Violence and Hindutva's Norms of Masculinity

It has become more critical than ever to unearth the basis of this relationship between Hindu-fundamentalism, violence, and masculinity.



It has become more critical than ever to unearth the basis of this relationship between Hindu-fundamentalism, violence, and masculinity, especially in light of the Jamia shooting. Through the social-media posts of the Hindu-fundamentalist gunman (who is possibly a minor) it became evident that, according to him, the act of terrorism he carried out was heroic and sacrificial. His profile picture showed him kissing a sword and another of him hugging a rifle.

How do we understand the conceptual depth of this militant radicalization? Where do we start?

The ideas of masculinity, foundational to many interpretations of Hindutva, are anchored through the figures of the Hindu soldier and the warrior-monk (i.e., the ideal of the fakir Pradhan Sevak with a 56-inch chest). Aggression, physical strength, and violence, when evoked in order to protect the Hindu-Rashtra, become an articulation of one’s cultural citizenship under this ideal-type of masculinity.

Such notions of virile and violent masculinity were central to the organizing principles of Hindutva, as developed in the theories of its most prominent ideologue and one of the earliest leaders of RSS, M. S. Golwalkar. Golwalkar’s interpretation of dharma and karma, and the resulting “protective duty one has towards the country as the mother figure, is an assertion of protectionist, virulent hetero-normative masculinity.” He institutionalized this ideal of masculinity through the Shakhas wherein boys are taught to engage in ritualized practices of manhood through strict discipline, martial prowess, and loyalty towards the “mother” India.

The connection between masculinity and violence in the nationalist discourse of Hindutva draws its justification from the mythic past of the warrior “Aryan” male.

Liberal modernity threatens this imagined mythology by giving Hindutva’s other — women, Dalit-Bahujans, Adivasis, LGBTQ, and religious minorities — political agency and representation.

The reactionary political project taken up by Hindu-fundamentalists post-independence can be understood as an attempt to dominate over groups that are falsely represented as threats to Hindu manhood. Meanwhile the real reasons behind the loss of livelihood and control over one’s life opportunities are subject to broader institutional processes “such as impractical educational policies and haphazard economic planning.” Hindutva’s appeals to take immediate control render the actual causes irrelevant.​

The project of a battle against the outsiders continues in his version of history with the Muslims as the others, even when they are citizens of the country. This othering of Muslims serves two purposes: it continues the sense of crisis, while at the same time appealing to the nascent masculinity of Hindu men to respond to this crisis.”

Chakraborty (2011 b) 

Why do Hindutva forces not accept the equation of nonviolence and nation-hood? Gandhi’s assassin Godse justified his actions in court; he said that he felt compelled to kill Gandhi since his “womanly politics” was emasculating the Hindu nation. Ashis Nandy’s psychological sketch draws attention to the toxicity of national “manhood” that continues to be pervasive in the political discourse of Hindu supremacy. This played a significant part in radicalizing Godse in his frenzied pursuit of reclaiming his “manhood” through the act of killing of Gandhi, whom he considered to be effeminate.  

It is essential to understand the role played by the norms of manhood implicit in Brahminical Patriarchy as they continue to be a structural issue in our contemporary society. The duality of casteism and sexism were extremely pronounced in the way Godse made sense of his motivations. There is a crucial critique of Nandy’s psychological profile of Godse: 

Gender dysphoria equated with causation instead of correlation in serial killers and whistleblowers in the past have led to an increase in demonization and ostracization of the trans and queer community. 

On Jan 22, 2020, Yogi Adityanath attempted to delegitimize the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protests solely on the grounds that it is a women-led movement. He demanded, “Where are the men?”

Women occupy a passive, largely domestic and reproductive role within the Hindu-nationalist discourse. Hindutva’s ideal commands that women’s bodies, their deemed honor, purity, and virtue become the symbolic arena where cultural conflicts play out. The women of Shaheen Bagh, along with all the other women protesters all over the country are placed diametrically in relation to this ideal. This subversion is why protesting women are such a potent threat to Hindutva’s reign.