Hindutva and Brahminism

Hindutva is the name given to an ideology and a social movement that have been variously called ethno-nationalism, ethno-religious nationalism, Hindu supremacist nationalism, low intensity terror, fascism, and ethnoreligious ultra-nationalism. Crafted in the early part of the 20th century, this ideology is very specific and clear about its axioms and objective. It treats as axiomatic the claim that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations permanently at war. Its main objective is also as clear – to make India into a Hindu nation where any Muslim (and by extension, Christians and Jews) will be a second class citizen in India.

The strategy of Hindutva to realize this objective is to transform India from a very diverse society and a pluralist nation built upon a robust secular and democratic Constitution, into a nation of one culture (i.e., one people with a singular identity), one religion, one (dominant) language, and preferably one political party. Over the last century, Hindutva has been organizationally built with a command structure deploying a very large and disciplined membership cadre (secretive rolls) that is militarily armed, savvily managed and image conscious, and operating with populist strategies of resentment, post-truth claims, charismatic leadership and mobilized lumpen armies of vigilantes who act with full impunity in the current political regime. Hindutva is in full control of the Indian state since 2014 with all top institutional heads including the Prime Minister being longtime Hindutva cadres and ideologues. Further, Hindutva has a support base within Indian middle classes that cuts across castes, and is propped up by massive financial support from Indian capitalist classes who benefit from its neoliberal policies and largesse.

At the core of Hindutva lie nativist claims of being the authentic representatives of ‘Indian culture and tradition’, viewed in the singular and as inherently ‘pure and perfect’, rather than as diverse, continually changing and in need of reforms. Consequently, and despite its attempts to mask itself, Hindutva is built on a complex of patriarchal, brahmanical, masculinist and militaristic models of family, society, leadership and nation. All of these ideologies and practices are key to the organizational principle and practice of caste which plays a critical role for Hindutva.

While Hindutva has clearly identified Muslims (and other Abrahamic religious populations) as the ‘enemy’ and cast them as ‘outsiders’ to India (despite each of their antiquity and long roots in the South Asian region), it has three other populations who it seeks to discipline and domesticate. These are Dalits, Adivasis and the broad Left (including workers, intellectuals, artists). Each of these groups is a potential thorn for Hindutva’s claim that Hindus exist as India’s oldest and largest community. Dalits expose the fact that Hindus were never ’one community’ due to internal fissures of caste; Adivasis (first nation peoples) expose the fact that Hindus are not an autochthonous population and were in fact preceded by an earlier indigenous population of adivasis who therefore have their own religions; and the existence of a broad Left that is secular and built upon egalitarian principles expose the fact that Hindutva ideology is not accepted by large sections of Indian citizens.

Brahminism is the primary ideology that allows Hindutva to operate against Dalits since it legitimizes caste within the house of Hinduism. Brahminism is an ideology of brahmin supremacy (narrow view) and ‘twice-born’ caste supremacy (broad view which asserts the supremacy of the first three varnas – brahmins, ksatriyas and vaisyas or the ancient classes of clergy, nobility or warriors, and trader/merchants). The supremacy (backed up by masculinist, patriarchal and militarist actions of Hindutva foot soldiers) is used to make Dalits accept their stigmatized and low rank within a caste structure since Brahminism naturalizes hierarchically ranked caste orders (varnas). It does this through a combination of bio-genealogical claims (claims of ‘purity of blood’ and ancestry as being naturally ranked hierarchies due to the series of birth and death cycles of karmic action within Hindu soteriology), or behavioral traits (purported stereotyped traits of each varna), or natural abilities/qualities (purported stereotyped natural qualities supposedly inherent in each varna).

Brahminism also works to hold Hindutva’s non-Dalit followership in thrall to the ancient symbolisms and rituals of traditional kingship and priesthood coming together to control the entire life cycle events of ordinary people from birth to death within Hinduism’s Sanskritic cultural tradition. For the king (or modern leader) is to be viewed as god on earth, a status that is traditionally consecrated through the aegis of the brahmin (or priest) with caste being viewed as a ‘natural’ and sacred social structure.

Thus, Brahminism operates to keep caste intact while claiming the existence of one unified Hindu community for Hindutva. It ensures the maintenance of caste boundaries and prevents caste mixing (which is anathema to orthodox Hindus).

Any opposition to Hindutva therefore needs to be anti-Brahmanical.