The Organic Intellectual

If our greatest task is to liberate humanity, as Paulo Freire asserts, then it is absolutely essential that we create a culture of resistance from below that is able not only to counter, but transcend the limitations of the ruling culture imposed by above. Hopefully, The Organic Intellectual will help serve this purpose.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Arundhati Roy, Political Repression, and Hindu Nationalism

Perhaps the most eloquent, articulate, and poetic voice of our age is facing persecution by an oppressive and hostile government. Her name is Arundhati Roy, and for those of you unfamiliar with her, I suggest you spend the next hour or two of free time you get reading her work, listening to her speeches, or exploring the topics she analyzes with such potency. She is currently the target of a campaign against her by the Indian government for speaking out against the atrocities committed by them in the region of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority area occupied by the Indian military and police.

On October 31, right-wing thugs from the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), which I deal with extensively in my article below, surrounded Roy's  New Dehli home, chanting virulent slogans for half an hour before breaking into her home and vandalizing it. Fortunately, Roy was not at home during the attack. You can read her statement about the attack here.

The following is a sample of her, as always, eloquence concerning the campaign of terror:

"Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists and those who prey on the poorest of the poor roam free."

Pity them, indeed.

The article that follows is one written by me just after the Mumbai attack in 2009. It explores the issue of Hindu nationalism, a topic which Roy has written on extensively. I relied upon her heavily for this article, and quote her on occasion throughout. I hope that this small piece can do her justice, and those of us on the left should stand by her in her struggle against the Indian state, which seeks to silence dissent. Let us help keep it alive.

To garner an accurate understanding of the extremely diverse and complex religious atmosphere in India, one must also recognize the inter-tangled web of cultural and political aspects which are, in many ways, fused with religion. Since the 1920’s an ideology labeled Hindutva, outlined in 1923 by one of its founding theoreticians, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, has galvanized a prodigious revivalism among India’s Hindus. This revivalism takes many shapes, manifesting itself in the form of cultural groups, political parties, private militias, military factions, corporations, businesses, and a host of other social, political, and economic entities. However, all of this has developed within a certain political context where Hindu revivalism is intricately tied into the idea of Hindu nationalism, the concept which regards Hinduism as an ethnic, cultural, and political identity. Similarly, it is inextricably linked with a rather virulent Indian nationalism which, given the ideas expressed by many of its followers and philosophers, borders on fascism in its theoretical postulations. The concept of racial impurity, ethnic cleansing, and a virulent nationalism have stoked religious animosity, propped up an oppressive and undemocratic military occupation in Kashmir, and fueled the recent violence that has gripped India as exemplified in the bloodletting of 1,500 to 2,000 Muslims in the 2002 Gujarat massacre.

The term Hindu revivalism is often associated with Hindu fundamentalism, however that label is challenged by some who argue that no such fundamental text exists which can promote the hard-line philosophy espoused by many Hindu nationalists.[1] Savarkar, an atheist himself, regarded Hindutva as less of a religious interpretation and more a way of life, blurring the lines between religion and political ideology. Regardless of terminology, however, the expressions and outcomes of this particular ideological interpretation of Hinduism have, historically, been molded around extremely undemocratic conceptual ideals intended to marginalize minority populations, placate the suffering majority, and empower a small elite sector of society.

In India there are various currents of Hindu nationalism. Three in particular, however, stand out among rest. All three are intricately bound up together in ideological convictions yet utilize different vehicles to achieve their aims. The cultural organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is, in the words of Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy, “the ideological heart, the holding company” of Hindu nationalism. They maintain that all devotion should be directed towards the “motherland” of India, promote extreme nationalism, and exhibit an intense absorption of Hindutva by the daily Shakha (meeting) which includes “physical exercises, patriotic songs, group discussions on various subjects, reading of good literature and a prayer to our motherland.” It has approximately 50,000 organized Shakhas all across India, seven million swayamsevaks (volunteers), and 13,000 educational establishments. The Baratiya Janata Party is the political wing of the Hindu nationalists and similarly espouse a doctrine of “strong national defense, small government and free-market economic policies,” intended to promote economic growth at all costs while using the United States’ “War on Terror” as an ideological backdrop to marginalize and oppress the Muslim minority population. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal are the private militias, the physical arm of Hindu nationalism. These organizations all have a long history of extremism and brutality, as evidenced in Gujarat.

It is this fascistic revivalism which has infiltrated the hearts and minds of many Hindus that allows for genocidal acts of extermination to be proudly waved as acts of heroic service to the nation-state. Arundhati Roy cites “We,” or, “Our Nationhood Defined,” by M.S. Golwalker, head of the RSS in 1940’s, as the “RSS Bible.” Some of the excerpts from this work are extremely relevant:

Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to take on these despoilers. The Race Spirit has been awakening... In Hindustan, land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation.... All others are traitors and enemies to the National Cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots.... The foreign races in Hindustan. . .may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizen’s rights... To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races-the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here...a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.

