. 26 (20 December 2003-2 January 2004) (www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/vedic_science_Mira.htm) and Vol. 21, no. 1 (3-6 January 2004) (www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/vedic_science_Mira2.htm)
In this two-part article, Nanda refutes Hindu nationalist claims that ancient Hindu texts are scientific. One such claim promotes specious equivalences between Hindu spiritual principles and modern scientific ones (for example, karma equals Newton’s laws of mechanics). Another version promotes pseudo-sciences such as astrology and faith-healing. The resulting “mish-mash” of scientific and religious concepts “is motivated by cultural chauvinism” and “the great anxiety to preserve and protect Hinduism from a rational critique and demystification.”
Even more, however, Nanda targets postmodernist leftists whose critique of science “unintentionally ends up supporting Hindutva’s propaganda regarding Vedic science.” By attacking scientific rationalism as masculinist, colonialist, and anti-ecological, and by promoting traditional mysticism and irrationalism as equal to or better than western science, postmodernists “have prepared the ground for Hindutva’s claims that Hinduism provides a more ‘holistic,’ more complete, more ecological and even more feminist way of relating with nature.” Nanda’s critique complements Regina Cochrane’s “Ecofeminism, Global Justice, and ‘Culturally-Perceived Poverty.'” (Both have harsh words about Vandana Shiva, for example.)
“The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva.” Mumbai, India: Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd; France: The South Asia Citizens Web, 2002. www.sacw.net/2002/FEHi/FEH/index.html
This report is a detailed expose of the U.S.-based India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), “a major conduit of funds for Hindutva organizations in India” that masquerades as a non-sectarian aid organization. The report shows that, as of 2002, almost two-thirds of IDRF funds that reached India went to RSS-affiliated organizations, some of which have been directly involved in large-scale violence against Muslims and Christians. More than half of IDRF-disbursed funds went to “Sangh related organizations whose primary work is religious ‘conversion’ and ‘Hinduization’ in poor and remote tribal and rural areas of India.”
“In Bad Faith? British Charity & Hindu Extremism.” Awaaz – South Asia Watch Limited. London, 2004. www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/British_charity_and_Hindu_extremism_a_report_summary.pdf
This report focuses on the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) and its fundraising arm Sewa International, both of which are directly tied to the RSS. Like the IDRF, Sewa International raises charitable donations in the name of Indian humanitarian causes but channels the bulk of such money to RSS-affiliated groups.
“Unmistakably Sangh: The National Hindu Students Council and the Hindutva Agenda.” Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, 2008. http://hsctruthout.stopfundinghate.org/
The HSC claims to be an independent organization promoting learning about Hindu heritage and culture, and denies any connection with the Sangh Parivar. As this report reveals, the HSC was a project of the Sangh-affiliated VHP of America from its founding in 1990 until 2001. It continues to play an important role in the movement, developing the Sangh Parivar’s electronic infrastructure, recruiting and training leaders in the U.S., and promoting Hindu nationalist ideology under the guise of multiculturalism.
Vijay Prashad, “Suburban Whites And Pogroms In India,” Dissident Voice, 25 July 2002. www.dissidentvoice.org/Articles/Prashad_SuburbanWhitesIndianPogroms.htm.
Prashad warns that some middle-class whites’ “romantic entry” into Hinduism has led them to uncritically join organizations that support Hindu nationalist violence against Muslims. The Hindu right uses white followers (and a few leaders) to gain legitimacy in the West.
Sunaina Maira, “Israel and India – New Best Friends in an Age of Terror?” Siliconeer, 13 March 2006. Pacific News Service, news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=23d7296e61f6f23ebb0d00591cb690ec
Reflecting on her recent visit to Israel, the author notes that India’s growing alliance with Israel — and the Hindu right’s alliance with Zionist groups in the U.S. — reverse India’s traditional solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and culture. She also describes a newer Israeli fetishization of “exotic” Indian culture and spirituality, and wonders if this “is an attempt to create an Eastern culture for a nation that was created by European minds but carved out of Arab soil.”
