Hindutva Watch

Blood nationalism: Why does Hindutva perceive a mortal danger from the Aryan Migration Theory?

In its racial view of nationalism, any hint of foreignness is a fatal flaw that erases the difference between Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

There are very few cultures in which the phrase “genetic study” could lead to a frisson of excitement coursing through society. We, in India, must count ourselves as lucky for living in one.

On June 16, senior journalist Tony Joseph wrote an article in the Hindu, based on a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, that “put all of the recent discoveries together into a tight and coherent history of migrations into India” to arrive at the conclusion that the DNA evidence supported the Aryan Migration Theory: a scenario where Indo-European speakers (earlier called “Aryans”), speaking early forms of Sanskrit, streamed into north-west India around 4,000 years back.

Jospeh’s article caused a storm in Hindutva circles, as tweets, status messages and articles were feverishly typed out in order to refute it. Just one right-wing website, Swarajya.com had – as of Monday – attempted as many as three rebuttals to Joseph’s piece.

An economist working with the Modi government tweets about commissioning rebuttals of the genetic studies quoted in Joseph’s piece

But why was there so much brouhaha over a dry theory of human migration dating back 4,000 years?

Why did so many right-wingers think it relevant to Indian politics in 2017?

And why did they feel that disproving the migration – which genome writer David Ski said was now so certain that “anyone with at least moderate thinking capacity, whose mind isn’t poisoned by extreme bias, has to agree” with “no ifs no buts” – was so crucial to their politics?

A kinship of blood

The answer lies in the way Hindutva defines nationalism as jus sanguinis – right of blood– rather than other (more common) version that sees it as delineated by geography – jus soli, right of soil.

Originally Indian nationalism – as seen broadly by the Gandhian Congress – was one defined by geography. Anyone born within the borders of the British Indian Empire was Indian. Yet, outside the Congress stream, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the founder of Hindutva, based his nationalism on blood. A true Indian would be one who belonged to the faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhsim and Jainism. Any faith – notably Islam and Christianity – that came from outside was a lesser sort of Indian. It did not matter if the Muslim or Christian was born in India – in the Savarkarite scheme of things, not belonging to the right group was enough to debar him from full citizenship rights. Later, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the highly influential second chief of the Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh, took this blood nationalism to its logical end, comparing India to Nazi Germany, where also nationality was defined by blood. Golwalkar claimed that the “purging the country [Germany] of the Semitic Races” was a “good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by”.

How did Hindutva intellectually justify this special treatment for Hindus? It used first-come, first-served. Golwalkar claimed, “Hindus came into this land from nowhere, but are indigenous children of this soil always from time immemorial”. This supposedly in situ development of Hindus meant they had the sole claims on India and johnny-come-latelies such as Muslims and Christians would have to be happy with second-class citizenship. So vehement was this theory that the RSS’ Adivasi schools even refuse to use that word, since it literally refers to an aboriginal inhabitant. Since Hindus are the aborigines of India, as per Hindutva, Adivasis are called vanvasi, Sanskrit for “forest dweller”.

Fatal flaw

Any theory of Indo-European migration, therefore, deals a body blow to the blood nationalism of Hindutva. The ideas that formed the Hindu religion also came into India just like Islam and Christianity. Sanskrit, it seems, was preceded by the Dravidian languages as well as the Munda tongues, now spoken only by Adivasis. So genetic studies – and earlier linguistic and archeological studies – which confirm Indo-European migration aren’t a dry academic exercise: they are vital to the intellectual underpinnings of Hindutva, the ideology of India’s ruling party. Without it, there is no way to justify that Hindus on the one hand and Muslims and Christians on the other, have differing claims on India. In fact, when leading Hindutva intellectual Koenraad Elst responded to Tony Joseph, one of Elst’s issues with the article was that it was “affirming that Muslims and Christians are equally entitled to whatever India has to offer” – a preposterous idea within Hindutva nationalism.

In response to this existential challenge, Hindutva is pulling out all stops to discredit academic work behind the theory of Indo-European migration. While the genetic evidence is just coming in, linguistic and archeological evidence has existed in favour of the Aryan Migration Theory for some time now. Hindutva, therefore, came up with the Out of India Theory, which posits that Indo-European languages spread throughout Eurasia from India – a theory with almost no academic backing and one that Michael Witzel (a professor for Sanskrit at Harvard University in the United States) called a “Hindutva fantasy”.

Hindutva’s version of Intelligent Design

In effect, the impact of evidence behind Indo-European migration on Hindutva is very similar to that seen by American evangelical Christianity to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Stephanie Jameson (Professor, Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles, United States) says, “the parallels between the Intelligent Design Issue and the Indo-Aryan Controversy are distressingly close” – both desperate measures to claw out of logical traps placed by science. Jameson calls the Out of India theory “essentially a religio-nationalistic [read: Hindutva] attack on a scholarly consensus [of Indo-European languages being bought to the subcontinent]”.

Michael Witzel also connects the claims for Out of India to today’s politics of othering Muslims and Christians:

An obvious goal is to display the “hoariness” and uniqueness of ancient-most Indian culture and its imagined importance for the rest of the world.

Against such a background, no cultural innovation and certainly no trickling in, immigration or “invasion” from the outside is allowed. Everything created by “Indian” civilisation for the past 9000 years or so, beginning with the early agriculturists of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan(!), has been local and no (major) influences from the outside can be tolerated. This, of course, would make it the oldest tradition on the planet: The Rig Veda, to recall Talageri’s [a prominant OoI supporter] words, “is the oldest and hoariest religious text of the oldest living religion in the world today: Hinduism.” Underlying these claims is the familiar Hindutva agenda that suggests that all non-Hindus are ultimately “foreign” peoples in India, and a blot on the body politic.

One culture (Vedic), one language (Sanskrit), one people: Bhårata ueber alles!

And, in spite of certain well-attested cultural influences (e.g. in astronomy!), of repeated immigrations and of actual invasions – from the Old Persians and Greeks to the Huns, Turks and Moghuls and the interaction and acculturation that all such political developments brought with them.

In other words, history is written with an ulterior motive in mind, that of “nation building.” Facts count little, dates nothing!

Corrections and Clarifications: An earlier version of this article had incorrectly attributed the quote by David Ski to Razib Khan. The article has been updated accordingly.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.