POLITICS
01/09/2019 6:20 PM IST | Updated 01/09/2019 6:25 PM IST

The Idea of India Newsletter: How Biology Is Driving Hindu Nationalism

Banu Subramaniam, author of Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindutva, explains how a term first coined by Michel Foucault helps us understand Hindu nationalism in India.

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Hindu devotees host religious saffron flag during a royal religious procession of 'Niranji Akhara' called ' Peshwai' at the sangam, confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythological Saraswati river, in Allahabad on 2 January, 2019 . 

Welcome to the second installment of the Idea of India, HuffPost India’s monthly newsletter that aims to spark a conversation about how we see ourselves as a people and as a nation.

July marked the passage of the triple talaq bill to criminalize the practice of instant divorce. A Muslim man who uses triple talaq to divorce his wife faces up to three years in prison under the The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) campaign to criminalize triple talaq has divided public opinion — even Muslim women’s rights activists — with some supporting the end of the primitive practice, and others questioning the Hindu nationalist party’s intent. Many find the singling out and penalizing of Muslim men to be problematic. 

The weaponization of “Jai Shri Ram” continues in BJP-run India, even as the Modi government is talking about an outreach program for the employment, education and empowerment of minorities. 

On the one hand, PM Modi is claiming how the recent banning of triple talaq has corrected a “historical wrong done to Muslim women.” On the other, at least nine Muslims have been forced to chant Jai Shri Ram, and there have been at least three instances of cow-related violence, since the BJP returned to power in May. 

In addition to the violence, messages on the popular messaging medium Whatsapp remain anti-Muslim. Read our report on the messages targeting Muslims that are being shared in Delhi colonies via the Residential Welfare Association (RWA) Whatsapp groups. 

What is perhaps more troubling than those who post these hateful messages, are the many more who do not object to them. But we also found that these messages can be stopped if someone in the Whatsapp group takes a stand and says no. 

Readers, chances are that you have not heard of the “biology” of Hindu nationalism. Well, neither had we until we spoke with Banu Subramaniam, author of Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindutva. The professor of gender studies, who is also a trained botanist, explains “biopolitics” - a term first coined by Michel Foucault - in the context of Hindu nationalism. 

Taking into account the call to return to Hindu ways of life, resurgence in the importance of daily bodily discipline regimes — exercise regimes, meditation, yoga, and even vegetarianism — Subramaniam said, “Biology is important everywhere but is central to the Hindu nationalist imagination in very particular ways.”

Interestingly, unlike other religious nationalisms, Banu argues that Hindu nationalism embraces science. While she sees Hindu nationalism in its present avatar as dangerous, she says that some of the emerging bio-nationalism has liberatory potentials

Moving from the realm of academia to how biopolitics plays out in our daily lives, we asked Subramaniam about the man refusing to get food delivered from a Muslim delivery guy working for Zomato. She said, “This is a particular understanding of the bio-ethical and moral role of the “cow” in India today that is driving politics to very dangerous and violent ends.”

In case you missed it 

Piyasree Dasgupta profiled Rehana Sultana, who was hit with four FIRs and abuse for writing “Miya” poetry, which is a colloquial, almost pejorative expression, to refer to Bengal or Bangladesh-origin migrant Muslims in the state.

From Kottayam in Kerala, K.A. Shaji reported that the six Christian nuns, who accused Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal of sexual abuse, who shook the powerful Catholic Church, are isolated in their own community.

From Delhi, Akshay Deshmane reported on a 24-7 helpline number to combat mob lynching, and provide legal service to survivors, launched by the civil society organization, United Against Hate. The number is 1800-313360000.

The Idea of India newsletter is an attempt to draw us back into an even-handed conversation. And we want you to contribute with ideas and suggestions: What is your idea of India?

Write to me at betwa.sharma@huffpost.in

(Editor’s note: The second installment of The Idea Of India was sent out as an email newsletter on 12 August, 2019).