How Hindu Nationalism Came to Rule

Journalist Rana Ayyub was recently threatened on Twitter by a police department in India with “legal action” for making a “political comment” and was ordered to delete her tweet. She had posted an innocuous statement on the impact on Muslims of the destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya in 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists, and on her hope that the Supreme Court of India would provide a modicum of justice the following day in a widely anticipated, politically charged verdict.

While the Amethi police department eventually deleted the tweet after an outcry, a cavalcade of Hindu right-wing commenters did not go away. They claimed she was inciting religious violence, tagged multiple Indian police departments claiming she was violating communal (religious) harmony, and amplified genocidal thought against Muslims.

Ayyub is a frequent target, receiving death and rape threats for years, to the point where UN officials felt the need to intervene by calling on the Indian government to protect her. But she was far from the only one on Friday. The swarming behavior of the online Hindu right and their appeals to police Twitter accounts to harass Muslims and dissenters were widespread.

The story of how India came to this point isn’t just one of bigotry and state violence, but also of the failures of capitalism in a state that turned away from socially conscious populism toward an increasingly pro-business set of policies in the neoliberal era. But to understand its particular context with respect to what happened to Ayyub and others, we have to go back to the 1980s and 1990s.

The Hindu right believes the site of the Babri Masjid was the birthplace of Ram, a mythological figure they revere. Without objective, impartial evidence, they also claim that a Hindu temple once stood on the site before, they say, it was torn down by the Mughals five centuries ago. After years of antagonism, in 1992 they sent 150,000 cadre to illegally enter and destroy it.

The incident sparked extensive violence against religious minorities across India and the region. Thousands were attacked or killed in India and Bangladesh, and numerous other religious sites were desecrated, mostly Muslim in India, mostly Hindu in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

But the Hindu right didn’t want to just destroy the mosque; they wanted to build a Hindu temple on the remains. Meanwhile, Muslim institutions rightfully wanted to rebuild a mosque on the site. And so it went to the courts.

The Supreme Court of India recently sided with the Hindu right. It handed the site of the destroyed mosque over to a trust to build the temple to Ram. Following the decision, preemptive curfews were imposed in Mumbai, Bangalore, and elsewhere prohibiting the gathering of five or more people. This continued the policing of the public — particularly Muslims and dissenters — by the government and its Hindu right supporters that had begun before the verdict was handed down.

The Supreme Court’s decision provided judicial validation for one of the most incendiary acts of religious desecration in modern Indian history. It is unfathomable that five judges could come to the conclusion that the very force that demolished the mosque should be legally entitled to build a Hindu temple on its ruins. What the Supreme Court decision on the Babri Masjid shows is that Hindu right-wingers have captured the state’s institutions at deeper than just an electoral level.

In all likelihood, so too does the work of the government archaeological department that the court relied on. The survey, which has not yet been released, claimed to find evidence of the alleged lost Hindu temple. Previous research by the Archaeological Survey of India on the site has been contested by historians as well as other archaeologists brought in by a Muslim institution claiming the site.

All of this is a stark break from India’s secular tradition. Secularism in post-independence India was always different from the ideas of secularism in the United States or France, for instance. For India, secularism meant the balancing of interests of different religious forces by the government and respect for all of them. At its best, it was about promoting tolerance and harmony among the people.

At its worst, though, it pushed Indians to primarily identify as members of rigid religious “communities” rather than by their social position as lower caste, or farmers, or workers, or women. For example, India’s treatment of secularism has allowed the Hindu right to obscure the widespread institutionalized sexism and gender violence that undermine women across religious lines by focusing on anti-women provisions in Muslim family law. (India has separate laws governing marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance for four religious communities: Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis.) It similarly fostered a continued flattening of the enormous differences within religious communities.

But this version of secularism made some sense as a political strategy when you consider the powder keg of institutionalized religious animosity that the British fostered over hundreds of years and left behind in South Asia. Their tactics on this front, collectively known as “divide and rule,” ranged from redefining the population by religious identity through the census, to separate electorates for Muslims and Hindus, to setting the precedent for partitioning territory along religious lines in 1905.

Given this context, much organizing during the nationalist movement took on a religious hue, led by key figures like Mohandas Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The result — the last gift of the British as they handed over political control to the native elites they had cultivated — was the creation of national states on the basis of majority religious community — Pakistan for Muslims, India for Hindus.

