Title: Ethnic Conflict and Emergent Hindu Nationalism: Christian-Hindu Adivasi Relations in Chhattisgarh, Central India
Name: Peggy Froerer
peggyfroerer@yahoo.co.uk
Year: 2001
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

My doctoral dissertation examines the emergence of Hindu Nationalist ideology in a Christian/Hindu 'tribal' community in Chhattisgarh, central India. The dissertation looks specifically at the processes by which Hindu Nationalism is being inculcated in and imbibed by the local Hindu community, and the way these processes contribute to the transformation of local ethnic categories and facilitate ethnic group conflict.

Fieldwork for the dissertation took place between October 1997 and August 1999, and was conducted in the context of the recent penetration of the Hindu Nationalist movement into rural tribal areas. The ideological aims of this movement are to transform Hindu cultures into a single, undifferentiated whole for the purpose of forging 'one nation, one people, one culture', and to counteract those cultures (Muslims and Christians) that are perceived to be posing a threat to the majority community of Hindus. Drawing on contemporary theories of ethnicity which focus on the importance of 'us' / 'them' boundaries in the propagation of nationalist sentiments, the dissertation examines how these aims are being manifested within a rural tribal community. It pays particular attention to how non-Christian tribals are being assimilated into the mainstream Hindu fold, and to how local minority Christians have been reconstituted as the 'threatening other' to the majority Hindus.

My research contributes to the growing body of literature on Hindu Nationalism by concentrating on a cultural and geographical area - 'tribal Chhattisgarh' - that has thus far not been the focus of scholarly analysis. Moreover, in contrast to existing literature that centers on cultural and educational campaigns, my research shows that socio-economic affairs and local politics are the principal vehicles through which Hindu Nationalist ideology is being inculcated in this part of India. This is demonstrated with a detailed analysis of the increasing involvement of Hindu Nationalist activists in local land disputes and healing practices, and in conflicts over leadership positions and liquor distillation. Here, the dissertation examines how this involvement is accompanied by the promotion of religious categories over other ethnic distinctions, and how this in turn has had a significant impact on the way in which ethnic relations are being manifested. The dissertation argues that this is leading to a situation of increasing ethnic polarisation, as previously shared sets of local 'tribal practices' are becoming fragmented by the growing identification of Hindu tribals with 'Hindu Nationalists', and of Christian tribals with 'global Catholicism'. Finally, the dissertation argues that while the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is the active agent in this process, its specific impact in this area is a function of its relation of opposition with the Church.