Everyday Nationalism: Women of the Hindu Right in India

Everyday Nationalism: Women of the Hindu Right in India

Everyday Nationalism: Women of the Hindu Right in India

Everyday Nationalism: Women of the Hindu Right in India

Synopsis

This ethnography analyzes the popularity of Hindu nationalism in contemporary India through examining the everyday acts of women activists, finding that women's ability to recruit individuals from a variety of backgrounds and the movement's willingness to accommodate a multiplicity of positions are central to understanding its expansionary power.

Excerpt

“What is the point of building a Ram temple on the blood of so many Indians? It is meaningless.” Ela Dube, a member of the Hindu nationalist organization Sewa Bharati, raised this rhetorical question in October 1999. Although she did not know me, like many other Hindu nationalist women I met while conducting fieldwork in Delhi in 1999, Ela did not hesitate to meet me and generously invited me into her home in a Delhi Development Authority Middle Income Group colony to talk to her. It was Navaratri, the Hindu festival that marks the slaying of the buffalo demon Mahisasura by the goddess. Auspiciously dressed in a red blouse and a bright yellow sari, Ela had spent the morning doing puja (worship). As a pious Hindu woman, she was fasting but insisted on serving me tea and biscuits as she told me of her involvement with the movement, her own political views, and the work that she does as a member of Sewa Bharati.

Like many of the women I worked with, Ela came from a family with strong connections to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the all male paramilitary organization that is the ideological core of the Hindu nationalist movement. Born and raised in Banaras, Ela informed me that her father had gone against her grandfather’s wishes to insist that his three daughters attend university. After completing her degree at Banaras Hindu University, Ela became a teacher in Faridabad, where she lived with her husband and sons until 1993 when they moved to Delhi. In Delhi she started her own school in a jhuggi (makeshift hut) in the slums near her housing colony that, by 1999, had blossomed into a 140-student school in a permanent building. It was here that she was approached by Sewa Bharati and asked to join the organization. Given her long association with the RSS, and her belief that its members are true desh bhakts (patriots) committed to Vedic values, she readily agreed. She is now in charge of one of the zonal subdivisions of the Delhi wing of the organization.

I was surprised to hear her say that it was meaningless to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram “on the blood of so many Indians,” because during our conversation that afternoon Ela had spoken in the most glowing terms of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The . . .

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