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PHYSICAL TRAINING, ETHICAL DISCIPLINE, AND CREATIVE VIOLENCE: Zones of Self-Mastery in the Hindu Nationalist Movement



This essay advances understanding of how projects of self-mastery within neighborhood physical training programs associated with the Hindu Nationalist Movement produce subjects that are simultaneously ethically oriented and creatively violent. Such an analysis is contrasted with the conventional view that Hindu Nationalist volunteers are mere objects who blindly conform to a nationalist ideology or religious norms. Drawing on the author's participant observation of physical conditioning within the movement, the essay illustrates how combat training depends on an analytical sensibility by which techniques of drill are simultaneously learned and innovated by volunteers in a disciplinary zone of self-experimentation. Within such a zone, volunteers modify drill routines, enriching and refining them on an everyday basis. Thus, the evolution of physical techniques transforms training into an unfolding enterprise that is continually oriented toward attaining physical and moral self-mastery through the probing of bodily exercises. The essay underscores the social significance of such forms of physical self-exploration, in which movement volunteers understand the iterative probing of physical practice as driven by a resolve that deepens the volunteer's moral fortitude. The essay illuminates how a set of physical and moral processes are intertwined, processes through which militant subjects are culturally formed and routines of violence are sustained as a social and ethical practice. Physical training is connected to anti-Muslim pogroms in postcolonial Gujarat demonstrating how the evolving nature of physical training shapes, prolongs, and enables the improvisation of tactics of ethnic cleansing.