Hindu nationalism, or “Hindutva,” has become a global force, but recent developments in India and the diaspora communities make this already- diffuse movement increasingly difficult to define.
That was one of the conclusions made at a session on “post-Hindutva” at the late November meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Philadelphia attended by RW. Hindutva has always been a fluid movement based around nationalist attempts to define India as a Hindu nation and limit minority religions, most clearly seen in such movements and parties as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 India elections has raised questions for many scholars about the future of the movement and its political influence.
In a paper on the social service groups connected with the Hindu nationalists in the slums of New Delhi, Kalyani Menon of DePaul University found little political or “chauvinistic” Hindu ideology in such work. Menon found that these groups stressed inclusivity to all Indians, though they used Hindu practices and prayers to identify with and unify the people. Another paper by Laurie Patton of Emory University noted that although the revival of Sanskrit has in recent years been closely identified by scholars with the Hindu nationalist project, that association does not always hold fast. Patton found that women in India are emerging as leading Sanskrit students and teachers who challenge stereotypes by criticizing the caste system and the educational establishment.
But the fuzzy nature of Hindutva is most evident in the diaspora communities of the U.S. Shana Sippy of Columbia University found in her fieldwork among Hindus in Northern California that Hindutva influence is present in the majority of temples, but it is being “recast.” The original political and nationalist intentions of the movement are often rejected by American Hindus who stress Hinduism as a religion. This ambivalence about politics is found in groups such as the Hindu Students Council, though nationalist influence is evident in children’s educational material presenting the history of India, according to Sippy.