Mapping Political Violence in a Globalized World: The Case of Hindu Nationalism

By Kamat, Sangeeta; Mathew, Biju | Social Justice, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview
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Mapping Political Violence in a Globalized World: The Case of Hindu Nationalism


Kamat, Sangeeta, Mathew, Biju, Social Justice


A Gujarat Gaurav Rath Yatra on the streets of New York City? This is the suggestion given to [Gujarat's] Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, by Non-Resident Gujaratis [NRGs] settled in the United States.... The president-elect of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, Sudhir Parikh, a consulting allergist in the U.S., expressed concern over the soiled image of Gujarat abroad following the communal riots and suggested that Mr. Modi take out "gaurav rath yatras" on the streets of New York and other cities in the U.S. to help improve the State's image (Dasgupta, 2003). (1)

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THE ABOVE NEWS REPORT FROM A LEADING DAILY IN INDIA INDICATES THE exchange of culture and identity politics in a globalized world. The communal riots that have tarnished the "image of Gujarat abroad" refer to the extreme violence unleashed against Muslims in the Indian western state of Gujarat in February and March of 2002 that killed between 800 and 2,000 people. Although tensions and conflicts between various religious and ethnic communities are not new phenomena in India, political commentators and scholars agree that the recent campaign of extreme violence in Gujarat is a departure from previous episodes of communal violence in India (Human Rights Watch, 2002; Mander, 2002). Following from this, the two questions we explore in this article are: (1) What is the ideological basis of this new and extreme violence against minorities in India, particularly against Muslims? (2) How do we understand the support for this violence from the Indian community in the U.S.?

The conjuncture we seek to address has deep historical roots and is tied to rapidly changing economic conditions in India. We focus on the specific violence in Gujarat (hereafter referred to as "Gujarat 2002") to highlight the ideology of the Hindu nationalist movement that makes such violence possible. In addition, we outline the contours of the Indian American community's investment, material and ideological, in furthering the movement's cause. This allows us to suggest new directions for research on the global nature of political violence. The first section of the article provides details of the seven days of horrific carnage of Gujarat 2002, and the continued violence and environment of fear that persists to this day. The brutality and systematic precision of the pogrom of February 28 to March 6 that spread rapidly from the cities to the villages of Gujarat is a window into the Hindu nationalist movement and its widening sphere of influence. The second section highlights the racialized discourse of the movement, which rests on a fabricated history of persecution and victimhood of Hindus, while Muslims are presented as the main perpetrators of violence in this mythical history. (2) The final section discusses how an important sector of the Indian diaspora in the U.S. foments this violence, straddling a minority and majority identity simultaneously and cleverly using the former to augment the latter. In conclusion, we suggest that an analysis of political violence should take into account the transnational and global relations by which dominating ideologies are reproduced and sustained.

"Crime Against Humanity": Gujarat 2002

On February 27, 2002, the Sabarmati Express was attacked a few minutes after it pulled out of the Godhra station in central Gujarat, allegedly by a Muslim mob. One carriage, numbered $6, caught fire and 58 passengers were trapped inside and burnt alive--a large number of whom were Hindu religious volunteers returning from a controversial temple-building project sponsored by the militant Hindu nationalist movement, Hindutva. (3)

Beginning February 28, the State of Gujarat witnessed unimaginable acts of cruelty and violence as large mobs of Hindu nationalist cadre roamed the streets and systematically massacred the Muslim community in Gujarat. No one was spared: young, old, men, women, children and newborns, the disabled and the destitute, Muslim members of the Opposition Party, and business establishments.

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Mapping Political Violence in a Globalized World: The Case of Hindu Nationalism
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