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  • Meena Kandasamy

(DGH Conference) From Sanatana Dharma to the Sangh Parivar: EVOLUTION OF POLITICAL HINDUTVA




[TEXT] Through the ages, there have been several organised and outspokenly violent attempts to prevent the discussion of what constitutes political Hindutva— something which we have seen most explicitly in the light of this conference— and many of these attempts try to take shelter under the word Hindu, without allowing the radical task of unpacking Hindutva to even commence.

I speak here, at the Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference, even after receiving death threats against my four-year-old child, I speak here as someone who lives in India, I speak here even after I came to know that one of the organisations which has shot-off a letter to the Prime Minister against this conference has linked to the Sanathan Sanstha, accused in the murders of Gauri Lankesh, Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar. These threats terrorise me, but the other alternative is keeping silent and allowing the political and ideological terror of an anti-minority, caste-fanatic, misogynist, Hindu majoritarian nationalism to go unchallenged.

This is true of the other panelists on this conference as well. I’ve always been convinced of the necessity to challenge/ dismantle/ uproot Hindutva, but there was a defining moment when it became absolutely crystal-clear to me that those who propagate Hindutva have no respect whatsoever for the gods who could broadly be classified as belonging to the Hindu pantheon. It was a trivial but defining moment. Sanghi trolls started rendering my last name, my father’s name, also the name of Murugan in Tamil, Kandasamy into Cunt-Swami. I’m a feminist, I do not take the cunt as an insult. They are Sanghis who claim to be offended by attacks on Hinduism, but they have no qualms about insulting the faith of those who believe. If you are a pious Hindu who says Muruga Muruga when misfortune comes your way, please remember that your dieties are only scapegoats andstrawmen for the Sanghis. These Sanghis will be the first to insult them, the first to throw them in the bin if/ when it serves their political agenda. All that I ask you is to hear me out with an open mind.

What constitutes Hindutva?

If one were to break-down the toxic compound of Hindutva into its elemental form, there are two fuandamental inequalities built into the system, into its philosophy and 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 as a research article. I say this in the feminist, caste-annihilation tradition of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Revolutionary Dr. Ambedkar and Thanthai Periyar and most recently, Dr.Thol.Thirumavalavan who all 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 that Christophe Jaffrelot has addressed brilliant. But Hindutva has always been carried away and has borrowed heavily from its “global influencers” Italian fascists, German Nazis, and most recently, Trump.

The historical evolution from Sanatana Dharma to Brahminism to Hindutva to a broader Sangh Parivarism

The basic concept of Sanatana Dharma whose core ideology is inequality by birth. The philosophy of caste and patriarchy form the core of the Sanatan doctrine. Often, referring to Sanatana Dharma has also taken the shape of calling it out as Brahminism. After all, a particular community upholds this system of Vedic religion, and espouses this ideology.


This rejection of divine priesthood is the reason why religions like Buddhism and Jainism that came up against Brahminism are today labelled 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 also ensured the safety and security of those at the top of the caste-pyramid. Even as Hindutva masks and hides itself in the cultural platform under the garb of Hindusm, in the political platform it seeks to polarise votebanks and construct a Hindu majoritarian nationalism. When we speak about political Hindutva we are in fact speaking in particular about the Sangh Parivar, of which the BJP is only the political wing. Perhaps, because the Hindu within Hindutva is being subjected to such scrutiny, we might as well call Hindutva as Sangh Parivarism.

When the Congress Party started to fight against British colonialism, there was a physical enemy. What the Congress, in some way sought to do, was to cultivate patriotism. However, under imperialism, where a physical enemy does not exist, where the enemies are virtual; where policies such as liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation are being forced upon a nation; where imperial nations dictating foreign policy and economic policy and business—Hindutva, which benefits greatly from capitalism does not want to address any of these. Hindutva embraces neoliberalism, and any patriotism or inclusive nationalism is rendered irrelevant. What is instead important is to construct an internal enemy, The Muslim, sometimes, The Christian.

What are the multiple gains in the political strategy of polarising the Hindus? How does this help the traditional elites?


