Mainstream, VOL LII, No 8, February 15, 2014
The Long-term Goal of PADS
Monday 17 February 2014, by
A dozen or so people met on October 20, 2013 to speak of the recent violence against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar and to discuss the possibility of preventing such violence. That was the first meeting of what was named the People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism or PADS. The word “democracy” was added to “secularism” because it was thought that the forces behind religious violence in India are essentially fascist; and it follows that there can be no democracy without secularism.
The first event organised by the PADS was a public meeting and demonstration at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, on December 6. The modest affair was a success and showed that even a small, unstructured group of people can make its presence known.
The PADS then began to plan for a national convention in Delhi on February 27, 2014. There was, and is, a certain amount of confusion about the goals of this event. It needs to be stated that the event is not an end in itself: that the PADS will not, after a day’s intense activity, lapse into silence.
The fact that a general election is around the corner has also tended to cloud the issue. The chief threat in this election is the possible success of the BJP, which is one of the “family” of outfits which have together fomented religious violence such as that in Gujarat in 2002 and that in western UP in 2013.
While individual members of the PADS will no doubt engage in actions related to the general election, the election is not central to the long-term plans of the group as a whole. The promotion of secularism that the PADS aims to work towards is certain to be a long process. If this process is to begin and continue, it will be witness to several elections, national and State. The PADS is not at this time allied with any political party. Its activities are not anticipated to be influenced to any great extent by periodic elections. A five-year cycle means little to work that will take decades.
As one of us, Harsh Kapoor, put it, our goal is to promote a secular sensibility in a thoroughly communalised society. The difficulty of this task can be seen easily if contemporary India is described as a far from level playing field. The poison of communalism has permeated all aspects of life, without exception, and no secular alternative can be promoted until that poison is flushed out. We in the PADS are under no illusion: we know that we can promote good health only after tackling the foul disease.
The RSS with its off-shoots, or “parivar”, which is also known as the Hindu Right, has syste-matically penetrated every aspect of the lives of millions of people. Its every pronouncement and its distortions of history are swallowed wholesale by those who are conditioned to never question what they are fed. Its ability to rapidly spread rumours—such as that of statues drinking milk—should not be taken as farcical: for it is potentially very dangerous indeed. We have seen the damage done by the circulation, by an MLA of the BJP, of an old video recording from Sialkot in Pakistan that was falsely described as having been made in a Muzaffar-nagar village.
The Hindu Right is a monster organism with many tentacles. It has wings for women, for children, for labour, for youth and students, for the protection of cows, for aboriginal inhabitants (“tribes”), and of course for matters to do with religion. It has cells to deal with the social media, the police and the armed forces. It creates heroes out of cowards like Savarkar, and during the rule of the NDA it penetrated and suborned many institutions. It also used public funds to create many institutions with narrow, sectarian agendas.
The Hindu Right is organised on military lines. All authority is centred in the Sarsangha-chalak, the Führer, and there are clearly defined chains of command. While there are disagree-ments between constituent members of the “family”, they are rapidly suppressed and seldom become known to the common people.
The creation and promotion of a secular sensibility will necessarily be a battle on many fronts. First, the true meaning of the idea of “the secular” must be revived and spread. Put simply, it is that religions are practised by individuals and religion has no place in the running of the nation. We must demand an immediate end to the performance of religious rituals when projects are inaugurated and at the start of public functions that are not organised and funded by private bodies. We must demand that functionaries of the state cease publicly to visit temples and religious personages. They are of course free to do what they please as private individuals without publicity.
To return to the analogy I used earlier: the infections in the body need to be wiped out before measures to promote nutrition can take effect. A prominent manifestation of the disease is the making of public speeches that are loaded against the religious minorities. In the 1950s, when I was a child, and in later decades as I grew up, such speeches were uncommon. Today they are made daily, all across the land.
It is the duty of the state—of the police in particular—to take action against those who make such speeches. The Indian Penal Code contains sections which pertain to public tranquillity (Chap. VII), religion (Chap. XV) and criminal intimidation (Chap. XXII). If the state does not act against offenders, the people must put pressure on it to act. The Modis, Advanis, Togadias and Rithambharas cannot be permitted to get away with what is, in the final analysis, no different from murder. The state has been lax for far too long. We must remind it of its duty. If it remains inactive or biased, we must find ways to punish it for deviating from the principles which govern its existence.
Tens of thousands of Gujaratis were rendered homeless in 2002. It was the sworn duty of the state, and of its Chief Minister, to care for them. Yet all the camps set up were managed and funded by organisations and individuals not of the state. The criminal actions of the state may be represented by two examples: one, the attempts to hoodwink and mislead the Chief Election Commissioner when he visited Gujarat; and two, the description by Shri Modi, the Chief Minister, of relief camps as “breeding factories”. This was the man who had, on becoming the leader of Gujarat, sworn to protect and care for the people of that State. Chief Ministers like him need to be told, firmly, that they may not set apart groups of citizens because those citizens happen to belong to minority religions.
It is inconceivable that Yadav Junior, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, did not know what Modi’s right-hand man Amit Shah was doing in that State after his arrival there. Yet no action was taken against the small fires lit before the conflagration of Muzaffarnagar. The handling by the Uttar Pradesh Government of those known to have been responsible for the violence against Muslims was circumspect in a notably cowardly way — or, as some argue, it was part of a larger political plan. These politicians are elected and sworn in on the ground of the Constitution, but once they have power and the various rewards of power, including economic rewards, they proceed to ignore that document and, by their actions and inaction, tear its principles to shreds. It is necessary that this be challenged.
“Catch them young” is the policy followed by the Hindu Right. They begin their indoctri-nation on children who have barely been weaned away from mother’s milk. The stories those children hear, of demons and mythological characters, merge imperceptibly with tall tales of “Hindu valour” against the supposed foreign invaders who ruled parts of India for some centuries. A child’s impressionable mind is a clean slate on which anything can be written. Thus it is that by the time the victims, “groomed” by the RSS Parivar, become young adults, they are indoctrinated beyond redemption, their minds filled with all manner of anti-minority poison, with pure and destructive hatred.
Groups such as the PADS are obliged to begin by clearing away the dirty cobwebs in people’s heads and by flushing away the poisons. It seems to me that this can best be done by a modified “catch them young” approach. Schools and colleges and universities are places where young people are found together in large numbers. The PADS can try to speak to these young people there and disseminate both the historical truth and the ideas and ideals that underlie our Constitution. It will be necessary to encourage the formation, in those institutions, of groups which will be largely self sustaining and will need only limited assistance and guidance from the PADS.
The PADS can also approach an older group of people through meetings in public places. Ideally, the work of such meetings will not end when they end. Just how it can be sustained over the longer term must be discussed. This will be more difficult than institutions of education, as adults are seldom found in groups. The obvious exceptions are workers in factories and offices. The PADS must seek the co-operation of those who manage schools and colleges as well as workers’ organisations.
In conclusion, let me make two things clear. First, my focus on the Hindu Right should not be taken to mean that I am unaware of the depredations of the Muslim Right. But, for one thing, I consider the Hindu Right far more dangerous as it is far larger. Besides, all religious fundamentalisms are at root much the same. When we deal with one, we learn the methods to use to deal with the others. Taking on one is difficult enough—taking on all together might be a completely impossible project.
Second, while the things I have said here probably will not attract serious disagreement from the others involved in the PADS, this should not be seen as a statement by the group. I shall be glad if my work helps in the formation of the group’s policy.
The author is a writer, editor and photographer.