Fundamentalism in India

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It has emerged in the formation of modern nation states that there are two principal paths available.One is to allow individuals to chose their own beliefs and values freely(within the framework of law of a free secular democratic set-up).The other is to insist that beliefs and values should be imposed or enforced on everybody top-down.The former might be described as a pluralist society in which people respect those whose views differ from their own,but the latter the top-down enforcement of values,describes a fundamentalist view that does not allow for disagreement.Fundamentalists are determined,agressive,dogmatists,insisting that they and they alone are right.You are either with them or you are their enemy.

Fundamentalism is often used in terms of religion.We will also stick to this interpretation of the word,which is popular in public debates and everyday conversation,for religious narrow-mindedness.

It is true that the word ‘fundamentalism’ has emerged from a christian context.It was first used in the early twentieth century by American protestants who saw themselves as defenders of the fundamentals of the christian religion against the onslaught of modern,liberal theology and critical textural scholarship that seemed to undermine the special status of Bible.

We will use the word ‘fundamentalism’ here to describe social phenomena in islam and hinduism in India.We are not covering Christian,Buddhist and Sikh faiths although there are fundamentalist leaders and literatures in these faiths,like sikhs have a word ‘moolvad’connoting a polity and society organized according to scriptural,religious authority,like some sikhs want a separate sikh state named’Khalistan’.But in a broader sense even after the partition of India in 1947,hindu-muslim differences are the core issue in India.Population-wise also muslims are the second largest community(about 20 crores) of India.So fundamentalism of islam and hinduism,in my view affects the entire sub-continent and has to be dealt in detail.

One of the defining characteristics of fundamentalist movements is their wish to halt or reverse the trend of modernization and secularization,so that religion can reassert the influence it has lost in the modern world.States or governments weild ultimate power in the modern world and sometimes fundamentalist organizations and movements with high ambitions work to take control of the state.Some fundamentalist movements have an all-embracing vision of how to establish a state that is guided by the religious values and laws and how to mould a nation observing those values and laws.Sometimes these visions have motivated violent struggles against state authorities.

Maulana Maududi’s ideas from 1930 to 1950 had a profound impact on fundamentalist thought and action across the sunni muslim world.During his lifetime Maududi witnessed the establishment of a new country for south asian muslims-‘Pakistan’.’we want to replace the existing system with the islamic order’,Maududi said in a speech in Lahore in july 1950.At this time Maududi was disappointed with the lack of religious values showed by the state leaders,such as Muhammed Ali Jinnah and he worked hard to set Pakistan on a more islamic track.Maududi,one against the world,asserted pointing to the fascists in Italy,Nazis in Germany,the impirical states in America and Britain and communists in Russia,everywhere an elite group get themselves as rulers and made the rest of society in to slaves.In a true islamic society its members must render all authority to Allah.No law given by Allah may be changed or removed.A government running an islamic society is entitled to obedience only in its capacity as a political agency set-up to enforce the laws of Allah.He said that every believing muslim has a direct relationship to Allah and that nobody stands between man and Allah either in a religious or a political sense.

Where did these ideas of Maulana Maududi leave Indian muslims,who are a minority in a hindu majority nation.India is a democracy and what Maududi was doing in Pakistan was not a democracy in the western sense.But the problem with fundamentalist thinkers is that they do not bother about even their co-religious brotheren in other countries,where they are not in majority.To Maududi and other fundamentalist muslim leaders,the creation of a muslim homeland in Pakistan was an event of mythic proportions and in the carnage following the partition of India in 1947,hundreds of thousands of muslims(as well as hindus and sikhs)had lost their lives for the realization of this dream.It was of paramount importance to Maududi that the sacrifices should not be wasted by establishing a secular state instead of the promised muslim land.

Maulana Maududi’s goals were typical of the militant brand of muslim fundamentalism that expanded and finally joined hands with international jihadist movements of Osama Bin Laden in the aftermath of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s.The result was the birth of a new fudamentalist breed named’Taliban’.Everybody knows about the fundamentalist regime of Taliban and their strict adherence to ‘sharia’and their cruelty against women.

