Hindu Fundamentalism: Does it Exist?

It is very difficult to ignore the role religion plays in public affairs in the modern world. Most of the political violence that has and is occurring seems to have some degree of religious undertone, either implicitly or explicitly.[1] It would appear that we live in a world that is plagued by religious violence. Throughout history and in every tradition, wars have been fought on the grounds of religion, for the protection of its codes and ideals.

“It is striking to note that in virtually all of the nearly 500 major wars fought around the world since 1700 ‘each side has imagined itself to be exclusively on the side of God’.”[2]

One can hardly read a newspaper or watch the news without some reference to ‘Fundamentalism’[3]. It is likely though that the term will bring to mind either Muslim or Christian fundamentalists, as there are certain religions that are much less commonly associated with fundamentalism, as is the case with Hinduism. There are certain aspects to Hinduism that many debate cannot be associated with fundamentalism; however the current situation in India provokes many others to argue that Hindus are just as likely to be fundamentalists and develop fundamentalist ideologies. In this light, I feel it necessary to investigate this issue and find out if Hindu fundamentalism does or can even exist.

Although the media, especially that in the Western world, uses the term and easily labels various religious groups as fundamentalists, there is in fact much debate around the actual definition of ‘Fundamentalism’ and which groups can actually be branded as such. It is for this reason that I shall start this essay by looking at the definitions of fundamentalism, its origins and its growth over the last century. I will then briefly outline certain aspects of Hinduism and its underlying notions in order to be able to adequately contemplate whether it can or cannot in fact be associated with fundamentalism. This will include examining the notion of ahimsa (non injury) and how it may relate to the Kshatriyas (warrior class). Ahimsa would also presumably appear to be opposed to the idea of the necessity of religious warfare, ever present throughout the history of Hinduism.

An exploration into the history of religious violence within India, from the invasions of the Moghuls, to the rule of the British Empire and then the declaration of the state of Pakistan will enable us to more clearly understand the development of and the rise of, the undeniably influential Hindu movements that are present in India today[4]. This will then be followed by an examination of the various major Hindu movements, the reasons for their rise and their influence within society as well as within the government itself. There is of course the question as to whether these movements can in fact be considered ‘fundamentalist’, and this question will undoubtedly be exhaustively deliberated.

Fundamentalism and its Origins

The origins of Fundamentalism lie firmly in American Protestantism. The term was derived from a series of pamphlets entitled ‘The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth’ which were published between 1910-1915 by a group of Protestant laymen. In 1920, Curtis Lee Laws, a Baptist journalist appropriated the term ‘fundamentalist’ as a designation for those who were ready ‘to do battle royal for the Fundamentals’[5].  It owes its existence largely to the same evangelical revivalist tradition that inspired the Great Awakening of the early 19th Century and a variety of early millenarian movements. It was a reaction to the intellectual developments in evolutionary biology, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, which they felt threatened the biblical account of creation and therefore challenged the divine status of the Bible. It was seen as a religious revival and embodied principles of absolute religious orthodoxy and evangelical practice which called for believers to extend religion into the spheres of both political and social life.

Fundamentalism however is now widely used outside of this context; it has been extended to incorporate many other religious traditions. It is the popularity of the term ‘Fundamentalism’ that has created the ambiguity around its definition and to the designation of which groups can justly be labeled as fundamentalists. It has been used to describe ultra-orthodox Jews, Iranian Muslim revolutionaries, militant Sikhs, Buddhist resistance fighters and many more. It has appeared in numerous forms and has led to genocides, crusades, jihads, inquisitions and revolutions. It has become a global issue and in our ever shrinking world, events that take place in one part of the world will have an impact all around the world.[6]

Fundamentalism is a religious phenomenon, a political movement and a state of consciousness. It is characterised by profound dissatisfaction about the state of society and a strong preoccupation with fundamental religious beliefs. Paul Kurtz in his examination of the growth of worldwide fundamentalism believes that fundamentalism should refer to any group or attitude that stresses strict and literal adherence to a set of fundamental principles or values.[7]

In her book The Battle for God[8], Karen Armstrong exclaims that fundamentalism is a modern movement that is responding to the pains of modernity and modernisation. “The modern world, which seems so exciting to a liberal, seems Godless, drained of meaning, and even satanic to a fundamentalist.” Bruce Lawrence author of Defenders of God: the Fundamentalist Revolt against the Modern Age[9] agrees with this point yet adds another dimension, as although fundamentalism is anti-modern it is not anti-modernist. In other words, although it rejects the philosophical rationalism and individualism that accompany modernity, it makes full use of the technological advances that modernity has brought about in its wake.

