In the past few years there has been a rising chorus of voices claiming that Hindutva, a political philosophy a bit more than a century old that allegedly threatens India’s minority religions, is spreading throughout the world, including the United States. Hindutva is used interchangeably with Hindu nationalism and Hindu supremacy and is often equated with Christian nationalism and white supremacy by these same voices.
Here’s a way to start the conversation:
This is a complicated situation to respond to as it is filled with hyperbole and vague terminology — but there are a few primary things to focus on:
Accusations of Hindutva harm Hindu Americans
Accusations of supporting Hindutva are frequently leveled against Hindus in America, regardless of their political views, simply because they express pride about being Hindu or being Indian.
Hindu Americans advocating for human rights, pushing against problems like Hinduphobia and entrenched stereotypes, or even running for elected office, are also labeled as Hindutva, aka “Hindu fascists” or “Hindu supremacists,” regardless of their actual beliefs or actions or the fact that they are micro-minorities in places like the United States.
Such characterizations are made regardless of US political party or policy stances in the US. Democrats such as Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni have been targeted just as much or sometimes more, as have Republican Hindus like Ohio State Senator Niraj Antani.
Accusations of Hindutva or Hindu supremacy can be harmful. They’re often intended to intimidate Hindu Americans into silence by demonizing Hindus as un-American and dangerous because they are loyal not to their local communities or the United States, but violent foreign forces.
Hindutva means different things to different people
Make sure your children are aware that the word ‘Hindutva’ is used in many ways by people who self-identify with it.
At its most basic, Hindutva is a combination of two words, ‘Hindu’ and the Sanskrit suffix –tva (‘-ness’). Based on this, Hindutva is popularly translated as ‘Hindu-ness’ and a good many Hindus simply think of Hindutva as the idea and practice of living a life according to Hindu teachings or even just a descriptor of being Hindu.
The Supreme Court of India says, “Hindutva is understood as a way of life of state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism…it is a fallacy and error of law to proceed on the assumption…that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practicing any religion other than the Hindu religion.”
It’s worth noting, that for all the attempts to use the word as a smear, the originator of the term and an avowed atheist, VD Savarkar, had an understanding of Hindutva that was broader than the world religion Hinduism. It encompasses the cultural, linguistic, political, and social aspects of Hindu people.
In this conceptualisation of Hindutva, Sarvarkar defined the word Hindu in geographic terms — people living within the historical boundaries of India, not only those who follow the religion Hinduism.
He also specifically said, writing prior to India gaining its independence from Britain, “All citizens [of an independent India] should have equal rights and obligations irrespective of caste or creed, race or religion… The fundamental rights of liberty of speech, liberty of conscience, of worship, of association, etc., will be enjoyed by all citizens alike.”
As with all of these questions, encourage your children to think critically and specifically:
Is someone being said to support Hindutva because of specific political views they have expressed or simply because someone is expressing a sense of pride in Hindu culture or India?
If it is because of specific political views, examine exactly what those views are.
Simply because someone identifies as a supporter of Hindutva doesn’t automatically indicate animosity towards non-Hindus, still less a belief that Hindus are superior to other religious or ethnic groups.