LIVELIHOOD: The Delhi government is offering food but since all the factories are shut there is no source of livelihood. Labour prefers to earn their own food instead of depending on charity
By Yashasvini Rajeshwar & Roy C. Amore
There has been uneven economic development, forcing people belonging to less developed states like Bihar to look for jobs in better developed states like Mumbai and Chennai. But when they lose their daily wage jobs in their new adopted homes they have no choice but to go back home. Livelihood depends on migrating to Mumbai. Staying alive depends on going back home where the family will feed even if you are not earning…..
This article addresses two recent socio-religious trends in India: mass conversions to Hinduism (Ghar Wapsi) and mass conversions from Hinduism. Despite officially being a secular nation, organizations allied with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are actively promoting mass conversions to Hinduism. Other religions organize mass conversions, usually of Dalits, away from Hinduism and its legacy of caste discrimination. While several states have controversial laws placing restrictions on mass conversions from Hinduism, mass conversions to Hinduism are often seen as being promoted rather than restricted.
- The Hindutva Ideology Underlying the Ghar Wapsi Movement
Ghar Wapsi1 is a Hindi term, usually translating as “homecoming” or “coming home”, which seeks to describe the arguably coerced mass conversions arranged by Hindu nationalist organizations of Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or other Indians to Hinduism. The Hindutva point of view is that all Indians were originally, at least ancestrally, Hindu and hence such conversions are merely “coming home”, returning to their ancestral traditions. Locating these religious conversions in the context of India’s peculiar brand of secularism and diverse religious ideologies, this trend becomes increasingly important to the changing understanding of the citizen-body, both as a social as well as a legal entity. In light of the change in political power at the capital starting in 2014, these debates became particularly relevant.
Fundamental to the Ghar Wapsi trend is the definitional question of who is a Hindu and its evolution across the colonial and post-independence eras. At the core of this definitional debate stands the concept of Hindutva, a right-wing Hindu nationalist ideology that makes a strong connection between being Indian and being Hindu. To understand the Hindutva ideology’s true definition of the Hindu, one must read V. D. Savarkar, who coined the term Hindutva. He famously raised a call to “Hinduise all politics and militraize (sic) all Hindudom”, (Savarkar 1967) seeing aggression and violence as a justified means of protecting the Hindu-Indian nation (Rashtra). For Savarkar, there were three criteria to be Hindu—paternal descent, common blood (racial bond or jati), and common civilization (sanskriti)2 (Katju 2011). While post-colonial, post-Independence India may seem to be at odds with this definition given its basis in a seemingly secular law, this article looks to argue that the apparent contradiction between legal and religious discourse in the Indian state is in fact a convenient but false opposition.
Understanding the construction of the Hindu identity in India requires a foundation in the history of the Hindutva as an ideology in itself. The Hindutva, or the Hindu nationalist, movement is pledged to the attainment of the Hindu Rashtra3, or a nation “of the Hindus for the Hindus”. Perhaps what is more important for present discourse is, however, the re-emergence and revival of this school of thought with the Arya Samaj movement in the late nineteenth century, seemingly in response to British colonialism and western supremacy.
Following the birth of the Samaj movement and the Sangh Parivar (commonly shortened to “the Sangh” or “the Parivar”) in the early 1920s, the Hindu nationalists began contributing to the independence movement, understanding freedom in terms of Hindu nationhood(the Rashtra). Thus, the victory of 1947 was merely political gain, not an ideological win and true freedom would involve religious independence and access to political power (Katju 2011). In this spirit, the nationalist struggle for freedom extended beyond gaining political independence. It is at this crucial juncture in Indian history that the roots of what can be understood as the Hindutva’s primary definitional strategy emerge. With the Samaj primarily adopting the Orientalist conception of India as a land of spiritual superiority, civilizational glory, and other such self-aggrandizing claims, a deep-seated contrast against the Muslim Other was posited as the fundamental differentiator of the Hindu. Thus, the Hindu nationalist movement grew because of what T.B. Hansen, a leading commentator on religious and political violence in India, characterizes as a “highly successful strategy of cultural mobilization of Hindus against alleged threat of Muslim conversion” (Blom Hansen 1996).
This characterization, coupled with the political atmosphere of anger and disappointment following the Emergency between 1975 and 1977 during Indira Gandhi’s term as Prime Minister, catalyzed the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a political force to reckon with in the early 1980s.