According to Peter Larsson, fundamentalist groups are more likely to adopt military strategies that are more vicious than that employed by states because these religious wars have become a matter of protecting an identity and therefore there is a need to totally obliterate the apparent enemy.[10] Due to the dissatisfaction with the state of society, it is likely that the enemy is not simply an aspect of a society, but the society as a whole. This then leads to their intention to totally destabilise the entire society, which will be achieved through any means necessary. 

The extremity of action may also be attributed to their unyielding belief that they are fighting a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil which justify their actions as claims of their divine authority. Like other totalitarian worldviews such as fascism, Stalinism, and neo-liberalism, fundamentalist groups claim absolute righteousness for their own beliefs.

As fundamentalism is reactive, it is unlikely that it would start up on its own. There must be something that provokes these movements. There are an exhaustive number of possible causes for its development and its growth as a global phenomenon. In our ‘globalised’ world, where there are over 9,000 distinct religions[11], where there are people of different and competing religions living right next door to each other, there is bound to be conflict. Secularisation may also be attributed to the development and spread of fundamentalist movements around the world. If one looks at the upsurge of fundamentalist movements across nations, cultures and civilisations, there is likely to be some degree of secularisation involved in all of them.[12] In the minds of fundamentalists, it is a matter of protecting their ideologies and way of life. Without their movements and actions they are at threat of being destroyed.

“What starts up on its own is traditionalism, conservatism and orthodoxy, which is inherited from the centuries. Then something comes along and jostles it, mass media or imperialism or religious pluralism, people from a strange outlook impinging on your own thought patterns that are very uncongenial to what you are used to, assaults on your own personal or group identity, and then you must react. You feel you will be overcome otherwise.”[13]

Hinduism and Fundamentalism

Having looked at fundamentalism, its emergence and its characteristics, we are in a better position to tackle the issue of whether in fact it can be associated with Hinduism. However in order to do this, we must look at Hinduism and its attitude to and its history that may be seen to have provoked religious violence. As mentioned before there are a number of aspects associated with Hinduism which at first glance would make a relationship to fundamentalism appear impossible.

Firstly, fundamentalists are considered to be absolutists that hold rigidly to their beliefs that their religion alone is true and that other religions cannot be tolerated, particularly in the lands where members of their religion are the majority. However, Hindus are not of one single faith. They are divided up into Shaivites, Vaishnavas, Shaktas, Smartas and a number of other groups which are constantly being revised relative to modern gurus.[14] Pluralism is the basis of Hinduism and it does not claim to be the only true religion. In fact according to the Vedas, there is only one God who has many names and faces and there are many paths that will lead to him. They acknowledge that other religions may have differing beliefs, but they all have the same underlying notions, to return to God. They are also the majority in India, at 81.3% of the population.[15]

Secondly, fundamentalists are literalists that insist their scriptures alone represent the divine truth revealed only to their prophet. For fundamentalists the Word of God is placed in one holy book and all necessary knowledge is contained within it. With regard to Hinduism on the other hand, it is not a One Prophet, One Book religion. For Hindus there are a number of holy books, such as the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana, to name just a few. These were revealed over a period of time to a series of Rishis (Seers), and each contain varied teachings and points of view, and none are essential reading for all Hindus.

An important apparent contradiction arises from linking Hinduism with fundamentalism in light of the notion of Ahimsa, a religious concept which advocates non-violence and respect for all life. It is a Buddhist philosophy that was propounded 2,500 years ago by Gautama Buddha, which is now also commonly associated with the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and therefore Hinduism. It is interesting to note that such a philosophy arose as a reaction to violent practices of animal and human sacrifices in the Vedic practice of Yagna. Today small figures of animals made out of wheat flour called Pishta Pashu, along with other things such as milk and honey, are offered instead[16].

Regardless of that ahimsa is one of the five Yamas (eternal vows) of Yoga, one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. It is also included as one of the representative virtues of dharma (moral responsibility) for all human being in all castes. Which is mentioned in the Manava Dharma Sastra, known more commonly as the Laws of Manu[17], implying the importance of ahimsa for morality.  Yet these laws are non binding to the warrior class, the Kshatriyas. The duty of the kshatriya class is to make any sacrifice to protect society by any means necessary, even by force of arms, at the cost of killing or being killed.

The essentiality of fighting for the kshatriya class is taken as far as saying that unless they do, their svadharma (specific law of individual life) cannot be fulfilled. It is taken even further by saying that they must also die fulfilling their warrior duties. “The death of a kshatriya, O sire, at home is not praiseworthy… Surrounded by kinsmen and slaughtering his foe in battle, a kshatriya should die at the edge of keen weapons.” [18] However the justness of the war or battle is vital, for in the Laws of Manu, it is stated that “Unrighteous conquest is impermanent and does not lead to heaven.”[19] There are rigid laws for honourable kshatriyas in battle that ensure the righteousness of their actions, that range from the weapons they employ to the way they must treat a wounded enemy.

