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The Violence of Security: Hindu Nationalism and the Politics of Representing ‘the Muslim’ as a Dange

The Hindu Right in India

Communal violence in India should be understood within the larger context of the struggle and debate over the secularism of the postcolonial Indian state (for perspectives on secularism in India, see Bhargava, 1998). This has become especially significant since the 1990s, the decade that saw the end of Indian National Congress’s dominance and the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party. The history of Hindu nationalism in India is as long as that of the mainstream nationalism represented mainly by the Congress (see Jaffrelot, 1999; Misra, 2004; Zavos, 2000). The attitude of many Congress leaders and activists towards majoritarian communalism (of which Hindu nationalism is an articulation) and even communal violence has been ambiguous. Yet BJP and its Hindutva ideology are different and distinct from the dominant ideals of the Indian state as secular. Their rhetoric of democracy, rights and nation is based on a simplistic majoritarian principle and runs along the following lines: since Hindus are the majority, it is ‘natural’ and ‘democratic’ that their ‘rights’ should be promoted by the Indian state which hitherto has been ‘pseudo-secular’ because of its appeasement of minorities!

The Hindutva movement therefore is a ‘conservative revolution’, combining paternalist and xenophobic discourses with democratic and universalist ones on rights and entitlements (Hansen, 1999, p. 4). Hindutva is targeted at transforming the Indian state and controlling the Muslim and Christian minorities. At the same time, the primary goal is to transform the Hindus, to ‘‘awaken the Hindu nation’’ (see Chitkara, 2003; Hingle, 1999; Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, 2003). There is a schizophrenic shuttling between the idea of a pre-existing monolithic Hindu nation and a lamentation that most members of this supposed nation do not fit Hindutva’s template of an ideal citizen of the Hindu nation. A Hindutva website’s call illustrates this well: ‘‘No Hindu politics is possible unless there is HinduAwakening. And that Hindu-Awakening is not yet in sight’’ (Anon, n.d.). Hindutva is self-recognized as being as much about representing the Hindu nation as it is about fabricating one. This has been the case throughout the 20th century (see Noorani, 2002).

What is different at the start of the 21st century is the respectability and influence gained by the exponents of Hindutva through participation in the government at the federal level as well as in various states (such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh), allowing them to gain access to the resources of the state. For instance, leaders who were seen as firebrand ideologues during the 1990s can become members of the government. Non-Hindutva politicians can compete over who is a more authentic Hindu. School children can be taught a history where militant Hinduism is normalized and minority religions such as Islam (and as a corollary, Indian Muslims) are alienated. Government employees can join Hindutva organizations and the prime minister can pronounce, in a cavalier manner, that the Muslims are a source of ‘problems’ everywhere in the world (as Atal Behari Vajpayee did in 2002; see Anon, 2002). Thus, there has been a visible shift to the right in Indian politics and the ascendancy of Hindutva forces is its clearest manifestation. However, it is worth noting that the ascendancy of the Hindutva is contested and uneven throughout the country, affected by various local, political and social factors.

