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The World Before Her

Premiere Date: September 16, 2013

'The World Before Her' in Context

The Hindu Nationalist Movement

(NOTE: The words "fundamentalism, "revivalism" and "extremism" are often used interchangeably to describe Hindu nationalism, though scholars prefer to use the phrase "political Hinduism.")

The Hindu nationalist movement in India has become a pervasive cultural and political force in the country over the past 20 years. The nationalist ideology emerged, in part, as a response to the pressures of British rule (1858-1947) and the cultural and religious influence of the West. The movement especially attracted those with fears of religious minority groups, particularly Christians and Muslims. In the 1920s, the movement gained traction among poorer Hindus (the lower caste) who felt oppressed by the ruling Hindu elite and for whom the idea of returning India to its "pure Hindu roots" was appealing. India’s population identifies today as 80.5% Hindu, 13.4% Muslim, 2.3% Christian and 1.9% Sikh.

Most Hindu nationalists reject secularism and advocate for Hindutva, an ideology that defines Indian culture and politics in terms of Hindu religious values. In some cases, this ideology has led to a militant intolerance of religious minorities, especially Islam and Christianity, and it has led to a number of violent anti-Muslim and anti-Christian acts, most notably the destruction of a mosque on an alleged Hindu holy site in 1992, an anti-Muslim pogrom in the western state of Gujarat in 2002 and the burning of churches in the eastern state of Orissa in 2008. The nationalists responsible for the violence argue that the targeted communities pose a danger to Hinduism. Hindu nationalists also feel that their culture—and its traditional gender roles in particular—is threatened by Western-style fashion, media and consumerism.

Though ideological differences (especially regarding the use of violence) exist among Hindu nationalist groups in India, the primary groups in the movement are the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its youth wings—Bajrang Dal (male) and Durga Vahini (female). The Hindu nationalist political wing is the Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., one of the two major political parties in India (the other is the secular Indian National Congress). The B.J.P. led a coalition government from 1998 to 2004, but it was defeated in the 2004 and 2009 elections. While the Indian National Congress won 206 seats in the national assembly in 2009 (a 60% increase from the previous election), the B.J.P. won just 116 (a 30% decrease).

However, the B.J.P. is gaining in popularity again now that Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and widely believed to be one of the key architects of the anti-Muslim Gujarat riots in 2002, is poised to take over leadership of the party.

The next general elections in India will take place in 2014.

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