How can we stop militant Hinduism?

Religion and politics

Julia Eckert

To person

Dr. phil., born 1967; currently research assistant in the legal pluralism project group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle / Saale.

Address: Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Postfach 110351, 06107 Halle / Saale.
e-mail: [email protected]

Publications including: Land reform in Uzbekistan, Eschborn 1995; Reconciling the Mohalla, in: T. Scheffler (Ed.), Religion between Violence and Reconciliation, Beirut - Stuttgart 2002.

From the political benefit of a (supposed) religious conflict

Religious-nationalist movements are often seen only as a defensive reaction to rapid social change, anomalous conditions or experiences of foreignness. The spread of Hindu nationalism could be cited as an example.


In the spring of 2002 in the Indian state of Gujarat 2000 people were killed by communalist, i.e. H. murdered excesses that defined group identities. Almost all of those who died were Muslim, and the death toll is likely much higher than official estimates. The Prime Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, gave three days to the "understandable anger" of the Hindus. The violence raged for two months, supported by the police and justified by Indian leaders.

The riots against the Muslims in Gujarat were seen as a "reaction" to the fire on a train in which 57 "volunteers" (kar sevaks) of the Hindu nationalist organization VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad - World Indurat) perished. Although a forensic commission determined that the fire broke out inside the train and was not started from outside, the fire is still regarded as a justification for a wave of violence that is the final culmination of a conflict that has been increasing in brutality for years.

The train of volunteers came from Ayodhya, the city in which the VHP wanted a temple to be built for the god Ram. The Babri Mosque stood there until a few years ago, of which only a few ruins are left today. Because on December 6, 1992, 300,000 volunteers who responded to the call of the VHP and some politicians such as B. followed by the current interior minister and vice-premier Advani, the mosque was razed to the ground. The Hindu nationalist organizations have claimed what they claim is the birthplace of Ram. The destruction of the mosque triggered the worst communist unrest in India since independence in 1947. Even then, most of the dead were Muslims.

The dispute over the land in Ayodhya has been simmering for decades. The Supreme Court has since banned all religious activities on the premises until a court has clarified who legally belongs to the land. The VHP claims, however, that the dispute over the country cannot be decided by a court of law, because it is about deepest religious feelings and what is a matter of faith cannot be negotiated. The belief that God was born there sanctifies the place. And he sanctified the desire to destroy the mosque. As is so often the case, a piece of land - i.e. an actually divisible good - is sacralized, that is, a symbol of an allegedly indivisible value.

Of course, it is not the case that the non-negotiable and indivisible simply exist. A look at numerous conflict courses, in India as well as in Yugoslavia or Northern Ireland, also shows the opposite: It is not the non-negotiability that creates the conflict, but rather conflicts, whatever interests arose, create non-negotiability. These are often not the source of conflict, but a means that keeps the conflict alive in the long term. The assumption that conflicts are primarily about resolving them overlooks the fact that conflicts are often conducted for their own sake or for the sake of the social dynamics that are mobilized through them. This is because in many conflicts there are people who have more from the conflict itself than from its solution. This is not limited to the much-cited war profiteers who earn money from - especially violent - conflicts. [1] No, there are other things to gain in a conflict: honor and power, allegiance and identity.

Mobilize conflicts; they generate the themes around which social movements are grouped. They constitute opponents, but also communities. And this is how the conflict in India should also be interpreted: The construction - and violent realization - of the hostility of Hindus and Muslims, of Hinduism and Islam is part of a nationalist project that aims at unification inward through demarcation from the outside. The Muslims become the substitute enemies, the operational others. It is the distinction between friend and foe that here - as with Carl Schmitt - constitutes the identity of a people. [2]

Communalist group conflicts and religious-nationalist movements have mostly been viewed as a - defensive - reaction to given circumstances. Experiences of strangeness, anomalous states, relative deprivation seem to explain their origin. Sociological approaches in the tradition of Emile Durkheim have time and again rapid socio-economic change, urbanization, individualization, the devaluation of tradition and religion (Max Webers "Disenchantment of the World") and modernity as such (as a process of social differentiation) made responsible for anomie experiences and consequently for the growing importance of identity politics. [3]

In many cases, the spread of Hindu nationalism and communalist violence in India as a reaction to or defense against "foreign ideas" such as secularism, [4] mass democracy [5] or threats [6] and promises [7] interpreted by globalization. But the current communalist violence between Hindus and Muslims in India cannot be understood without the Hindu nationalist project. This is not a defensive, but an offensive project: The aim is to implement a majority understanding of the state along a unit defined according to religious affiliation.