Though A. Basu, an expert in South Asian politics, wrote in 1996 that “many observers assumed that the BJP’s influence would be short-lived, for Hindu nationalism violated the principles of centrism, socialism, and secularism that had governed Indian political life since independence”, (Basu 1996) the growth trajectory in the last few decades has spoken otherwise. It is evident, thus, that the birth of Hindu nationalism, the rise of the BJP and the spate of conversion campaigns are all in pursuit of the singular goal—the establishment of the Hindu Rashtra. This brings into focus the fundamental definitional question posed earlier—who is a Hindu? This construction was (and continues to be) based largely in opposition to the Muslim; what T.B. Hansen calls the “operational Other”, posited as the reason that India has been unable to develop fully and occupy its rightful place in the world economy (. Thus, S. Muralidharan, a journalist-turned-political science researcher, argues that “Hindutva is a phenomenon defined by negative association—that which is not Islamic within the cultural framework of the Indian sub-continent is by definition Hindu in its provenance” (Muralidharan 1994). We will return to this theme in further detail shortly.
The second operative (and related) strategy in the construction of the Hindu by nationalist ideologues is, in the words of S. Clarke, a professor of culture and theology, “the enterprise of representing themselves (the East) within the already established representational discourse of the West” (Clarke 2002). This is evidence of one of the Hindutva’s main approaches, the claim that “in order to be respected as different, we must imitate the Western—or Islamic—model of strength” (Blom Hansen 1996). Thus, the Sangh locates itself firmly within the language of the opponent, appropriating the argument into a position of strength.
It is this appropriation, the “invention of tradition”, that C. Jaffrelot, a leading authority in South Asian politics, refers to famously as “strategic syncretism”. According to him, “the content of this ideology has been supplied to a large extent by material taken from the cultural values of groups who were seen as antagonistic towards the Hindu community. This “syncretism” is “strategic” because it underlies an ideology that aims to dominate the others, in terms of prestige as well as on a concrete socio-political plane” (Jaffrelot 1993). Thus, the nationalist movement was both provoked by and inspired by the Other, usually depicted as the Muslim, but with the occasional Christian juxtaposition. At the core of this identity construction thus lies a two-fold argument. Firstly, we are not Muslim. Secondly, we are Western and Hindu simultaneously.
In keeping with the argument that Hinduism has adopted the strategies of the “enemy” to become more accessible and acceptable, it is argued that “Hinduism has made an attempt to define itself as a faith that can attract converts. Internet sites describing Hinduism today speak the language of mission and talk of creating a global community. In such sites, Hinduism is depicted along the lines of Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is defined as having canonical rituals, with precepts and obligations like Islam, with sacrements (sic) like Christianity and with a conversion strategy that models itself on both”. Thus, the ability to adopt or the choice to convert to Hinduism was enabled by “the process of the construction of “Hinduism” as a distinct religion belief in the Vedas, it insisted, was the central pillar of this new Hinduism” (Sikand 2003). This Hinduization was most evident in the process of conversion of non-Hindu groups into the Hindu caste order, the trend that serves as the precursor to the Ghar Wapsi phenomenon.
- Mass Conversions to Hinduism: The Ghar Wapsi Movement
With the BJP taking over control following the 2014 general elections, it has been commonly accepted that the Hindutva ideology now not only wields socio-religious control but also access to political power as well. Though no copy of the Sangh constitution seems easily available, sources confirm that Article 4 of the document reiterates the organization’s identity as a cultural unit. Unofficial online sources that have sought to compile their constitution cite Article 4 (b) as reading:
In consonance with the cultural heritage of the Hindu Samraj, the Sangh has abiding faith in the fundamental principle of tolerance towards all faiths. The Sangh as such, has no politics and is devoted to purely cultural work. The individual Swayamsevaks, however, may join any political party, except such parties as believe in or resort to violent and secret methods to achieve their ends; persons owing allegiance to such parties or believing in such methods shall have no place in the Sangh.
Given the ability of individuals to straddle the lines between the two organizations of the RSS5 and BJP, it is then evident that locating the current juncture of Indian politics is imperative for understanding recent socio-religious activity such as Ghar Wapsi. Notwithstanding the impressive 8.2% growth rate during the first quarter of 2018–2019 and foreign exchange reserves touching a record high of USD 399.21 billion in April 2018 (ET Online 2018) (PTI 2019b), the new government has run into difficulties on socio-political fronts. Being perceived as the political front of the right-wing RSS, the BJP is often seen as unfriendly to minority communities and as chasing a blatantly pro-Hindu position. The Ghar Wapsi trend proves to be a clear instance of this claim, acting out Jaffrelot’s theories of both “invention of tradition” and “strategic syncretism”.
