fundamentalism -- why we are concerned
Paul Crofts and Anjona Roy
Magazine, January 2003 original
years there has been a growth in "fundamentalism"
of all kinds within major religions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish,
Hindu) and a rise in neo-fascism and extreme right-wing politics
and nationalism in many countries in Europe, the Indian subcontinent,
the Middle and Far East and Africa, and in the United States.
These narrow and sectarian nationalisms, fundamentalisms and
extremisms pose an increasing threat to internal peace and
stability in many countries, and also in some cases to world
it might be tempting to try and "unpick" cause and
effect between them, what is undoubtedly true is that such
fundamentalisms feed off one another in an increasing cycle
of blame, recrimination, violence and sometimes outright war.
We only have to look at recent history to see the devastation
and human misery that such conflicts have caused, for example
in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, communal riots in India,
the spiralling crisis between the state of Israel and the
Palestinian people, increasing antisemitism in Europe, attacks
on Christians in Indonesia, the attack on the World Trade
Centre and Pentagon on 11 September 2001, and continuing sectarian
conflict in Northern Ireland. In France Jean-Marie Le Pen
polled 20% of the popular vote and in the UK the British National
Party won three council seats in Burnley. In Denmark, Austria
and Italy neo-fascists have entered government.
Northamptonshire, where we live and work, we have plotted
the "temperature" of extremism, neo-nazi groups
and fundamentalism in a local community. The local Racial
Equality Council, and other local organisations, continue
to be vigilant and are working on strategies to undermine
and roll back racism and injustice at all levels of Wellingborough
society. Since 11 September there has been renewed national
interest and concern about Muslim fundamentalism, but there
has been less focus on other fundamentalisms, sometimes much
closer to home.
this article looks at specific issues of Hindu fundamentalism,
we would not want readers to think we are unconcerned about
other fundamentalisms, although locally these have been of
less concern to us, as the largest minority ethnic/ religious
group is that of Gujarati Hindus. Arun Kundnani, in a recent
article in Race & Class, looks at both Muslim and Hindu
fundamentalism in the UK. We would endorse his conclusion
that "One practice that needs to be challenged is the
tendency of 'multiculturalist' policies to take an unthinking,
and often tokenistic, approach to 'minority' representation
... leaders of communalist groups can easily become accepted
as authentic representatives of Asian 'culture' ... as a result
the most reactionary elements within our communities are being
given undue influence."
the Hindu Navratri festival in September 2001 a letter was
circulated quite extensively within the Hindu community which
appeared to come from an extreme Muslim group threatening
to target Hindu and Sikh girls for conversion to Islam. On
closer inspection, however, it was clear that this letter
was not from any Muslim group, but was intended to stir up
anti-Muslim feeling within the Hindu and Sikh communities.
surprising was how easily members of the local Hindu community
accepted the letter as genuine, without critical examination
or scepticism. The bogus letter was therefore very successful
in achieving its objectives. There were also serious community
conflicts between Sikhs and Muslims in Derby and other parts
of the UK following circulation of the same letter. The good
news was that the leaders of both the Hindu and Muslim communities
in Wellingborough, the local REC and a leading Hindu councillor
issued a joint statement strongly condemning the letter and
pointing out its bogus nature.
acceptance of anti-Muslim propaganda reflects a wider set
of concerns - the growth of Hindu fundamentalist, nationalist
and anti-Muslim ideas within the Hindu community of Wellingborough,
and indeed wider afield, where such ideas have become almost
"common sense". Since the attack on the Twin Towers
and the subsequent American led "war on terrorism",
anti-Muslim sentiment and prejudice has grown significantly
across all communities, both in the UK and abroad, and is
certainly not confined to the Hindu community, although Hindu
fundamentalist groups now have more credibility for their
long-standing anti-Muslim views that predate recent events.
has also been evidence of overt Hindu fundamentalist groups
organising, raising funds and, for the first time to our knowledge,
fully participating in mainstream Hindu Association activities,
such as the celebration of India Republic day, the advertising
of their activities in the Hindu Association newsletter (Dharshan)
and formal meetings held at the Hindu Centre and at other
our view that most Hindus in Wellingborough are tolerant,
law-abiding, family centred and devout. Their Hinduism is
not predicated on opposing any other religions or beliefs,
but comes from an inner strength and quiet confidence in their
own faith. However, they are slowly and mostly unwittingly
being co-opted into a project which has its heart in the Indian
politics of hatred, communalism and fundamentalism of which
they are mainly unaware and would be shocked to be part. The
community's devotion to Hinduism is therefore being deliberately
and consciously manipulated to support sinister longer-term
political ends in India.
