ANALYSIS – Historical Roots of Hindutva


The author holds a doctorate. candidate at the Department of International Relations of Istanbul Medeniyet University and continuing his thesis studies at Lund University


Closely linked to Narendra Modi, who began his political leap from Gujarat state presidency to Indian prime minister in the 2014 elections, growing hatred of Islam in Indian society is the order of the day. day for a long time. According to the Human Rights Watch 2022 report, the ruling Bharatiya Janata (Indian People’s Party-BJP) party not only adopts acts and policies that discriminate against Muslims and other non-Hindu religious minorities (Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, Adivasis , etc.) but also increases its pressure on civil society and the media. Academics, journalists or activists who criticize the government and its policies are repressed. The ruling party is also calling for an economic boycott of Muslim employment and trade. Islamophobia and violence against Muslims supported by the ruling party, combined with police pacification, made Hindu nationalists even bolder.

Response from the international community

Tensions escalated again in India in the past two months when BJP national spokesperson Nupur Sharma, BJP media department chief Naveen Kumar Jindal and youth wing chief Harshit Srivastava made defamatory statements against the Prophet Muhammad and his wife the noble Aisha. In this regard, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, drew attention to the rise in attacks in India at the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report meeting in early June. At the same meeting, Rashad Hussain, the U.S. Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, expressed concern over the treatment of several religious communities in the country by addressing the Indian government as a supporter of these attacks. In addition, Ilhan Omar, a US Democratic Congressman, said India should be considered a “country of particular concern” under the US International Religious Freedom Act, in which economic sanctions can be imposed in extreme cases. At least fifteen countries and organizations have been condemned, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Gulf Cooperation Council, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Jordan. In some countries, calls for a boycott of Indian products have even been launched.

After all these backlashes, due to interdependencies and business alliances, the Indian ruling party, considering that these people were extremists and did not reflect the opinion of the party, expelled Naveen Kumar Jindal from the party and suspended Nupur Sharma. This act actually reflected the standards of the BJP which is the distortion of facts for its interests.

Indian Muslims also protested against the insults to the Prophet. As a result, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (the state with the largest Muslim population in India), the houses of the two protesters were demolished on the orders of the Prime Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath – claiming that the houses were illegal – with the intention of some sort of extrajudicial execution. In addition, two people were shot during the protests and 300 people were arrested.

The Roots of Islamophobia in India

A blind spot to highlight in this regard is the historical starting point of Islamophobia in India. Islamophobia, which unfolded in global public opinion with Narendra Modi in India, counterintuitively draws on racism that is supported by the social base and has historical roots in society.

These Islamophobic waves were realized by world public opinion when radical Hindus (1992) demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya claiming that the masjid was the birthplace of their God, Ram. The roots of the Hindutva movement, which later emerged and spread to India with the rise to power of the BJP, actually date back to the 19th century.

The roots of Hindu hostility towards Muslims lie in the era of India’s liberation from British colonialism and nation-state building. Under the influence of nationalist movements, two types of waves of nationalism were adopted in the country: moderate and radical. Both called on Indians to rediscover “their own identity” and included religious reforms to make Hinduism attractive. The moderate community, Brahmo Samaj, was pro-Western and founded by Rammohun Roy. The other clique was the Arya Samaj community founded by Svami Dayananda Sarasvati and, unlike Brahmo Samaj, embraced radical Hinduism. He constructed an anti-Islamic Indian identity and was the founder of ethnic and offensive “hindutva” nationalism. First the moderates and then the radicals became active in the Indian National Congress.

The resurrection of Hindutva

The radicals built an anti-Islamic Hindu civil religion through religious rituals. In the 20th century, anti-Islamic feelings in India were revived on these roots as well as with the help of the Hindutva manifesto written by Vinayak Savarkar. The resurrection wave gave rise to lobbies protecting Hindu interests against Muslims such as the Hindu Mahasabha or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). RSS was one of the most dangerous aggressive armed organizations based on Hindutva ideology. Apart from promulgating their ideology in the society, they also provided military training and spread it in India by constantly opening new offices. Things were going well for organizations like the RSS until Mahatma Gandhi came to power. He was a leader who struggled well with Pakistan and cooperated with Muslims and was assassinated by an RSS member. Then there was outrageous violence between Hindus and Muslims, and almost a million people lost their lives.

The RSS and its successors, which went underground after Gandhi’s assassination, began to appear again after the 1950s, and the number of registrants in the organization at the time reached nearly half a million. The oppression they faced led them to enter politics and they entered politics in the 1950s with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh party. Modi is a life member of the RSS, who was assigned by the RSS to the BJP. Therefore, the Islamophobic attacks that occur within Indian society (in the words of Ibn Khaldun) also demonstrate the intertwined relationship between societies that follow the religion of their rulers and the rulers who mirror their societies.

The waves of extreme right that multiply in the atmosphere of globalization, as well as the uncertainty and chaos in the world, result in a “glorification of self” by oppressing “others”. As understood in recent events, diplomatic reactions from states seem to have worked on the BJP government. Therefore, there is a need to increase diplomatic pressure on India in the fight against Islamophobia.

*The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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