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The Abuse of Religion and Ecology: the Visha Hindu Parishad and Tehri Dam

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A number of commentators have suggested various cautions and caveats about assuming a positive relationship between Hinduism and the environment. The main points of contention are the limitations of textual exegesis; the environmentally damaging consequences of some Hindu beliefs and practices; and questions over whether any religion provides an adequate or appropriate basis from which to address contemporary environmental challenges. This paper explores a rather different and very problematic relationship that is being drawn, by some, between Hinduism and the environment. It focuses on the recent involvement of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) in protests against Tehri Dam. Neglecting the social and environmental problems that motivate other protestors, the VHP has sought to frame the dam as a communal issue—a threat by "outsiders"/Muslims to the holy river Ganges, and "therefore" to the Hindu religion, and "thus" the nation. The paper argues that, in the context of an increasingly aggressive Hindu nationalism, environmental issues and movements are by no means immune from the dangerous and divisive religious politics that are being played out in contemporary India.

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