Ayodhya, the construction of the Ram Temple and the destruction of the Babri Mosque are more than just religious symbols. They are central symbols for unity and exclusion, for the determination of those who are legitimized according to the ideas of Hindu nationalism to participate in the Indian community, and those who are "foreign". The mosque stands for the conquest of India by the (Muslim) Mughal ruler Babur - and thus for the alleged strangeness of the Muslims, their aggression and the attack on Hinduism. Ram, for whom the temple is to be built, is the figure who represents a united Hinduism in the pantheon of Hindu nationalism, united across caste boundaries in a common fight against the threat from outside. Ayodhya is (yet?) Not a project of the Hindus, it is a project of the Sangh Parivar, the so-called "family" of Hindu nationalist organizations to which the VHP, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - the National Volunteer Association) and the current ruling party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party - National People's Party) belong.

Hindu nationalism

Hindutva (Hindutum), the central postulate of Hindu nationalism, calls for the unity of all Hindus through the differences in rites, in the specific forms of belief jatis (Box) and sects away. [8] It is unity in diversity, unity even in inequality: the Adhikari Bheda. It is the idea of ​​the harmonious-hierarchical structure of the Hindu caste system, in which each and every one has his or her fixed place and task.

The idea of ​​unity in diversity has taken many forms in India: a republican in Nehru's understanding of the state, a more multicultural one in the Bengali poet Tagore. But in Hindu nationalism, as it was formulated by its founding fathers Hedgewar and Sarvarkar in the twenties and thirties of the 20th century, social conflicts within Hinduism, such as caste conflicts, were denied with the call for unity and harmony vehemently opposed political articulation. Since the establishment of the RSS, the harmony of the hierarchy, the organic understanding of nations from the Brahmin head, the Kshatriya arms (warriors), the Vaishwa belly (merchants) and the Shudra feet (workers) of Hindu society has been a central element of the Hindu nationalist ideology. The evocation of unity and unity is therefore always directed against the political representation of demands for equality within the group, which is defined by the "Hindu" category.

The genealogy of Hindu nationalism is based on the historical process of consolidation and incipient canonization of Hinduism. The development of the religious and social order of the Indian subcontinent from a very diverse religious landscape with unclear borders to a more clearly defined entity called Hinduism [9] was ultimately a process of modernization in which colonial-administrative, cultural - ritual and political developments intertwined. Because the Hindu category is not a naturally religious one: At first it was a foreign name and a geographical description, as it referred to all those who lived "behind the Indus". [10] In the 1911 census there were around 200,000 people who z. B. referred to as Hindoo Mohammedans. [11] What then established itself as a religious category was very diverse Jatis, Castes, with a wide variety of ritual practices and a multitude of gods, [12] who had no common self-designation and were not simply constituted as a coherent religion.

The colonial administration contributed to the definition of a uniform category with its need for classification. With increasing modernization, the groups became politically and administratively relevant. "Enumerated communities" [14] clearly and above all exclusively determined group affiliations and made multiple or situational identifications impossible. At the same time, the colonial state withdrew to a neutral position vis-à-vis the groups defined in this way and forbade any interference in religion. But it was precisely because of this that specific versions of the various social practices were codified. [15] At that time, z. B. laid the foundations for the religious personal statute, which allowed everyone to regulate family law matters according to the dictates of his religion - but only according to the law of the practices recognized as religion by the colonial administration. The introduction of separate constituencies for Muslims in the thirties of the 20th century was intended to guarantee their political representation in the colonial bodies, but also meant that political mobilization was increasingly attempted along religiously coded group boundaries.