Raja Harish Swamy, “Zionism, Hindutva, and Mickey Mouse Imperialism,” Ghadar 5, no. 2 (21 July 2002). www.proxsa.org/resources/ghadar/v5n2/zionism.html
This 2002 article argues that “a right-wing administration in the United States…is engaged in an unlimited world war allying itself with two virulently fascistic regimes: Zionist Israel and India under Hindutva rule.” The author notes that Israeli experts have advised the Indian government on “counter-terrorism” work and suggests that Israeli agents may have helped to train Bajrang Dal paramilitary forces. Swamy also argues that “both Hindutva and Zionism thrive on grossly falsified histories — racist narratives with strong similarities,” and notes that both movements have involved campaigns to destroy mosques and rebuild mythical temples in their place.
Raja Swamy, “Zionism and Hindutva in the U.S.” Ghadar, June 2004. http://ghadar.insaf.net/June2004/MainPages/zionism.htm
This article offers a detailed discussion of the links between Zionist and Hindu nationalist organizations and web sites in U.S., such as the fact that the web sites Kahane.org and HinduUnity.org are or were both hosted by a Christian Zionist in Annandale, Virginia. One of the footnotes also points to an interesting ideological divergence within the Hindu nationalist movement: “The hindutva.org website promotes a ‘Savarkar’ brand of Hindutva which asserts atheistic, militaristic Hindu chauvinism, as opposed to the VHP-Bajrang Dal version which pursues the same with Brahmanic symbolism and ritualism.”
Vijay Prashad, “Hindutva and Zionism: Comprador States of Pentagon, Inc.,” ZNet, 8 August 2001. zcomm.org/zcommentary/hindutva-and-zionism-comprador-states-of-pentagon-inc-by-vijay-prashad/
Vijay Prashad, “Namaste Sharon,” IMC India (Independent Media Center, 9 September 2003. http://india.indymedia.org/en/2003/09/7782.shtml. (Originally published on ZNet, 8 September 2003.)
In these two short articles, Prashad argues that “the Hindu Right…recognize[s] the persistence of US imperialism, and Israeli sub-imperialism – and they want a piece of the action in South Asia. It appears that the Hindu Right seeks the franchise for US lackey against…Islamic fundamentalism and Chinese Communism.” Regarding Hindutvadi-Zionist ties in the U.S., Prashad notes, “there is a general sentiment that Indian Americans should follow the Jewish path to whiteness and not dwell in the world of color that tries to undo racism.”
These articles offer a taste of Prashad’s excellent 110-page book Namaste Sharon: Hindutva and Sharonism Under US Hegemony (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2003).
Vijay Prashad, “Letter to a Young American Hindu.” Pass the Roti. www.passtheroti.com/?p=487
In this largely personal essay, Prashad contrasts the Hindu chauvinist approach to Hinduism (as “settled Truth”) with that of Gandhi, who titled his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. “The use of the word ‘experiments’…refers to a scientific tradition that privileges verifiable testing.” In this spirit, we should treat religious traditions as “resources to guide us,” not inflexible dogmas.
Prashad describes the complexity and interconnectedness of India’s many religious and cultural groups. Hindu chauvinism “wants to reduce the multiplicity and plurality of cultural forms into one that they are then able to control: a deracinated ‘Hindu,’ like a Genetically Modified form of rice or barley. The joy of religious life, of social life, is reduced into a mass-produced form of worship, cultivated out of hatred for other religions rather than fellowship with humanity.” He also argues that Hindu rightists in the U.S. have manipulated liberal multiculturalism to promote anti-Muslim politics, and have worked to lift up Indians as a “model minority” while leaving the structures of U.S. racism intact.
Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL). www.foil.org/resources/foil/foilpg.html
Documenting Sources of RSS and Their Hindu Terror in India. http://sanghparivar.wordpress.com/
“This blog is an attempt to document RSS, Hindutva Terror and its collaborators in India and abroad.”
South Asia Citizens Web. www.sacw.net/
See especially SACW’s “Communalism Repository” page, www.sacw.net/rubrique14.html.
Hindu Nationalism (Monterey Bay Educators Against War). www.mbeaw.org/resources/religion/hindunationalism.php