For Part I, click here.
Representing ‘the Muslim’ as a Danger
‘The Muslim’ as an object of insecurity in the Hindutva discourse inhabits the levels of the personal, local, national and international. ‘The Muslim’ is discursively constructed as a site of fear, fantasy, distrust, anger, envy and hatred, thus generating desires of emulation, abjection and/or extermination. My argument is that these desires are not confined to the subscribers to Hindutva but are prevalent in the wider society among those describing themselves as Hindu. The Hindutva movement is not an inevitable result of these prejudicial desires but scavenges upon them and in turn fuels and fossilizes them. The desire of emulation, abjection, and extermination is inextricably linked to certain threatening representations of ‘the Muslim’. The politics of Hindutva is one where the construction of a desired masculinity (ideal Hindu male, virile yet with controlled sexuality) requires the destruction of competing masculinities and men. In the words of V. D. Savarkar, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Hindutva, the aim of Hindu nationalism is to recuperate manliness and ‘‘Hinduize all politics and militarize hindudom’’ (in Pandey, 1993, p. 263).
Hindutva’s politics of representation is one replete with myths and stereotypes. Let me provide you with some snapshots. Hindutva discourses construct a myth of the Hindu self as virtuous, civilized, peaceful, accommodating, enlightened, clean and tolerant, as opposed to ‘the Muslim’ Other, which is morally corrupt, barbaric, violent, rigid, backward, dirty and fanatic. The myth borrows from various stereotypes and motifs that are prevalent in India and elsewhere, including the West. The Prophet’s sex life, licentious Arabs buying young girls and boys, men with four wives, Muslim prostitutes, the lack of democracy in the Muslim world—all these motifs are mobilized to ‘confirm’ the immorality and corruption of Muslims. Halal meat, circumcision, the history of the spread of Islam through sword and rape, forms of punishment in the Arab world, Islamic terrorism—these images are deployed to provide a proof of the supposed barbaric and violent character of Islam and Muslims.
This is encapsulated by Savarkar’s statement: ‘‘where religion is goaded on by rapine and rapine serves as a hand-maid to religion, the propelling force that is generated by these together is only equalled by the profundity of human misery and devastation they leave behind them in their march’’ (Savarkar, 1999, p. 26). Refusal to modernize, the veil, sharia law, the low status of women—these stereotypes characterize the Muslims as rigid and backward. Muslims supposedly have a penchant for living in small houses in ghettos and walled cities, which goes with ‘the Muslim’s’ predilection for filth and dirt. As Kakar (1996, p. 107) in his analysis of stereotypes about Muslims points out, ‘‘the image of Muslim animality is composed of the perceived ferocity, rampant sexuality, and demand for instant gratification of the male, and a dirtiness which is less a matter of bodily cleanliness and more of an inner pollution as a consequence of the consumption of forbidden, tabooed foods’’.
The ‘fanaticism’ of Muslims is a motif that needs no elaboration since it is deployed by many states and groups around the world in contemporary times. This ‘fanaticism’ (of which Al-Qaida is the most recent incarnation) is supposed to flow out of Islam (the Prophet’s personal character, the Quran’s rigid instructions and the spread of Islam through violence). At the same time it is claimed to be a result of the physical and moral character of Muslims. Empirical studies (see Brass, 2003; Datta, 1993; Jayawardena and De Alwis, 1998; Kakar, 1996; Ludden, 1996b; Pandey, 1993; Sarkar and Butalia 1995), anecdotal evidence and personal experience show that these myths are not confined to Hindutva forces but are increasingly becoming part of a ‘common sense’ among other Hindus (especially the upper caste) too. These images borrow heavily from the orientalist and imperialist writings of the West (see Kabbani, 1986; Lewis, 1996; Said, 1978). In recent times Hindutva proponents, especially in cyberspace, have been scavenging voraciously from racist writings about Islam and the ‘Muslim mind’ coming out of the West (see note 4). The so called international ‘war on terror’ has only reinforced this association of Islam with terrorism. The most common image of the Muslim among Hindutva proponents today is of a ‘terrorist’. As the writings of such proponents show, Muslims and terrorism are seen as inseparable. For instance, Chitkara laments that ‘‘Common Hindu is surprised why riots take place when Muslims have already been given a separate home-land in Pakistan? Terrorism shows that their appetite has not been quenched’’ (2003, pp. 38, xi – xii). This conflation serves to criminalize large sections of Muslim males. The supposed ‘terrorism’ of Muslims is seen as a justification to discriminate against them and to marginalise them from ‘sensitive’ government posts (see Khalidi, 2003).
While the ‘The Muslim terrorist’ is constructed as a grave threat to the national security of India today, in the long term what is seen as even more dangerous to the existence of the Hindu nation is the spectre of ‘overpopulating Muslims’. Every census in India since the late 19th century has been followed by a hue and cry about the relative strength of Hindus vis-a`-vis Muslims. The idea of demographic decline has been entrenched in Hindutva since the early 20th century. This was encapsulated by U. N. Mukherji’s analysis of Hindus as a dying race in 1909—‘‘ they count their gains, we calculate our losses’’ (in Elst, 1997). More recently, after the alarmist (and erroneous) report on the 2001 census, the debate resumed about how Muslims are breeding like rabbits and are going to overtake Hindus (see Dayal, 2004; Rajalakshmi, 2004). There are various spectres—obliteration of the Hindu nation (in a few hundred years); defeat of the Hindus in the numbers game (in a few decades); another Pakistan, as in a few years time Muslims will constitute 30% of the population (as was the case during 1947), bolstering their claim for partition.