There is a long history of the necessity and acceptance of taking part in internecine wars; in fact this is the basis for one of the most prominent religious texts in Hinduism, the Bhagavat Gita. In this Lord Krishna is advising Arjuna, his friend and devotee, a kshatriya, that it is part of his duty, a natural role to fight a just war. It is not to be motivated by personal gain but rather the disinterested pursuit of svadharma, with wholehearted love for Krishna, God.[20]

This rule of warriors belonging only to the Kshatriya class has not always been followed. Since the 15th century, during the rule of the Mughals many ascetics have not felt bound by these dictates[21]. Groups of armed ascetics united in order to resist attacks by their Muslim invaders. They belonged to different sects and some were even Brahmans, the highest and most priestly class. During the British rule their activities reduced significantly. However they are still present in India today, recognised by their near naked bodies smeared with ash, still possessing their tridents, swords and staves.

In the traditional Indian culture, what is today known as religion was so interlinked with everyday life, social and political, that there was no need, or even the ability to mark a distinction between one and the other. ‘Religion’ simply was their way of life. Every role in society had its own dharma (moral responsibility) and these responsibilities were derived from various religious texts. Therefore their outlook on various aspects of life, such as violence and war were derived from these books. So although there is an amount of stress put on the importance of warfare when necessary, it is a matter of moral responsibility for the protection of a society, not necessarily in the name of God, but in the name of human kind.

Today however, this unfortunately is no longer the case, and it has not been for a significant amount of time. The first influences of foreign intervention in India were the Muslims in the 8th century and this grouping was firmly established as a political force by the 11th century. There are many visible remains of numerous Muslim dynasties such as the Lodhis and Tughals across India, specifically in the North. These dynasties were then succeeded by the Mughal empire in the 15th century, which has had a remarkable impact on India’s history and society.[22]

History of Foreign Intervention

The Mughals brought many changes to India from political issues such as a centralised government that brought together many smaller kingdoms, to Persian art, culture and architecture and the emergence of a new language – Urdu – due to the merging of Arabic, Persian and Hindi. Although the Mughals were Muslims ruling over a large Hindu majority they allowed them to hold senior government and military positions. Obviously, it does not make up for the fact that the Indian people were being ruled by outsiders.

The European influence in India started in 1498 with the arrival of Vasco Da Gama in Calicut, which also saw the start of the demise of the Moghul empire.  The Portuguese established their colony in Goa by the 16th Century, which then encouraged numerous other European countries to come to India for a variety of reasons, namely Christian missionaries. During the late 16th and the 17th centuries France, the Netherlands, Denmark and England established East India Companies, but by the later 18th century the English had overtaken them and became the dominant power in India[23]. The British rule of India that lasted about two centuries brought about revolutionary changes to the social, political and economic spheres of life in India.

It was at the peak of British imperial power with their unremitting exploitation and ruthlessness toward the Indian people that saw the birth of nationalist agitation against it. With the continuous invasions they had faced throughout their history, a group of middle class Indians formed the Indian National Congress (1885) that sought reforms from the British and were some of the first expressions of Indian nationalism. The anti colonial struggle became a mass movement with a number of key figures such as Bhagat Singh, Raj Tilak and Chandrshker Azad. However many believe that it reached its height with the arrival of Mahatma Ghandi, who helped[24] India achieve its independence from the British in 1947.

Unfortunately, with their freedom from British rule, came undoubtedly, the most significant event that has had the most impact on the rise of Hindu religious movements, the creation of the state of Pakistan. The idea of an independent state for Muslims was put forward by Lord Mountbatten in fear of a possible civil war. However Gandhi opposed this idea and instead suggested giving Jinnah, the head of the All India Muslim League[25], leadership of a united India. Nehru, the person who was to become the first prime minister of Independent India, rejected this idea and in July 1947 Britain’s Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, which set a deadline of midnight on August 14-15, 1947 for “demarcation of the dominions of India.[26]

This resulted in at least 10 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs having to flee their homes in order to seek sanctuary on whichever side of the line was appointed to them. This led to one of the most horrific massacres in history, leaving over one million dead. Ironically, the Muslim population in India today is larger than the whole population of Pakistan.

Pakistan was divided into East and West, and in 1971 tensions between the two sides broke out leading to a civil war which ended in the declaration of the state of Bangladesh in 1972. The ownership of Kashmir was never declared and is still under dispute today and is another major issue that has created a great amount of tension between India and Pakistan, inevitably resulting in the further development of more intense Hindu religious movements.

