In August 2022, the township of Edison, New Jersey, celebrated the 75th anniversary of India’s independence with a parade through its central business district. Many in attendance, including local and statewide politicians, wore and waved India’s tricolor flag.
One of the floats in the procession was a bulldozer bearing photos of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, Yogi Adityanath.
The bulldozer’s symbolism was lost on many in attendance.
In January 2023, after months in court, the inclusion of the bulldozer in the procession was declared an “act of bias“ after a joint investigation by the local county prosecutor’s office and police department. But they said there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges against parade organizers.
The incident highlighted the global relevance of Hindu nationalism, a political ideology that views Indian national identity and culture as inseparable from Hinduism.
With origins dating back to the 19th century, Hindu nationalism — or Hindutva — encompasses a broad range of groups in India, but also among the Indian diaspora, from Europe to Edison.
This edition of ReligionLink provides background on what Hindu nationalism is, stories that show how it is influencing politics across the globe and experts to help you better understand its heady mix of ideological politics and national identity.
What is Hindu nationalism?
Hindu nationalism is a far-right political ideology of Hindu supremacy. Also known as Hindutva (meaning “Hindu-ness”), it was first articulated in India in the 20th century by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
The concept has remained stable, especially in its core objective of making India, a constitutionally secular state, into “a Hindu Rashtra [nation] where some Indians will be more equal than others.” According to Hindutva ideology, Hindus are viewed as an ethnic, rather than explicitly religious, category. It has strong parallels with other forms of extremist religious and racial nationalisms, such as white Christian nationalism.
India, a constitutionally secular state (although under the constitution, Muslims and Christians are not eligible for most of the caste-based reservations available to Hindus and others), is 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim and includes Christian (2%-3%), Sikh (<2%), Buddhist (<1%) and Jain (<1%) minorities.
The Hindutva endorsement of violence has proved a threat against many (scholars and journalists included), in India and abroad, as its reach and popularity have evolved over time. First, it went global, expanding beyond Indian borders beginning in the 1940s. Today, Hindu nationalism is a worldwide phenomenon that negatively impacts multiple communities, especially of South Asian descent, across the world.
Second, Hindutva used to be a fringe ideology embraced only by a minority of Indians. Today, Hindu nationalism increasingly defines the Indian political mainstream, and a Hindutva political party (BJP) has governed at the federal level in India, with an increasingly tight grip, since 2014. Many observers no longer consider India a democracy due to state adoption of oppressive Hindu nationalist policies.
For more information and background on Hindu nationalism, what it is, where it comes from, what advocacy organizations and human rights groups are saying about it and what the future might hold for Hindutva, check out the resources below:
- Read “India” from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Annual Report (2023).
- Read “India’s State-Level Anti-Conversion Laws,” from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (2023).
- Read “Inventing a ‘Genocide’: The Political Abuses of a Powerful Concept in Contemporary India,” by Sanjay Subrahmanyam (2023).
- Read “The Rise of Hindu Nationalism,” by Cherian George (2022).
- Read “Hindu Nationalism: From Ethnic Identity to Authoritarian Repression,” by Pratap Bhanu Mehta (2022).
- Read Global Voices’ 2022 Report.
- Read “Hindutva and the shared scripts of the global right,” from The Immanent Frame (2022).
- Read “The Hinduization of India is nearly complete,” by Yasmeen Serhan (2022) (Commentary).
- Read “Religious Freedom Conditions in India,” from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (2022).
- Read “Hindu Nationalism: A Movement Not a Mandate,” by Alf Gunvald Nilsen (2021).
- Read Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy, by Christophe Jaffrelot (2021).
- Read “Breaking Worlds: Religion, Law and Citizenship in Majoritarian India; The Story of Assam,” by Angana P. Chatterji, Mihir Desai, Harsh Mander and Abdul Kalam Azad (2021).
- Read “Creating Suitable Evidence of the Past? Archaeology, Politics, and Hindu Nationalism in India from the End of the Twentieth Century to the Present,” by Anne-Julie Etter (2020).
- Read “Hindutva’s Dangerous Rewriting of History,” by Audrey Truschke (2020).
- Read “The Hindutva Turn: Authoritarianism and Resistance in India,” from the South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (2020).
- Read Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India, by Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot (2019).
- Read “The Rise of Hindu Nationalism and Its Regional and Global Ramifications,” from Education About Asia (2018).