Ghar Wapsi has been variously translated as homecoming, conversion, reconversion, and return. It has its roots in the Arya Samaj and Sangh movements. In the words of Sumit Sarkar, “a whole battery of terms was developed from the late 19th century onwards as expansion directed towards marginal groups and tribals became more organized: “reclamation”, “shuddhi” (“purification”), “paravartan” (“turning back”, the term preferred by the Vishva Hindu Parishad6 today). Common to all these labels is an insistence that all that is being attempted is to bring people back to their “natural” state (Sarkar 1999). While the concepts of shuddhi and Ghar Wapsi are often spoken of as interrelated, their present-day manifestations cannot be conflated. Yet, it is worth noting that both share common roots in the work of Savarkar, Dayanand Saraswati, and other Arya Samajis.
Adding to the Muslim Other and the belief in a “natural” state, another important contribution to the mass conversions and the increased popularity of the shuddhi movement was the British Raj itself, with voting rights and other political benefits being distributed on the basis of numerical proportions. Thus, it became increasingly important to artificially construct a Hindu majority by including the fringe populations in order to protect the interests of the upper caste Hindu minority in power. This line of reasoning is further supported by Hobsbawm’s “threshold principle”, arguing that for a community to attain viable nationhood, it must attain a minimum size. Other factors, according to some academicians, include the rise of Sikh militancy and Pakistan’s declaration as a Muslim state, relegating Hindus to a position of second-class citizens in Pakistan (Malik and Vaypayi 1989). Understanding the current spike in Ghar Wapsi conversions is therefore inherently dependent on the lens of Hindu nationalism and its birth and growth in the socio-political history of the country.
As clearly portrayed in a majority of academic scholarships on the subject as well as mainstream public Hindutva discourse, the Hindu is defined as the non-Muslim. In the words of A. Varshney, a political scientist affiliated with Brown University specializing in South Asian ethnic and religious conflict, the fundamental goal of the Rashtra is that of Hinduization, creating a nation from emotional loyalty as opposed to political institutions and rule of law.
The generic Hindu nationalist argument is that to become part of the Indian nation, Muslims must agree to the following: (1) accept the centrality of Hinduism in Indian civilization; (2) acknowledge key Hindu figures like Ram as civilizational heroes and not regard them as merely religious figures of Hinduism; (3) accept that Muslim leaders in various parts of India (between roughly 1000 and 1857) destroyed the pillars of Hindu civilization, especially Hindu temples; and (4) make no claims to special privileges such as the maintenance of religious personal laws, nor demand special state grants for their educational institutions. They must assimilate, not maintain their distinctiveness.
Speaking of the indigenous Muslim population in India, Bhaskarteerth, the deputy to the Shankaracharya of the Sharada Peeth, is known to have said that barring a “few hundred thousand” Muslims whose ancestors had come to the country from “Afghanistan and Baluchistan”, the Muslims of India were descendants of Hindu converts and that, therefore, they should all be made Hindu once again (Sikand 2003). This notion of the Hindu identity being “true” and “real” (and simultaneously, the Muslim being the “enemy” to be overcome) is integral to the motivation behind reconversion campaigns.
We need a collective mindset as Hindus to stand against the Islamic terrorist. The Muslims of India can join us if they genuinely feel for the Hindu. That they do I will not believe unless they acknowledge with pride that though they may be Muslims, their ancestors were Hindus. If any Muslim acknowledges his or her Hindu legacy, then we Hindus can accept him or her as a part of the Brihad Hindu Samaj (greater Hindu society) which is Hindustan. India that is Bharat that is Hindustan is a nation of Hindus and others whose ancestors were Hindus. The article then set out strategies aimed at negating the goals of this “Islamic terrorism”. Amongst these goals were propagating the development of a Hindu mindset and the desire to convert India into Darul Islam or the “House of Islam”.
Turn India into Darul Islam.
This point of view is not isolated and Swamy has received much support from other right wing organizations. VHP General Secretary Surendra Jain publicly agreed with Swamy’s statement that “God does not live in mosques but in temples”, saying that “this is a truth that even Muslims agree to. Ask any Muslim if Allah lives in mosque and he will reply in the negative” (DNA Web Team 2015).