Hindutva ("Hinduness"), a term popularised by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923, is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) adopted it as its official ideology in 1989. It is championed by the Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate organisations, notably the Vishva Hindu Parishad, along with the older term Hindu Rashtra (translation: Hindu nation).
Some Indian social scientists have described the Hindutva movement as fascist, adhering to the concept of homogenised majority and cultural hegemony. Some Indian social scientists, as well as the Hindutva movement, dispute those descriptions.
On 2 January 2017, the Supreme Court of India declined to reconsider its 1995 judgment, which defined Hindutva as "a way of life and not a religion".
The notion of Hindutva, meaning "Hinduness" was coined in the early 20th century, referring to three meanings of Hindu, viz., Indian, follower of Indian religions in general, and follower of Hinduism (the particular religion).
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an Indian independence activist, sought to disassociate the term Hindu from Hinduism. His tract, Essentials of Hindutva, better known under the later title Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?, defined a Hindu as one who was born of Hindu parents and regarded India as his motherland as well as holy land. The three essentials of Hindutva were said to be the common nation (rashtra), common race (jati) and common culture/civilisation (sanskriti). Hindus thus defined formed a nation that had existed since antiquity, Savarkar claimed, in opposition to the British view that India was just a geographical entity.
This notion of Hindutva formed the foundation for Savarkar's Hindu nationalism, which included in its fold the followers of all Indian religions including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, but excluded the followers of "foreign religions" such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. It was a form of ethnic nationalism as understood by Clifford Geertz, Lloyd Fallers and Anthony D. Smith.
Savarkar's formulation of Hinduness was regarded in his time as akin to a scientific discovery, a "revelation". Christophe Jaffrelot states that it marked a "qualitative change" in Hindu nationalism.
Hedgewar and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
K. B. Hedgewar, another Indian independence activist in Nagpur, who was concerned with the perceived weaknesses of the Hindu society against foreign domination, found Savarkar's Hindutva inspirational. He visited Savarkar in Ratnagiri in March 1925 and discussed with him methods for organising the 'Hindu nation'. In September that year, he started Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, "National Volunteer Society") with this mission. However, the term Hindutva was not used to describe the ideology of the new organisation; it was Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation). The official constitution of the RSS, adopted in 1948, used the phrase Hindu Samaj (Hindu Society). In the words of an RSS publication, "it became evident that Hindus were the nation in Bharat and that Hindutva was Rashtriyatva [nationalism]."
Bharatiya Jana Sangh
Both the terms "Hindutva" and "Hindu Rashtra" were used liberally in the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, a party Savarkar became the president of in 1937. Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who served as its President in 1944 and joined the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet after Independence, was a Hindu traditionalist politician who wanted to uphold Hindu values but not necessarily to the exclusion of other communities. He asked for the membership of Hindu Mahasabha to be thrown open to all communities. When this was not accepted, he resigned from the party and founded a new political party in collaboration with the RSS. He understood Hinduism as a nationality rather than a community but, realising that this is not the common understanding of the term "Hindu," he chose "Bharatiya" instead of "Hindu" to name the new party, which came to be called the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Thus, yet another term "Bharatiya" came into parlance with rough resemblance to Hindutva, which continues to be used in the successor party Bharatiya Janata Party to this day.
Whereas Savarkar's Hindutva was a cultural identity and religion was considered a part of the culture, M. S. Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar as the Chief of the RSS, reversed the relationship: "with us culture is but a product of our all-comprehensive religion, a part of its body and not distinguishable from it." The "all-comprehensive religion" of the Indian nation is Hinduism of which the national culture is a product. "Those only are nationalist patriots, who with the aspiration to glorify the Hindu race and Nation next to their heart are prompted [...] to achieve that goal." The rest are "traitors and enemies to the National Cause".
Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Janata Party
The RSS established a number of affiliate organisations after Indian Independence to carry its ideology to various parts of the society. Prominent among them is the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council), set up in 1964 with the objective of protecting and promoting the Hindu religion. Being an explicitly religious organisation, the VHP had no qualms about using a Hindutva ideology, which came to mean in its hands political Hinduism and Hindu militancy.
In the 1970s, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh merged with a number of opposition parties to form the Janata Party. The Janata Party however disintegrated within a few years, ostensibly owing to the former Jana Sangh's RSS connections that the other constituents of the Janata Party did not approve of. The former Jana Sangh, now named Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People's Party), became politically isolated. Disillusioned with this experimentation with the mainstream, the RSS decided that it needed to build a Hindu vote bank and charged VHP with the task. The RSS activists encouraged the BJP to become an explicitly Hindu party, exploiting Hindu feelings.