- Read “Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves in Indian-Administered Kashmir,” by Angana Chatterji, Parvez Imroz, Gautam Navlakha, Zahir-Ud-Din, Mihir Desai and Khurram Parvez (2018).
- Read “Explainer: what are the origins of today’s Hindu nationalism?,” by Ketan Alder (2016).
- Read “The Hindutva View of History: Rewriting Textbooks in India and the United States,” by Kamala Visweswaran, Michael Witzel, Nandini Manjrekar, Dipta Bhog and Uma Chakravarti (2009).
- Read Hindu Nationalism: A Reader, edited by Christophe Jaffrelot (2007).
- You can also take a look at the AltNews fact-checking website.
Hindutva in North America
- Read “Hindu Nationalist Influence in the United States, 2014-2021 The Infrastructure of Hindutva Mobilizing,” from the Islamic Circle of North America (2022).
- Read “Hindutva Harassment Field Manual,” a project of the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective (2021).
- Read, “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Network in Canada,” from the National Council of Canadian Muslims and World Sikh Organization of Canada.
- Read “Hindutva 101: A Primer,” from Sadhana (2019).
- Read “Transnational Hindutva Networks,” from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (2019).
- Read “The Hindu Right in the United States,” by Audrey Truschke (2022).
Caste in the Indian diaspora
- Read “Does Caste Have a Permanent Address?” from Economic and Political Weekly (2023).
- Read “Title VII and Caste Discrimination,” by Guha Krishnamurthi and Charanya Krishnaswami (2021).
- Read “Destructive Lies: Disinformation, speech that incites violence and discrimination against religious minorities in India,” from Open Doors United Kingdom (2021).
- Read “Social Realities of Indian Americans: Results From the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey,” from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2021).
- Read, “Indian Chronicles: deep dive into a 15-year operation targeting the EU and UN to serve Indian interests,” from EU Disinfo Lab (2020).
- Read “India: The dissemination of misinformation on WhatsApp is driving vigilante violence against minorities,” from Minority Report (2020).
- Read “Caste in the United States,” from Equality Labs (2018).
- Read “Cyber-Hindutva,” from the Fondation Maison des Sciences de L’Homme (2012).
Hindutva attacks on academic freedom in India and the U.S.
- Read “Timeline of Hindutva Harassment of North American Academics,” from the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective.
- Read New Threats to Academic Freedom in Asia, edited by Dimitar D. Gueorguiev (2022)
- Read “The State of Academic Freedom Worldwide,” from Friedrich-Alexander University’s (Germany) Political Science Institute (2022).
- Read “Report on Academic Freedom in India,” from the Indian Cultural Forum (2020).
Human rights in India
- Visit Freedom House Reports.
- Visit Hindutva Watch.
- Read Amnesty International’s India Report.
- Read the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s reports on India.
- Read “Human Rights Report on India,” from Human Rights Watch (2022).
- Read “The ‘India problem’ under the surface at the Parliament of the World’s Religions,” from Religion News Service on August 18, 2023.
- Read “Under Hindu Nationalist Leaders, Sectarian Violence Flares in India,” from The New York Times on August 1, 2023.
- Watch “Ethnic Clash Or Targeted Violence? Questions And Deaths In India’s Manipur State,” from Religion Unplugged on July 22, 2023.
- Read “What’s fueling the rise in Hindu nationalism in the U.S.,” from NBC News on June 27, 2023.
- Read “Weaponization Of Hindu Festivals: A Catalyst For Anti-Muslim Violence In India,” from Religion Unplugged on June 26, 2023.
- Read “The Hindu Nationalists Using the Pro-Israel Playbook,” from Jewish Currents in Spring 2023.
- Read “Hindus For Human Rights Director Questions Modi’s State Visit To The United States,” from Religion Unplugged on June 23, 2023.
- Read “Caste discrimination laws remain fraught. Here’s why they shouldn’t be,” from Religion News Service on April 28, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “California is one step closer to banning caste-based discrimination,” from NBC News on April 26, 2023.
- Read “Amid threats, California lawmaker calls bill barring caste discrimination ‘right thing to do,’” from Religion News Service on April 25, 2023.
- Read “California’s caste bias bill clears first legislative hurdle,” from The Associated Press on April 25, 2023.
- Read “Bihar Sharif: The 113-year-old India library torched in a riot,” from BBC on April 23, 2023.