The Rise of Hindu Religious Movements

Now that an overview of the invasions of India has been delineated, it is important to next turn to the key movements and key figures that initiated the ‘Hindu Awakening’. The formation of an ideological identity among Hindus allowed the emergence of what may today be considered a Hindu style of ‘fundamentalism’. It was the establishment of the organisation of the Hindu Mahasabha (Hindu Great Council) in 1915, along with the publication of Hindutva that were the vital moments in the affirmation of the “sacred right of the Hindu nation to the whole of pre-partition India and laying claim to a history beginning in the golden age[27].

One of the leading Hindu intellectuals that greatly impacted the rise of Hindu movements, specifically during the British occupation was V.D. Savarkar (1883-1966). His most influential work was the fundamental Hindutva (Hinduness), which he wrote while he was imprisoned by the British. Savarkar’s intention was to make a distinction between Hindu Dharma and Hindutva, the socio-political force that would unite Hindus against foreign influences, which had been so evident throughout India’s history. Hindutva is a manifesto for religious nationalism.[28]

For Savarkar the modern western idea of a nation would not do justice to the ancient Hindu civilisation. Their culture is a result of their Hinduness and their great motherland, India. Savarkar makes India Hinduisms Holy-land. Although he accepts the presence of certain religions, such as Buddhism and Jainism in India, other religions such as Islam and Christianity are seen as foreign elements and do not belong in the subcontinent. His ideology has been taken up by many other more recent Hindu political groups, which will also be discussed.

V.D. Savarkar became the president of the Hindu Mahasabha. It was founded in 1915 in order to bring together the diverse local Hindu movements which in hand would create a stronger force that would enable India to gain its freedom from British occupation.  Its initial emphasis was on social and religious work among Hindus, the status of the untouchables and the necessity for the spread of Hindi. It believed that in order for India to one day become a free Hindu state it would have to support and encourage Hindu brotherhood between different castes, including the untouchables. Although, as with Hindutva, Christians and Muslims were foreigners to India, this organisation claimed that anyone who saw India as their motherland and as a Holy Land was in fact a Hindu.

In 1925, the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS; National Union of Volunteers) was established under the leadership of K. Hedgewar, a former member of the Hindu Mahasabha. It was incepted as a voluntary organisation with the aim to create a Hindu cultural pride and brotherhood. It adopted a much more militant stand than that of the Hindu Mahasabha. It spread across all of India giving its members Hindu nationalistic education and paramilitary training. The organisation wanted to take the emphasis off of spiritual strength alone and incorporate the necessity of physical strength.

Interestingly, the person who assassinated Mahatma Ghandi in 1948 had belonged to both of these organizations at different times in his life. After his assassination, both organizations were outlawed for a period of time, however they are now still very influential in the political spheres.

Both of these establishments were a reaction to the Indian National Congress, that they believed more often than not were a threat to the Hindu interests, ideas and practices that they were so incessant on protecting. The Indian National Congress was seen as a force that was simply continuing the destruction and displacement of the Hindu culture that had begun with the ruling of the Muslims and then the British.

Another organisation that has come to be very influential is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP; World Hindu Society). Developed in 1964 by some of the leaders of the RSS, “that stages huge religious processions to arouse popular fervor for ‘Hindu causes’ and to intimidate Muslims and other outsiders”.[29] It has several thousand branches both within and outside of India with over 100,000 members that are all dedicated to reaffirming ‘Hindu values’. By broadly incorporating a variety of aspects into what these Hindu values represent the VHP, as with the RSS, attempts to transcend the internal differences among Hindus and unite them together along with certain other religions such as Jainism and Buddhism in order to create a single all embracing ethno-national religious community. 

Yet another party that emerged as a result of the RSS, that has become part of the mainstream political life of India is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; Indian People’s Party), which emerged in 1980 out of the Janata coalition[30]. It is one of India’s largest political parties and it espouses Hindu nationalism according to the writings of Savarkar in Hindutva. However in order for the BJP to infiltrate the Indian government they saw the need to get the support of not only the Hindus but also the Muslims and Sikhs.  After nearly winning in the 1996 general elections, they were able to successfully form government in 1998/1999 with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister. Although they tried to avoid many of the Hindu nationalist issues that were initially central to it and distance themselves from the RSS, a number of its party member were accused of being involved in the violence in Gujarat in 2002.

They lost their place in government in the 2004 elections to the Indian National Congress party whose leader was Dr. Manmohan Singh Desai, the first ever Sikh prime minister. The Congress party embraces secularism, socialist economic policies and a non-aligned foreign policy, so much of what the Hindu movements and organisations have been trying to fight against.

