Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State

By Zoya Hasan | Go to book overview

Communal Property/Sexual Property:
on representations of Muslim women in
a Hindu nationalist discourse 1

Paola Bacchetta

My objective in this essay is to explore representations of Muslim women in the discourse of India's most extensive non-party Hindu nationalist organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As such, the focus is not on the real identities of Muslim women as they define themselves, but rather, on characteristics which are constructed and assigned to them within often overtly anti-Muslim propaganda. My task will be to locate and reveal the representations, but moreover, to attempt to dismantle them so as to come to an understanding of their functionality in the discourse. I shall discuss the archive, my contentions and approach in just a moment; first, some general remarks on the RSS and its literature are in order.

The RSS was founded in 1925 in Nagpur, Maharashtra (then the Central Provinces), but first soared into the limelight in 1948 when, after being accused of involvement in Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, it was banned and then exonerated. Since then, it has captured public attention on various occasions, as it has been repeatedly implicated in the provocation and orchestration of Hindu-Muslim conflict. At the time of writing, it has again been banned in India, due to its alleged involvement in a most recent anti-Muslim event: the unlawful, ruthless, calculated demolition of a sixteenth century mosque, the Babri Masjid.

Opponents of the RSS have often called it a "Hindu fascist organisation", 2 because of its goals, its tactics, its rigidly hierarchical internal structure, and its anti-democratic mode of functioning. Ultimately, its raison d'etre is to eliminate the present secular, pluralistic Indian nation-state, and to replace it with a Hindu rashtra. The latter would exclude all others (Muslims,

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