Constructing Hindu Identity in Textbook Narratives: The Concept of Decontextualization

    • Presentation speakers
      • Lars Tore Flåten, University of Oslo, Norway


    When the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed power in India in 1998, it soon became evident that educational reform was high on its agenda. The BJP is a cultural nationalist party, which aims to redefine India according to its Hindu cultural legacy. It may also be construed in terms of identity politics, as the party seeks to define and strengthen Hindu identity as the primary frame of identification for India’s Hindus. The largest challenge to BJP’s appeals to Hindu identity stems from the immense heterogeneity of Indian society – past and present. This paper takes as its point of departure the main priority of the BJP within the field of education: the decision to publish new history textbooks. I examine these textbooks as integral to BJP’s identity political agenda, and ask in what ways they defined and invoked Hindu identity. When approaching the concept of identity I employ Craig Calhoun’s notion of categorical identity. Categorical identity is, according to Calhoun, concerned with classification and operates on an abstract level – as opposed to identities which take into account more complex social relations. I argue that this categorical identity was defined according to an abstract notion of Hindu cultural similarity – which existed above the many lines of division within Hindu community. Moreover, I propose that the concept of decontextualization sheds light on how these textbooks managed to convey the message of Hindu cultural similarity. This concept refers to the ways in which the textbooks backgrounded geographical and temporal contexts in their narratives, as well as to instances where agency was not accurately defined. Hence, decontextualization explains how the textbooks sought to transcend the particularities of the past, in order to promote the existence of a transhistorical Hindu identity.