- Read “Caste in the US: Lawmakers try to tackle discrimination,” from Deutsche Welle on April 23, 2023.
- Read “India’s Militant Hindu Nationalist Women Leaders,” from New Lines Magazine on April 17, 2023.
- Read “The Hindu Nationalist Campaign to Promote Yoga,” from The Nation on April 6, 2023.
- Read “Unchecked by Consequences, a New Authoritarianism Is Unfolding in India,” from The Wire on April 4, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “White and Hindu Supremacists Are a Match Made in Heaven,” from Novara Media on February 25, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “Hindus only: How religious nationalism has spread through India’s villages,” from Religion News Service on Feb. 15, 2023.
- Read “Elon Musk Caves to Pressure from India to Remove BBC Doc Critical of Modi,” from The Intercept on Jan. 25, 2023.
- Read “How Anti-Muslim Hate in UP has Grown Exponentially since 2017,” from The Quint (Multimedia).
- Read “Why they broke with Hindu nationalism: Four former zealots speak out,” from Religion News Service on Nov. 11, 2022.
- Read “The violent phobias that bind Hindutva and Zionism,” from +972 Magazine on Nov. 9, 2022.
- Read “How Far-Right Hindu Supremacy Went Global,” from Vice News on Oct. 26, 2022.
- Read “Religious polarization in India seeping into US diaspora,” from The Associated Press on Oct. 16, 2022.
- Read “Hindu Nationalists Now Pose a Global Problem,” from Al Jazeera on Sept. 26, 2022.
- Read “An Anti-Muslim Symbol From India Is Paraded on Main Street, New Jersey,” from The New York Times on Sept. 25, 2022.
- Read “What is Hindu nationalism and how does it relate to trouble in Leicester?” from The Guardian on Sept. 20, 2022.
- Read “Why Hindutva’s Alarming Rise in the US Goes Beyond Texas,” from The Nation on Sept. 15, 2022.
- Read “Inside Hindutva’s Great Replacement Conspiracy,” from the Global Network on Extremism and Technology on Aug. 10, 2022 (Commentary).
- Read “Why Cal State’s new caste discrimination policy is a critical step,” from Religion News Service on January 27, 2022 (Commentary).
- Read “How one atheist laid the foundation of contemporary Hindu nationalism,” from The Conversation on Nov. 8, 2021 (Analysis).
- Read “Hinduphobia is a smokescreen for Hindu nationalists,” from Religion News Service on Sept. 10, 2021 (Commentary).
- Read “Why Hindutva is a Racist Supremacism – Not Merely Communalism or Majoritarianism,” from The Wire on Sept. 10, 2021.
- Read “Conference fuels growing US debate over Hindu nationalism,” from Religion News Service on Sept. 8, 2021.
- Read “Sangh Parivar’s U.S. funds trail,” from the Indian magazine Frontline on July 4, 2021.
- Read “Hindu right-wing groups in US got $833,000 of federal COVID fund,” from Al Jazeera on April 27, 2021.
- Read “’Modi is afraid’: women take lead in India’s citizenship protests,” from The Guardian on Jan. 21, 2021.
- Read “Far-Right Extremism Is a Global Problem,” from Foreign Policy on Jan. 15, 2021.
- Read “Saffron, Red and Blue: How the American Sangh hopes to win the 2020 US elections,” from The Caravan on Oct. 29, 2020.
- Read “Who are the Modi Democrats?” from The American Prospect on Oct. 27, 2020.
- Read “Kashmir: A Place Without Rights,” from Just Security on August 5, 2020 (Commentary).
- Read “Indian Matchmaking Exposes the Easy Acceptance of Caste,” from The Atlantic on August 1, 2020.
- Read “Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi’s India,” from The New Yorker on Dec. 9, 2019.
- Read “The network of Hindu nationalists behind Modi’s “diaspora diplomacy” in the U.S.,” from The Intercept on Sept. 25, 2019.
- Read “Why India’s Hindu nationalists worship Israel’s nation-state model,” from The Conversation on Feb. 14, 2019 (Analysis).
- Read “Why white supremacists and Hindu nationalists are so alike,” from Al Jazeera on Dec. 13, 2018.
- Read “India’s Dangerous New Curriculum,” from The New York Review on Dec. 6, 2018.
- Read “How the Hindu nationalist RSS woos Indian-Americans,” from Quartz on Aug. 8, 2018.