Interestingly, the RSS has become head of the Sangh Parivar, the family of Hindu nationalist organisations. These organisations include the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, founded in 1948 and now the largest student organization in India; the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), founded in 1955 and today the largest trade union in the country; the Jana Sangh (1951) and its successor, the BJP, representing the political arm of the RSS; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and its offshoot the Bajrang Dal (1984), which represent the more explicitly religious wing; and the newly formed Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, founded in 1991 to protect Indian economic self-reliance from the threat of foreign capital. There are of course a number of others that may not come under this umbrella of Hindu ‘nationalist’ organisations, yet still have significant power, such as Shiv Sena (Shiva’s Army) and a host of many others.

I would like to point out the fact that I have attempted not to refer to these groups as Hindu ‘nationalists’ with a great amount of difficulty. Most literature concerning these groups, will at one point or another refer to them as such. Essentially that is what they are, groups that want to put an end to the secularisation of India and to see it instead governed by Hindu values. Yet does this mean that by labeling them Hindu nationalists in hand imply that they cannot also be referred to as fundamentalist?


Today, the interaction between religion and politics is a common feature of life for India’s population. However, as we have seen this was not necessarily always the case.  Probably due to the fact that there has not always been a clear distinction between the matters of religion and politics. A significant indication of this is the fact that the terms ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hindustan’ (Land of the Hindus – India) are in fact terms that were coined by foreigners to refer to the people of the Indus River, indicating a culture and ethnicity rather than a religion. It was not until the British government started their periodic census and established their own legal system that they felt it necessary that a clear definition of Hinduism  was established, that could be defined along the same or at least similar lines as Christianity and Islam, types of religions to which they were familiar.

“The Hindus were not conscious enough of an ‘other’ to be conscious of a ‘self'”.[31] It was the presence of an antagonist that created the hostility that inevitably lead to the Hindu uprising. It is evident that had the ‘other’ not intruded on India, the likelihood of these organisations would have been minimal. However we could say the same for any other uprising or movement. For as Patterson points out, fundamentalism is reactive, something needs to provoke, something needs to be threatened for people to want to protect it, for its own survival, it is basic instinct. So how is Hinduism any different from any other religion in this respect?

On the one hand if we choose to look at Hinduism specifically in relation to the criteria of fundamentalism, it is very difficult to associate the two. As mentioned, Hindus are not of one single faith, with no one specific holy book and no prophet as such. They are a religion that is infamous for its tolerance and acceptance of other faiths both within and outside of their country. Hinduism is too pluralistic to possibly be fundamentalist. Religious violence is tolerated under specific circumstances as it is in most religions. Hinduism does not necessarily have a violent history as is associated with Islam and Christianity and this is likely to be attributed to the fact that Hinduism has not attempted to spread itself beyond the Indian Subcontinent.

However on the other hand if we are to look at the numerous Hindu movements and organisations at work today we can see that their aims and objectives go in hand with other organisations and movements that have been labelled fundamentalist. Which essentially include strengthening Hindu society and protecting, promoting and propagating Hindu values. And their methods of achieving their means is also at times extreme and violent. Such is the case with the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, by a crowd of nearly one million activists of the VHP, that lead to violent clashed between Hindus and Muslims that left thousands dead and injured.

It can also be called ‘Hindu nationalism’ as others have argued, yet this is simply a linguistic argument. A different label to be put on the same brand.

It has to be acknowledged that the term fundamentalism has developed greatly since its origins. It begun describing only Protestant groups, and spread to incorporate all other Christians, then it broadened its boundaries even further which allowed it to refer to a variety of other religions, Islam, Sikhism, Judaism, all religions that are much more associated with militancy. However now it seems there is a need for the term to loosen a little more in order to be able to incorporate other religions, such as Hinduism, which by the looks of things in India, is definitely becoming more prone to fundamentalist ways of thinking.

One suggestion that can be made in order to facilitate the development of the definition of the term ‘fundamentalism’ would be the observation that it is not necessarily the original extant text of a particular religion that determines its fundamentalist character. But instead, specific auxiliary text which serve to orient the interpretation of these former texts. Such is the case as we have seen with ‘The Fundamentals’ the Protestant manifesto of fundamentalism. A distinctly parallel case, in the case of Hinduism, is V.D. Savarkar’s key text Hindutva. In this way it is not the alleged faithfulness or literal reading of the original text which is significant but the roles of more recent auxiliary text which acts as the master interpretive strategy for any approach to the original texts. In this light, a broadened definition would allow us to include Hinduism and other such religions as possibly partaking in fundamentalist movements.