The centre of gravity of hindu fundamentalism in the 20th century and 21st century is the organization called Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh(RSS) which was founded in Nagpur,a city of Maharashtra state of India,by K.B.Hedgewar(1889-1940)to promote hinduism during the colonial times of 1920s and 1930s,when large sections of Indians were engaged in a struggle for independence from British rule.The RSS stood on the sidelines that time,not participating in the freedom movement,because they did not share the vision of an inclusive nation envisaged by leaders and freedom fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi,Jawaharlal Nehru,Maulana Abul Kalam Azad,Vallabh Bhai Patel, Muhammed Ali Jinnah,Jai Prakash Narain,Bhagat Singh and millions of Indians.Hedgewar,Golwalkar and such other fundamentalist leaders of RSS saw patriotism based on secular democracy as a greater threat to a future Hindu Rashtra of their dream,than british colonialism.

Through its strict,centralized and authoritarian organization,the RSS controls a host of sister organizations devoted to the infusion of hindu culture and values in different spheres of Indian society.The other side of this strategy is the militant and aggressive stand against muslims and christians who do not fit in to the vision of their Hindu Rashtra.The RSS and its leaders have always been motivated by hatred against muslims and they have created several militant organizations devoted to attacking minorities in India.Most famous among them is ‘Bajrang Dal’.Then they have ‘Vishva Hindu Parishad(VHP)’,a religious wing of RSS to destroy mosques in order to make room for temples.

A recent addition to this Sangh Parivar calling for a Hindu Rashtra is a terrorist outfit named ‘Abhinav Bharat’which was established in 2007.The activists of this branch were caught in Bomb blasts of ‘Samjhauta Express’a train running from India to Pakistan,and a mosque in Malegaon.Col.Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya who are currently in jail,are members of Abhinav Bharat.

Hindus in India are not a homogenious entity,because among them are literates,half literates and illiterates.Mostly literate section of hindus are one with minorities and want to live peacefully and believe in a inclusive secular democracy,but the half literate and illiterate sections,be they hindus or muslims or any other community,most of them are traders,tend to believe fundamentalist ideology and hindus among them are easily lured by RSS and similarly muslims are lured by muslim fundamentalists like SIMI(students for islamic movement in India),Indian Mujahiddin etc.Both hindu and muslim fundamentalists are engaged in spreading extremism,and plotting to hit each other all the time.Fundamentalist hindus are a sizable section in India,and L.K.Advani,the first president of Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP),a party formed by RSS members in 1980s, defected from earlier Janata Party(JP)which was a secular party formed by Jai Prakash Narain,tapped the potential of this hindu vote bank by playing fundamentalist hindu politics,influencing large sections of fundamentalist hindus in north India.L.K.Advani and other leaders of BJP created a law and order problem by organizing a’Ram Rath Yatra’from Somnath temple in Gujrat state,and climaxing the yatra by demolishing ‘Babri Masjid’in Ayodhya.There were hindu-muslim riots in many cities in which another fundamentalist party ‘Shiv Sena’ led by late Bal Thackray also participated.The communal politics of BJP and Shiv-Sena finally succeeded temporarily and captured power in 1999 by forming a coalition government headed by A.B.Vajpayee,a hindu brahman.

Between 1999 and 2004,the democratic system in India ensured that BJP enjoyed government power and its leaders immediately initiated policies to make India more hindu.The establishment of a hindu rashtra proved difficult for BJP,RSS,VHP,Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal although in one part of the country the fundamentalists penetrated the state appratus to the extent that we may reasonably call it a fundamentalist state.This is Gujrat in western India.A federal state with more than 50 million population,where the BJP government with the help of RSS,VHP and Bajrang Dal has supported a policy of hinduization and massacre of muslims,to completely finish them off,like jews in Germany of Hitler and Nazis.


Important controversies about religion and law in India have raged over conceptualization of secularism and multiculturism particularly with regard to Muslim law.

