Posted by: Vikram | September 26, 2008

What has radicalized the Hindu middle-classes ?

Let me give you a sample of some comments on blogs across India’s internet space,

You Christians stop your conversions and then the attacks will stop; What about the people who died in the Godhra incident ? The riots did not start by themselves; Christian missionaries are aggressively targeting poor Hindus, this is a natural reaction; The Bajrang Dal is a protectot of Hindu religion and Indian culture; Psuedo-secularists and votebank politics blah blah blah … the banerjee reoprt is so ridiculos.. it says people died becoz of suffocation ?? does that make any sense

The Hindu middle-classes of India (or its most vocal components) are rabidly anti-Muslim and anti-reservations. Let me quote from the EPW article,

The Muslims are insecure. They cluster together and seek shelter in the religious infrastructure whether it is Friday namaz or sending their children to madrasas. At the same time, the Muslim youth is restive and desperate.

The Hindu right wing has many sufficiently well organised squads of young activists who are ready to cause mayhem anywhere at a very short notice. No one dares to resist them. The administration and media offer support with impeccable loyalty to the ruling party’s political agenda. The educated and elite Hindu middle class is complacent, rabidly anti-Muslim and anti-reservation. The rest of the Hindu community (the poor and the lower caste) is silent. This silent majority has no opinion, primarily because it has no confidence that its opinion matters anywhere.

It is beyond dispute that this is the case, and I do not want to debate that matter here. Rather, I want to explore how and why this happened. Radicalization, usually occurs among a minority and/or a poor, uneducated and deprived group, in areas where the rule of law is weak. Afghanistan is one example, where radicalization occured, due to the prodding of a vicious Pakistan and a Soviet invasion. But in India, it seems that a relatively secure (not anymore), highly literate and affluent group of people have been radicalized. The seeds of this radicalization, unfortunately, run prior to the partition of Punjab and Bengal and the creation of Pakistan. Contrary to the perceptions created by some, Hindus and Muslims never really lived in peace. There were significant communal disturbances throughout the colonial era and the inter-communal carnage during the birth of the two nations is evidence enough to the deep seated hate between the two communities. Indeed the Muslims and Hindus living in (British) India constituted one country and two nations.

The raw violence, though never really percolated to the upper classes, even today, they stoke and watch the Dalits and the poor do the dirty ‘work’. But the middle class Hindu has always been suspicious of the Muslim, straight from the birth of our nation. As Pi (from the Life of Pi, set in the 70’s) remarks, my father never really trusted the Muslims, they were after all ‘invaders’. The older generations of my family, are themselves quite anti-Muslim. Repeated wars with Pakistan and the trouble in Kashmir has certainly not helped. Pakistan’s repeated (and rather lame) pretensions to be a protector of Muslims made the Hindus of India doubt the loyalty of the Muslims here. The inability of the police to protect the minorities from mobs, has resulted many dark spots on republican India’s history with the minorities periodically ‘retaliating’ and majorities continually ‘justifying’.

The vast majority of educated Indians (of all religions, but esp. Hindus), simply never understood civic nationalism that derives from a Constitution and democracy. For elite Hindus, Indian nationalism has become (and perhaps always was) a distinctly Hindu cultural pride (which can be easily transplanted abroad, away from the soil of India). A lot of this also has to do with the glorification of ancient India in textbooks and the broadcast of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the late 80s early 90s by the state broadcaster. Was that not votebank politics ? The newly liberated Indian economy and media, has furthered this agenda. Mr. India became Krrish, a movie like Bombay (endorsed by Bal Thackeray) became secular and Ramayana (with actors who look nothing like the majority of the population) became the country’s ‘national epic’. Try explaining that to the Mizos or the Nagas.

Ask yourself this question, Why was the Babri Mosque demolished ? So that the middle class Hindu could get some sense of ‘revenge’ ? So they could ‘atone’ for the impotence of their ancestors ? So that the BJP could gain some extra seats in the elections ? Or was it just a response to the growing political power of the lower castes?



