Sunita Viswanath: Why I feel the need to bring my Hinduism to the streets

At a gathering a couple of years ago in the Maharashtra hill station of Panchgani organised by Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, I was challenged by an angry young man: “Keep your Hinduism in your house. Why do you need to bring it into the streets?” The young man could have been a conservative Hindu offended by my articulation of a progresive Hindu identity that opposes both caste and Hindutva. Or he could have been a secular Indian who felt that my identifying publicly as Hindu was an assertion of caste and majoritarian privilege. I and my colleagues have experienced both types of pushback simply for identifying as Hindu.

My response was: I am a practicing Hindu. I love Sita and Rama. But “Jai Shri Ram” has become a murder chant. I would much rather keep my faith in my house, in my heart. But because others have brought an aberration of my faith to the streets, I have no choice but to meet them in the streets. The only alternative would be to renounce my Hindu identity. And then the murderers will have won. At an interfaith gathering in Madurai, this time organised by late Swami Agnivesh, the participants were arguing whether Hinduism really exists, and whether it is a religion. In my frustration I said, “While we argue about whether Hinduism exists or not, the country we love is being turned into a Hindu rashtra.”

I speak in this academic conference [Dismantling Global Hindutva] with humility but also with urgency, bringing an activist perspective from the field, and also acknowledge that I have all the privileges of being an upper-caste born Hindu. My organisations Sadhana and Hindus for Human Rights are committed to working with universities, professors and students who are committed to freedom of thought and speech. Indeed, over 400 scholars and academics readily signed a statement of solidarity with us when the Hindu American Foundation filed a SLAPP [strategic lawsuit against public participation] lawsuit against us and our allies to try and silence us for speaking out against Hindutva.

In our advocacy, we state clearly that Hindutva ideology is not the same as the Hinduism that we aspire to, but we cannot deny that proponents of Hindutva are doing so as Hindus, in the name of a monolithic Hinduism. As Shana Sippy put it, not all Hinduism is Hindutva, but Hindutva is clearly one manifestation of Hinduism. It is also important to remember, though, that the founders of Hindutva were not men of religion, but atheists and political ideologues. But today, adherents of Hindutva do their work in Hindu spaces, and this is the oxygen of Hindutva….

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