By claiming that any religion can be associated with fundamentalism is not to be taken as a critique on that religion. It has to be remembered that these fundamentalist organizations are not the majority of that specific religion. Their interpretations of the fundamentals of their religion may be so distorted that to really associate it with that religion as a whole would be detrimental. For it seems that rather than a religion creating these fundamentalists, it is the fundamentalist mentalities of powerful individuals[32] that use religion as a tool to achieve their goals.  

Although, generally Hinduism is a peaceful religion, as many other religions also can rightly claim, there is a very complicated relationship between religion and violence and at the end of the day there will always be people that will debate about whether an essentially peaceful religion can be associated with fundamentalism, which at times has appeared to have led to violence against people of other religions. This is the case with all religions, all are essentially peaceful, yet with the type of world we are living in, it has become a natural occurrence to experience religious intolerance and hatred, which some take too far.

It has been said[33] that if nothing else, this rise of what we call global ‘fundamentalism’ which is so evident proves that Nietzsche’s adage that “God is dead” is far from true in the 21st century. On the one hand this may be taken as true. These fundamentalists appear to have an intense belief in God and an undeniable certainty as to the way God would want us to live. However, is this what Neitzsche really meant by ‘God’? For him there could not be a single God for each religion, but rather could be more completely understood as a unified principle of meaning[34], that could surpass all divisions. From this point of view then, his adage proves to be absolutely true. And these fundamentalist groups are simply adding to the seemingly impossible situation we are in, where the possibility of a unified principle of meaning appears unachievable. 


Aho, J. A. (1981). Religious Mythology and the Art of War: Comparative Religious Symbolisms of Military Violence. Aldwych Press, UK.   

Almond, G.A., Appleby, R.S. & Sivan, E. (2003) Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World. Chicago University Press, USA.

Armstrong, K. (2001) The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Harper Collins, USA.

Esposito, J.L. & Watson, M. (2000) Religion and Global Order. University of Wales Press, Cardiff.

Folkenberg, R.S. (1994) The Distinguishing Differences. Accessed on 20th November, 2005. http://www.global-evangelism.org/Sermons/AC-94-Keynote.htm

Frawley, D. Hindu Fundamentalism: What is it? Accessed on 15th November 2005. http://www.hindubooks.org/david_frawley/arjuna/hindu_fundamentalism_what_is_it/page1.htm

Geering, L. (2003) Fundamentalism: The Challenge to the Secular World. Accessed on 15th November 2005. http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=2732&C=2437

Kurtz, P. (1988) The Growth of Fundamentalism Worldwide. In Neo Fundamentalism: The Humanist Response.

Larsson, P. (2004) Understanding Religious Violence: Thinking Outside the Box of Terrorism. Ashgate, UK.

Lawrence, B. (1990) Defenders of God: the Fundamentalist Revolt against the Modern Age. I.B Tauris, USA.

Lipner, J. (1994) Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Routledge, UK.

Marty, E. M. & Appleby, R.S. Eds. (1994). The Fundamentalism Project. University of Chicago Press, USA.

Mews, S. (1989) Religion in Politics: A World Guide. Longman Group UK Ltd., UK.

Nietzsche, F. (1976) Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche. Penguin Books, USA.

Qureshi, R. (1998) History of Pakistan. Accessed on 18th November 2005. http://www.unigroup.com/PTIC/body_history.html

Ruthven, M. (2004) Fundamentalism. Oxford University Press, UK.

Talbot, I. A. Politics and Religion in Contemporary India in  Moyser, G. (1991) Politics and Religion in the Modern World. Routledge, UK.

Hindu History: Ahimsa. Accessed on 18th November 2005. http://www.hindubooks.org/sudheer_birodkar/ hindu_history/ahimsaindia.html

Population of India. Accessed on 18th November 2005. http://www.iloveindia.com/population-of-india/

[1] Larsson, P. (2004) Understanding Religious Violence: Thinking Outside the Box of Terrorism[2] Ibid. pg. 13.

[3] Fundamentalism should not be mistaken for Extremism.

[4] There are a number of Hindu movements that are found in other countries, such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, however for the purpose of this study, the focus will be on those that are in and affect India.

[5] Geering, L. (2003) Fundamentalism: The Challenge to the Secular World.

[6] I feel it is necessary to mention that fundamentalism should not always be viewed as negative and does not always have to result in violence.

[7] Kurtz, P. Growth of Fundamentalism Worldwide. In Neo Fundamentalism.

[8] Armstrong, K. (2001) The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

[9] Lawrence, B. (1990) Defenders of God: the Fundamentalist Revolt against the Modern Age.

