The Newsletter 92 Summer 2022

IIAS Fellow in the spotlight: Srirupa Bhattacharya

Srirupa Bhattacharya

IIAS Research Cluster: Asian Heritages, Global Asia
15 September 2021 ā€“ 15 July 2022

Hindu Religious Organisations in Neo-Liberal India

Unlike most other fellows at IIAS, this is my first academic experience outside my home country, India, and I am overwhelmed by the opportunity extended to me by the Institute. The objective of my research fellowship at IIAS is to convert my doctoral thesis into a book. After five years of rigorous teaching at Delhi University, I have once again been able to revisit my research and get back to reading and writing. Surrounded by colleagues at different stages of their careers, coming from different parts of the world, and working on diverse geographical and thematic areas, I am filled with excitement and anticipation for new research possibilities. Coming from the developing world, I am thrilled to be able to access resources that were never within my reach. I am honoured to be able to discuss my research with established scholars in my field in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. So far, it has been a very fulfilling journey indeed.

The idea behind my book is to look at neo-liberalism through the window of Hindu organisations that have come up in India since the 1980s. Based on ethnography in three states in India (Uttarakhand, Delhi, and Karnataka), the manuscript traces the growth of two of the largest religious organisations in India and their deepening nexus with corporate interests, state agencies, and international governing and funding organisations. The manuscript also looks at the visibility of godmen in media and the role they play in developmental projects, political propaganda, and mass mobilisations. Last but not the least, I study the internal structure of the religious organisations reflected in the changing caste-class-educational-gender profile of followers and members.

So far, I have contributed a chapter to an edited volume (Gurus and Media), which is likely to be published later this year by UCL Press. The chapter, titled ā€˜Doing-Seeing,ā€™ traces the rise of guru Baba Ramdev, who taught yoga through television. It describes how the popularity of these programmes contributed to the Hindu-nationalist identity consolidation and activism in the new millennium. The chapter shows how live interactive yoga camps converted passive television viewers into empowered subjects, the ramifications of which are evident in the optics of majoritarian politics in India in the last decade. I have presented my conclusions at the 5th Ireland India Conference in April and in an invited lecture at Krea University, India, in May.

I am touched by the friendship and camaraderie of the other fellows during the pandemic restrictions that existed until recently. I have rarely felt alone, from lessons on using a washing machine to warnings about grey winters, wine-tasting to travel, sickness to sunny days, and potlucks to political discussions. I cannot imagine a better ending to a global lockdown or beginning of a new chapter of my life.

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