is therefore intended to provide some information about the
nature of such "Hindu" fundamentalist groups that
are operating within the community, both in Wellingborough
and other parts of the UK, their history and ideology and
their "project" for India. We hope such information
will engender a wider understanding of such groups and their
activities, not only within the Hindu community but in society
more generally (especially, education, police, public authorities
and political leaders), which is also largely unaware of their
activities, their potential to promote community conflict,
and/or is misled by them posing as merely "Hindu"
groups, like any other mainstream religious organisation.
Parivar, or "family of organisations", is an umbrella
term used to describe the range of social, educational and
political organisations and groups that have been formed by
the Indian Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since the 1950s.
However, the ideas that the Sangh promotes have existed, in
one form or another, for over 150 years. They generally have
a series of common ideological or political objectives, with
different emphases at different times. These can be broadly
summarised as follows:
has been in the past, and should be in the future, a Hindu-only
country. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are accepted as being
within the Hindu "community" (whether they like
it or not!).
is a unified religion and civilisation (without conflicts
of sect, caste, region, "theology", even when
such conflicts clearly exist) which goes back thousands
of years. Hindus need to be re-educated and be proud of
their historical destiny.
constitute a "race" - the Vedic-Aryans.
have been traditionally tolerant, which has been interpreted
as "weakness". Tjos has resulted in India being
conquered by others over the centuries, including Muslims
and the British. Hindus now need to become strong ideologically,
in their faith, politically and in health (through exercise
and mental preparation) in preparation for the struggle
to form a Hindu nation (Hindu Rastra) based on Hindutva
- blood belonging, religious identity and territorial nationhood.
of other religions in India have either been forced to convert
(and in essence therefore remain Hindus) or are "foreigners"
in India and should be expelled or forced to live within
a Hindu society and according to Hindu defined laws. The
Muslims of India have been the special focus of attention,
but others, such as Christians, have also been stigmatised
as the non-Indian "other" and targeted for attacks
or forcible reconversion back to Hinduism.
are discriminated against in their "own" country
and have been divided by others (the "secularists",
communists, Congress Party) on the basis of caste, class,
regional identities or politics. Such "secularists"
should also be targets and are labelled "neo-secularists"
by the Sangh (who claim they are the true secularists!).
only legitimate languages of India should be those derived
from Sanskrit, the ancient language of north Indian, high-caste
Brahmins, as written in Hindu holy texts
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindu Swayamsevak
(or National Volunteer Force) was founded in 1924 by Keshav
Baliram Hedgewar. It remains the most important Hindu fundamentalist
organisation in India. In the UK and United States the RSS
formed, in 1966, an overseas organisation called the Hindu
Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). The HSS(UK), which openly claims
allegiance to the RSS, has its headquarters in Leicester.
remains true to its founding fathers' organisational principles
in that it is a militant, undemocratic, paramilitary organisation
with a highly centralised structure and authority. It drew
its inspiration from western military and boy scout organisations
(and later European fascist organisational structures) and
is based on the recruitment and training of young, ideally
pre-pubescent, boys for service to "Hindutva". Its
activities are to build "character" to prepare members
mentally and physically to fight for Hindutva and to protect
the "Hindu nation" from foreign influences.
the 1940s the RSS's new leader, Madhev Golwalkar, following
the death of Hedgewar, sympathised both with German Nazism
and Italian fascism.
Golwalkar said: "German race pride has now become the
topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the Race and its
culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country
of the semitic races - the Jews. Race pride at its highest
has been manifest here. Germany has shown how well nigh impossible
it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to
the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good
lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by."
(Golwalkar  in We, or Our Nationhood, Defined.
has been no explicit and unconditional disavowal of Nazi-like
doctrines by the RSS/HSS or a repudiation of Golwakar's ideas.
Indeed, Golwalkar is held up as an example and spiritual leader
for young RSS/HSS Swayamsevaks (members) and affectionately
referred to as "Guruji".
