Angana Chatterji’s starting point for her study on the growth of Hindu majoritarianism in the specific context of Gujarat was a visit she made to Orissa in the summer of 2002, soon after the Gujarat riots. The Sangh Parivar in Orissa had given a call for mobilisation for a Hindu nation. She was deeply disturbed by what she saw, by the "impenetrable reticence amongst the majority community, and a plea for recognition of Hindutva’s violence from minority and other subaltern groups, accompanied by denial and obfuscation on the part of state institutions, the media and the paucity of countervailing response, including scholarship in English and the vernacular."
The book under review is the outcome of her six-year study of these issues.
There is a paucity of scholarly writing on the genesis, growth, and current state of the Hindutva movement in Orissa — which by 2007-08 had unleashed a war of terror against Christian groups — aside of activism-generated writing in the form of reports of fact-finding groups, and reports that have emanated from church groups.
The book meets this information gap to a significant extent. However, the reader who is seeking a clear and well-argued analysis of the past and present of Hindutva in the specific context of Orissa is dismayed at having to hack through the dense foliage of the book’s prose, particularly in the opening chapters, with sudden clearings where the light of lucid narrative shines. (What, for instance is the reader to make of thissentence from the introductory chapter, Memory-Mournings,: “As genealogy, this text explicates the entanglements in and between history-present history-majoritarianism-subjectivation-state-national-‘otherness’, making space for thought and action that labours to interrupt dominant inheritances.”)
Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the lengthy and sometimes distracting theoretical digressions that break the flow of the story, there is valuable and hitherto undocumented information in the chapters titled ‘Dispositif’ and ‘Impunity’, on the process by which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and allied organisations under the Hindutva umbrella built the apparatus of Hindutva in the State.
These two chapters trace the story of how a Hindu right wing movement penetrated the spheres of culture, education, and politics as it mobilised, spread, and grew. The movement started with the setting up of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1940, grew through the periodic communal riots of the intervening decades, received an impetus when the RSS sent Lakshmanananda Saraswathi (the controversial Hindu proselytiser whose murder in 2008 sparked a prolonged spell of anti-Christian violence) to Phulbani/Kandhamal in 1960, to culminate in the 2007-2008 pogrom against Christians.
The historical background to conversions in Orissa, the reasons why poor tribal populations embraced Christianity, and the confrontation with militant Hinduism that led to re-conversions under duress, are provided in the last two chapters. There is a welter of detail here, drawn from interviews and case studies, on how Hindutva workers set the oppressed against the oppressed in deadly acts of vengeance and reprisal against so-called “forcible conversions.”
The author was co-convenor of the Peoples Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa that commenced its inquiry into the communal violence and human rights abuses in June 2005. The depositions before the Tribunal were held under considerable tension: at one meeting in June “Hindutva activists wrought havoc”, the author says, and the Tribunal was slandered and discredited by Hindutva leaders.
A part of the submission made in May 2008 by the author to the Commission of Inquiry under Justice Basudev Panigrahi on the violence in Kandhamal in December 2007 that has been reproduced is based on extensive trips to the towns and villages of the area and detailed interviews conducted by her. The last chapter offers a detailed chronological dissection of the violence against Christians that reached a crescendo after the murder of Lakshmanananda Saraswathi in early 2008, and the state’s vacillating and collaborative response to it.
VIOLENT GODS: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present: Angana P Chatterji;
Three Essays Collective, B-957, Palam Vihar, Gurgaon-122017. Rs. 500.