- Read “The Latest Skirmish in California’s Textbooks War Reveals the Mounting Influence of Hindutva in the United States,” from The Caravan on Feb. 7, 2018.
- Read “Alt-Reich: The unholy alliance between India and the new global wave of white supremacy,” from Caravan on Dec. 31, 2017.
- Read “Modi’s India: Caste, Inequality, and the Rise of Hindu Nationalism,” from Newsweek on July 26, 2015.
- Read “Norway massacre: Breivik manifesto attempts to woo India’s Hindu nationalists,” from Christian Science Monitor on July 25, 2011.
- Read “Two unlikely allies come together in fight against Muslims,” from The New York Times on June 2, 2001.
Experts and sources
Hindu nationalists can pose extreme dangers to Indian citizens and residents, especially Muslims; the BJP also tracks noncitizens at times. Reporters should be aware of the risks to themselves as well as their sources and should expect Indian government surveillance. In deference to these realities, the following list skews toward individuals outside of India; many experts have also been targets of Hindu nationalist harassment.
The Ambedkar International Center (AIC), is a US-based non-profit think tank and advocacy organization that seeks to build a fairer, more egalitarian society based on the principles and philosophy of Bodhisattva Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
Manan Ahmed is an associate professor at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute. Ahmed’s areas of specialization include the intellectual history of Islam in South and Southeast Asia; frontier spaces and the city in medieval South Asia; and colonial and postcolonial North India and Pakistan.
Wissam al-Saliby is director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Geneva office, working on issues related to freedom of religion and belief.
Amnesty International USA describes itself as “a global movement of people fighting injustice and promoting human rights.” It works in a wide variety of issues, including LGBTQ rights, education, poverty and prison rights.
Rana Ayyub is an Indian journalist and opinion columnist with The Washington Post and author of Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.
Mona Bhan is a cultural anthropologist at Syracuse University. Bhan’s areas of specialization include border wars and counterinsurgency; militarism and humanitarianism; race, gender and religion; environmentalism and climate change; occupation and human rights; space and place; water and infrastructure in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Angana P. Chatterji is an anthropologist and founding co-chair of the Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Initiative at the Center for Race and Gender at the University of California, Berkeley. Chatterji’s recent scholarship is focused on political violence as well as prejudicial citizenship and Hindu nationalism in India. Chatterji has served on human rights commissions and offered expert testimony, including at the United Nations, European Parliament, United Kingdom Parliament and U.S. Congress and commissions.
Rohit Chopra is a professor at Santa Clara University whose research and teaching center on global media and cultural identity, new media technologies and postcolonial media. He is the author of Technology and Nationalism in India: Cultural Negotiations From Colonialism to Cyberspace.
Amardeep Singh Dhillon is a journalist, trade unionist and co-editor of Red Pepper, writing on race and migration, climate justice, liberation struggles, trade unionism, co-operatives and the Labour Party.
Yashica Dutt is an anti-caste journalist and the author of Coming Out as Dalit. She spent a decade covering arts, culture and fashion in New Delhi. Her work highlights the issue of caste as it exists within the increasingly prominent Indian diaspora. She can be contacted via Julia Masnik.
Azad Essa is a senior reporter for Middle East Eye based in New York City and author of Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel (2023).
The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations, or FIACONA, is a coalition of Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, Pentecostal and independent church and civic organizations, primarily of Indian Americans, advocating on behalf of 1 million Indian American Christians from all 50 states and Canada. The media contact is John Prabhudoss.
FoRB Women’s Alliance is an international community of religious freedom and human rights advocates seeking to advance, facilitate and support solutions for freedom of religion or belief for women.
Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst is a religion professor and director of the Humanities Center at the University of Vermont. Her work focuses on the history of religion, Islamic practice and history, race and imperialism, and South Asian traditions.
Shreena Gandhi is a professor in the religious studies department at Michigan State University, where she primarily teaches classes on religion and race in the Americas. Gandhi’s research looks at the intersections between Hindutva and white supremacy, as well as the cultural history of yoga.
Thomas Blom Hansen is a professor in South Asian studies and anthropology at Stanford University. His fieldwork was done during the 1990s when conflicts between Hindu militants and Muslims defined national agendas and produced frequent violent clashes in the streets. Out of this work came two books: The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India and Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay.
Hindus for Human Rights is an advocacy organization providing “a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.” Media contacts should go through Nikhil Mandalaparthy and Harita Iswara, communications and outreach coordinator.
