Mirella Lingorska, University of Tübingen
Female Ascetics in the Hindutva
In the decades after Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule a crisis of governability has been strongly felt especially in lower circles of the Indian society. Communal riots as a distinct feature of inter-religious conflicts in India exposed a shifting pattern in the 1990s due to the decline of the Congress and the emergence of the BJP as a strong political force. While it is true that riots mainly evolve from political and / or economic interests, the wave of violence in the last two decades increased as a result of the manipulation of religious sentiments of people by the Hindu right-wing organizations.
Partly due to the testimony of the anti-colonial struggle for independence and partly connected with feelings of insecurity and exposure to changing moral values several militant factions appeared under the umbrella of the Family combine (Sangh Parivar): In the 80s the Bajrang Dal, the Army of Hanuman, appeared, and in 1991 the Durga Vahini, Durgas Army, followed. Both organisations appealed with a program of physical and mental training to young men and women with the perspective to shape them as anti-vice squad members and transmitters of noble human values in keeping with the Hindu culture.
In the last decade of heavy inter-religious conflicts in India (2002 riots in Gujarat, 2006 serial train blasts in Mumbai) the issue of women and fundamentalism gained afresh prominence among the topics of Indian policy. Taking into consideration that a considerable part of the communal tension derives its energy from resentments deeply rooted in the traditionally shaped religious groups it becomes essential to investigate the role of women in these conflicts. Women as the doorkeepers of an intimate interior which houses private habits of eating, hygienic norms, cohabitation practices function often as transmitters of almost subconscious repugnance towards differently organised communities. Do these specific fields of female responsibility enter the politically powerful rhetoric of the Hindu Right? Who are the political figures carrying on this discourse? If these be some of the female leaders in the Hindutva camp, do they reiterate the traditional role of the Hindu wife or the Hindu daughter in a changed social context or do they offer a new pattern of an outspoken and self-confident behaviour which can be taken as a stimulus to a modern female identity? With these questions in view the paper deals with Sadhvi Ritambhara, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as some of the prominent female activists in the political branch of the Sangh Parivar.