Mahatma Gandhi's assassination by a former RSS member, Nathuram
Godse, the RSS was banned by the Indian government from 1948
to 1949. After the ban was reversed the RSS, while claiming
to devote itself solely to cultural activities, created several
offshoot organisations, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
(VHP), or World Hindu Council, in 1964, the Jana Sangh
political party in 1951, which was the precursor to the current
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous other organisations.
are about 10 HSS related organisations that form the UK Sangh
Parivar. In addition to the HSS itself and the VHP(UK), formed
in 1972, there are the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP),
Sewa International (the UK branch of the RSS's International
"charity"), Friends of India Society International
(FISI), the Rashtra Sevika Samiti (the RSS's women's
organisation) the National Hindu Students' Federation
(NHSF), the main Hindu students' body in the UK, the Rashtriya
Singh Sangat (its Sikh offshoot) and several others.
Bharatiya Janata Party
is now the leading party of government in India. However,
its more extreme Hindutva agenda is often constrained by its
coalition partners. Most leading BJP leaders are also RSS
members. The electoral victories of the BJP in recent years
have led to increasing "Hinduisation" of Indian
society at all levels (e.g. the history curriculum in schools),
increasing tensions between India and Pakistan and increasing
internal communal conflicts. However, there is some evidence
that support for the BJP may be waning following recent regional
elections. Gujarat is the "jewel in the crown" for
the BJP and the state it most needs to win in future elections.
It is also the Indian State where the theories of Hindutva
are being pursued most vigorously. This may go some way to
explain why recent communal tension is centred in Gujarat.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad
(or World Council of Hindus) claims to represent the entire
Hindu world, propounds a Hindutva world view, asserts Hindu
collective power and aims to unite all Hindus in opposition
to Islam. When originally formed, it intended to bring all
Hindu sects within the orbit of its overarching umbrella.
In India it has formed a number of related organisations including
Bajrang Dal (its militant wing) and Hindu Jagran
Manch, both of which have been involved in spectacular
forms of violence against religious minorities.
years the main focus of the VHP in the UK has been (1) to
present itself as the sole representative voice of all Hindus
in official structures (local and national government) and
to advise on Hinduism in the context of multicultural and
inter-faith matters; (2) to provide educational and cultural
activities for Hindu young people (in particular dance classes)
and (3) to raise money and mobilise support for VHP activities
in India, such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid (mosque)
in Ayodhya in order to construct a new Ram temple on the same
2002 even the BJP-led government of India issued a call for
the VHP to call off its all-India mobilisation (of "Ram
Sevaks") at Ayodhya to start construction of the Ram
temple. However, the VHP leadership rebuffed the call. The
VHP mobilisation led to an attack on a train, and the murder
of Ram Sevaks, at Godhra (Gujarat). The subsequent communal
riots resulted in thousands of deaths in what was effectively
a pogrom against Muslims, although it must be said that many
Hindus also died during the conflict that erupted. The situation
in Gujarat remains tense (as of September 2002) with hundreds
of thousands of Muslims in refugee camps, displaced from their
homes, with little assistance from the BJP-controlled Gujarat
state government to enable them to return home.
the VHP(UK) published, in conjunction with Moral Education
Press, an innocent-sounding guide, Explaining Hindu Dharma:
A Guide for Teachers, which was widely circulated to schools
and local education authorities to influence the teaching
of Hinduism as part of RE or other areas of the curriculum.
The stated aim of the publication was to provide an "authoritative
and comprehensive" text. The sub-text, hardly perceptible
to those not versed in the politics of India and the VHP,
is that the VHP is the only legitimate voice of Hinduism in
the classroom. Following challenges to the publication by
some RE teachers, the Moral Education Press agreed not to
republish the book. However, it has recently been republished
by the VHP itself.
concerned with RE teaching, need to be aware of the inter-relationship
between Hinduism and politics in India and be particularly
vigilant that they are not unwittingly contributing to a distorted
view of Hinduism and communal conflict, and aiding Hindu fundamentalism.
fundamentalism = fascism?
has been a tendency by some to label Hindu fundamentalist
groups such as the Sangh, RSS, VHP etc., as "fascist".