Rashad Hussain is ambassador-at-large at the United States Office of International Religious Freedom. Reporters should reach him through Nathan Wineinger.
The Indian American Muslim Council is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States. The media contact is Ajit Sahi.
Christophe Jaffrelot is a research fellow with the Center for International Studies and France’s National Centre for Scientific Research. His work focuses on such topics as mobilization of the lower castes and untouchables in India, the Hindu nationalist movement and ethnic conflicts in Pakistan.
Chinnaiah Jangam is a history professor at Carleton University. His research focus is on the social and intellectual history of Dalits in modern South Asia. His first book, Dalits and the Making of Modern India, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.
Lucas Koach is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Prema Kurien is an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University. She wrote the 2007 book A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism and is researching Indian American Christians, as well as Indian American political participation.
Deepti Misri is a literary and cultural critic at the University of Colorado whose work focuses on gender, violence and representation. Her areas of interest span South Asian literary and cultural production, transnational feminist studies, and feminist theory and criticism.
Raqib Naik is a Kashmiri journalist who runs the website Hindutva Watch.
Sadhana is a progressive Hindu advocacy organization based in New York City.
Tanika Sarkar is an acclaimed historian of women’s histories and social movements in colonial and post-colonial India. She is also the author of Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, and Cultural Nationalism and Words to Win: The Making of “Amar Jiban,” A Modern Autobiography.
Simran Jeet Singh is a Sikh scholar and historian of religion in South Asia. Simran currently serves as Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Religion & Society Program. He writes frequently for various outlets, including TIME, CNN and Religion News Service.
Erin Singshinsuk serves as executive director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She is responsible for directing the day-to-day operations of the commission and managing its staff.
Shana Sippy is a research associate in religion at Carleton College whose work focuses on Hindu publics.
Vasundhara Sirnate is a political scientist and journalist whose research includes counterinsurgency in South Asia, insurgent group dynamics in India, gender justice and societal violence. She was formerly the chief coordinator of research at the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy and a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national movement strategy and advocacy organization committed to racial justice through structural change.
The South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network (SADAN) is a non-profit organization working for the dalit, adivasi and lower caste ethnic descent communities of South Asia in Canada.
Ajantha Subramanian is an anthropology and South Asian studies professor at Harvard University whose research interests include colonialism and postcoloniality, South Asia and the South Asian diaspora. Her book Shorelines: Space and Rights in South India chronicles the struggles for resource rights by Catholic fishers on India’s southwestern coast, with a focus on how they have used spatial imaginaries and practices to constitute themselves as political subjects.
Nandini Sundar is a sociology professor at Delhi University and author of The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar. Sundar’s research focuses on academic freedom, democracy, law and inequality.
Dheepa Sundaram is a professor at the University of Denver. Her research examines the formation of Hindu virtual religious publics, online platforms, social media, apps and emerging technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus) is a bipartisan caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives. Its stated mission is “to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms in a nonpartisan manner, both within and outside of Congress, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.” The media contact is Kimberly Stanton.
Audrey Truschke is a professor at Rutgers University with research interests on the cultural, imperial and intellectual history of early modern and modern India, from 1500 to the present. Truschke is the author of Culture of Encounters; Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King; and The Language of History: Sanskrit Narratives of Indo-Muslim Rule.
Suchitra Vijayan is the founder and executive director of the Polis Project, a New York-based hybrid research and journalism organization that works with communities in resistance.
Sunita Viswanath is co-founder and board member of Hindus for Human Rights, Women for Afghan Women and Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus.
Suraj Yengde is a research fellow at Harvard University and author of Caste Matters.
Ather Zia is an anthropologist, professor and former BBC journalist at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley. Her research focuses on the Kashmir region.
Mohammed Zubair is a journalist and co-founder of Alt News, an Indian nonprofit fact-checking website
Related ReligionLink resources
- Christian nationalism worldwide
- Neo-Nazis and religion
- Reporting on Hate Speech
- Reporting on Hinduism
Contributors and collaborators
This source guide was produced by ReligionLink Editor Ken Chitwood, with writing and contributions from Manan Ahmed (associate professor of history, Columbia University), Ananya Chakravarti (associate professor of history, Georgetown University), Rohit Chopra (associate professor of communication, Santa Clara University), Dheepa Sundaram (assistant professor of religion, University of Denver) and Audrey Truschke (associate professor of history, Rutgers University).