By the reform of Hindu law ,Hindus,Sikhs,Buddhists and Jains were brought under a more secularized and uniform personal law code,whereas Muslims,christians and Jews were left with their own religious codes.Christians and Jews are a tiny minorities in India,but muslims constitute 15% of the total population of india.Many political parties in India have protested loudly against attempts to change Muslim Law and the congress party has been careful in its approach to the issue because they have feared inter-religious conflicts and loss of votes.

The Shah Bano case which reached the Supreme court in 1985,is the most famous symbol of the clash between the idea of a uniform civil code and muslim demands for minority rights in the area of family law.The Supreme court in this case claimed that after reading Koran their view is that husbands should pay their divorced wives alimony longer than 3 months stipulated by Muslim personal law and the Supreme court judgement contained blunt statements about the need of Indian muslims to modernize their ideas about family law.

Lately a Muslim Indian feminist movement has emerged led by Ms Shabana Azmi and other leaders,that demands changes to Muslim personal law.The Muslim feminists refer to the Koran and the Hadith to justify their call for more gender equality and they reject the religious authority of the traditional elite,the ulama.

The realization that the change is happening to Muslim law,just as it happened to Hindu law is probably the reason why the Hindu fundamentalists did not make the lack of uniform civil code in to a big issue once they gained government power in 1999.

During British rule the British magistrate’s task was to administer Islamic law,’Sharia’and in order to do this well the magistrates had local muftis, specialists on sharia to assist them.Over time many magistrates were recruited from muslim population but the judiciary was trained in english law.The result was the development of a unique blend of islamic legal content,which became known as Anglo-Muslim law.


Similarly for Hindus there was developed an Anglo-Hindu law By British rulers.When India was freed from British rule in 1947,the Indian secular leaders thought what to do with complex Anglo-Hindu law.The leaders like Mahatma Gandhi,Pandit Nehru,Sardar Patel who took over from British rulers in free India wanted to get rid of many of the hindu customs that the British had incorporated in Anglo-Hindu law to appease hindu fundamentalists.This was a process to reform Anglo-Hindu law to make it more secular Indian-law.These reforms met with resistance from fundamentalist hindus. leaders of Jan-Sangh(earstwhile political wing of RSS before the creation of BJP)and Hindu-Mahasabha opposed the proposed changes concerning widow marriages,bigamy and daughter’s inheritance rights.Hindu Mahasabha headed by V.D.Savarkar(who was thought to be the master-mind behind the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse)and Jan-Sangh were later developed in to Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)a right wing Hindu party.The politicians of these fundamentalist outfits believed that their supporter hindus belonging to upper castes could not accept the legal changes.

Inspite of reforms of Anglo-Hindu law modern Indian law has not been completely purged of religious content.There is considerable divergence between the secular rhetoric used by Indian elites and the realities in Indian courts on matters of personal law.

Sayyid Ahmed Khan,who founded Aligarh Muslim University,one of the most important centres of learning in India,took a very positve stand towards modern science.Khan demonstrated how the koran if interpreted correctly could be reconciled with modern biological and geological theories.One key figure of modern Islam during nineteenth century Jamal ad-din Afghani held religion and humanity above natural sciences but did not discard science altogether.He praised religion as the upholder of honour,shame,trustworthiness,and truthfulness.Such virtues are vital for societies and cultures to survive he said.These values are linked to religious beliefs about humans holding a special position in the cosmos and to assumption that humans have the capacity for attaining the perfection that will transfer them to a better world,heaven.Scientists have often called themselves socialists,communists,athiests or nihilists but the godless philosophy leads to destruction all the same,Afghani said.

Khan and Afghani were both modern muslim thinkers,but what about the fundamentalists ?In the 1940s Maulana Maududi wrote that the theory of evolution was in conflict with Islam’s belief in a creator God,Allah.He dismissed suggestions by modernist muslims that the koranic story of the creation of Adam from clay could be read allegorically as evolution from simpler forms of matter to complex life forms.Maududi’s rejection of evolution as fundamentally opposed to islamic views has been crucial to muslim fundamentalists attitudes.Evolutionary thought equaled materialism,Maududi asserted,and materialism caused humans to see themselves as unfettered by religious and moral constraints and to treat each other in terrible ways.Darwinism and materialism placed humanity in the centre of universe and resulted in moral decay and political catastrophe,Maududi wrote.


