UC Berkeley, Yale study explores Hindu nationalism in India’s Hindu youth

Mahesh Srinivasan/Courtesy

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A study conducted by UC Berkeley and Yale University researchers suggested that Hindu nationalism may be taking root in the minds of India’s Hindu youth.

Researchers found that by studying children ages 9 to 16, Hindu children were more likely to associate India with Hinduism and support Hindu nationalist policies than Muslim children. Despite this finding, researchers learned that Muslim children did not feel any less “Indian” than Hindu children.

The children went to school at the Zenith School, located in the state of Gujarat, a region known to have Hindu-Muslim conflict. Gujarat is also the home state of Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India who harbors Hindu nationalist views.

This research was inspired by previous studies conducted in the United States concerning race and national identity, which found that many Americans associated American national identity with whiteness, according to Mahesh Srinivasan, a UC Berkeley researcher and associate professor of psychology.

According to Srinivasan, the idea of India as a Hindu nation is rooted in the early 20th-century concept of a nationally shared “Hindutva,” or “Hinduness.” Under this idea, non-Hindu culture in India, such as Muslim or British culture, is painted as “foreign and invasive,” Srinivasan said.

Under the Modi administration, Hindu nationalism has seen a resurgence manifested in anti-Muslim policies, such as the removal of Muslim citizens from electoral rolls.

“We were interested in what it’s like for majority Hindu and minority Muslim children to grow up in such circumstances, and whether they might internalize messages that equate being Indian with being Hindu and what the implications of this might be,” Srinivasan said in an email.

According to Srinivasan, these findings imply that while some form of religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims may continue with future generations, the Indian national identity may not be entirely incompatible with non-Hindu minorities, as Muslim children still strongly identified as Indian.

Additionally, Srinivasan said in the email that the study found Hindu children remained tolerant of Muslim culture despite Hindu nationalist rhetoric, which could be evidence toward the development of a more tolerant India.

“This is a hopeful sign as it suggests that there are conditions that can prevent minorities from internalizing a message that they are less of a member of their country than the majority group,” Srinivasan explained in the email.

Hindu nationalism in India is a snapshot of a broader global trend toward ethnonationalism, according to Yarrow Dunham, a Yale University assistant professor of psychology.

Kaavya Venkat, co-president of the Berkeley Indian Student Association, or ISA, agreed with the study’s findings and explained that many American-born Indian students have a similar conflation of being Indian with Hinduism.

“Most children that grow up in the United States find their cultural identity by celebrating the bigger Hindu events,” Venkat said in an email. “Even if they do not grow up to be religious, the cultural significance of certain holidays leave a lasting impact.”

According to Venkat, although Berkeley ISA has historically focused on major Hindu events such as Diwali, this year ISA seeks to partner with student organizations to cultivate a broader sense of Indian identity.

“This way we can hopefully create a more positive and diverse image of what it means to be Indian,” Venkat explained in the email.

Contact Blake Evans at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Blake_J_Evans.