ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Inscriptions of Race and Religion on Citizenship

‘Illegal’ Bangladeshis in Akhand Bharat

Both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party respond aggressively to the issue of “illegal” Muslim Bangladeshis, the largest “illegal” migrant group in India. Such a response is rooted in the racial underpinnings of Hindutva ideology, which right-wing political formations have attempted to bring into mainstream discourse, especially after the BJP came to power at the centre in 2014.

India is a diverse society, with a range of ethnic and religious groups. But India does not function with a clear articulation of race. Unlike their counterparts abroad, Indian scholars have spent little time examining the relevance of race in Indian society. Yet, as this article will show, some discussion of race and its impact on Indian society has implicitly existed in this country for some time. The challenge for contemporary scholars lies in unpacking the relevance of some long-standing ideas for examining how we understand the world today. “Race” is not a term that is used in criminological studies in India. The presence of large numbers of Muslims and Dalits in Indian prisons (Tiwari 2016) has caught the eye of criminologists and has been discussed and critiqued at length (Raghvan and Nair 2011, 2013). The importance of exploring the intersection of race and religion in the study of criminology, specifically border criminology, emerges when we begin to understand the contemporary treatment of “illegal” Muslim Bangladeshis in India through the lens of Hindutva ideology. The “illegal” Muslim Bangladeshis are the focus of this article, as they comprise the largest number of “illegal” migrants in India. But they will serve as an exemplar to understand the position of not only Muslim migrants from other countries but also Muslims within India.

The term Hindutva1 was coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923, and has become the predominant ideology of Hindu nationalism today. In contemporary India, various organisations within the Sangh Parivar—its cultural wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS); its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); its economic forum, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM); its world council, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), etc—align themselves with Hindutva ideology. Its foundations were laid first by Savarkar and later by M S Golwalkar in the 1960s.2 There have been concerted efforts by the BJP and the RSS to put this ideology in the mainstream. Their objective is to influence a majority of the population and to shape “everything from national security to gender, science and economics to secularism, and identities in diaspora” (Reddy 2011: 439). This mainstreaming process is carried out through cartographical, legislative, and socio-religious processes. I refer to these processes as the “politics of purging”: first an attempt to consolidate the territorial space of Akhand Bharat (undivided India) and then to “cleanse” the space of the “other.” The construction of the “other” draws upon links that Hindutva ideology already has with the idea of Aryanism.

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Updated On : 16th Feb, 2018


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