Anti-minority sentiment is used as a strategy to polarise the Hindus. There are multiple gains to such an approach. It pushes the Brahmin versus Non-Brahmin, or rather savarna versus DBA contradiction to the backseat; polarizing as a bloc of Hindus ensures the safety of the Brahmins, the tiny elite minority Brahmins which benefits the most from Hindtuva; it allows also 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 becomes 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 to 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, or when they rally alongside a demand for social justice—it inevitably leads to the dilution of the individual/ specific caste identity. Under a broader egalitarian identity, caste identity begins to blur. When OBCs demand social justice and reservation en bloc, this struggle subsumes their particular caste identity. For the Sangh Parivar, castes must organise on their own, each independently. Which is why Kongu Vellalars must organise as Kongu Vellalars, Devendra Kula Vellalars must organise as Devendra Kula Vellalars— they cannot organise under the broader rubric of an OBC or an SC identity. This leads to an inevitable situation where individual caste differences are sharpened, pushing towards a fragmentation on the basis of caste, and a consolidation, a uniformity and a unity under the identity of Hindu.


Caste-annihilation and feminism, inextricably interlinked, alone have the power to truly dismantle Hindutva

Where caste sentiment is developed, male chauvinism will sustain. The oppression of women is crucial to maintaining the caste order. Likewise, women who are feminist, liberated, and independent will reject the oppression placed on them by caste. In Tamil Nadu, the recent controversy around the Manusmriti— which I am not entering here, I have written about it elsewhere and urge you to read it—brought to the fore why Hindutva wants to uphold the Manusmriti and everything it represents.

The political gains of Hindutva are not only used for power capture—their dream is not just that BJP stays in power eternally. The political gain of Hindutva, which comes out polarising Hindus is to contsruct 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 exploitation. Hindu majoritarian nationalism is what we will empower them to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act, remove voting rights for whom they please.

What is the task of progressive academia in this revolutionary struggle against Hindutva?

Dismantling Global Hindutva also involves—within the space of the academia— resistance to appropriation. This is where the real academic task lies. Hindutva, especially the Sangh Parivar has been extremely successful in swallowing up any discourse and tailor it to their ends.

Post-colonial discourse 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, an outside interference into an otherwise peaceful culture. They are not interested in nuance and complicating a question—merely in wearing the garb of theory to continue to uphold Hindutva. Using white colonial presence to whitewash the atrocities of one’s own society requires special terminology.

Within the latest trend of decolonisation theories, there is a separate affliction or circus, where the British colonial regime is rejected not towards some egalitarian future, but to hark us back towards a so-called glorious Hindu past—a past where Dalits, Bahujans, Adivasis and women were all denied education, where even 100 years ago, only 2 women in a 100 could read or write in the Madras Presidency. These are the same people who will introduce the National Education Policy that harks us back to the oppressive Sanatana, Manuvadi system of hereditary vocations—but the Union Education Minister will say, this is an attempt to decolonise the Indian curriculum. An accused in the Malegaon terror blasts, Pragya, will be invited as an eminent speaker to talk about the need to come out of the colonial mindset. Calls to reject colonial education and retrieve lost indigenuous knowledge are being used in the most sinister manner by the Sangh Parivar.

The same people who decry and actively deny affirmative action to the Dalits, Bahujans and Adivasis when in India, are the first to queue up for their turn under diversity schemes abroad. Project themselves as a minority, they attempt to silence any adverse criticism of the thousands of caste atrocities and rape culture that characterises India—by having now invented the new terminology of Hinduphobia, and last week, I was introduced to another one in this tiny family, Hindumisia.

A writer whom I deeply adore, Audre Lorde said, “The masters tools will not dismantle the masters house.” The proliferation of the many overseas arms of the Sangh Parivar, combined with an already Hinduva-leaning Brahmin-filled/ dominated/ supremacist academia in India we see the tragic, frightening inverse of her prophetic words. The tools of the oppressed people are being used to stop the dismantling of the master’s house, and to hold it intact and together. This appropriation is what makes Hindutva deadly and dangerous.

Concluding remarks

I am a writer who flirts with academia from a safe distance. I admire the courage that it has taken to put this conference together, and the intellectual rigour needed from all of us to fight this ideological, fascisitic enemy, the Sangh Parivar. This battle to dismantle Hindutva has always been ongoing, and as we take it forward, I want to say this 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, it cannot occur without women’s liberation, it cannot occur without a formidable challenge to capitalism.

I know that a conclusion is a place where the writer or speaker makes their most effective point. I want to utilise the space of my conclusion to quote from Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi VCK leader Dr. Thol. Thirumavalavan’s reading of Dr.Ambedkar. in Uproot Hindutva, a book of speeches that I had the honour of translating, he says: “Revolutionary Ambedkar launched a multipronged attack against Hindutva. If all his writings and all his speeches are to be condensed to one line, it would read: “We shall uproot Hindutva, we shall create equality.” The essence of all his writings is: “We shall uproot Hindutva.” Hindutva is opposed to equality, so we (VCK) are opposed to Hindutva. Hindutva is against democracy. So, we are against Hindutva.”

Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

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