12/10/2004, 00.00
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Hindu nationalism is anti-poor and anti-Dalit, research says

by Santosh Digal

Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – Hindutva or "Hindu nationalism in India is trying to assimilate or eliminate minorities". Its supporters "want only Hindus in India and their attitude to minorities is either assimilate or be eliminated," two Christian scholars say.
In an joint study titled Globalization, Hindu Nationalism and Adivasis (tribals/aboriginals) of India, Lancy Lobo, a Jesuit priest and director of the Centre for Culture and Development of Vadodara in Gujarat (Western India), and Amit Mitra, an international development consultant based in Delhi, said that the hidden agenda of Hindu nationalists is "to capture power and inaugurate a theocratic society in India."

According to the two researchers, Hindu nationalism is by and large a resurgence of Brahmanism (a version of Hinduism that saw the Brahmin caste emerge as the highest of India's four caste levels) in which Brahmins but also other upper caste Indians reassert their social ascendancy.

Under the constitution of independent India the hierarchical (vertical) stratification of Indian society was in theory made horizontal (by its equality provisions). However, upper caste Indians saw their status, wealth and power diminish as a result of the institutional changes that the constitution introduced. By appealing to Hindu nationalism and demanding the re-conversion of Dalits (formally known as pariahs or untouchables) and Adivasis who converted to Christianity or Islam, the upper castes are trying to reclaim their lost dignity and power.

In electoral politics of a democratic society where numbers count, re-hinduisation of Dalits and Adivasis and stopping conversions make sense. Together Dalits (15 per cent) and Adivasis (7 per cent) represent 22 per cent of the total population. Hindu parties need their support to govern. Conversion, on the other hand, cuts into this potential electorate and weakens them.

For Lobo and Mitra, Hindu parties exploit Hindu nationalism to divert attention from real issues that are of concern to the more marginalised segments of society like Dalits and Adivasis.

In a state like Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power by playing up religious emotions and promising anti-conversion legislation (adopted in 2003), not by promoting any political programme. However, poor Indians need help to survive, jobs and an education, not anti-conversion laws.

Once in power, the BJP became paranoid about Christians and Christian missionaries even though Christians in Gujarat are a mere 0.42% of the total population. Its administration unleashed a campaign of hate and violence against them. In the 1997-1999 period, 12 churches were burnt, another 14 were vandalised and 17 physical attacks against Christians were perpetrated, not to mention all other kinds of harassment.
Hindu nationalists see the conversion of Adivasis as something physically, morally and psychologically evil, an atrocity by the converter on the would-be convert. In doing so, they legitimise any atrocity against the converter and the converted.

Dalits, who are victims of discrimination and marginalisation under caste system, convert to Christianity or Islam to find self-respect, dignity and an identity as full human beings. Adivasis, who are also outside the pale of the caste system, herded off to remote hills after their lands and forests were seized by non-Adivasis, also seek dignity and identity in becoming Christian or Muslim.

But for Hindu nationalists, anyone trying to help these marginalised groups becomes an enemy. Anyone opening a school for Dalits or Adivasis is accused of seeking converts.

Gujarat is sadly known for the inter-ethnic violence that flared up in 2002. The killing of 58 Hindus in the Gujarati town of Godhra was followed by a violent Hindu response that left more than 2,000 Muslims dead, an event that Lobo and Mitra consider a state-sponsored pogrom, a crime directly attributable to the BJP government then in power in the state.

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