  1. Vikram, when you quote a blog and an EPW article and foreclose discussion by concluding that the educated middle class is “rabidly anti Muslim” and anti-Christian, there is little left to say.

    “Try explaining that to the Mizos or Nagas”. I don’t know why some of us, with all due respect to Mizos, Nagas and other Indians, have this penchant for dismissing the beliefs or almost one billion people by quoting those of a few lakhs. The picture presented is as if the beliefs and religions of smaller ethnic groups are being suppressed or not aired on TV. Let me assure you they are, on regional channels. But since nobody from the national chatterati watches them, they don’t exist?

    Ever heard of Americans in the US of A similarly run down their immigrant culture and all that goes with it by quoting Red Indians, the poor guys whose land has been usurped ruthlessly and who have been driven to extinction?

    Have you spared a similar thought for them, on whose blood and on whose land the greatest empire rests?

    Now I know you will accuse me of deflecting from the main issue. That is exactly what many educated Indians are doing while India, indeed the world, is facing the scourge of Islamic terror.

    If you had read my previous posts, particularly “Tackling Islamic terrorism:what India needs to know”, you have been known about the book written by Princeton economist Kruger and a study done by Oxford university. They found that deprivation, lack of education and poverty have nothing to do with terrorism and that it is the educated and well off with strong political(religious) opinions who take to terrorism.

    This has been more than amply proved by the profile of Indian Mujahideen suspects, and is line with the global experience of Islamic terrorism. To dismiss it by linking it to Babri Masjid is, to my mind, a grave mistake that will have disastrous consequences, given the historical background that you have referred to but not draw the right deductions from.

    Vikram, your views, I know, are not an emotional outburst. They are reasoned and well thought out. But my take is a bit different. And I don’t hate Islam or Christianity at all. It may come as a surprise to you that I say Allah-o-Akbar every day, as part of my prayers.

    Sharmaji, why would I think that you hate any religion ? You are an outstanding writer and a good Indian, your posts on the ‘vortex of competitive intolerance’, ‘Mayawati and Harvard’ were some of the best commentary on India that I have seen. In fact, it is on seeing bloggers like you and Nita that I decided to try my hand at this. 🙂

    Since I have come to America, I have gone through many instances where I have had to explain to people here, how diverse and tolerant Indians are and in that sense, what an incredible country India is. There are few countries in the world that can boast a Taj Mahal, Akshardham, Basilica of Bom Jesus and Golden Temple as part of their heritage. My pain is intensified when I see countries that were totally monocultural and destroyed native cultures, are usurping India’s claim of being the most diverse nation on earth. And many Indians seem to be helping with the agenda !

    I just feel frustrated that Indians are not realizing what an incredible group of people they are. No matter how I try to rationalize it, the dominant emotion I can sense coming from India is fear and suspicion. Perhaps I am too pessimistic.

    Anyways, my next post will be on an extremely positive note. 🙂

  2. Vikram conversion should not be a debate at all. Let me just say this if hinduism neglects its suffering masses then people have a right to shift their religion. I think a lot of conversions especially in Punjab happen to Christianity among the lower castes. These people are not socially acceptable whether they convert or not especially in villages. I am going to be blunt and say that if you are a low caste you do not fit in.

    I think religion is a matter of choice and also one should consider what services the religion can render to one’s own group and self. If hindusim is inefficient at providing these services then why not change the service provider? Whats the big deal? If I were a lower caste and religious I would be a happy buddhist by now rather than an unsatisfied hindu. Has not this country changed religions before enmassé? Ancient India has several examples when the ruling monarch changed his faith and the whole country converted!

    Agreed, but this BBC article seems to indicate that there are deeper reasons to the violence. But, the violence must be stopped and the perpetrators punished.

    Hinduism needs to change itself or perish. I think it has made some efforts to do so but they are not nearly enough, it has stiff competition from relatively newer faiths. Although it is also interesting to note how caste system creeps in to other religions including sikhs, buddhists, muslims and christians. In any case caste seems to be something that one can “never” wash away. A stain so deep that it has coloured the fabric of the society instead of just being on the outer layers of it.