Whilst this may be understandable within an Indian context,
it would be very dangerous to extend this label to such groups
in the UK. Asian communalist groups in the UK are mostly reactive,
distorted, responses to a racist society by which they feel
threatened. In the final analysis they are aiming towards
"separation" from, rather than subordination of,
other minority groups and consolidation of support for their
views within their own community. This is not the same as
fascist organisations in the UK, such as the British National
Party, which want to subordinate or eliminate minority groups.
However, those who support fundamentalist and communalist
groups in the UK should be in no doubt as to the effects of
such support in other countries, where subordination and oppression,
based on fundamentalist interpretations of religion, is the
is the fund-raising ("charitable") arm of the RSS/HSS.
Over recent years it has raised millions of pounds in the
UK, which is sent to the Indian organisations Sewa Bharati,
the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (which works against Christians
in tribal areas), the Kalyan Ashram Trust (KAT) and
the Hindu Vivek Kendra (HVK), all of which are part
of the Indian Sangh Parivar. As with other Sangh Parivar activities
in the UK, Sewa International presents itself as "merely"
a charitable group raising funds for "good causes".
In its publications and website, no reference is made to its
links with the RSS or HSS, or that they are in any way related.
the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, the Wellingborough Hindu Association
raised considerable amounts of money both from within the
Hindu community and wider sections of Wellingborough society.
What is less well known is the funds raised were subsequently
given to Sewa International. This situation was repeated all
over the UK, Europe and in the USA (Sewa's sister organisation
in the US is called the India Development and Relief Fund).
the UK Sewa International raised thousands of pounds, often
attracting sponsorship for fundraising events from mayors,
MPs and well known figures in the arts and media. A range
of local groups, including schools and youth groups, also
raised funds. Since the recent communal conflict in Gujarat
it is very illuminating that Sewa International has not
launched a special fund to help the victims (who are overwhelmingly
Muslim). Normally Sewa uses every opportunity to raise funds
following disasters in India, or indeed in other parts of
the world. For example it launched a special fund after the
events of 11 September in the US.
the activities of Sewa international have come under criticism
by other aid organisations and NGOs for being sectarian in
its aid distribution programmes and in essentially providing
funding for the RSS, and other Sangh Parivar organisations,
to strengthen their political position in areas affected by
the earthquake. This does not mean that the funds raised have
not been used for relief purposes, but is a criticism of
the way the aid is used selectively and as part of a longer
term political project.
our main criticisms of Sewa International, however, is that
it is not transparent in respect of to whom it owes
clear allegiance (the RSS/HSS) thus enabling potential donors
to be fully aware of to whom they are giving their money and
the wider political agenda into which they are being unwittingly
of a strong, united, and exclusive Hindu India, cultivated
by the Sangh Parivar, has found systematic and organised expression
in the UK and in other parts of the world outside India. There
are now few Hindu organisations in the UK that are not at
least strongly influenced by the Sangh Parivar, particularly
the VHP and the HSS. The fundraising activities of Sewa International
are considerable. In addition, many of the devotional Hindu
priests that visit the UK (dharmachanaryas, pujaris, swamis
and sadhus) are also influenced by the Sangh. We hope that
by this article on the Sangh both Hindus and non-Hindus might
be better informed, and thus able to make clearer judgements,
when it comes to the activities of its constituent organisations.
hope this briefing will empower those in all communities
to oppose "fundamentalisms" of all kinds that set
families against families, communities against communities
and religions against religions. If humanity is to progress,
such fundamentalisms need to be defeated both in the UK and
elsewhere in the world.
Further information and reading
and Racial Studies, Volume 23, No 3 [May 2000] - the whole
issue is devoted to an examination and critique of Hindu fundamentalism
in the UK and USA.
Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths. Chetan
Bhatt. Berg .
Unholy Alliance? Racism, religion and communalism. Arun Kundnani,
Race and Class Vol 44(2) [October 2002].
Shorts Saffron Flags. Tracts for Our Times/1. Tapan Basu et
al. Orient Longman. .
Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics 1925-1990s.
Christophe Jaffrelot. Penguin Books India .
Concerned Indian's Guide to Communalism. K N Panikar (ed).
Penguin Books India .
Offensive Social Roots: Characterisation. R R Puniyani, at:
International website: www.sewa-international.org.uk.
Swayamsevak Sangh (UK) website: www.hss-uk.org.
Hindu Parishad (UK) website: www.vhp.org.uk.
Copyright © 2003, Searchlight,