Sunday, June 6, 2004

INDIA: DECONSTRUCTING HINDUTVA

Date: Tuesday 6 July 2004
Subj: India: Deconstructing Hindutva.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


India's new Congress-led government has begun the process of digging up the Hindutva foundations laid by its predecessors, the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP. Congress is actively working to restore India's former foundations as a politically secular state with religious freedom and opportunities for all. The Hindutva "idol" (or dream of a Hindu state) was a work in progress and it is still craved by many in the Hindutva camp. The deconstruction of Hindutva
will not be without its opponents and challenges. Even since the BJP election defeat, the RSS has been actively advancing its attack on Christianity through the setting up of armed militias called "Raksha Sena" (Defense Army) that are being trained and sent out specifically to prevent conversions to Christianity.

RECONSTRUCTING HISTORY

In November 2001 Congress politician Arjun Singh accused the BJP of "Talibanising" the education system. The BJP government had commissioned Hindu nationalist scholars to "saffronise" India's history texts by filling them with Hindu nationalist delusions and religious bigotry all presented as historic fact. Through the texts the BJP sought to change the perception of Indian culture from an ethnic and religious melting pot which developed through mass migrations and trade links, to one that is unique, historically Hindu, superior and resistant to foreign invasion.

The BJP’s revised history texts credit Hindus with "lighting the lamp of Chinese culture" and the commissioning and design of India’s greatest pieces of Islamic architecture, including the Taj Mahal. The texts denigrate Muslims and blame Christians for the partition of India, alleging that missionaries are actively "fostering anti-national tendencies".

Randeep Ramesh reports from Delhi for the Guardian (26 June 2004), "India's new government is poised to rewrite the history taught to the nation's schoolchildren after a panel of eminent historians recommended scrapping textbooks written by scholars hand-picked by the previous Hindu nationalist administration.

"Hundreds of thousands of textbooks are likely to be scrapped by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the central government body that sets the national curriculum for students up to 18.

"The move, one of the first made by the new Congress led government, will strongly signal a departure from the programme of its predecessor."

Ramesh reports, "The three-member panel of historians examining the 'inadequacies' of history textbooks recommended the 'discontinuation' of their use in the national syllabus. After submitting a report to India's education minister, Professor S Settar, a distinguished historian of ancient India, told reporters: 'We found it not advisable to continue (with these books).'

"The government will decide early next month to what extent it will accept the academics' verdict, but as it has stressed that it will seek to reach out to minorities, it is expected to implement Prof Settar's report in full. ... Many on the Hindu right are furious that their revisionist interpretation of history is now being revised, blaming the influence of 'leftists and Marxists'." (Link 1)

PROTECTING AND ADVANCING MINORITIES

Immediately upon winning the elections in May 2004, the Congress, via its new Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, vowed to actively pursue social harmony and protect religious minorities. "We are the most tolerant civilization and we cannot divide people on the basis of religion and race," Singh said. (AFP 21 May 2004)

The government is now working on a new law to protect religious minorities from communal violence. The BBC reports, "Interior minister Shivraj Patil told reporters the law would combat communal violence - and would target those who instigated, abetted or funded unrest. 'We will definitely not tolerate it,' PTI (Press Trust of India) news agency quoted him as saying."(Link 2)

While inaugurating a conference on 'Minority Welfare and Education', Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed that his government will establish a commission to enhance welfare, education and employment for minorities.

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) released to the Press an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, thanking the government for this commitment. In that letter, GCIC Convener Sajan K George said, "We are thankful to you for your resolve to empower the minority community to bring parity in private and public employment opportunities and partake in the fruits of our democracy and involve in nation building for a better future. We are thankful to you for your concern for the minorities and your determination to introduce minority development measures focusing on backward sections among the religious minorities. Your attempts to address the emotional needs of the minorities will go a long way in bringing harmony and peace."

HINDUTVA IS NOT DEAD

The BJP may have lost power, but Hindutva is not dead. Promoters of Hindu nationalism will oppose and challenge the government, possibly through communal violence designed to test the government’s resolve.

AsiaNews reports (26 May 2004), "The extremist Hindutva Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) movement and its frontal organization Dharma Jagran Vibhag (religious awakening department) have announced the decision to establish groups of armed youth, called Raksha Sena, in every village of the Central Indian tribal state Chhatisgarh, in order to stop conversions to Christianity.

"At the meeting of the founding of the Reksha Sena, Judeo declared: 'The operations of the Ghar Wapsi will continue, notwithstanding the problems that might come,' referring to the fall of the Hindu BJP government. Judeo communicated that the movement had already 'succeeded' to force some Christian religious sisters to give up their white habits and exchange them for saffron saris, the typical Hindu clothing. He also confirmed that the movement had forced some Christians to 'do a rethink'.

"He then invited the soldiers of the newly established Reksha Sena to 'move into the interior parts of the country to check religious conversions to Christianity'."(Link 3)

On 30 June 2004 the South China Morning Post reported that the BJP was struggling to understand the election loss. Days earlier the BJP held a meeting in the Mumbai hotel to discuss the issues. Political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said the election loss had plunged the BJP into an identity crisis.

Amrit Dhillon reported for SCMP, "What emerged from the meeting was a determination to revert to the hardcore Hindu nationalist ideology (known as hindutva) that originally won the party a mass following among the middle class.

"While in power, though, the constraints of office and the need to manage diverse allies prompted the BJP to dilute its aggressive nationalism. ...Now, in defeat, the party has reverted to its hardline ideas and fallen back into the arms of its Hindu nationalist affiliates who had always mourned its fall from doctrinal grace. From now on, these affiliates will play a big role in determining the party's agenda. 'We cannot afford to dilute our ideological moorings,' said former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani."

Hindutva may have lost is national appeal, but militant Hindu nationalists have not lost their ability or willingness to inflict suffering upon the Church. The new government will need every ounce of resolve it can muster to prove to Hindu militants that liberty and justice will prevail and violence against religious minorities will not be tolerated.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Indian experts recommend scrapping textbooks revised by last
govt. 25 June 2004
http://www.guardian.co.uk/india/story/0,12559,1247694,00.html

2) India plans law on communal unrest. 4 July 2004,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/south_asia/3864605.stm

3) Paramilitary Hindu group to restrict Christian conversions
26 May 2004. http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=862