ANALYSIS - Historical roots of Hindutva

Islamophobia, violence against Muslims supported by the ruling party have made Hindu nationalists even more daring

Aslı Nur Düzgün  | 21.07.2022 - Update : 21.07.2022
ANALYSIS - Historical roots of Hindutva Protestors take part in demonstration against Islamophobia and racism in New Delhi, India on April 16, 2022.

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of International Relations at Istanbul Medeniyet University and continues dissertation studies at Lund University 


Closely linked with Narendra Modi, who started his political leap from the presidency of the state of Gujarat to the prime minister of India in the 2014 elections, the increasing hatred of Islam in Indian society has been on the agenda for a long time. According to Human Rights Watch 2022 report, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party-BJP) not only embraces acts and policies that discriminate against Muslims and other non-Hindu religious minorities (Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, Adivasis, etc.) but also turns up its pressure on civil society and the media. Academics, journalists, or activists who criticize the government and its policies are suppressed. The ruling party also calls for an economic boycott of Muslims' employment and trade. The Islamophobia and violence against Muslims supported by the ruling party, combined with the pacification of the police, have made Hindu nationalists even more daring.  

Reaction of international community

Tensions escalated once again in India last two months when BJP national spokesperson Nupur Sharma, Head of Media Department of BJP Naveen Kumar Jindal and youth wing leader Harshit Srivastava made libelous statements against the Prophet Muhammad and his wife the noble Aisha. On that, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, drew attention to the rising attacks in India in the meeting of the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report at the beginning of June. At the same meeting Rashad Hussain, the US ambassador-at-large For International Religious Freedom, voiced concern over the treatment of several religious communities in the country by addressing the Indian government as the supporter of these attacks. In addition, Ilhan Omar, a US Democrat congresswoman, declared that India should regard as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the US International Religious Freedom Act, in which economic sanctions can be leaded in extreme cases. At least fifteen countries' and organizations' condemnations were issued, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Gulf Cooperation Council, Türkiye, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, and Jordan. In some countries, there were even calls for a boycott of Indian products.

After all these backlashes, due to trade interdependencies and alliances, the Indian ruling party, accounting that these people were extremists and did not reflect the party view, expelled Naveen Kumar Jindal from the party and suspended Nupur Sharma. This act was actually reflecting the norms of the BJP which is the distortion of the facts for its interests.

Indian Muslims also protested the insults to the Prophet. As consequence, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (the state with the largest Muslim population in India), the houses of the two protesters were pulled down on the order of the prime minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath – claiming the houses were illegal – with the intent of some kind of extrajudicial execution. In addition, two people were shot in the demonstrations and 300 people were arrested.   

The roots of Islamophobia in India

A blind spot to be highlighted in this regard is what the historical starting point of Islamophobia in India is. The Islamophobia, which unfolded in the world public opinion with Narendra Modi in India, counterintuitively relies upon racism that is supported by the social base and has historical roots in the society.

These Islamophobic waves were realized by the global public opinion when the 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 come out and spread in India through the BJP's rise to power, actually date back to the 19th century.

The roots of Hindus' hostility toward Muslims are grounded in the times of liberation of India from British colonialism and the nation-state building. Under the influence of nationalist movements, two types of nationalism waves were embraced in the country: moderate and radical. Both were inviting Indians to return to "their own self-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. It constructed an anti-Islamic Indian identity and was the founder of ethnic and offensive “Hindutva” nationalism. First the moderates, then the radicals became active at the Indian National Congress.  

The resurrection of Hindutva

Radicals constructed an anti-Islamic Hindu civil religion through religious rituals. In the 20th century, anti-Islam sentiments in India were revived on these roots as well as with the help of the Hindutva manifesto written by Vinayak Savarkar. The resurrection wave has brought forth lobbies protecting Hindu interests against Muslims such as the Hindu Mahasabha or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). RSS was one of the most dangerous aggressive armed organizations founded on Hindutva ideology. In addition to promulgating their ideology in society, they also provided military training and spread it in India by constantly opening new offices. Things were going well for the organizations like the RSS until the time when Mahatma Gandhi has come to power. He was a leader struggling in well with Pakistan and cooperating with Muslims and was assassinated by an RSS member. Then there was outrageous violence between Hindus and Muslims, and almost one million people lost their lives.

The RSS and its successors, which went underground after the assassination of Gandhi, started to appear again after the 1950s and the number of registered members of the organization was almost half a million at the time. The oppression they faced led them to enter politics and they entered politics in the 50s with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh party. Modi is a lifelong member of the RSS, who was assigned by the RSS to the BJP. Therefore the Islamophobic attacks that happen within the Indian society (in Ibn Khaldun's words) also demonstrate the intertangled relationship between the societies that follow the religion of their leaders and the leaders who are the mirrors of their societies.

Far-right waves increasing in the atmosphere of globalization along with uncertainty and chaos in the world result in "self-glorification" by oppressing "others". As understood in recent events, the diplomatic reactions of the states seem to have worked on the BJP government. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the diplomatic pressure on India in the fight against Islamophobia.  

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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