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Habits of Living Thinkathon — Day 3 Live Blog: Rijuta Mehta on Militant Hindu Nationalist Networks

Posted by Jadine Lannon at Sep 30, 2012 01:00 PM |
The Habits of Living Thinkathon (Thinking Marathon) is being hosted by the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, from September 26 to 29, 2012. The event brings together a range of multi-disciplinary scholars and practitioners. The aim of the workshop is to generate a dialogue on the notion of surrogate structures that have become visible landmarks of contemporary life, and to produce new conceptual frameworks to help us understand networks and the ways in which they inform our everyday practice and thought.

Rijuta Mehta talked to us today about networks of Hindu militant nationalism, which she has termed “Hindutva” networks. Through her back in cultural media studies, she has become interested in the creation and existence of non-citizens as well as the interaction between the state and the stateless person. Using the larger framework of non-citizenship and the media, Rijuta has been trying to make sense of the militant Hindutva movements that are abound in India.

Rijuta argues that a good way of understanding these movements is by using a network framework, particularly one that recognizes the integral part that is played by interaction between the various networks and that these networks are characterized by the politics of non-citizenship—that is, those that are excluded from the Hindutva networks are non-citizens. Mehta asks us: What is the form of these networks, and what do they have to do with the persecution of non-citizens in India? To what extent does Hindutva make the form of the network visible in political society and political violence? How do networks of dispossession and externalism give and take form? What is the form of the Hindutva network(s)?

To help answer some of these questions, Mehta walks us through a brief history of the growth of Hindutva groups in India, and describes to us how their characterization has changed over time. Hindutva has moved from being a collection of networks of those who identify as Hindu to a multilevel movement known for its violence against Muslims and those it views as non-citizens. The Hindutva organization is characterized by many branches of networks, which has allowed for the expression of many different beliefs and ideologies within the overarching framework of Hindutva. However, though the networks may appear to be decentralized, the groups are still dependent on a hierarchal stratification of central nodes of power. This complex structure of authority allows for niches for petty/local sovereigns.

Mehta points out at this point that the public often sees networks as being emancipatory, but in the example of the Hindutva, this has to be questioned. We should expect to see networks being created in instances of mediated rule and patron-clientalism, both of which lead to the structure of civil society being characterized by the creation of multiple networks centralized around middlemen. Networked associations such as these tend to enable higher incidences of violence, and can even lead to long-term entrenched violence. Consequently, networks should not be seen as being ultimately emancipatory, as they can be the cause of more established structures of oppression.

Participants were quick to discuss the use of the word “Hindutva” when describing these networks. It was pointed out that in a Supreme Court of India ruling, Hindutva was defined as “the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos,” and that Hindutva could encompass any type of Hinduism. Discussion arose over whether or not there are non-problematic Hindutva networks. Many participants argued that though Hindutva is now associated with the militant right-wing, it may still be incorrect to called the violent or aggressive Hindu nationalist movement Hindutva because the borders between the militant Hindutva networks and various other non-militant or even non-nationalistic Hindu networks are not clear.

Bringing it back to habits and living, discussions were brought up about the similarities between Hinduism as a lifestyle, as being part or a guiding structure to habits and living, and Christianity as a lifestyle. In many places in the USA, many people who are not orthodoxly religious still perform religious activities simply because it is part of their habit and lifestyles, and those practices are so deeply engrained into the culture and everyday life of those Americans. This is where the term Hindutva becomes problematic as simply a term to describe militant nationalist networks, as Hindutva can also be seen as a structure of everyday life for many Indians.

I thought the discussion about the use of the term Hindutva was very important, as the use of an all-encompassing term with unclear boundaries can vilify groups or individuals who do not identify with the popular understanding of Hindutva as a militant nationalist group. I also thought that the point about mediated rule and patron-clientalism is a highly interesting avenue for the research of networks and how network structures interact with the state and the political sphere, as they can influence both the development of a legitimate political regime as well as the creation of citizen and non-citizen identities.

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