Swami Vivekanand said that Darwin’s theory of Evolution,the struggle for existence,survival of the fittest,natural selection,so on and so forth,was not sufficient to explain developement among human beings.Mankind developes not through physical competition and destruction but rather through conscious development of the spirit.Swami said the ancient hindu philosophers had in fact given a better and more comprehensive explanation than Darwin.In vedanta(upanishads)long ago Indian philosophers had given the most complete explanation for development and change in nature and on human history.Swami praised science and spirituality both and to him the east and west were two fundamentally different cultures.The east had spirituality and religious insight,and the west had science and technology.Both cultures were necessary and the problems facing mankind were because of its inability to strike a balance between the two.

This imbalance was openly exhibited by hindu fundamentalist organization RSS,when it managed to put its leaders and ideologues in to government through BJP between 1999 and 2004.RSS wants to create a hindu culture where hindu religion infuses all spheres of life.Sushma Swaraj,a minister in this government once said(when onions were being sold at Rs 100/-per kg)that why do not people eat apples instead of onions.Onion is an important ingredient while cooking for majority of indians,but there are strict vegeterian hindus and jains who do not allow onions and garlic in their food.But how can apples replace onion,this is beyond the understanding of fundamentalist hindus,because they can do without onions so others should also follow them,simple fudamentalist funda.They are even critical of secularism and they see it as a preferential treatment of minorities.During this government the Minister of Human Resources development(HRD),Murli Manohar Joshi,a senior figure in the RSS and BJP,an important hindu fundamentalist thinker in the sphere of science,changed policies in the Department of higher education,with the aim of making scientific department and higher education more Hindu.


In Brirish India the colonial government saw that reform of the madrasas(islamic schools)clearly undermined the status and authority of the muslim religious elites in society.this was also obvious to the muslim religious elites themselves who often saw government initiatives to reform the madrasas as a conspiracy to destroy Islam.

Muslim fundamentalists are not among the defenders of the traditional madrasa system.The people who lose out from the decline of the traditional islamic system of education are the religious scholars with traditional education,who cling to the religious authority.Fundamentalists seldom belong to this class of religious scholars.They are found among the much larger group of people with education in main stream educational institutions,even in engineering,medicine and they are concerned about religion and its place in society but often they see the ulama as useless and outdated.

What then about the dangerous madrasas?One of the recurrent themes in media in recent years has been the fear of islamic schools and their role in creating fundamentalist culture associated with terrorism.Such media reports are often based on very dubious sources.Madrasas account for less than 1% of overall school enrollment in the country.

So the important conditioning factor in the sphere of education for muslim fundamentalism is probably not the madrasa system as such but rather the spread of higher education of modern type,as in Hindu religion also.


In 2004, NDA(Coalition of BJP,Shiv Sena and some other parties)government was voted out of office and after leaving his post as minister of HRD,Murli Manohar Joshi was interviewed by the magazine,’Organizer’which is published by RSS.Joshi was asked what he thought of the plans announced by the new government for reversing the changes he had made to Indian education.Joshi explained that policies aimed at saffronization of education were in line with the constitution and the demands of the people(naturally BJP supporters).In fact saffron is the colour that represents the very ethos and psyche of this country(and what about other two colours in our national flag?They are not the ethos of hindu fundamentalists,naturally.)Saffronization means to go back to holy tradition of this country.If they want to remove it,people will judge it.In fact people have judged already and BJP was defeated in 2 parliamentry elections consecutively.From 2004 to 2013,BJP alongwith its ally Shiv Sena had not been able to capture power at centre,which proves that majority of Indians do not approve their policies of fundamentalism.In fact their strongest ally Shiv Sena is now devided in two parties,and the divided part named ‘Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena’led by Raj Thackray plays caste politics,but can not be said fundamentalist.Other part ‘Shiv Sena’ also is not openly supporting fundamentalism and may join a third front also if such situation arises.Another ally of BJP named JD(U)has openly revolted against fundamentalism and warned BJP that it will severe ties with them,if they continued to follow the policies of fundamentalism.So the overall picture in India is that majority of the people do not like religious fundamentalism.