Enormous social violence stemmed from resulting population transfers, killing over one million people during the partition into two states (later to become three with the independence of Bangladesh). The region will likely never recover from this original sin, hardened into national boundaries in the capitalist nation-state system, and provided with armies and nuclear weapons.

The lasting impact of the violence of partition on social consciousness — including on the left — can’t be overstated. By channeling social militancy into a liberal, communal framework, the trauma of partition foreclosed on any possibility of a leftist revolution in India at independence, notwithstanding important exceptions. Consequently, there was no deep land reform on a nationwide basis, as in China, or other sizable redistribution of assets and power to the majority poor. Parties on the revolutionary left faced a choice between state repression and oppositional electoral politics.

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Building Cities, Demolishing Lives


by Natasha Narwal

On September 11, 2014, residents of E block, Aya Nagar, Delhi woke up to see bulldozers at their doorstep. Accompanied by the police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), they came without any notice and started demolishing houses, not even giving the residents time to save their belongings.

Sanhati reports that at least two were killed: an elderly woman struck by a wall and pregnant woman who suffered shock. Besides the injuries inflicted on the body, the residents’ minds have been scarred by the site of their houses, their investments of a lifetime being reduced to a pile of rubble in a moment.

After the bulldozers had left, Deewan Singh, a daily wage worker and a resident of the colony sat outside the rubble which was once his house. Seething with rage that contorted his face, he lamented sarcastically that the promised ‘Achhe Din’ have come consisting of a steep rise in prices of basic necessities and now not even a roof on his head. Singh was referencing a popular slogan used by the BJP during the recent Lok Sabha elections.

“The whole Aya Nagar is built on illegal purchase of land, then why only our houses sore their eyes-just because we are poor?” asks Anita Devi. Devi and her husband, migrants from Chapra, Bihar, had invested their life’s savings in their house. That house now gone, she stared blankly into the uncertain future, narrating her story while cooking in the makeshift kitchen she has managed to build from the debris of her demolished house.

Aya Nagar is a village located on the southwestern edge of Delhi, on the road to Gurgaon, a satellite city home to luxury apartments and the offices of multinational corporations. In recent years, Aya Nagar has been completely transformed in character into a bustling urban settlement. This is no exception, though, as it is the story of Delhi neighbourhoods like Chattarpur and Maidangarghi as well. This expansion in Aya Nagar was the result of powerful people from the village grabbing land belonging to the local government and forest land and selling it off to various migrants to the city like Singh and Devi, desperate to get a place of their own in this hostile city.

Initially, incoming residents to Aya Nagar were primarily from marginalized sections of society, largely dispossessed landless labourers and low-income settlers from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and elsewhere in India. In the last ten to fifteen years, however, the character of Aya Nagar’s population has drastically changed.

Various builders have purchased land from local real estate dealers and built huge buildings and flats to lure more upwardly mobile sections of the working population of the city. Thus, Aya Nagar has become a curious site of designer flats and sprawling markets standing amidst the very modest houses of the working class households that are being further pushed towards the margins. This is in contrast to most areas in Delhi, where there is a clear separation of middle and upper middle class localities on the one hand and working class localities on the other.

Singh came to Aya Nagar with his family in 2005 and purchased a plot of land from a local resident of the village who claimed that the land was his ancestral property and was in the name of one of his relatives. But, apparently, the land belongs to the Gram Panchayat, the local government. Despite purchasing the land and investing a lifetime in building a house over it, Singh is still an ‘illegal’ resident.

This is true for most of the residents of the area. They live on the hyphen between legality and illegality, in the ‘gray zone’ of informality neither fully integrated nor completely excluded from the city, becoming fully visible to the state only when they become an eyesore.

The establishment and growth of such ‘informal’ settlements like Aya Nagar have been an integral part of the making of urban spaces. To quote Gautam Bhan, “Like most Indian megacities, the planned city of Delhi is only a small part of the city as a whole, and historically it has always been so. The peripheral constructions and the ‘wait and watch’ game of post- facto regularization has, in fact, been the means by which much of the urban space of the city has been organized.”