Administrative, cultural-religious and in the narrower sense political projects strengthened each other in the consolidation of the group boundaries. Administrative categories took up - selectively - the classifications of religious self-representations. The colonial categories that arose from these administrative interests and politically motivated (and thus specific) representations of Indian society were in turn incorporated into forms of political organization. The colonial state privileged some forms of social organization and made others impossible. Communitarian and religious formations in particular often had more opportunities to act in public space than strictly nationalistic or class-oriented events, based on the assumption that they were ultimately not political and, moreover, deeply peculiar to the "essence" of the Orient. [16]

The colonial privilege of the religious and communitarian would not have been possible, however, had it not been able to tie in with existing group differences. [17] Differences between the political Muslim and Hindu elites increased by the end of the 19th century at the latest. While the Indian National Congress was increasingly able to present itself to the British colonial government as a representative of the entire Indian population, the references to a Hindu India (and an implicit identification of India and Hinduism), which had shaped it since its foundation in 1885, remained political Rhetoric clearly. Central figures supported the positions of the Hindu right. [18]

With the religious note that Gandhi brought to the independence movement since the 1920s, the fears of Muslim elites that they would be excluded from political participation in an independent India - despite his efforts to achieve ecumenical harmony - intensified. The Muslim League consolidated itself as the political representative of the Muslims and tightened its demands for independent political representation within India. [19] The "two-nation theory" put forward by Jinnah and adopted by the British colonial government confirmed the colonial notion of the endemic conflict between Hindus and Muslims and established the division of the subcontinent for them. [20]

Independent India enshrined secularism in its constitution (Articles 27 and 28). It committed itself to religious freedom (Art. 25) and established protection for minorities (Art. 29 and 30). It adopted the principle of the Personal Statute and in the Hindu Civil Code also adopted the broad definition of Hinduism, which legally included Jains and Sikhs in this category. [21] In India, secularism was expressed in two ways from the beginning: Gandhi understood secularism to mean the equality of all religions, but rejected a separation of state and religion as fundamentally impossible. Nehru pursued the classic liberal model of secularism as a separation of state and "church". Gandhi's view became dominant and anchored in law. [22]

The Hindu right's understanding of secularism is based on this: Hindu nationalism claims to represent true secularism. Derived from the idea that Hinduism is "not a religion, but a way of life" and can therefore integrate people of all faiths without proselytizing them, tolerance towards the "other" is seen as the basic principle of Hinduism. This view claims the representation of all citizens of India, but at the same time limits membership in India via religion. Because this is in Hindu nationalism since Sarvarkar's writing "Who is a Hindu" from 1923 about the unity of punyabhoomi, "Holy Land" and pitribhoomi, "Fatherland", defined. Sarvarkar accepted Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists into the circle of legitimate citizens of India, since their holy places were on the territory of India. By definition, Christians and Muslims were excluded from legitimate participation in the community. The Indian nation was in favor of RSS, the central organization of today's Hindu nationalism, from the beginning Hindu Rashtra, the land of the Hindus. [23] This understanding of the state and nations said goodbye to republicanism. It reformulated the idea of ​​the Indian community from one that was defined by territorial boundaries and thus by citizenship, to one that determined these boundaries religiously and "true", i.e. differentiated between legitimate and illegitimate citizens.

The construction of the "other"

The idea that the Muslims of India were alien was linked to the conquest of the subcontinent by the Mughals. This political history was stylized as a religious characteristic: the aggression and missionary task of Islam. The essentialization of Islam was contrasted with the essentialization of Hinduism: if Islam was essentially aggressive, Hinduism was essentially tolerant. The belief "Islam is aggression and Hinduism is tolerance" regularly intermingles with the call to Hindus to defend themselves. Because of his innate tolerance, the Hindu is at the same time unable to defend himself and his culture against those who are supposedly so completely different: the Muslims, whose religion is aggressive, hegemonic and intolerant. The Hindu's inherent tolerance becomes their weakness to be overcome. Overcoming the alleged weakness of Hinduism through disciplined violence, in the self-image of the Hindu nationalist organizations - and a wide circle of the Indian middle class - never means the simultaneous dissolution of the characteristic "tolerance".