    If you read my earlier posts, you will see how I pointed out that Hinduism is becoming irrelevant to many Dalits.

    As for the Mizos and Nagas they are not “Indian” because there is no such thing as “India”. It is a made up nation just like Indonesia is. We are a state of nations! I think the Chinese have understood this concept much better than we have. At least they acknowledge they have many nationalities even if they go on murdering and raping them. Unless the government in Delhi acknowledges this there can be no progress on this front.

    I think it depends on how you think about the word ‘Indian’. To me ‘Indianness’ only derives from the Constitution of India, and I think that holds true for many Indians including the Mizos (and most Nagas). To the Dalits, it means something else, to the Muslims, something else. Obviously, someone in the west and even many Indians may have a different, perhaps narrower view of India. I will talk about a paper by Juan Linz titled, India: Nation state or state nation, it will provide a better insight into this matter than perhaps I can.

    As for the Chinese, I dont think simply labeling people ‘nationalities’ indicates a better understanding of the nation-state concept. There also seem to be only one kind of minority in China, ethnic and cultural, and their numbers are relatively small. In India, the situation is vastly different, there are religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities and the numbers are fairly large. The only real majority in India could be upper caste, Hindi (all dialects) speaking Hindus, but their numbers cannot be more than 15 %, and even they are divided pretty strongly along state lines. By contrast, the Han Chinese make up 92 % of China, I know there are different dialects, but the division between a native Mandarin speaker and a Cantonese speaker, is not as great as Hindu from Haryana and one from Tamil Nadu.

    Have I rambled on for a bit? I guess so. Anyway it was an interesting post.

    Thanks. The rambling part applies to me too I guess. 🙂

  3. Fist time here, through your comment on ‘India retold’.
    I liked the questions at the end of this post.

  4. the caste point. amazing how Pakistani muslims and punjabi sikhs all have ‘castes’.
    somethig ‘haraam’ in their faiths.
    the stain of the subcontinent.

  5. @ Vikram : Constitution is a religion as well. It’s just something “made up”. Basically even a country is just made up. We can do without a lot of made up things. It is we that make up the dalits, americans, india etc etc in our heads. We can also get rid of all these labels but there are a lot of people today that can not do without these made up “fixes”. It is like an addiction.

    Yes, ‘we’ did make up Dalits at one time, but that cannot justify ignoring the injustice done to them historically and even today. I think it is unfair to club them along with India, America etc., which as you say, are totally made up. But as much as one might want to make do without them, they are there, they have armies and nuclear weapons, boundaries and visas and enormous ability to affect people’s lives. Taxes are collected in their name ! What could be more importance-giving than that ? 😉

  6. @ Vikram : “There also seem to be only one kind of minority in China, ethnic and cultural, and their numbers are relatively small”

    I think you are wrong here. China has nationalities that are quite unrelated to each other. China proper is comparatively a small area than modern china. Similarly I believe there is something called India proper as well. May be UP, Bihar, Uttranchal etc. They are more likely to be comfortable associating themselves with being Indian. Then you have the borderline states like mine where there are some people who strongly associate as being Indians and some do not. My own idea of India is more of a “Commonwealth”.

    I think you took my comment in a slightly wrong sense, what I meant was that there are many kinds of minorities, for eg, religious (Muslims, Sikhs), linguistic (Tamil, Bengali), caste (Dalits, even Brahmins) and racial (NE ppl) in India, who in totality make up the bulk of Indian population. In China there are many cultural minorities but they only make up 8 % of the population and many are located in remote provinces like Tibet, Xinjiang and Yunnan. By contrast, the Muslim and caste minorities in India are found heavily in the places which you called ‘India proper’. I dont think that you will find a city in China like Mumbai, with 65 % Hindu, 25 % Muslim, 10 % Christian and Sikh; 42 % Marathi, 20 % Hindi speaking, 20 % Gujarati etc. (I can give refs for the data), although you will also not find a city in China with the kind of appalling quality of life and despair as Mumbai.