Neither informal settlements nor evictions and demolitions are new to Delhi. The settlements in Aya Nagar weren’t hidden from either public view or the state. A community of nearly 5000 people with public services and an expansive built environment cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be covert. As Ananya Roy writes:

Informality is not just that which is outside the planned/formal, as some kind of neatly bound residual order that lies beyond the state and formal planning. The informal, in fact, is “produced by the state itself”. The planning and legal apparatus of the state has the power to determine when to enact this suspension, to determine what is informal and what is not, and to determine which forms of informality will thrive and which will disappear. State power is reproduced through the capacity to construct and reconstruct categories of legitimacy and illegitimacy.

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Struggling to the End: A Review of C. Christine Fair’s New Book on Pakistan’s Army

A famous saying goes: countries have armies; in Pakistan, the army has a country. As a result, it seems important for those interested in South Asia to know what that army is thinking and how its attitudes and actions have ramifications for those inside and outside Pakistan.

C Christine Fair’s new book, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War goes through tomes of army literature.  She lays out a case that Pakistan’s army is eternally bent on changing the current status quo in Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations more generally. It believes that it has never lost a war with India (it has lost at least 3), because of the sheer fact that it is still fighting and India has neither conquered all of Kashmir nor eliminated Pakistan as a serious concern in South Asia.  The army believes it is succeeding as long as what Fair considers the founding ideology of Pakistan (the theory that Hindus and Muslims in South Asia constitute different ‘nations’) is intact.  It uses its nuclear capability not simply as a deterrent, but as an umbrella to shield it from otherwise strong responses to military adventurism.

While Fair makes an extensive case for these claims, it remains a fact that the Pakistani army is not regularly launching full-scale invasions of India or even Kashmir.  It does, it seems, have some sense of boundaries, so to speak, in the nuclear standoff between the two countries.  Perhaps the extended nature of Fair’s argument should not be taken as evidence of its intensity or purported reach, but it is hard not to do so.

Beyond Indo-Pak relations, the book covers a variety of other subjects.  While the resulting text can frequently be tedious to wade through for those who are not familiar with and intensely interested in subjects like the “strategic culture” of militaries, the book contains several nuggets for those more broadly interested in more understanding Pakistan.  Perhaps the most notable section of the text is a series of charts which reflect the attitudes of ordinary Pakistanis, broken down by ethnicity (using mother tongue as a proxy) and state.  For example, 41% of Punjabis in the Punjab believe that their country ‘completely’ governed by elected representatives, while only 14% of Punjabis in other parts of Pakistan believe this.  Only 12% of Punjabis in Sindh want greater sharia law, while 20% of Sindhis in Sindh do.

Fair’s book also contains a great deal of history on the various conflicts that Pakistan and its predecessor state of British India took on.  Significantly, this includes not just Pakistani-India relations, but a significant chunk of text devoted to Pakistan’s attitudes towards Afghanistan.  Afghanistan, Fair argues, is seen as an important site for Pakistan to try to maintain its security, either through direct meddling or through maintaining relationships with friendly governments.  Fair argues that since colonial times, British India and then Pakistan alternated between strategies that were more intrusive and less intrusive in Afghan affairs.

One puzzle that Fair looks at is why Pakistan’s army has a more critical stance towards the United States, considering it a fair weather friend at best, while it has relatively uncritical support towards China.  Fair does not fully resolve this issue, but it seems somewhat intuitive that, regionally, Pakistan’s army needs China to contain India-it’s primary raison d’etre-while the United States might be seen as not quite as vital to that concern, due to sheer geography if nothing else.  Another issue in the relationships might be China’s status over much of the period covered in the book as a fellow developing country, while the U.S. is a superpower, easy to resent.

Fair’s analysis is deeply pessimistic, and she explicates this towards the end of her book: she does not believe any combination of external or internal changes in Pakistan is likely to change the army’s attitudes or its level of power within Pakistani society.  One curiosity is that in considering possible changes, ranging from a genuine civilian takeover of the state to a resounding military defeat by India, she does not consider the possible impact of a genuine military victory by Pakistan, particularly in the divided region of Kashmir.  While it does seem unlikely based on the balance between India and Pakistan’s military and the nuclear weapons they both hold, it would have been interesting to hear Fair’s thoughts on what the turnover of a united Kashmir to Pakistan might mean for Pakistan’s army and the country as a whole.  Even a plebiscite in Kashmir seems like it might have an impact on the Pakistan army’s commitment to eternal conflict.

