A ZNet Book Interview
By Angana Chatterji | ZNet, July 31, 2009
A Book Interview on Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present; Narratives from Orissa
Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, “Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present; Narratives from Orissa” is about? What is it trying to communicate?
‘Violent Gods’is an exploration of Hindu nationalism in India today. It details the mobilization of Hindu militant organizations as an authoritarian movement manifest throughout culture, polity, state, and economy, in religion and law, and class and caste, on gender, body, land, and memory… across the nation. The book explores that ways in which Hindu cultural dominance is manufacturing India, an emergent empire, as a ‘Hindu-secular’/Hindu majoritarian state.
As a woman of postcolonial India, of Hindu descent, ‘mixed’ caste heritage, the book is a journey in speaking with history. In freeing itself from British dominion in 1947, the Indian nation was shaped, in great part, by the will of the Hindu majority. Hindu cultural dominance has substantially defined what constitutes the ‘secular’ and ‘democratic’ in India today. Accountability demands that those of us with privilege in relation to ‘nation’ speak up, intervene. Telling a story of Hindu dominance in India is an intervention, ‘telling’ is a call to action.
Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
This book maps what I have witnessed — the architecture of civic and despotic governmentality contouring Hindu majoritarianism and nationalism in public, domestic, and everyday life. It chronicles the sustained and unchecked violences against minority Christian and Muslim communities, Adivasis (tribals) and Dalits (former ‘untouchable’ groups), and women, as well as sexual identity groups and children.
The book is a genealogical exploration of Hindu nationalism in India, with an ethnographic focus on Orissa, in eastern India, where Hindu nationalism’s terror has been prevalent since the 1990s, and where planned riots against minority peoples were carried out in 2007 and 2008. The research was conducted between 2002-2008 in urban and rural settings across Orissa in 66 villages, 11 towns, and four cities. The book records spectacles, events, public executions, the riots in Kandhamal of December 2007 and August-September 2008, as we witness the planned, methodical politics of terror unfold in its multiple registers.
In writing the book, I have made eighteen research trips to Orissa, and engaged in advocacy work on the issue. In 2005-2006, I convened the Orissa People’s Tribunal on Communalism, which was targeted, and its women members threatened with violence, by Hindu militant groups. See Human Rights Watch:
The book is situated at the intersections of Anthropology, Postcolonial, Subaltern, and South Asia Studies, and asks questions of nation making, cultural nationalism, and subaltern disenfranchisement. As a Foucauldian history of the present, this text asserts the role of ethical knowledge production as counter-memory. Through situated reflection, experimental storytelling, and ethnographic accounts, it excavates Hindutva/Hindu supremacist proliferations in manufacturing imaginative and identitarian agency for violent nationalism.
What are your hopes for “Violent Gods”? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
At the release of the book in Orissa in April 2009, I was asked if the book would provide solutions for undoing Hindu militancy and dominance in India. Books, if we are so fortunate, complicate matters further. I remain hopeful that “Violent Gods” will energize discussion, debate, contemplation about India’s present and future, the role and violence of majoritarian states and groups globally, about privilege and subalternity, security, rights, and entitlements, about freedom and dissent. I remain hopeful that the many and powerful subaltern voices and narratives in the text will compel reflection.
The learning and advocacy that led to the book has engulfed and motivated me since 2002, and facilitated shifts in my thinking, empowered me to act, to take risks as an intellectual and activist. And, for people with prolific courage that supported its writing, with their stories, their lives, at risk of reprisal — I am grateful.
In India, we witnessed the ethnic cleansing of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in 1984, genocidal violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, calculated and sustained brutality against Christians in Orissa in 2007 and 2008, and the continued subjugation of Indian-administered Kashmir. On and on… We need to think, act, change. NOW.
“Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present” by Angana P. Chatterji, from Three Essays Collective, released March 2009. More information at:
To look inside the book: