Hindu Nationalism and the Political Role of Hindu Women: Ideology as a Factor

By Soherwordi, Syed Hussain Shaheed | South Asian Studies, January-June 2013 | Go to article overview

Hindu Nationalism and the Political Role of Hindu Women: Ideology as a Factor


Soherwordi, Syed Hussain Shaheed, South Asian Studies


ABSTRACT

In The relationship of women to religious politics is not only paradoxical, it is also complex. Where it can be argued that religious politics has created opportunities for women, it can equally be argued that it has simultaneously undermined women's autonomy. Gender has emerged in Hindu nationalism as a politicised entity whereby Hindu women are depicted as the repositories of religious beliefs and the keepers of purity and integrity of the Hindu community. Hence, in order to understand the role played by Hindu women in Hindu nationalist politics, it is important to recognize the grass-roots of such politics and the form it has taken in recent years.

KEY WORDS: Hindu, Politics, Muslim, BJP & Violence

Introduction

Hindu nationalism, with its 'complementarity and contradiction' (Basu et al, 1993 viii), has long 'operated with two faces' (Basu et al, 1993: vii), a complexity that is echoed in the limited means of political assertion it provides for women. Though the movement presents 'a gentle face, symbolized in L.K Advani's beatific smile,' it also projects one that is 'angry, aggressive and savagely sectarian' as expressed 'in the speeches of Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharati' (Basu et al, 1993: vii). While Hindu nationalism may preach both democracy and authoritarianism, its aim encapsulated in Savarkar's slogan to "Hinduize politics and militarize Hinduism" involves a 'specific construction of Hindu self - a virile, masculine, aggressively communal self' which is intolerant 'of other conceptions of Hinduism' (Basu et al, 1993: ix). This inherent conviction in Hinduism of a male ideal, challenges the notion that the provision for Hindu women's political assertion could ever be a simple issue on the nationalist agenda.

In order to assess whether Hindu nationalism has provided Hindu women with the means of political assertion or has been an ideology that has held them back we must first look at women's place in Hindu society. In addition we must determine what Hindu nationalism is and how it involves women, and then assess the positive or negative attributes the movement has on the lives of women. Furthermore we will look into the issue of female Hindu militancy, how involved are women with this extreme religious ideology and whether it has awarded them anything.

The relationship of women to religious politics is not only paradoxical, it is also complex. Where it can be argued that religious politics has created opportunities for women, it can equally be argued that it has simultaneously undermined women's autonomy (Basu, 1998: 4). Gender has emerged in Hindu nationalism as a politicised entity whereby Hindu women are depicted as the repositories of religious beliefs and the keepers of purity and integrity of the Hindu community (Basu, 1998: 3). Hence, in order to understand the role played by Hindu women in Hindu nationalist politics, it is important to recognize the grassroots of such politics and the form it has taken in recent years.

During the 1990s, communal violence witnessed the emergence of Hindu women as a crucial impulse for much of the partition violence was centred on allegations of abductions by Muslims. This led to the Hindu community dissolving into the figure of the threatened woman, and violence became necessary for the restoration of Hindu male honour. It is argued that the idea of the endangered Hindu woman was an extraordinarily potent weapon for violent mobilisation against the Muslims (Sarkar, 1998: 97). Such ideas were a direct consequence of Hindu nationalism, better known as Hindutva, evoked by powerful Hindu organisations such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), including political parties like the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Feminists and other Indian writers have equated the nationalistic policies of these parties to Italian and German fascism. They argue that Hindu fascism takes the form of Hindutva, whereby it seeks to seize political power and redefine India, not as a secular state, but as a purely Hindu nation. …

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