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Title: The making of 'EthnoHinduism' in India : communalism, reservations and the Ahmedabad riots of 1985
Author: Shani, Ornit
ISNI:       0000 0001 3396 7275
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2001
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Militant Hinduism announced its presence in India in the early 1980s. Since then, it has posed a challenge to the biggest functioning democracy in the world and the secular ethos on which its nation state was formed. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as an alternative force to the once dominant, secular Congress party and came to power in the 1990s. The rise of Hindu nationalism was accompanied by recurring large-scale communal (Hindu-Muslim) riots. The notion of a monolithic Hindu identity is, of course, inherently implausible in view of the differences of caste which fragment it. This thesis seeks to investigate and explain the formation of a "Hindu identity" and the growth of communalism in India since the 1980s. The key questions my research addresses are: why and how did a "Hindu identity" crystallise and why were such a large number of people mobilised in its name with sufficient success to affect the shape of Indian politics? The growth of Hindu nationalism over that period, I argue, is better understood as the effect of transformations among Hindus rather than simply as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims. This dissertation argues that Hindu nationalism, while ostensibly directed against Muslims, was, in fact, the product of tensions between Hindus. The hostility of some Hindus against Muslims is closely related to caste conflicts, especially those between `forward' and `backward' castes. Remarkably, the startling rise of Hindu militancy against Muslims in the 1980s coincided with the extensive growth of caste conflicts. Actually, in some cases, caste conflicts turned into Hindu-Muslim violence. These caste conflicts have revolved around the state's redistributive policies for the benefit of backward castes Hindus. These preferential policies for backward castes have served to complicate and antagonise caste relations, especially as they appeared to offer lower and backward castes greater opportunities for social mobility. As some segments of the lower and backward castes appeared to improve their economic situation, forward caste Hindus feared that their own opportunities were being restricted and their dominance challenged. They were now suddenly forced to compete with the lower castes, of lesser status, on terms, which they perceived to be disadvantageous. The intensification of communal antagonism since the 1980s, I argue, reflected the resulting and growing uncertainties within the Hindu moral order. The growth of Hindu militancy and the formation of a "Hindu identity" was therefore informed by the complex inter-relationship between caste and class. Its ascent was largely reproduced and energised by the state's policies and political discourse. These findings make it difficult to see either religion or cultural particularism as the sole, or even primary source of the conflict in India. This line of reasoning is pursued through the lens of the large-scale Ahmedabad riots of 1985. Chapter one establishes the background. It delineates the transformations in the political economy and socio-economic changes, particularly in the interrelations between caste and class among Hindus. Chapter two sets out the political context in which the reservation crisis and the growth of communalism occurred. In the 1970s and 1980s there was no evidence of endemic or even newly developing Hindu-Muslim strife in the politics of Gujarat. Political conflicts, in so far as they concerned religion, focused on the "Hindu order" and issues of caste. The intervention of the state, especially in its reservations policy, addressed issues of equality as if they were synonymous with the rights of religious minorities. In so doing, it enabled caste conflicts to develop and deepen communal rivalries. Chapters three and four present two views of the Ahmedabad riots of 1985. Chapter three recaptures the formal view of the riots as it was seen by the various agencies of the state and represented in their documents. Chapter four provides an alternative account, and reflects on the events from a vernacular grass-roots perspective as revealed in both archival documents and oral testimonies of survivors and witnesses. Consequently, it exposes the formal view to critical analysis. Chapter five provides an analysis of the making of EthnoHinduism. It analyses the implications of the Ahmedabad riots for the relationships between caste, class and communalism. By investigating the riots in the context of Gujarat politics the thesis seeks to offer an explanation for the rise of militant Hindu nationalism in India since the 1980s.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: JISC Digital Islam
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Hinduism