    What makes you think that UPites, Biharis would associate more with being Indian than ppl from your state ? Have you forgotten the Dalit paper where many villagers said they knew nothing about the ‘nation’ ? As a matter of fact, over the last 60 years Bihar has received 1/5 th of federal spending per capita compared to Punjab. Do you think the recent wave of attacks on Biharis in Maharashtra would make them feel very Indian ?

  7. @ Vikram : How much has Bihar contributed to the federal exchequer in terms of taxes?

    The unequal spending started in the 50s, so the lack of tax revenue is in part a result of under-investment. I am not saying Bihar’s economy and administration was (and probably still is) grossly mismanaged, but should the discrepancy be this big (5 times more per capita) ?

    Sorry I am gonna start from the bottom towards the top 🙂

    The Han are a minority in the areas that you mention and the Chinese government is trying hard to change that by ethnic cleansing.

    Heard of the Roman empire? They had a nice little army and borders etc etc as well. These made up things tend not to last so they are not really worth bothering about. About the impact they have on people’s lives is because its people like you and me that allow them to have an impact. As for the Dalits I said before as well they let themselves be exploited as well and I said in the above posts that they do not fit in. The nail that does not fit in, gets hammered in. They need to be more vocal if they want to make a place for themselves but I guess they are doing much better than they ever did before.
    Odzer, I am certainly not making India the center-piece of my identity. I mostly think of myself as a Mumbaikar, where I grew up, it will be very difficult for me to live anywhere except Pune/Mumbai when I come back. I am just trying to say, as I have before that a state can mean very different things to different people. You and I may be indifferent to it (as ideally most people should be), but the truth is that in a country as poor and unequal as India is, the state’s actions have an enormous effect on people’s lives and the state has to be properly understood if it has to be dealt with.

    I find the comparison to the Roman Empire a bit unfair, those were very different times. State’s could not exert authority like they can do today. Most of the scientific advances and economic considerations of the modern world have tended to support a strong, central state.


  9. And now look what Santa has left for you on my blog here.

  10. Hullo! I see this is quite an old blog, but its significance has increased in the present day situation. While you’re right that the country that we call India never could really boast of communal harmony, it is the present generation that seems to be more polarised and rabid. Be it the facebook propaganda or the promise of ‘development’ youth today are far more involved and invested in the cause of ‘declining’ Hindu population and debates like why should Dalits get constitutional privileges in education. Today’s youth, at least the ones active on the internet has turned ‘secularism’, one of the pillars of our constitution into a pejorative term. They strongly believe that it is the upper caste Hindus who are deprived. It is also probably because dispensing information is so easy now, and nobody needs to do any serious learning in order to form an opinion. A twitter hashtag suffices. Whatever be it, I find this situation very alarming and worry for future generations.

  11. This f0cking writer has seriously gone mad. This assh0le, m0therfucker does not even bothered to mention atrocities committed by PISSfuls on Indian Hindus, during partition, liberation of Bangladesh Godhra and other riots, as well as, Hindus of Pork and Fangla.

  12. “simply never understood civic nationalism that derives from a Constitution and democracy”

    There no need to, constitution is a piece of paper and democracy is a simply an institution which we use to build govts..

    • Hello John. You are of course entitled to your views.

      But every year about 500 policemen across India give up their lives to protect the sanctity of this piece of paper, and the laws that flow from it. I take it very seriously.

      • I will repeat what i said when people said that Tamils were “Disrespecting” the court&laws on Jalikattu issue. Laws are made for&BY the people, people are not made for the Law. It can&shall be changed as people see fit, now that’s real democracy.

        Indian Constitution is flawed&outdated and Indians didn’t get to vote on every clause and law anyway. It needs a lot of changes before i would actually “respect” it in anyway shape or form. A good start would starting from India being a Federal country.

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