In conclusion, while the book is, as stated above, exceedingly dry reading, there are several portions, ranging from the history of British relations with Afghanistan to the history of the Pakistan-Bangladesh split, that are worth reading.  If nothing else, the book casts a particular light on not just the power of the Pakistani army, but the views of the figures who have made it up.  It is recommended reading for those interested in that institution in particular, while those more broadly interested in Pakistan would probably fare better with Ian Talbot, Christophe Jaffrelot, Ayesha Jalal, or Hamza Alavi.  Coming back to the book after reading more traditional experts on Pakistan might shed more light on the significance of some of Fair’s arguments, such as that Pakistan’s commitment to both Islamism and informal fighters goes back much further than the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Too Soon and Too Late? A Review of “Fast Track to Troubling Times”

“Fast Track” is an evaluation of Narendra Modi’s first 100 days as the hard right Hindu prime minister of India.  Timed to roughly coincide with Narendra Modi’s coming visit to the United States, “Fast Track to Troubling Times: 100 Days of Narendra Modi” was released this past week.  It comes after the election was concluded, but, the obvious objection holds, before enough time has passed to judge the government.

Thankfully, we can dispense with the idea that this government is starting from a blank slate.  Each sections has a subsection that links current developments to relevant aspects of Modi’s record as Chief Minister, lending the report more weight than an analysis of 100 days would offer by itself.

Among Modi lowlights described in the report are a loosening of several rules around land acquisition for industrial projects that will hurt socially and economically disempowered groups, the use of anti-Muslim propaganda in UP for election campaigns, and heavyhanded pressure against members of the media to refrain from criticizing Modi or others. There are many others described in the report.

“Fast Track” is  fairly comprehensive in terms of subjects, covering theModi government’s actions on “culture”, “development”, “economic policy”, “the Environment”, “women [and] sexual minorities”, “human rights”, and “religious minorities,Dalits, andAdivasis.”  The  independent sections are heavily sourced through links, making it potentially a more convenient read with a web browser than on paper.  This design unfortunately takes away from a sense of linear narrative and there is some amount of repetition in order to allow each section to stand alone effectively. In general, the writing could be stronger; as it is, the report makes for a better reference text than a read.

“Fast Track” unfortunately does not have a separate labor section, but it does cover extensively the relationship between the state and the private sector, issues of social discrimination that are completely tied up with economic well being, and the question of development.  Those interested in South Asia and its laborers will find useful information in this report.

The document is attributed to Ghadar Alliance, which describes itself as “an emerging coalition of  Indian diasporic groups across the United States consisting of various social justice organizations active in the country for several decades.” (Ghadar Party was the name of a revolutionary nationalist movement in the Indian diaspora in the U.S. and Canada in the early 20th century.)

Behind the curtain of Pakistan’s protests

As this is being written, innumerable Pakistani citizens are marching into Islamabad’s so-called “red zone”, the most heavily guarded and sensitive areas of the capital city.   Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Canadian religious figure Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri have led tens of thousands to the heart of the capital, alleging vote fraud in the most recent Pakistani election and a failure to enact good-governance reforms.  Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister, has reportedly told police not to fire on them.  At the same time, he shows no sign of stepping down as the head of government.

While the government’s crisis is ongoing, you might already be wondering, “Is this a democratic revolution?”

If we  accept events on a surface level, the protest might indeed “[mean] a National Assembly created by the people for the people.”   But this is Pakistan, where there appears to always be a power-behind-the-power.  If we are jaded by familiar with the long arc of Pakistan’s postcolonial history, we might think we are witnessing a ‘soft coup.’

“But which one is true?”

What really messes with the mind is that both interpretations, as disparate as they sound, are simultaneously possible.  A formally democratic people’s assembly might replace this government, while it may also be true that factions in the military have a hand in attempting to replace a civilian government they don’t like with one the military might feel better about.

“How can a democratic revolution strengthen military rule?”

If this troubles you, consider a parallel to Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution, which democratically replaced a military ruler through a protest movement that showed deep respect towards the country’s military and in the end resulted in a military ruler.

