Dissonant subjects: Women in the Hindu nationalist movement in India

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan S. Wadley


Women, Hindu, Nationalist movement, India

Subject Categories

Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies | Women's Studies


The Hindu nationalist movement in India is usually represented, and often represents itself, as a movement united in its efforts to purge the country of all Muslim and Christian influences and establish India as a Hindu nation. The movement legitimises its exclusionary rhetoric and violent actions by activating the image of a Hindu nation under siege from onslaughts of Muslims and Christians throughout history, and framing its agenda as redressing the politics of this history. However, not all in the movement, and certainly not all those it encounters, agree with its constructions of history or its exclusionary politics and rhetoric. This dissertation seeks to understand the myriad ways in which the Hindu nationalist movement reaches out to diverse audiences by examining how the Hindu nationalist women I worked with in New Delhi from January 1999 until January 2000 variously framed the movement to mobilize support for it amongst diverse audiences. These framing strategies include gendered constructions of history and memory to carve out a role for women in the movement, as well as to justify the violent politics and exclusionary rhetoric of the movement. Second, they include strategies that incorporate those marginalized by the state as citizens of the Hindu nation through providing services such as schools, health clinics, and vocational training sessions, thus constructing a benevolent face for the movement. And third, through the appropriation of Hindu rituals and traditions, they construct the movement as a religious one belonging in the realm of the sacred, rather than a political one belonging in the world of the profane. By presenting itself in these myriad ways the movement recruits members who have different agendas and beliefs that may challenge, and even contradict, those widely accepted by the movement. It is precisely its ability to absorb these different positions and encompass different agendas that has enabled the movement to dominate the socio-political landscape of India today.


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