A number of political developments in the 1980s such as the militant Khalistan movement, the influx of undocumented Bangladeshi immigration into Assam, Muslim mobilisation in the Shah Bano case as well as the Satanic Verses controversy caused a sense of vulnerability among the Hindus in India. The VHP and the BJP utilised this sense of vulnerability to push forward a militant Hindutva nationalist agenda leading to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The BJP officially adopted Hindutva as its ideology in its 1989 Palampur resolution, reversing the 1951 move of its original founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee. This led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid by rioters in 1992.
The BJP claims that Hindutva represents "cultural nationalism" and its conception of "Indian nationhood," but not a religious or theocratic concept. It is "India's identity," according to the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat. However, in today's terminology, "Hindu" firmly refers to the Hindu religion, not to an Indian nationality. Scholars believe that culture nationalism is just a euphemism meant to mask the creation of a state with a Hindu religious identity.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, originally Hindutva is the state or quality of being Hindu; 'Hinduness'. In later use, it defines Hindutva as an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "Hindutva ('Hindu-ness'), [is] an ideology that sought to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values".
In a 1995 judgment, the Supreme Court of India ruled that "Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism ... it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption ... that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion ... It may well be that these words are used in a speech to promote secularism or to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos, or to criticise the policy of any political party as discriminatory or intolerant."
According to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hindutva is an inclusive term of everything Indic. He said:
Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cognate term Hinduism, but a history in full. Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva. ... Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.
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According to this, the natives of India share a common culture, history and ancestry. M. S. Golwalkar, one of the proponents of Hindutva, believed that India's diversity in terms of customs, traditions and ways of worship was its uniqueness and that this diversity was not without the strong underlying cultural basis which was essentially native. He believed that the Hindu natives with all their diversity, shared among other things "the same philosophy of life", "the same values" and "the same aspirations" which formed a strong cultural and a civilizational basis for a nation.
Savarkar similarly believed that the Indian subcontinent, which included the area south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush, or "Akhand Bharat" is the homeland of the Hindus. He considered as Hindus those who consider India to be their motherland, fatherland and holy land, hence describing it purely in cultural terms.
RSS, one of the main votaries of Hindutva, has stated that it believes in a cultural connotation of the term Hindu. "The term Hindu in the conviction as well as in the constitution of the RSS is a cultural and civilizational concept and not a political or religious term. The term as a cultural concept will include and did always include all including Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. The cultural nationality of India, in the conviction of the RSS, is Hindu and it was inclusive of all who are born and who have adopted Bharat as their Motherland, including Muslims, Christians and Parsis. The answering association submits that it is not just a matter of RSS conviction, but a fact borne out by history that the Muslims, Christians and Parsis too are Hindus by culture although as religions they are not so."
Emphasising historical "oppression" of Hindus by "colonial invaders" like the Muslims and the Christians and the call to "reverse" the cultural influence resulting from these intrusions.
Uniform Civil Code
Leaders subscribing to Hindutva have demanded a Uniform Civil Code for all the citizens of India. They believe that differential laws based on religion violate Article 44 of the Indian Constitution and have sowed the seeds of divisiveness between different religious communities.
The advocates of Hindutva use the phrase "pseudo-secularism" to refer to policies which they believe are unduly favourable towards the Muslims and Christians. The subject of a Uniform Civil Code, which would remove special religion-based provisions for different religions (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, etc.) from the Constitution of India, is thus one of the main agendas of Hindutva organisations. The Uniform Civil Code is opposed by Muslim leaders and political parties like the Indian National Congress and the Communist Party.
Followers of Hindutva have questioned differential religious laws in India which allows polygamy and "triple talaq" divorce among Muslims and thereby compromises on the status of Muslim women and "marginalises" them.
The reversal of the decision in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum by Parliament by passing The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986 Act was opposed by Hindutva organisations. The new act denied even utterly destitute Muslim divorcees the right to alimony from their former husbands.
Protection of Hindu interests
The followers of Hindutva are known for their criticism of the Indian government as too passive with regard to the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus by Kashmiri Muslim separatists and the 1998 Wandhama massacre, and advocates of Hindutva wish a harder stance in Jammu and Kashmir.
The supporters of Hindutva sought to protect the native Hindu culture and traditions especially those that symbolized the Hindu culture. They believe that Indian culture is identical with the Hindu culture. These include animals, language, holy structures rivers and medicine.