Hindu nationalist violence is neutralized in a defense discourse. Even the founder Hedgewar founded the RSS and the drill in their local associations, the Shakhas, with the allegedly necessary defense of India against attacks by Muslims. "In every single case it is they who start them and go on the offensive". [24] The statements of BJP politicians, RSS ideologues and VHP activists about the pogroms in Gujarat in spring 2002 also invariably invoked the necessary defense. [25]

The defensive discourse is the rhetorical figure par excellence to resolve the cognitive dissonance between tolerance and aggressiveness.After all, one can in principle be non-violent, even if one does not want to forego the right to self-defense. Here self-defense is quasi collectivized and generalized: every Muslim becomes a symbol of the threat, and so attacks on individual, defenseless Muslims can also be justified; at the same time, every conflict, no matter how small, becomes a symbol of the alleged existential threat to Hindus and Hinduism.

The generalization of the alleged threat also makes it possible that the enemy image "Muslim" has meanwhile diversified: Today Hindusthan is only through the presence of Muslims, through their alleged disloyalty, through "their" terrorism, but also through their many children and theirs Threatened Poverty. These factors of an existential conflict, in which every form of everyday life of Muslims becomes a symptom of the threat, can serve the most diverse interests as an enemy.

The focus is on the construction that the Muslims of India "conquered" the Indian state: The Hindu nationalists claim that the Indian governments under the Congress Party spoil the minorities ("pampering minorities "); they would give them special rights because the Muslims are useful as an electorate. In this way the rights of the Hindus would be neglected, downright betrayed and sold.

The fusion of the anti-Muslim with the anti-state or anti-Congress discourse is central. In the defense discourse, the legitimate political order is equated with the Hindus' claim to possession of India; the Hindu nationalist organizations become advocates of these - religiously and culturally legitimized - claims, while all other political parties and the current secular order become "traitors". In majoritarianism, the integration project merges with the representation project. The majoritarianism of Hindu nationalism defines the unity it claims to represent; [26] he defines their legitimate claims; he determines the overriding relevance of these claims compared to other possible social and political claims through the politics of the enemy. In this way, the Hindu nationalist organizations become the sole representatives of the just order, the sole representatives of the legitimate claims of the Hindus.

The Parliamentary Rise of Hindu Nationalism

The temporal location of the parliamentary upswing of Hindu nationalism clearly shows how central the merging of unification and representation projects is. The Hindu nationalist organizations under the auspices of the RSS massively expanded their parliamentary influence and support when, after decades of dominance, the rule of Congress began to crumble in the 1980s. The so-called congress system [27] lost its integrative power, which was based on the incorporation of local elites and the consideration of different interests, [28] after Indira Gandhi centralized the party organization and excluded local elites from shaping politics. [29] Independent political organizations began to represent their group in parliaments, mostly on the basis of caste membership, and achieved an increasing shift in political influence through their electoral success. When the government of V. P. Singh legally introduced the recommendations of the Mandal Commission on quotas for "Other Backward Castes" (OBCs) in 1990, the BJP found a hearing among the upper castes, especially the urban middle classes, who were formally disadvantaged by the quota policy. These were particularly affected by the reservation of public service positions.

For some time the party was limited to this constituency. [30] The BJP had to try to involve the social groups in the project of Hindu nationalism, whose independent political mobilization seemed to threaten the postulated harmony and unity of the Hindus. The suggestion of an existential conflict became increasingly important because it made the conflicts within the group classified as Hindu irrelevant or at least secondary. The Muslims became the "operational others", the substitute enemies.

The plausibility check of Hindu nationalist positions

But why should social conflicts, which affected people on a daily basis, which determined their chances and possibilities, subordinate themselves in their relevance to a conflict that was relatively unreal or at least irrelevant in everyday life? The experience of caste violence [31] and discrimination was and is much more common than the postulated hostility towards Muslims. But what "makes sense" in this postulated conflict is not necessarily the conflict itself; rather, the plausibility lies in the specific forms of social organization that go with it.