[10] Larsson, P. (2004) Understanding Religious Violence: Thinking Outside the Box of Terrorism

[11] Ibid.

[12] Almond, G.A., Appleby, R.S. & Sivan, E. (2003) Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World.

[13] Marty, E. M. & Appleby, R.S. (2004). The Fundamentalism Project.

[14] Frawley, D. Hindu Fundamentalism: What is it?

[15] Population of India.

[16] Hindu History: Ahimsa

[17] The Laws of Manu are a compendium of sacred laws and customs likely to have been ‘composed mainly between c. 200 BCE-200 CE, which may have been derived from a text of the Manava clan which celebrated their ancestry from Manu, the legendary progenitor of the human race.’ (Lipner, pg. 83).

[18]  Aho, J. A. (1981). Religious Mythology and the Art of War: Comparative Religious Symbolisms of Military Violence. pg. 62.

[19] Ibid. pg. 63.

[20] Lipner, J. (1994) Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. pg. 225. 

[21] Ibid. pg. 226.

[22] Mews, S. (1989) Religion in Politics: A World Guide

[23] Ibid.

[24] I use the word ‘help’ as there is a debate between Indians as to whether Ghandi was the sole reason for India’s Independence or in fact if he created more harm than good for the state of India.

[25] The All India Muslim League was a political party established in British India. They are thought to be the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan due to their fear of a Hindu majority suppressing their Muslim culture. They then formed Pakistan’s first government, which was overthrown by a military coup in the 1950’s.

[26] Qureshi, R. (1998) History of Pakistan.

[27] Almond, G.A., Appleby, R.S. & Sivan, E. (2003) Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World. pg. 136.

[28] Ruthven, M. (2004) Fundamentalism. pg. 175. 

[29]Almond, G.A., Appleby, R.S. & Sivan, E. (2003) Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World. pg. 137.

[30] The Janata Party (People’s Party) was a rainbow coalition of virtually all parties opposed to the Indian National Congress. It became the first political party to defeat the Indian National Congress in 1977, forming the national government from 1977-1980.  However its dissolution was a result of its disorder, corruption and ineffectivity.

[31] Almond, G.A., Appleby, R.S. & Sivan, E. (2003) Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World. pg. 136.

[32] It is the leaders of these fundamentalist groups that misuse religion. They are aware that it is a powerful tool that will gain them valuable, passionate members who do indeed believe they are carrying out the will of God.

[33] Folkenberg, R.S. (1994) The Distinguishing Differences.

[34] Nietzsche, F. (1976) Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche.

4 Responses to “Hindu Fundamentalism: Does it Exist?”

  1. Hi,
    Fine thing you are suggesting here! Change the definition of a word to include a group! Manipulating data for curve fitting eh?
    Please note that “Hindus” have endured hell for the past 1000 yrs, and still continue to live under in fear of an aggressive and remorseless minority. Various branches of our tradtions (evolving, getting refined for ~4000 yrs) are fast disappearing, and invasions in the past have often destroyed vibrant intellectual traditions that can no longer be recovered.
    If there is concern about fundamantalism, it is semitic(of the book variety) fundamentalism that all earthlings should be concerned about. They (and communism) basically find favour with the mob and hence are anti-civilization, and repeatedly manage to give rise to cataclysmic upheavals. By their insistence on literal application of the words in their books(which, ironically may have many redactions, or undergone multiple (mis-)translations) they may very safely be labelled fundamentalist.

  2. Chenchu,

    I do believe that you have greatly misread this piece of work. I have not ‘changed’ the definition of any word. I assume you are referring to the term ‘Fundamentalism’, you may if you choose attempt to do some research on this term, and you will see I outline a fairly accepted idea of it. And no where in this work do I undermine the struggles that Hinduism has had to endure and even continues to endure.

    If you had infact read my article in its entirity you would have known that I do discuss the idea of fundamentalism and the monotheistic religions and their tendency to take literal translations of their holy book/s. But as you will see if you choose to do further research into the nature of fundamentalism, is that this is by far not the only characteristic of it.

  3. Tamara: brilliant once again. And here are my thoughts on the rise of Hindu Fundamentalism — which at best is mildly violent (not justifying it!).

    When Christians and Muslims take a stand that their respective religions are the only truth and all other religions are false, it is not something that can lead to harmony and tolerance. Yes, followers of all religions claim superiority of their religions — Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and so on.

    The difficulty is when a religion starts to persecute people with opposing ideas of Truth / God. Persecution happens when they take to killing, proselytizing, or other means of force, to claim their superiority. They do this when their respective version of God (or Allah) or its messengers sanction this violence against another set of people. Political leaders or simply people with influence over masses, then follow suit.

