Academic journal article Communication Studies

Regenerating Masculinity in the Construction of Hindu Nationalist Identity: A Case Study of Shiv Sena

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Regenerating Masculinity in the Construction of Hindu Nationalist Identity: A Case Study of Shiv Sena

Article excerpt

In recent years, there has been a surge of nationalist/religious identity movements (1) in many parts of the world. Whether in the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union or in other parts of the world, religious nationalism has emerged as a strong populist political dynamic (Gurr, 1994; Ludden, 1996). This contemporary form of religious nationalism is often associated with violence. As pointed out by Marvin and Ingle (1999), "in the wake of events following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has become more difficult to deny the religious character of nationalism and its essential connection to violence" (p. 3). Similarly, Pfaff (1993) reminds us that nationalist identity movements have been responsible for much violence in contemporary times. Juergensmeyer (1993) opines that in "intensity, intractability, and scope," this new form of "modern hate" has replaced the intense animosity that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War (p. viii). In this kind of religious nationalism, religious and political leaders frequently mobilize their followers by creating a satanic foe and persuading them to commit violent acts against such an enemy.

Like other parts of the world, India has witnessed a sharp rise in religious nationalism. Religious identity movements in India in the form of Hindu nationalism began in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when both Hindu and Muslim communities fought against each other on the basis of religious differences (Ghosh, 1999). The religious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims resulted in the partition of India and the formation of Pakistan in 1947. (2) In their quest to construct a strong Hindu identity, Hindu nationalist party leaders often advocate violent action against the Muslim community, which is a minority in India. What is particularly baffling is that these acts of violence have been taken on behalf of Hinduism, which is fundamentally antithetical to violence. Tharoor (2002) notes that Hindu nationalists who advocate violence "are profoundly disloyal to the religion they claim to espouse, which stands out as ... an eclectic embodiment of tolerance" (p. A25). Given Hindu values of tolerance and peace, many find the immense popularity of the radical nature of Hindu nationalism shocking. At present, there are several Hindu nationalist groups in India, (3) each trying to outdo the other in its promotion of Hindu nationalism by claiming a greater militancy of thought and action against the "other." Among all the different Hindu nationalist parties in India today, Bal Thackeray, who is the founder and leader of Shiv Sena, (4) which is based in Bombay [renamed Mumbai] in the western state of Maharashtra, has found a strong voice not only in Maharashtra but also in other parts of India (MacFarquhar, 2003; Purandare, 1999).

With the help of a case study of the Hindu nationalist party, Shiv Sena, I show that there is a strong connection between the Hindu nationalist discourse of Shiv Sena and a perceived threat to masculinity. (5) I further argue that recuperation of masculinity is a central issue in Shiv Sena's nationalist discourse. Although this is a single case study of the Shiv Sena party, the results of this study are consistent with the larger literature on masculinity and nationalist identity in which militarism and violence play a central role against an "other." This study is important because Shiv Sena's version of Hindu nationalism, which promotes armed manhood, violence, and sacrifice by death, is similar to religious/ethnic conflicts in South Asia and elsewhere in the globe. For example, Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Al-Qaeda glorify martial heroes who possess military prowess, valor, and a capacity for unleashing violence and terror against the enemy (Banerjee, 2005). While the cultural, political, and historical reasons for the rise of Shiv Sena's brand of Hindu nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism are different, both movements share similar narrative patterns that are male warrior oriented, seeking to preserve the purity of their cultures by resorting to violence and terror against people whom they perceive as a threat. …

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