From Dinner Table Conversations to Social Media Discourses
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
(An examination of the rise of Hindutva masculinity in the new Indian middle-class men)
Keywords: Hindutva masculinity, emasculation, othering, personal gender relations, power dynamics, bell hooks
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Summary: The article aims to critically comprehend and analyse how Hindu upper-caste middle-class men's worried masculinity has resulted in a surge in Hindutva masculinity in India. It tries to explain how the perceived emasculation of Hindu upper-caste middle-class men occurred as a result of a variety of factors, including widespread rapid economic changes, which resulted in socio-cultural and economic consequences following the introduction of liberalisation policies by the Indian Government in the 1990s. The study also considers how the presence of the 'other,' specifically Western equivalents, the virile Muslim, and the perceived 'effeminate' Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi men, shapes the masculinity of upper-caste Hindu males. It also tries to examine the impacts of patriarchal masculinity on women and other gender minorities, using the theories on masculinities proposed by Black queer third-wave feminist author bell hooks.
Masculinity can be defined as the set of social activities and cultural representations associated with being a male, for the sake of this article. The plural 'masculinities' is also used to acknowledge that ways of being a man and cultural representations of masculinity/masculinities of/about men vary between societies and between different groups of men within the same society, both historically and culturally. Hindutva masculinity has historical roots in the colonial era, and it is linked to the British hegemonic masculinity in the country, which resulted in the emasculation of the Indian male. As a result, the Indian male developed anxious masculinity that sought to regulate and limit the autonomy of women and children. Historians like Partha Chatterjee have shown that Indian women's bodies are the environment in which the nation is constructed and that women's sexualities have become symbols of tradition and continuity. The narrative of the other was moved to the apparently virile Muslim man and the so-called effeminate men from the Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi communities in the post-independence period. The worried masculinity of Hindu upper-caste males from the middle class has been related to the growth of the crudest representation of Hindutva masculinity, as depicted by far-right political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, in the post-liberalization period. The surge in support for Hindutva masculinity is thought to be the result of perceived changes in the economics of gender interactions between Hindu men and Indian women, who are increasingly incorporated into the country's employment.
Interestingly, several scholars have linked the rise of anxious masculinity in Indian men to consumer culture, which encourages men to read magazines like Men's Health and how movies like Om Shanti Om, pigeonhole the idea of being a "real man" into someone who is successful, commands respect from subordinates, and has political views that align with the far-right in order to solidify the image of being a "natural protector.”
The worried Hindu upper-caste male from the middle class, unable to rule in the public arena owing to neoliberalism, retreats to the personal world and commits atrocities against women and children. It is also worth noting that the ideals of 'Hindutva masculinity' pervade young boys' and men's minds through popular culture, as evidenced by the stereotypical trope of the 'angry young man' and political leaders' increased emphasis on toxic masculinity aimed at 'protecting women,' such as Narendra Modi's #Main BhiChowkidar campaign during the 2019 general elections. All of these reasons add together to make Hindutva Masculinity the only feasible option for the male population's sect.
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Hindutva Masculinity's Spheres of Influence
The pervasiveness and influence of Hindutva masculinity rule the personal realm, contextualising women and children as second-class citizens and robbing them of their decision-making autonomy. It even reduces them to nothing more than valued assets that must be guarded against the approaches of 'the other'. This fear of the virulent Muslim enemy has manifested itself in a clarion call for anti-conversion legislation to address the problem of 'Love Jihad', in which Muslim males allegedly seduce and marry innocent and sickly Hindu women. The effect of Hindutva masculinity does not end there; it also goes so far as to limit social mobility across caste lines by restricting lower caste men from marrying upper-caste women. The outrage against a Tanishq advertisement depicting an interfaith couple celebrating their wedding is also a testament to the problems of toxic masculinity. Nonetheless, some women defy the 'Lakshmana rekhas' of religion, caste, gender, and social class in order to be with their spouses. The women involved in these acts are viewed as mere assets that must be safeguarded at all times in order to maintain the honour of the patriarch of the so-called upper caste. Both implicit and explicit kinds of abuse are used to socialise women into passive creatures, robbing them of their inherent agency in order to mould them into the image of a 'adarsh abala naree', a woman who blindly believes in the orders of male authority figures such as fathers and brothers. Women who express feminist, leftist, or anti-BJP views online endure three types of persecution from the toxic Hindu macho, who witch-hunt them by posing as lovers, well-wishers, or hooligans, forcing them to remove their pages. In her book, 'The Will to Change', bell hooks describes how the dominant white man terrorises feminist women who speak out against oppression in the media by labelling them as outliers. In India, the anxious Hindu upper-caste male castigates female scholars like Arundhati Roy and reporters like Rana Ayub who speak out against the establishment, and internet echo chambers employ the disparaging word 'didi' to policewomen who speak out against the horrors of oppression by male figures in their family.
In her book "The Will to Change," bell hooks advocates for the formation of alternative popular culture and emphasises the relevance of mass media as a tool for opposing hegemonic masculinity tropes. In India, Bollywood has aided the establishment of Hindutva masculinity by popularising films like Uri, which are close to propaganda pieces for the NDA administration, or by building their unwavering support through social media campaigns. In a feature by the Caravan, actor Akshay Kumar was dubbed the "poster boy" of Hindutva philosophy, and it would be fair to conclude that his persona represents Hindutva masculinity - a patriotic citizen who gives a secondary role to women.
To counter this narrative, there is a growing desire to find prominent figures that represent comfortable masculinity and are politically active. These figures shall serve as role models for middle-class Hindu upper-caste men. Shrayana Bhattacharya argues in her book ‘Desperately Seeking Shahrukh’ that the characters played by Shahrukh Khan in his earlier films might serve as a model for thinking about masculinity in the Indian setting. The book examines how a nervous Indian male views Shahrukh Khan with jealousy because of his attractiveness, and how relinking this relationship can help resist the mainstream narrative of Hindutva masculinity. Furthermore, it is important to confront the patriarchal reasons that motivate men to become enthusiastic proponents of Hindutva masculinity, drawing on bell hooks' theories.
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In my opinion, it is essential to address the rise of Hindutva masculinity as it acts as an enabler for state-sponsored oppression of women and other gender minorities. The rise also disincentivizes women from reporting on acts of violence that occur in both the private and personal realm as the men enjoy considerable lee-way due to the presence of caste networks that grant them unwarranted authority and privilege to commit these heinous acts. Furthermore, it is important to note that the idea of ‘personal is the political’ comes into the picture here as the manifestations of Hindutva masculinity occur in homes, offices, colleges and universities a