“Okay, so is this a military coup?”

I wouldn’t go that far, and I wouldn’t even say that the only question is whether Pakistan is formally a military state or a civilian state.  Pakistan’s governments have alternated, decade by decade, between being formally ruled by the military and being formally ruled by civilians.  However, there are a number of long term trends that are more linear and stable than whether the country is ‘democratic’ or ‘military dictatorship’:

Since its independence, Pakistan has been the site of various forms of sectarian and other identity-based tensions, including the country splitting in half (East Pakistan became Bangladesh).  It has witnessed a continuously increasing concentration of social, economic, and political power in the hands of the military, regardless of whether that entity is formally calling the shots.  Pakistan has an unhealthy dependence on foreign aid.  And, starting in the 1980s, the country has seen the spread of state-sponsored religious fundamentalism.  Whether or not the government is formally a military dictatorship or formally a civilian democracy, these trends have been there and are arguably more important than the surface-level institutions that are formally governing the state.

“So which is it?  Is this a democratic populist revolution?  Or is it the intrusion of the military into political life?”

It’s too soon to tell; as of now, my best guess is: yes.

Note: This post was edited for clarity and to remove typos.

British Lines, Brown Blood: A short note on Sri Lanka and Gaza

The recent atrocities in Gaza have again refocused world attention on Palestine and the actions of the Israeli state and the Palestinian people.  Israel is engaged in yet another exercise of what is euphemistically called “Mowing the lawn”-  air strikes and military invasion undertaken on a periodic basis to subjugate the people of Gaza and make sure that Israel remains in control, on its own terms.  The most likely outcome, right now, looks like a worsening of the status quo, with Israel tightening the clamps around the throats of the Palestinian people.

At first glance, the people of Palestine and the people of Sri Lanka would appear to have little in common.  In point of fact, though, the two places are more similar than you might think.  Both are descended from British colonies and became independent in the same year, 1948.  Most pertinently, both areas experienced allegedly ‘ancient’ ethnonationalist politics of conflict in which there are calls for partition of the territory.   Both areas have experienced a lengthy military fight over land. 

When so many former British colonies have the same types of conflicts, we have reason to look to the history to examine whether correlation implies causation in this case.   The first key question for comparison is whether ethnicity and land play out differently in former British colonies like India/Pakistan/Bangladesh, Cyprus, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Palestine, and Nigeria.  All of these countries experienced territorial partitions under the logic of ‘communal’ separation.  A tentative hypothesis as to why might look at the ways in which personal economic advancement in the colonial era was tied to the ability to stake a claim on behalf of a ‘community’.   The second is this: does the organizing of politics into militarized ethnic conflict lead to the overshadowing of a pro-people and pro-labor discourse?  In India, for example, the violence of the 1947 partition led many on the left to turn away from the politics of conflict as they witnessed the suffering of the people.  Is this the case in Palestine and Sri Lanka as well?

There are, of course, key differences as well.  The most notable one between Sri Lanka and Palestine is that Sri Lanka’s large-scale military conflict ended in 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE at the hands of the Sri Lankan government.  Proponents of the Palestinian people ought to take a lesson from the end of that war; tens of thousands of civilians died under circumstances that are being investigated by the United Nations. Another major difference, however, would seem to offer hope: the world stood by and barely blinked while Sri Lanka endured human rights violations that continue to today.  In contrast, the world is transfixed by what is happening in Palestine and Israel endures a level of scrutiny that is somewhat unusual among world states.



20 USAS Students and Staff Members Arrested at REI Store

20 students and USAS staff members were arrested Saturday attempting to shut down the REI store in Rockville, Maryland as part of a national day of action in about 30 locations of the sporting goods chain.  Their demand: that REI cut ties with North Face over the refusal of North Face’s parent corporation, VF Corporation, to sign on to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.


Sign the USAS petition against North Face / VF Corporation!

Report back from Government of Bangladesh meeting with US Congresspeople

SALW received a report back from a lobbying meeting of representatives of the Government of Bangladesh with United States Congress members.  The meeting was held Tuesday and covered labor issues in Bangladesh’s garment sector.  Apparently, no members of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Export Association (BGMEA) were there, contrary to what had previously been indicated.