Acahrya Dharmendra, a Hindu religious leader, proclaimed in a public meeting in 2003: ‘‘Muslims breed like rabbits and their population would soon overtake that of the Hindus’’ (Gandhi, 2003). The scientific arguments against unduly alarmist readings of demographic figures, which expose lies about the alarmism or rationalize differential population growth among religious groups (see Datta, 1993) do not do away with the common ‘knowledge’/myth of overpopulating Muslims. This becomes clear when one participates in conversations with many Hindus in middle class drawing rooms, university cafes, tea stalls, and other public and private gatherings.
The ‘overpopulating Muslim’ is linked not only to religion but also to the virility of Muslim men (and the over-fertility of Muslim women). This imagined virility is used to construct an image of Muslim masculinity that is marked by an uncontrolled and uncontrollable lust and is hence a danger to Hindu women. The handsome Muslim who is a master of the art of seduction, the lecherous Muslim and the Muslim rapist—all these images play upon each other as a danger for ‘innocent’ Hindu females (see Gupta, 2001). This then encourages the mobilization of Hindu women for Hindutva in the name of self-defence and protection of the body of Hindu women and the Hindu nation.5 But more crucially, it exhorts Hindu men to ‘protect’ their innocent Hindu mothers, sisters and daughters. This implies defending Hindu women from ‘the Muslim’ who is lecherous and a potential rapist. It also entails protecting Hindu women from the seduction of Muslim men by policing interactions between Hindu women and Muslim men, casting any relationship based on this interaction as an indicator of sly Muslim men polluting, converting and oppressing Hindu women. Any agency of the Hindu woman in such relationships is denied. The close connection between demonizing the Muslim and policing (Hindu) women’s sexuality is well illustrated in debates during the early 20th century when Hindu widow remarriage was promoted as necessary to ‘control’ the passion of Hindu widows, who would otherwise become prey to the designs of Muslim men (see Gupta, 2001).
Thus a militant aggressive masculinity is called for in the name of defence and security of the Self (women, family, community, religion, nation, state). The construction of ‘the Hindu’ draws its legitimacy from the representation of ‘the Muslim’ as a danger to the Hindu body and in turn legitimizes the use of ‘any means’ to protect and take revenge. The Hindu male is expected to protect Hindu women and, in the process, if required, is justified in castrating Muslim men and raping Muslim women. This violence is masked as self-defence. As Bacchetta points out, ‘‘the counterpart to the chaste Hindu male is the Muslim male polygamist or rapist, and to the chaste motherly Hindu woman is the Muslim woman as prostitute or potential wife’’ (2004, p. 101).
Thus ‘the Muslim’ as a gendered figure is constructed to mobilize the Hindu male and female and awaken the Hindu nation. The fact that Hindutva forces are not dominant politically in India does not reduce the danger of such vicious representations of the Muslim fermenting collective anti-Muslim violence. As I pointed out earlier, what is more disturbing is that these representations scavenge upon, and in turn shape and fossilize, prejudicial desires that are common in the popular imaginary among many Hindus in India and abroad. Not enough attention has been paid to the ‘‘highly selective and manipulative process by which myths and stereotypes about the marauding and libidinous Muslim, the innocent and motherlike Hindu woman, the tolerant Hindu man, have entered and entrenched themselves in public memory and consciousness’’ (Butalia, 1995, p. 79). Hindu fanaticism is seen as a contradiction in terms by some Hindus who, while politically shunning the Hindu Right, buy into the myth of Hinduism as marked overwhelmingly by tolerance. Although Hindu chauvinism is widespread, it is not hegemonic, as there are many Hindus who do not subscribe to it. Rejecting the harge of Hindu communalism, the apologists of Hindutva will present communal conflicts as ‘‘an unintended by-product of Hindu national self-assertion that results from adverse reactions from minority communities and from the Indian state’’ (Ludden, 1996a, p. 16). In most communal riots in contemporary India Muslims are overwhelmingly victimized in terms of loss of life, dignity and livelihood. Yet this screaming fact is silenced by blaming the victims—the loss is sad, but ‘they’ (Muslims) asked for it! Why did they start the riot, why do they support Pakistan, why are they terrorists and criminals, why do they create problems and strife everywhere in the world, why cannot they be like us? These questions rid many Hindus of their guilty conscience and leave intact the self-image of the enlightened, tolerant Hindu. Anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 illustrate well this ‘blame the victim’ ideology and the role the imagining of ‘the Muslim’ as a danger to the security of Hindu body plays in making sense of this kind of violence.
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.
Support Catharsis by way of donation. It helps us maintain our quality.