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date: 01 October 2022

Hindutva and Ethnonationalism in the Indian American Diasporalocked

Hindutva and Ethnonationalism in the Indian American Diasporalocked

  • Rebecca de SouzaRebecca de SouzaDepartment of Communication, San Diego State University


Hindu nationalism or “Hindutva” refers to a nearly hundred-year-old ethnonationalist project seeking to redefine people living in India as “Hindu” based on a territorial, religious, and cultural identity. The goal of Hindutva is to reconstruct India as a “Hindu Rashtra” (nation) through the exclusion, intimidation, and assimilation of non-Hindu groups. Communication is central to the study of Hindutva because of its focus on revisionist historical narratives involving the repositioning and realigning of religious groups in the Indian diasporic context. For example, Hindutva deploys primordial and xenophobic discourses to frame Muslims and Christians as the enemy, while building solidarity among those who identify as Hindu. In transnational contexts, Hindutva employs key linguistic tropes including “feelings of pride” in being Hindu and “feelings of being offended” when Hindu practices are tarnished to advance its political agenda. The narratives of pride and offense resonate deeply with diasporic audiences and are key ways in which Hindutva is made visible in the public sphere today.

The study of Hindutva can be situated within the broader literatures of nationalism, diasporic or long-distance nationalism, and ethnonationalism and is therefore inextricably tied to communicative processes linked to identity and citizenship. Terms such as “transnational Hindutva” and “neo Hindutva” describe the movement of Hindutva across borders, which takes place through on-the-ground practices as well as via online networks. A number of political and cultural organizations, collectively referred to as the “Sangh,” have been established since the 1930s to carry out the goals of Hindutva around the world. In the United States, the primary goal of the Sangh is to constitute a “Hindu American” identity separate from an Indian American identity. The study of Hindutva involves interrogating the expansive and savvy online and offline network of Hindutva organizing, which transmits Hindutva messages locally and globally. Hindutva logics, rhetorics, and narratives are disseminated through local community events, traditional media venues (e.g., newspapers and newsletters), and online social media networks. Social media messenger applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter play an important role in spreading some of the most virulent forms of Hindutva messages today and expanding the Hindutva network globally.

Hindu Indians living in the United States have contributed greatly to the development of Hindutva both materially and in moral terms. In its “soft” version, American Hindutva embraces an egalitarian form of Hinduism highlighting the universalism and tolerance of Hinduism and obscuring its connection to the Sangh. In its “hard” version, American Hindutva provides moral and financial support for the political activities of the Sangh, including violence against minorities and the election of Hindu nationalist leaders. Indian Americans enter into diasporic nationalism because of experiences of social dislocation that comes with migration as well as experiences of racism in the United States, which create fertile grounds for the development of Hindutva. Long-distance ethnonationalism is also nurtured by right-wing populist leaders, who deploy media infrastructures to expand their influence. The election of Narendra Modi, a self-identified Hindu nationalist, as prime minister in 2014 and 2019 has revitalized Hindu nationalism in online and offline spaces in the homeland and in the United States.


  • Race, Ethnicity, and Communication

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