In attendance were reps from the Bangladeshi American Democratic Caucus (BADC), the Bangladesh Medical Association of North America (BMANA), the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the United States Department of Labor, the International Trade Council of the U.S. House of Representatives, The United States Trade Representative, staff from the office of U.S. Representative George Miller, and U.S. Senator Carl Levin.

The Bangladeshi government argued that progress to improve labor conditions in Bangladesh’s garment export industry was unprecedented.  Using a presentation from the BGMEA, the government argued that an increase in costs to production could be passed along to workers.  It requested that U.S. government officials visit Bangladesh in 2014 to meet with the BGMEA.

Senator Levin indicated that safety conditions had improved and some progress had been made on the implementation of laws for minimum wage, but that the Government of Bangladesh and the BGMEA were not taking worker organizing rights seriously enough.  He said that he had met with Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed when the latter had visited, and that despite the meeting, Ahmed had punished worker representatives upon return to Bangladesh.  Levin pointed out that because many families and workers are dependent on the income from garment work, the workers were made vulnerable.  He said that he recognized that garment owners might not be accustomed to dealing with worker rights issues, but steps were necessary.

The Worker Rights Consortium representative said that he agreed that Bangladesh had made enormous economic progress in the garment sector to have become the 2nd largest producer of ready-made garments in the world, but that it’s important to remember that brands sourcing from Bangladesh, the Government of Bangladesh, and others have responsibilities.  He pointed to recent violence against a union leader and said that violence against worker representatives indicated a serious problem that must be addressed.

Referencing a claim in the presentation from the BGMEA, the representative from the Worker Rights Consortium said that one of the figures was incorrect; contrary to the claim of the BGMEA that 21 factories had been shut down as a result of safety concerns, the WRC representative said that only 10 had been closed.  He acknowledged that this meant workers were left without work, but argued that the concern over safety ought to be paramount in such instances.  He also raised concerns that the BGMEA was not tolerating dissent from workers on important issues.

U.S. Congressperson George Miller’s staff member raised concerns that issues of repression against worker representatives were not being taken seriously enough and that the BGMEA and government were sending mixed messages with regard to a dispute at Pioneer.  He said they were acting contrary to the interests of workers by, for example, publicly arguing that it was against the interests of the state for workers speaking up about labor issues.

The representative of the Government of Bangladesh said that it was BGMEA, not the Government of Bangladesh, that had made that claim and that the Commerce Minister was not aware of what happened at Pioneer.

The Government of Bangladesh representative said that Bangladesh is a newer country that has only been independent for 43 years.  The rep asked for more time to resolve these issues.


Review of “Hindu Nationalism in the United States”

As noted earlier this week, South Asia Citizens Web is carrying a new report entitled “Hindu Nationalism in the United States” (pdf).   This report provides a 2014 snapshot of the sangh parivar‘s activities in the American diaspora.  Unfortunately, useful as it is, the document lacks a compelling narrative that runs through it.  It doesn’t tell a story; rather, it takes  a clinical approach to outline the organizational structure of the Hindu right in the Untied States.

“Hindu Nationalism in the United States” builds off of previous reports (pdfs) on the Hindu right in the United States.  The report looks at four categories of groups: Youth and Family Programs”; “Charitable Organizations”; “Academic and associated sites”; and “Sangh Leadership in Indo-American Communities”.  The report provides figures for the amount of money spent by groups over the past 15 years in each of the first three categories, coming to $2.5 million, $55 million, and $1.9 million respectively.

Youth and Family Programs” covers activities aimed at indoctrinating young people and generating a diasporic community that is broadly sympathetic to the sangh and includes groups like Hindu Students Council and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA).  “Charitable funding” involves spending on service work in India and includes organizations like Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA and, again, the VHPA.  “Academic and associated sites” frequently involves the funding of university-level research in a Hinduized framework such as through the “Hindu University of America”.  “Public Campaigns” cover everything from the effort to sanitize California textbooks to fit Hindutva sensibilities to the work of Hindu American Foundation, which we have written about before.

