Theses defended

Secularism in Troubled 'Water' of 'Hindutva': A Case Study of Conflict Between Freedom of Expression and Religion in India

Amit Singh

Public Defence date
November 2, 2023
Doctoral Programme
Human Rights in Contemporary Societies
Bruno Sena Martins e Mahesh Vikram
The rise of aggressive nationalism is one of the serious global challenges facing contemporary societies, which manifests itself in the erosion of human rights. In this context, this study presents an Indian case study that examines how Hindu nationalists challenge the established discourse of human rights and secularism while suppressing freedom of expression and dissent. Focusing on the film 'Water' (2005) and its associated controversy in Varanasi in northern India, this case study examines the tensions between Hindu nationalists and those who oppose hegemonic Hindu nationalism (Hindutva). Theoretically, this phenomenon reflects the conflict between discourses of human rights, secularism, and religion. Empirically, it shows how Hindu religious nationalist groups such as the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) restrict freedom of expression by physically and legally threatening those who criticise oppressive Hindu traditions and support secularism, religious pluralism, and human rights. Research in this area could improve our understanding of the specific behaviour of members of religious nationalist parties whose political actions have led to restrictions on freedom of expression, violence, and censorship. This study examines the narratives of Hindu nationalist groups (such as RSS/BJP) and members of resistance groups (who oppose Hindu nationalist groups) in the context of the Varanasi 'Water' film controversy in 2000 and analyses this secular-religious conflict within the framework of 'contextual secularism'. In particular, the study focuses on the most important interrelated aspect of this situation, the tension between freedom of expression and religious intolerance and violence. My research strategy is a qualitative approach with a case study research design that focuses on the conflict between Hindu nationalism, secularism, and human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression. This study applies qualitative research methods, specifically semi-structured interviews, document analysis, secondary research, and narrative analysis. The study concludes that Indian secularism (contextual secularism, as Rajiv Bhargava calls it) tolerates Hindu religious bigotry toward freedom of expression and dissent, and that Hindu nationalism is incompatible with secular democracy and, to some extent, human rights. However, there is the possibility of resistance to hegemonic Hindutva.

Key words: Hindutva, Human Rights, Water, India, Freedom of Expression, Secularism