The Bigotry of Hindu Sexual Science: Tracing the Colonial Roots of the Sexual Stigmatization of Muslims in India

NTU Hist PG_5
12 Oct 2022 09.00 AM - 10.00 AM Zoom Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public

The sexual pathologizing of Muslims has been a major weapon in the arsenal of Hindu nationalists in contemporary India. This can be seen most recently in the hateful diatribe against the Prophet resulting in backlash from the Arab nations and protests within India. This most recent controversy has been preceded by the pernicious “love jihad” campaign together with the demonizing of the alleged hypersexuality of Muslim men. I intend to present a paper showing how this contemporary sexual pathologizing of Muslims manifested in Hindutva discourse can

be traced back to the racist as well as communal discourse of colonial sexology. I argue that the racial fetishization of non-Western sexualities by British as well as German sexologists was appropriated by authors of popular sexology works in 20th century India to construct a sexually normative “Hindu race” which was contrasted with the deviant Muslim “other.” Existing scholarship, particularly the work of historian Ishita Pande has focused on the Hindu nationalist pamphlet, Rangila Rasul (The Colorful Prophet) published by the Arya Samaj in 1927, which exemplified how sexology was appropriated by Hindu nationalists to pathologize Muslim sexuality particularly with respect to child marriage.

My paper will use the Rangila Rasul controversy as a starting point to delve deeper into revealing how the sexual pathologizing of Muslims borrowed heavily from the racist sexology of Orientalist figures such as Sir Richard Francis Burton, which also influenced the opinions of Western and Indian sexologists. The paper will show how sexologists writing in English, Hindi and Bengali constructed a sophisticated past for Hindu sexual science centered on the Kamasutra while the Islamic sexual knowledge traditions such as the lazzat-ul-nissa were ignored. Moreover, pathologized sexual practices such as homosexuality and anal sex were considered alien to India and associated with Muslims, reinforcing their sexual stigmatization. 

Arnav Bhattacharya is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation entitled From the Kamasutra to Scientia Sexualis: A History of Sexual Science and Medicine in Twentieth Century India explores the production, consolidation, and circulation of scientific and medical knowledge on sexuality in 20th century India. This paper is based on a chapter of his dissertation which explores the significance of past traditions of sexual knowledge focused on the Kamasutra in the evolution of sexology in modern India.