Unfortunately, in reading the report, it is only infrequently that one feels like one is getting insight into what the sangh parivar is actually doing in the U.S. and what the impact of those actions are in South Asia and elsewhere.  In one instance, the report points out that Hindu right educational activities in the U.S. are different in nature than those in India in a number of ways such as not including knife and stick fighting.  As a result, says the report, “What remains…is that while attendees and their families may not be fully devoted to the Sangh’s supremacist politics, they ‘end up with a strong sympathy for the Sangh'”.  These hints at an anthropological or psychological approach toward the sangh and the diaspora are important and tantalize the reader, but ultimately, the report leaves them hanging.  In place of compelling storytelling, one gets lists and charts of organizations and little emphasis on what might appeal to a second generation reader.  There is very little that is sexy about the report.

Now one might argue that I am asking too much of this report, that it is not designed to be a novel, but a tool for analysis, and that my critique is predominantly of style.  However, given the report’s purpose, which is to combat sangh work, I would argue it needs to engage more directly with an audience that is in the diaspora- it is, after all, up to that diaspora whether to accept or reject the sangh’s work.   As a lengthy analysis of how people in the diaspora are being manipulated to support sangh politics in India, the report doesn’t give someone in the diaspora enough reasons to care enough to read it.  This is particularly the case since it is the third or fourth such lengthy analysis to be written in the past decade or so;  at some point, these sorts of document have got to be made compelling to an audience that doesn’t already agree with them.

There are other issues that could be raised with the report, but I will cut myself off here.  At the end of the day, we are better off for having access to “Hindu Nationalism in the United States”, but one wishes for a different kind of literature about the sangh and its activities in the global North than what we have been privy to over the past 15 years.

Follow Up: 6 or more jute workers kill CEO in West Bengal

On June 15, a group of workers at Northbrook Jute Co. Ltd, of whom six have thus far been arrested, beat their CEO with iron rods and other heavy objects.  The CEO later died from injuries sustained from the incident.  So whose fault was this death at Northbrook?

As promised, South Asia Labor Watch has some follow up. This story is complicated; there are multiple narratives and it is extremely difficult to evaluate which ones are correct.  On the one hand, the Trinamool Congress state government and the owners have tried to implicate ‘outside’ parties stirring up the workers to violence.  Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee has referred to ‘goons’ from the BJP and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) being involved. This type of party-led action or the use of outside instigators would not be new to West Bengal or India: each major party has its own trade union and labor issues are sometimes used in party politics.  However, it would not be surprising if Bannerjee’s accusations are baseless as she has a tendency to blame the opposition before doing anything else.  Similarly, those who have worked on labor issues know that owners are frequently wont to blame ‘outside agitators’ rather than looking at the conditions that they are responsible for creating.

On the other hand, this fact-finding report from the far left Trades Union Centre of India makes the claim that it was abusive conditions in the factory and the local industry that led the workers to rise up in protest and kill their boss.  I encourage you to read this report, not only because its self-conscious emphasis on worker voice is more in line with SALW’s values than the ruling government’s, industry’s, or the media’s.   In this, it seems a valuable complement to press reports as we try to learn what happened at Northbrook.

To close, two pieces of broader context: 1. The jute industry in West Bengal is in long run decline, partly due to the emergence of plastics as a replacement for jute bags.  Jute has historically been an important crop in Bengal, but today the industry appears to subsist on government orders for domestically produced goods at this point.  Pertinently, the trigger to this incident was a dispute over how many hours a week the factory would be open; the owner wanted to run it at 60% capacity while the workers wanted it at 100%, thereby earning 40 hours a week in wages.   Similarly, one of the claims made against management are that it was illegally importing cheaper goods from Bangladesh and Nepal rather than employing workers at the West Bengal plant to make jute products.

2. India-wide industry has been reluctant to bring plants to West Bengal, pointing to incidents like these as providing an unfavorable environment for doing business.  The actual historical and present day reasons why they’re not bringing work to West Bengal warrant a post of their own, but for now, it is enough to note that in recent years, there have been a number of high profile incidents in which labor-management relations broke down to the point of violence.   It is unclear to me, though, that this is unique to West Bengal- day-to-day violence is endemic in India and takes many forms, though it may play out in a way that makes doing capitalism in West Bengal particularly difficult.  What is important here is that the threat of worker violence is useful to Indian capitalists looking to gain more  concessions in West Bengal; they can claim that they are doing the state and its people a favor by doing business there.

There is undoubtedly more to be said about this incident and its wider context, but SALW will leave it here for now.