Murli Manohar Joshi further said that modern science has proved that the ancient hindus had been right all along,as when modern physics reached conclusions about the dissolution of strict distinction between cause and effect.Modern physics approached the truth about oneness of universe,described in the upanishads,texts composed several centuries before christ.


Maulana Maududi’s views on women and purdah had great significance for Jamat-e-Islami and for south Asian sunni muslim fundamentalism.Maududi wanted muslim women to be confined to the home and purdah,but women took a different stand and came out against Maududi and claimed that Islam in fact allowed women to take on important political and economic roles in society and did not demand veiling and seclusion.Prophet Muhammed’s first wife was a prominent business woman of that period and prophet was her employee,to whom later on she proposed for marriage.Today Jamat-e-Islami’s branches in India have edged closer to mainstream democratic views about the position of women in society.Several muslim women such as Mohsina Kidwai,Najma Heptullah are active in politics and others such as Parveen Sulatana,Late Nargis Dutt,Wahida Rahman and many are popular in the field of music, art and cultural activities.

Muslim fundamentalists also are aware that their movements need the active participation of women.Islamic terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT)fighting with the support of Pakistani authorities,who has masterminded the 2008 attack in several establishments in Mumbai,and many terrorist acts in Kashmir valley,owes part of its success to a campaign to involve women in militarism,by playing the emotions of mothers and sisters of young men who enter the movement as terrorists(or for them freedom fighters dying for the liberation of muslims from suppression at the hands of hindus).Through a women’s wing and publications targeting women,the LeT has been far better in creating a sustainable militant fundamentalist culture.The women of LeT are expected to take part in the fight for Islam by wearing burqahs and covering completely they signal that they embrace the fundamentalist ideal of purdah which has no roots in muslim tradition.Muslim women of Turky,Labnon,Syria,Egypt live like any other women in European culture.


In the modern hindu fundamentalist concept Sita gave the best illustration of the ideal wife,mother,but now secularist women have questioned the submissiveness of Sita that why should she have gone through so severe tests to enhance the status of lord Rama.Motherhood is given a high status and the perfect mother sacrifices her own needs for her children,specially for sons.In many parts of India specially north India,where literacy rate is below 50%,sons are more valued than daughters and many families discourage the birth of daughters.Some families go to the extent of illegal sex determination tests and get their daughter-in-laws aborted,if she is to deliever a baby girl.The intellectual and reformer Rammohan Roy(1772-1883)was very critical of the way women were treated in the Hindu tradition.He was committed to ending the practice of ‘sati’,a ritual in which a widow let herself be burned on the funeral pyre of her husband after the model of the perfect wife in Hindu mythology.Swami Vivekananad was impressed by America because of the position of American women.He observed that’nowhere in the world is woman so free,so educated,so cultured.They are everything in society.’

Female Hindu fundamentalists in modern indian politics follow RSS,VHP and they have a Rashtriya Swayam Sevika Samiti,a women’s wing of RSS.The political and militant roles of fundamentalist women are popularised through goddesses like Durga,fierce,unmarried goddesses,who carry weapons and slay demons.

Since 1980s most vocal supporters of violence against Indian muslims were Hindu women.Hindu fundamentalist women of Gujrat actively participated with their male couterparts during 2002 Gujrat riots,and looted,plundered,murdered thousands of muslims.Muslims have consistently been presented as a dangerous threat to Hindu women and to India.”They deserve to die,they should be killed.They spill our blood,they rape our women.Let their blood be spilled,the bloody bastards”These are the words of a firebrand hindu fundamentalist woman.

Thousands of Hindu women have played key roles in Hindu fundamentalism for decades and will probably continue to do so in the future.

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