Communal violence in India remains a debated subject among actors including politicians, activists and scholars (for various intellectual positions see Basu et al., 1993; Brass, 2003; Brass and Vanaik, 2002; Das, 1990; Hansen, 1999; Huntington, 1993; Jaffrelot, 1999; Kakar, 1996; Nandy, 1988; Pandey, 1990; Sarkar, S., 2002; Varshney, 2002). Hindutva shares the neo-Orientalist belief in the primordial naturalness of Hindu–Muslim violence in India (a ‘historic clash’ as most Western media tend to report). I reject this and argue that ‘riots’ (spectacular incidents of intercommunal collective violence) are not a direct product of communalism (where communities are seen as bounded, historical and given). Instead, I adopt a social constructionist position that sees ‘communal’ riots as being exercises in the construction of communities through mobilization (of the ‘Self’), purification (erasure of commonalities) and definition (through violence of what is the Self and what is the Other). Communalism is not merely a reflection of a pre-existing community but the will to create a bounded community (see Pandey, 1990). Communalism as an ideology operates at the level of the individual as well as the collective—the identity and interests of individuals are seen as coinciding with that of the collective, the community. In this sense, it is deterministic. For instance, in the case of Hindu – Muslim communalism, every individual is reduced to only a Hindu or only a Muslim—no other identities matter. As several testimonies after riots have shown, identification with community becomes stronger since one suffers on account of being a member of that community. Patwardhan in his film Father, Son and Holy War (1994) finds that the Muslim women who were identifying their common interests with Hindu women before the 1993 riots in Mumbai felt that, during violence, it was their ‘Muslimness’ that marked them and their being a ‘woman’ became irrelevant. The reduction of individuals to only one form of identity is generally more common in representations of the minorities by the majoritarian discourses. The idea being that, while ‘we’ the majority can experiment with identities, ‘they’ the minorities are over-determined by what marks them as a minority. While the Hindus have multiple layers of identity, every aspect of a Muslim is supposed to be determined by her/his Muslimness. The determinism of communal discourses dehumanizes the Other and presents it as a danger to the security of the Self.

The Productive Discourse of Security

Security is a central concept in the theory and praxis not only of international relations but of local, inter-local and trans-local relations. In positivist literature on security it is assumed to possess an ontological and epistemological certainty where the sources of insecurity as well as the referent of security are givens. In line with the literature of critical international relations (see Campbell, 1998; Krause and Williams, 1997, Lipschutz, 1995; Weldes et al., 1999), I conceptualize security as a productive discourse that produces insecurities to be operated upon, as well as defines the identity of the object to be secured. This challenges the dominant conceptual grammar of security that treats insecurities as unavoidable facts, while focusing attention on the acquisition of security by given entities. It foregrounds the processes through which something or someone (the Other) is discursively produced as a source of insecurity against which the Self needs to be secured. Thus, discourses of insecurity are about ‘representations of danger’ (Campbell, 1998; Dillon, 1996). Insecurities, in this view, are social constructions rather than givens—threats do not just exist out there, but have to be created. All insecurities are culturally produced in the sense that they are produced in and out of ‘‘the context within which people give meanings to their actions and experiences and make sense of their lives’’ (Tomlinson, in Weldes et al., 1999, p. 1). Insecurities and the objects that suffer from insecurities are mutually constituted. That is, in contrast to the received view, which treats objects of security and insecurity themselves as pre-given and natural and as separate things, we treat them as mutually constituted cultural and social constructions and thus products of processes of identity construction of Self – Other. The argument that security is about representations of danger and social construction of the Self and the Other does not imply that there are no ‘real’ effects. What it means is that there is nothing inherent in any act or being or object that makes it a source of insecurity and danger.

Security is linked closely with identity politics. How we define ourselves depends on how we represent others. This representation is thus integrally linked with how we ‘secure’ ourselves against the Other. Representations of the Other as a source of danger to the security of the Self in conventional understandings of security are accompanied by an abstraction, dehumanization, depersonalization and stereotyping of the Other. The Other gets reduced to being a danger and hence an object that is fit for surveillance, control, policing and possibly extermination (cf. Foucault, 1977; 1988). This logic of the discourse of security dictates that the security of the Self facilitates and even demands the use of policing and violence against the Other.

This can be illustrated through the case of Hindutva’s politics of representation, which legitimizes anti-Muslim violence in the name of securing the Hindu body politic at various levels. ‘The Muslim’, a stereotype of Muslim males, is posed as a danger to the body of Hindu women and through her to the purity of the Hindu nation. At the same time it is seen as a threat to national, state and international security. These representations of ‘The Muslim’ as a danger to the security of the Hindu body politic facilitate the politics of hate against the Muslims in India. Hindu body politic facilitate the politics of hate against the Muslims in India.


Originally published The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 94, No. 379.

Professor Dibyesh Anand is the Head of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster in London.

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