Making Maharashtra Straight Again: The Shiv Sena, Collective Violence, and the Discourse of the Bombay Riots
Abstract: Much of the literature surrounding the ascendance of majoritarian Hindu nationalist politics in India stresses the fundamentally masculine ethos of the outfits committed to realizing their fantasy of a Hindu nation-state in accordance with India’s alleged Hindutva (“Hindu-ness”). When Hindu nationalist organizations destroyed the Babri Mosque in the north Indian city of Ayodha on 6 December 1992, triumphalist Hindus and aggrieved Muslims clashed across India. One month later, in the west Indian state of Maharashtra, Hindu nationalists orchestrated vicious reprisals against their Muslim neighbors in a city emblematic of Indian cosmopolitanism: Bombay. This article presents analyses of the statements of Maharashtra’s very-own Hindu nationalist party, the Shiv Sena, and its fiery “supremo,” Balasaheb “Bal” Keshav Thackeray, to argue that the potency of the Shiv Sena’s anti-Muslim vitriol lay in its masculine homoeroticism. While “masculine Hinduism” accounts for the Shiv Sena’s performative machismo, it speaks little of Hindu nationalists’ constructions of the Muslim other. I argue that the Shiv Sena represented Indian Muslims as the abject, effeminate and passive sexual partner in a metaphorical act of sodomization to reinforce the imagined threat of Muslims’ supposed sexual deviance. In doing so, the Shiv Sena produced a narrative of Muslims’ violent sodomization by a virile Hindu nation.