This becomes clearest in the violent actions: Violence enforces precisely the unity that is the concern of the conflict. Violence ignores individual identifications; it distinguishes itself between friend and foe (and sometimes the third party, the public). Communalist violence in Indian history, especially the experience of partition, has repeatedly confirmed and made real the perception of an existential conflict between Hindus and Muslims. After each riot, the residential areas continue to segregate; [32] Economic cooperation chains are broken, entire branches of the economy are restructured. [33] In many cases, social work tasks - including emergency aid after riots - are taken over by religious organizations. These do not explicitly stir up hatred, but convey religious practices that have been "purified" from the many syncretisms. This is how solidarity networks dissolve: local festivals, neighborhoods, also work contexts. Then it becomes easier to spread rumors, to stir up fear and to find and strengthen faith in it.

But it is not only the realization of the conflict that makes it plausible. Violence can also create unity because it is able to address a wide variety of interests and social and political issues, subsumes a wide variety of conflicts under the mantle of the friend-foe scheme and creates new political alliances. This becomes particularly clear in the example of the Shivsena, one of the most militant Hindu nationalist parties, which is mainly established in the state of Maharashtra and there plays a central role in the integration of poor and low-caste population groups into the project of Hindu nationalism.

The Shivsena represents a violence-oriented, violence-celebrating actionism. Since it was founded in 1966, it has always stylized itself as a protest movement. Under the slogan that the state or the Congress governments are responsible for "selling out" the interests of the Hindus, the Shivsena took on the role of re-conquering the state for its legitimate citizens and protecting it from the access of "foreigners" (here also the Born in Italy and President of the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi).

The main organizational principle of the Shivsena is its strong local anchoring in a relatively dense network of associations, the Shakhas. They take on numerous cultural and social work tasks that complement the inefficient infrastructure of the state. In their local associations, however, they not only offer help; they also organize cultural activities in which their specific understanding of Hinduism is disseminated, their concerns popularized and mixed with the religious and cultural symbols of everyday culture. Neighborhood celebrations are given the mark of territorial claims and reproduce criteria of exclusion; the numerous martial arts groups associated with many of these local clubs become more than a mere leisure activity, they gain the aura of "national defense". At the same time, none of these activities are explicitly centered around the political message, but precisely because of that they are much more effective: they successfully merge your political agenda with the institutions and practices that shape everyday local life.

In this local anchoring and the focus on - violent - actions, on immediate intervention rather than on long-term projects, the Shivsena suggests feasibility. The cult of action and effectiveness justifies the rejection of the parliamentary form of politics, of "ideological talk". Through its politics of direct action, the Shivsena therefore not only offers identity constructs, but spaces for real, practical opportunities for action and local power. Through its local electoral successes, which were based on both the provision of social services and communalist mobilization, the Shivsena enabled people from social groups to enter politics who were previously largely excluded from it. Political mobility in Maharashtra had long been blocked by the Congress Party's monopoly on political posts and career opportunities. The so-called "Congress System", in which some influential families of the Maratha caste dominated in Maharashtra, [34] was broken up by the expansion of the Shivsena. Thus, under the broad cloak of Hindu nationalism, the Shivsena became a vehicle for opposition or a wide variety of opposition to the Congress Party.

In its actions and agitations, the Shivsena integrated the most varied and sometimes contradicting conflicts and dissatisfaction with the state as well as with the Congress Party, which is so closely identified with the state, and repeatedly occupied very different local and regional conflicts. [35] It bundled the claims of a rising middle class to participate and the dissatisfaction of poorer groups with the administration. It integrated these completely opposing concerns and transformed them into communalist conflicts, i. H. along the simple binary Hindu - Muslim scheme: every conflict in which a Congress politician or the constituency of a Congress politician was involved on the one hand became a conflict in which the Congress and its representatives became a symbol of the state and Shivsena became an advocate of the rights of "the people" - and thus of the Hindus. It was successful because it used this binary scheme to offer the various conflict parties completely new alliances and coalitions, each of which strengthened them in their different concerns and in their specific opposition to the Congress (or to a party associated with this conflict constellation).