This sort of language, written in the 1940’s, remains prominent today. In 2002, when the burning of a railway coach killed fifty-three Hindu pilgrims, a “planned orgy of supposed retaliation” was carried out in which “two thousand Muslims were slaughtered in broad daylight by squads of armed killers, organized by fascist militias [the VHP and Bajrang Dal], and backed by the Gujarat government and administration of the day.” Babu Bajrangi, leader of the Gujarat Bajrang Dal, explained the massacre like this:

We didn’t spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire...hacked, burned...we believe in setting them on fire because these bastards don’t want to be cremated, they’re afraid of it.... I have just one last wish.. .let me be sentenced to death… I don’t care if I’m hanged...just give me two days before my hanging and I will go and have a field day in Juhapura where seven or eight lakhs of these people stay… I will finish them off...let a few more of them least 25,000 to 50,000 should die.

After Narenda Modi, the chief minister of the state of Gujarat and member of the BJP, and his government planned the 2002 Gujarat massacre of the Muslims living there, he was quickly reelected with a landslide victory; it is obvious the poisonous virulence of Hindu nationalism runs deep through India’s veins.

This sort of violence is inevitably tied into the concept of Hindu nationalism. Racism, xenophobia, and dehumanizing virulence are often the spawn of extreme nationalism and radical concepts of ethnic identity. With brotherhood always comes the risk of otherhood. With ethnic identification comes the threat of ethnic hostility. However, acknowledging ethnic identity does not always have to lead to ethnic violence. A recognition or proximity to one’s cultural and ethnic background should not necessarily lead to exclusion and rejection of other ethnic, cultural, or religious groups. However, within the context of a despondent, poverty-stricken nation such as India where class antagonisms could, and often do, erupt at any moment, the ruling class must utilize some sort of ideological component to repress and redirect class tension. In a society split between rich and poor, ultra-wealthy minority and hungry, exploited, suffering majority, politicians and corporate rulers have no qualms with postulating an ideology which pits poor against poor, Hindu against Muslim, Indian against Indian. All that matters is that they maintain their stranglehold on the power, wealth, and means of production in society. Years ago it was the Dalits, the untouchables, whom could be discriminated against with impunity. Recently, in Gujarat, Muslims were the scapegoat for India’s ills. Tomorrow, it will be the revolutionary Maoists who have given up the Ghandian ideal of non-violent resistance to an oppressive state apparatus.

The latest violence, as evidenced quite recently in Mumbai, gives credence to the argument that terrorism cannot be stopped, cannot be contained, unless the states which wish to declare war on it first give it up as a tactic to maintain control. The terrific destruction by Hindu nationalists of the Babri Masjid Mosque in 1992, the Gujarat Massacre carried out by the BJP in 2002, and the 700,000 strong occupation consisting of the Indian “army, the police, the paramilitary, the counterinsurgency” that brutally represses the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir must be addressed if atrocities like Mumbai are not to be repeated again. The sort of religious animosity that provides the ideological fa├žade for non-aligned or state-sponsored terrorist atrocities cannot be curbed with anti-terrorism laws or more militarism. It is contained by addressing the root causes of the problems, the very real grievances, and material deprivation which lodges itself in the heart of the politically, economically, and socially marginalized sectors of society.

When a reporter asked one of the attackers in the Mumbai attacks why he would not surrender to save his life, he explained, “We die every day. It’s better to live one day as a lion and then die this way.” Roy notes that “He didn’t seem to want to change the world. He just seemed to want to take it down with him.” Religion, it seems, may provide the ideological backdrop which comforts and aides atrocities, allows for the denial of genocide, and the continuance of oppression carried out by the state. Hindu revivalism, and its extremist, nationalist appendage of Hindutva, undoubtedly provides the psychological context in which a massacre can be celebrated rather than reviled. It also promotes the specific interests of a particular group, namely those who control and dictate by maintaining political and economic power. Thus, whatever one chooses to call it, fundamentalism, revivalism, or nationalism, a cultural affinity, ethnic identity, or religious fixation, this sort of virulent ideology must be challenged by all people, Hindu and non-Hindu alike. Reform movements in India who challenge the caste system must also challenge the class system which perpetuates inequality, racism, and xenophobia.

[1] Adhopia makes the argument that “Unlike Islam and Christianity, Hinduism is not a “One Prophet, One Book” religion... There is nothing in Hinduism, despite its antiquity, that a fundamentalist group can interpret to suit or justify its extremist ideology.”


Ajit Adhopia, “Hindu Fundamentalism: Does it really exist?” available from: http://www.boloji.comlanalysis/016.htm

Arundhati Roy, “9 is Not 11,” available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.conilarundhati-roy/9-is-not-11

Arundhati Roy, “Listening to Grasshoppers,” available from:

BJP, available from:

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