They opposed the continuation of Urdu being used as a vernacular language as they associated it with Muslims. They felt that Urdu symbolized a foreign culture. For them, Hindi alone was the unifying factor for all the diverse forces in the country. It even wanted to make Hindi as the official language of India and felt that it should be promoted at the expense of English and the other regional languages. However, this caused a state of tension and alarm in the non-Hindi regions. The non-Hindi regions saw it as an attempt by the north to dominate the rest of the country. Eventually, this demand was put down in order to protect the cultural diversity of the country.
“To hundreds of millions of Hindus, in India and around the world, the Ganges is not just a river but also a goddess, Ganga, who was brought down to Earth from her home in the Milky Way by Lord Shiva, flowing through his dreadlocks to break the force of her fall.” However, due to the increased flow of industrial waste, untreated sewage and the reduced natural flow of the river has led to the water pollution of this holy river. Several projects have been initiated in order to clean Ganga.
Attempts have been made to revive and promote Hindu science particularly in the fields of indigenous medicine, especially Ayurveda. This revivalist movement in medicine was predominantly a result to the emergence of Hindu nationalism in the 1890s.
Hindutva is commonly identified as the guiding ideology of the Hindu Nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliated family of organisations (Sangh Parivar). In general, Hindutvavadis (followers of Hindutva) believe that they represent the well-being of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Ayyavazhi, Jainism and all other religions prominent in India.
Most nationalists are organised into political, cultural and social organisations; using the concept of Hindutva as a political tool. The first Hindutva organisation formed was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), founded in 1925. A prominent Indian political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (BJP) is closely associated with a group of organisations that advocate Hindutva. They collectively refer to themselves as the "Sangh Parivar" or family of associations, and include the RSS, Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad. Other organisations include:
- Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh – overseas branch of the RSS
- Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh – a worker's union
- Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad – a student's union
- Bharatiya Kisan Sangh – a farmers' organisation
The major political wing is the BJP which was in power in India's Central Government for six years from 1998 to 2004 and is currently the ruling party of India with Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. As of June 2018 it is in power in 15 states, namely Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Tripura, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya either as the dominant party or in alliance with other parties. (See Presence of BJP in various states)
Political parties pertaining to the Hindutva ideology are not limited to the Sangh Parivar. Examples of political parties independent from the Sangh's influence but espouse the Hindutva ideology include Prafull Goradia's Akhil Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Subramanian Swamy's Janata Party and the Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena. The Shiromani Akali Dal is a Sikh religious party, but maintains ties with Hindutva organisations, as they also represent Sikhism.
Criticism and support
The opponents of Hindutva philosophy consider Hindutva ideology as a euphemistic effort to conceal communal beliefs and practices. Many Indian social scientists have described the Hindutva movement as fascist in classical sense, in its ideology and class support specially targeting the concept of homogenised majority and cultural hegemony.
Critics have used the political epithets of "Indian fascism" and "Hindu fascism" to describe the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. For example, Marxist social scientist Prabhat Patnaik has written that the Hindutva movement as it has emerged is "classically fascist in class support, methods and programme".
Patnaik bases this argument on the following "ingredients" of classical fascism present in Hindutva: the attempt to create a unified homogeneous majority under the concept of "the Hindus"; a sense of grievance against past injustice; a sense of cultural superiority; an interpretation of history according to this grievance and superiority; a rejection of rational arguments against this interpretation; and an appeal to the majority based on race and masculinity. Talking about the ideology of nationalism in Hindutva, labour historian Dilip Simeon says that such nationalism can be "defensive or imperialist, tolerant or chauvinist, universalist or racist", depending on the social forces which articulate it.
The description of Hindutva as fascist has been condemned by pro-Hindutva authors such as Koenraad Elst who claim that the ideology of Hindutva meets none of the characteristics of fascist ideologies. Claims that Hindutva social service organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are "fascist" have been disputed by academics such as Vincent Kundukulam.
Academics Chetan Bhatt and Parita Mukta reject the identification of Hindutva with fascism, because of Hindutva's embrace of cultural rather than racial nationalism, because of its "distinctively Indian" character, and because of "the RSS’s disavowal of the seizure of state power in preference for long-term cultural labour in civil society". They instead describe Hindutva as a form of "revolutionary conservatism" or "ethnic absolutism". V. S. Naipaul also rejects these allegations and views the rise of Hindutva as a welcome, broader civilizational resurgence of India.
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