Making the Pitrubhumi: Masculine Hegomony and the Formation of the Hindu Nation
(De vorming van het Pitrubhumi (vaderland): masculiene hegomonie en de vorming van de Hindoe-staat)
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Hindu nationalism has seen a dramatic growth in India and abroad from the nineteen eighties. This growth has coincided with – and relates in complex ways to – several other highly significant developments, including (in no particular order) the instituting of liberalization in the economy; the legislation on reservations for ‘Other Backward Castes’ and its implementation; the intensification of the integration of the middle classes into the global economy; and the intensifying pauperization of the rural poor. These developments as well as Hindu nationalism’s links with them have been the subject of scholarly attention from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. Apart from these however, one may also note the unfolding of less obvious, but equally significant and related developments in this period: the growth and intensification of female feticide and infanticide; the increase in dowry related violence and deaths; the targeting of women as objects of sexual violence, especially during communal riots, but also routinely; the increasing presence of women in rightwing organizations and mobilizations; an intensification in the policing of sexual discourses and sexuality; conversely and paradoxically, there has also been an increase in the visibility of women in the public sphere (through for instance, the widening of options for employment for women). Feminist scholarship has addressed several of these issues, independently and in their intersections; it has also addressed the rise of Hindu nationalism. However, there is little work on the relations that obtain between these issues and the more obvious ones set out above. Specifically, there was and remains a serious deficiency of attention to the relations between masculinity and Hindu nationalism. This study hopes to contribute towards addressing this deficiency in several ways. Firstly, it seeks to locate itself in the theoretical and analytical spaces between gender studies and political economy. It attempts to do so by reviewing and then parting from, the dominant trends in the theoretical and analytical debates on men and masculinity. In my thesis I have therefore focused, not on kinds and forms of masculinity – which remains the dominant approach in masculinity studies – but on the ways in which institutions, organizations and structures come to be gendered, and consequently, on the processes of gendering that are invoked in the articulation and elaboration of power within specific structural, institutional and/or organizational relations. I have sought to develop this argument specifically with regard to masculinity/ies by proposing the idea of ‘masculine hegemony’. Briefly, through this term I wish to suggest that uneven power distribution may be understood in Gramscian hegemonic terms, and that this hegemony is usually gendered as masculine. Any given society is organised along multiple and intersecting hierarchies of domination and subordination that determine the access to and exercise of power – the distribution and possession of its resources and rights – within it, as well as the terms within which that power is (to be) exercised. Further, the organisation of these hierarchies may be discerned as hegemonic formations that favour specific social groups and/or alignments. Any given hegemonic condition is thus layered by multiple and intersecting hierarchies of domination and subordination that extend far beyond conventionally recognised macro manifestations –race, nation, region, religion, community, class – to its manifestations at the fundamental ‘cellular’ (or in Gramsci’s terms, ‘molecular’) level of the family and the organisation of sexuality. Thus, while the multi-layered hegemonic formations that constitute the given hegemonic condition are all diversely marked by other signs – of race, class, age, region, religion, etc – they are all inflected by the foundational discourse of gender. This is the broad theoretical perspective within which the thesis is elaborated, because it provides for the multiple articulation of complex phenomena with each other, across history as well as across regions. Based on this, and secondly, it seeks to approach the issue of Hindu nationalism from a historical perspective. The study therefore begins by chronologically examining the term ‘Hindu’ and the various semantic and social transformations in its history, beginning with its early derivation from ‘Indus’, through the medieval period when it gradually but nebulously came to identify a community, to its coalescence into the more concrete religio-social entity that emerged through the colonial encounter and the caste and other reform movements of the nineteenth century, to its politicization under B G Tilak and V D Savarkar (among others) into a religio-cultural nationalism in the early part of the twentieth century. Crucial to understanding this evolution, the study argues, is the pan-Indian spread of the Brahmin castes (as opposed to the localized presence of the lower-castes), and the consequent identification of ‘Hindu’ territory with the presence of the Brahmins. In mapping this process, I emphasize the gender and caste dynamics inherent to the construction of this identity, especially in the concretizing of communal lines around the issue of personal laws, and elaborate on the economic, communal and political determinants of this gendered dynamic in the construction of the identity ‘Hindu’. It thus argues that the strongly Brahmanical caste-profile of the anti-colonial nationalist movement indicates the extent to which Brahmanical patriarchy (or masculine hegemony) and its practices came to define the hegemonic understanding of the identity ‘Hindu’ as well as ‘India’ – and continued to do so even after independence. The argument of the thesis is that, unless one takes account of these processes, it is difficult to fully comprehend the depth, scale and reach of Hindu nationalism – as a latent and as an active ideology. Thirdly, I argue the need to factor in another process in the understanding of Hindu nationalism, which also has its roots in the colonial encounter but which gains a different dynamic after independence: the idea and practice of ‘development’. The study proceeds to briefly historicize the idea of development and then to chart the trajectories of its implementation through the Nehruvian emphasis on Planning and state driven social change, and the consequent impact on the changing social, economic and political theatre of the country after independence. It analyses this impact specifically on the gender and caste dynamics of this period, arguing that the Brahmanical hegemony of the pre-independence period begins to transform in the seventies, as it negotiates with and then accommodates the increasing visibility and volubility of lower caste presence in the political domain. Similarly, even as women’s movements successfully moved the state to implement policies that actually empowered women and made possible their greater participation in the public sphere, the gradual and ongoing process of shifting control of the economy from the state to the private sector has ensured that safeguards for women, labor, lower castes and other marginal groups are almost non-existent, or at best, remain arbitrary and at the mercy of the private sector. The study proposes that the processes of liberalization and privatization were thus crucial to the transformation of Brahmanical masculine hegemony, in its strategies to retain hegemonic power. In other words, the study argues that the developmentalist agenda of the post-independence Indian state contributed, in no small measure, to the resurgence of Hindu nationalism on the political stage, from the late seventies and particularly in the eighties, into the present. Finally, the study explores the tensions and relations that obtain between the multiple dichotomies generated in the thesis – the personal and the political, the hegemonic and the hegemonised, upper caste and lower caste, Hindu and non-Hindu, masculine and feminine, modern and traditional, etc. I argue that Hindu nationalist positions should not be understood as manifest only in its organizational and/or institutional manifestations, but in and through this field of beliefs, actions and relations that constitute the masculine hegemony of Brahmanical patriarchy, within and from which Hindu nationalism finds its visceral roots. I close by proposing that unless we take cognizance of this, and look beyond the electoral performances of the Bharatiya Janata Party to the ways in which hegemonies are maintained using the very tools and structures intended to dismantle them we will not truly be able to counter the Hindu right or its masculinist violences.
Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP)
- hindu nationalism