The Shivsena behaves as the guardian of the "just order": It claims to protect the legitimate order by breaking the "illegitimate" laws of an "illegitimate" government in numerous agitations. The criticism of an inefficient and corrupt state thus becomes the legitimation of the majority claims, which not only replace the state, but also the norms of legality and legitimacy that apply in principle to it.

It is precisely the different violent actions and the specific form in which violence was established and organized that led to the spread of Hindu nationalism and Hindu nationalist organizations. The violence organized through this enemy image was firstly able to localize local social conflicts and to subsume them under the "religious conflict". Secondly, violence was able to integrate the different and often contradicting dissatisfactions with the Indian state and also to localize criticism of the state. Thirdly, violence was able to realize offers of participation and "emancipation" and to open up scope for action that parliamentary forms of politics cannot realize.

It is clear that the social conflicts that make the unification project necessary in the first place cannot be suppressed in the long term and always break out in their own logic. But the Hindu nationalist understanding of the state remains behind from the unification project. This means that the Hindu nationalist mobilization and the omnipresence of majority legitimation patterns cannot produce the desired unity, but they have caused a lasting shift in legitimacy, normality and the justification of plural and particular claims. They have replaced the republican understanding of the state with a religiously coded majoritarianism.

The policy of non-negotiability

The essentialist nationalism of the Hindu nationalist groups and the communalist violence organized through them enforce clear demarcations between friend and foe; it separates legitimate from illegitimate citizens. The conflict can also create unity because its content is so vague. Only the victims and the boundary between friend and foe are concrete in it. It is vague because, beyond that, it is ultimately devoid of content. He has no specific subject other than this demarcation. The vagueness of the binary scheme, the vague militancy that characterizes the rhetorical and practical demarcation, makes ideological inconsistencies and contradictions in the interests of the different groups within a "camp" irrelevant.

In India it has often been debated whether communalist violence is an expression of a Hindu nationalist mass movement or whether it is skillfully manipulated and orchestrated by the Hindu nationalist organizations. [36] Both are true: Hindu nationalism and its twin, communalist violence, are mass movement and orchestration at the same time.

Pogroms like the one that happened in Gujarat do not happen because of structural imperatives or social constraints; they don't happen because sentiments of hatred "break out". To describe communalist violence, as it shook Gujarat, as "unrest" or mutual hatred of two religious groups would not only mean denying the blatant asymmetry between the groups, an asymmetry in the number of victims, but above all in the support from state authorities. but also to deny the riots their systematic character.

These concerted acts of violence are, on the one hand, a further means of asserting the claim to ownership of India, the majority prerogative, and the "illegitimacy" of Muslims. On the other hand, they are an expression of how far this claim to ownership has already spread, how natural it has become for a wide variety of population groups. This was particularly evident in the involvement of the state authorities, the police, who did not intervene, who in some cases handed Muslims, including women and children, over to the attackers, who did not offer the fire brigade any escort to put out the fires; but also, of course, in the unwillingness of the BJP government to end the pogroms by giving clear instructions to the police and the army.

If a conflict is not just about negotiating a problem with the opponent, but also, and often even more, about consolidating a group as a group and becoming the spokesman and representative of its essential interests, then non-negotiability postulates are suitable. They shift a regulation of the matter into unreal worlds or times.

The essentialism of enmity, which is deepened through violence, also makes it possible to rephrase the conflict again and again, to adapt it to local and current opportunities, and above all to create continuity over time, to keep the conflict anew to concretize. Ayodhya is just one of the symbols of the supposedly essential and therefore non-negotiable conflict between Hinduism and Islam. Such chosen symbols are - potentially - infinite in number: Hindu nationalist organizations have 3,000 other mosques on their lists, and they will also find symbols other than mosques for the conflict.