    We saw this during the crusades in 11th – 13th centuries between the Christians and Muslims.

    India has seen this extensively. Nearly each invader who entered India starting in the 11th century onwards, from Afghanistan or Turkey clearly had a religious zeal to convert people to Islam (leave aside Chengiz Khan / Mongols) other than to satiate their desire for conquering more lands, specifically India — which controlled 33% – 35% of the world’s GDP until about 1000AD. They converted people by the sword most often, plundering temples, priests, spiritual and philosophical books. The world’s largest library – Nalanda – was lost to one such attack by a religious bigot. Even while being born in India, and nearly all Indian, Aurangzeb epitomized this crazy zeal of converting India into an Islamic state driven by the sanction offered to him by the Quran. Temples to this day remind us of these despicable times and rulers.

    The scars of history continue to this date. Just over 65 years ago, Pakistan (including now Bangladesh) was carved out of India with the idea that Muslims are a nation by themselves. The Kashmir conflict continues to this day. While it is politically correct to say that Kashmir is a political conflict, but the truth also is that it is a Muslim dominated region whose separatist leaders earlier wanted to merge with Pakistan under the idea of creating a holy land for Muslims. The change of stance, of asking for an independent state is largely recent, given the terrible state of affairs in Pakistan.

    These scars show up in India as riots all the time. It’s the BJP and RSS types which get brutally maligned by Congress-wallas and the secular-wallas, but dig a little deeper and the scars show up almost everywhere (as disgust and a little bit of hatred). Just a couple of days ago while returning from a visit to Muzaffar Nagar to help out the riot victims with blankets, i gave a lift to a police officer. I asked him about what is the resolution to this rioting and divisions. His response was candid. “Nothing can be done”, he said. On my ideas of education that i shared, he said that if i tried to intervene “Unka deen khatre mein aa jata hai“, and “you will end up getting killed“.

    This judgement largely does *not* hold true for the Sufis. The sufis merged, adopted yogic meditative & spiritual practices into Islam. Similarly, Hindus easily took to the Muslim saints in this traditional Guru-Shishya (Peer-Mureed / Master-Disciple) tradition. Sai Baba, Kabir, Baba Bulleh Shah, Nizammudin Auliya, are pristine examples of Hindus adopting Muslim saints as their own, and even usurping them in some cases — such as Shirdi Sai Baba (few muslims know that he was a muslim). I am sure the police officer i spoke to, has a small picture of Sai Baba in his home-temple. This is the Indianized version of Islam which is known to be gentler and more inclusive than its Saudi Arabian counterpart; the latter being of the Wahabi / Salafi order arguing for a hardline and puritanical version of Islam.

    Kashmiris follow the latter under a targetted attack and influence by Pakistan. Shias are persecuted, and so are the Sufis now.

    This hardline Islam draws its justification for persecution from its interpretation of God and his commandments. It is common to find a Kashmiri stating “May Allah bless & guide you“. It is as if the English language has incorporated the word Allah (and replaced God). “Khuda hafiz” which has been traditional a greeting among the Muslims has been replaced with Allah-Hafiz. Allah is not synonymous with God any more in this parlance.

    It is this exclusive and exclusionist thinking which seems to be capturing the imagination Muslims in India even more. As a result he inclusivist Ganga-Jamuni Indianized version of Islam is increasingly coming under threat.

    There is a great need for reform in Muslim societies through interventions such as dialogues on different interpretation of Quran through the ages, including pushing forth the inclusivist interpretations of enlightened spiritual leaders such as Maulana Waheeduddin. At the same time, what affects me most is a) the under-current of arrogance and b) the related and natural rejection of Hindus’ idea of God as false, that prevails in Muslims vis-a-vis Hindus in India. A true integration with the Hindu community and its belief systems about God is desperately needed.

    It is from this space that i have started to write this article.

    And i belive the answer to Hindu Fundamentalism is dialogue from within the community as well as development of “mutual respect” — as opposed to tolerance — that needs to be developed in Abrahamic religions. Here is a brilliant article on the topic: “Tolerance Isn’t Good Enough: The Need for Mutual Respect In Interfaith Relations” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-malhotra/hypocrisy-of-tolerance_b_792239.html

    The same author has written widely on the “Importance of debating inter-faith differences” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-malhotra/the-importance-of-debatin_b_861789.html) and that there needs to be development of “mainstream inter-religious discourse in which it will no longer be considered too controversial to challenge one another audaciously in the quest for honest understanding.”

    Once again, thank you for writings and research and willingness to not accept easy answers. Thrilled to e-know you 🙂 — would love to meet you in person some day. Inshallah!

    Warm Regards,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: