An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it........... Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position........... First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. - Mahatma Gandhi



4. Sangh on Family and Sexuality

The Sangh has very strong views on what is and what is not part of Indian culture / Hindu society, and has responded violently to any transgressions. In this section we will focus on the Sangh’s views on family and sexuality. As we see below, heterosexual relationship within the institution of Hindu marriage145 is the only form of relationship sanctioned by the Sangh.

Notions of love and marriage: Attacks on Valentine’s Day celebrations

The Valentine’s Day celebrations in India have been targeted by the various Sangh outfits as a “western” phenomenon “totally contrary to Indian culture.”146 At a durga vahini camp in Kanpur (UP), VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia claimed that Valentines' Day and marriage anniversaries had no place in Hindu societyand urged his audience to fight such practices. “Let Britishers celebrate their marriage anniversaries because their marriages are short-lived. In the Hindu culture, marriages are a result of several births,”he added.147 In the neighboring state of Madhya Pradesh, the VHP vowed to blacken the faces of couples with soot -- deemed a grave insult -- if they celebrated Valentines’ Day. "All this public display of love is vulgar and pure foreign nonsense (emphasis added)," D. Khandelwal, a local VHP leader, told reporters.148

One can cite several such instances of cultural policing by the Sangh outfits. The modus operandi is always the same – any practice that doesn’t fit within the Sangh’s notion of Hindu culture (or normal behavior) is labeled a “western” phenomenon that needs to be opposed at any cost. The Sangh’s swayamsevaks (volunteers) then take it upon themselves to set right the wrong.

Homosexuality as an abnormality/disability

The Sangh has vehemently opposed homosexuality as “deviant” behavior. Fire, a film by Deepa Mehta depicting lesbianism, raised a huge furor from the Sangh. "Films like Fire have a bad influence on Hindu culture,” claimed Meena Kambli, a Shiv Sena149 women’s wing leader in Mumbai, shortly after vandalizing a theatre showing the film.150 Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi (also of the Shiv Sena) applauded the courage of these women (vandals) and said, “Whatever is depicted in the film is against our culture and I am personally against such forms of art.” Notwithstanding critical acclaim, the movie was (for some time) taken off theatres in New Delhi and Bombay after numerous acts of arson by the swayamsevaks. Lesbianism seems to have left a deep scar on the Sangh leaders. Almost two years after Fire, BJP legislator Shyamdeo Ramchaudhary said: “The homosexual encounter [Deepa Mehta] showed in the film, I have not seen the film, but that is not part of our culture, nor does it exist in our lives! It doesn't even happen in India (emphasis added), it is only rumoured that it exists except maybe for stray incidents.”151

Girlfriend,152 another film depicting lesbianism, sparked a fresh round of violence by the Sangh. "Women seeking satisfaction from other women is alien to our culture (emphasis added), we will not allow films like Girlfriend to poison our women by making them curious about immoral (emphasis added) things,"153 said a member of the VHP. K S Sudarshan, chief of the RSS, railed against the film for introducing “corrupt” practices like homosexuality that “have cost society dear and are responsible for new diseases like AIDS.”

The overseas wings of the Sangh are usually less forthcoming about their ideology. Thus, even while condemning homosexuality as an abnormality, the VHP (UK) called for a respectful, albeit condescending, treatment of homosexuals. Opposing the introduction of lessons on homosexuality in schools, the VHP (UK) General Secretary Kishore Ruparalia said:154 “The VHP is against the promotion of homosexuality. Any human action or tendency that is not conducive to the process or normal order of nature is an abnormality (emphasis added) and is regarded as such in the Hindu understanding of Dharma… homosexuals should be treated with equal respect and should not be stigmatised and that they should assimilated by society in the same way as disabled people (emphasis added).”

Evils of Hindu society: the attacks on Deepa Mehta’s film ‘Water’

In 2000, Water, a film by Deepa Mehta that focused on the plight of widows in Varanasi,155 earned the Sangh’s ire. A serious of violent protests, including Sangh attacks on the film crew, forced a change of locale to Sri Lanka.

What had enraged the culture police? BJP legislator Shyamdeo Ramchaudhary, who led a mob attack on the crew, accused the filmmaker of tarnishing the holy city’s name and said156 “The Ganges is the most revered place for us; to call it Water is so insulting!” S Gurumurthy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (one of the numerous Sangh outfits) said:157 “Widowhood, to me, is a very sacred concept where somebody lives by the memory of her husband … [Deepa Mehta] is projecting widows as helpless and she says that many of them are turning prostitutes. Widowhood is a very serious tapasya and many people may fail… If a widow remains a pure widow, she is respected. If she wants to lose the respect, she can remarry. (emphasis added) Nobody goes and burns a widow if she remarries. But if she wants pleasure, naturally she will have to give up name and opt for pleasure.” Kaushal Upadhyaya, working president of the VHP (Varanasi) said:158 “The honour of Varanasi is at stake. We will not allow the film to be shot till they remove all objectionable words and scenes, including the name ‘Water’. Ganga is our mother, not just ordinary water''.

Numerous objections were raised against the film, chief among them being that the film is being made for a foreign audience and that it scandalizes the pious state of widowhood, revealing the xenophobic and patriarchal underpinnings of the Sangh.



[145] Some reactions to inter religious marriages: In Dehra Dun (UP), a Hindu-Muslim couple was beaten up by members of the VHP. [] (archive) In Ahmedabad, a Hindu-Christian couple was beaten up by VHP and Bajrang Dal members (the pregnant Hindu woman was kicked in the stomach leading to the baby’s abortion) and forcibly separated at the local police station. [] (archive) In 2004, Bajrang Dal issued a fiat to its cadre to "cut off the nose" of Hindu girls having affairs with Muslim boys [see archived news report] In Ahmedabad, a Bajrang Dal leader and a prime accused in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom has made a mission of ‘rescuing’ Hindu girls who marry out of community. See A serial kidnapper and his `mission', Dionne Bunsha, Frontline, Volume 23 (25), Dec 16-29, 2006.(archive)

[146] Tough love for Indian Valentines, BBC, Feb 14, 2001. (archive)

[147] RSS wing embarks on ‘sacred’ mission, SACW, Jul 4, 2001. (archive)

[148] Tough love for Indian Valentines targetted by hardline Hindus, The Daily News, Feb 14, 2004. (archive)

[149] “Shiv Sena” literally means “army of lord Shiva.” It doesn’t belong to the RSS family of organizations, but is a strong proponent of Hindutva and has been implicated in numerous acts of violence against Muslims. In Maharashtra, which is where the Shiv Sena is based, it has an electoral alliance with the BJP (political wing of the RSS).

[150] Furore over a film, Praveen Swami, Frontline, Volume 15 (26), Dec 19, 1998 – Jan 01, 1999 (archive)

[151] See Rediff interview (dated Feb 2, 2000) (archive)

[152] Girlfriend has been trashed by several progressive groups, but unlike the Sangh, for reasons other than homophobia. See, for instance, Lez-ploitation in Bollywood. ( (archive)

[153] Lesbian film fires up Hindu hardliners, Asia Times, Jun 19, 2004. (archive)

[154] VHP now targets Britain's gays, The Asian Age, Feb 15, 2000. (archive)

[155] Varanasi is a holy city of the Hindus, and is also referred to as Banares and Kashi.

[156] See footnote #151.

[157] See Rediff interview (dated Mar 31, 2000) (archive)

[158] Mehta changes script, tune; gets Govt nod, The Indian Express, Feb 2, 2000. (archive)





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