Mainstream, VOL LII No 12, March 15, 2014
1933 of 2014! Breaking New Grounds! Confronting Communal Fascism !!
Saturday 15 March 2014, by
The Jew as well as the Christian, the Hindu no less than the Muslim ‘fundamentalist’ plies an ideology of superior difference. Each confronts an inferior and threatening Other. Each engages in the politics of exclusion. Hence each poses a menace to the minority communities within its boundary... For the Muslim militants the Other are the Jews, occasionally Christians and, in South Asia, the Hindus, Christians, and Ahme-dis. I know of no religio-political formation today which does not have a demonised, therefore threatened, Other. The Other is always an active negation. All such movements mobilise hatred, and often harness unusual organisational effort to do so... The cult of violence and proliferation of enemies are inherent in ideologies of difference. All express their hate for the Other by organised violence. All legitimise their violence with references to religion and history. In nearly all instances the enemy multiplies. At first, the Indian Parivar had the Muslim Other for target. It has now turned on Christians.
Profile of the Religious Right, Eqbal Ahmad (1999)
I Masks and the Man
The child’s fantasies are endless and unimaginable. It will wear a mask of a tiger and start ‘scaring’ it’s near and dear ones with a growl and the very next moment would imagine itself to be flying in the air with the mask of a Spiderman. Have you ever noticed any adult—maybe a complete stranger to the kid—getting annoyed with such tantrums of a child? Definitely not. What will happen if you tomorrow discover the same group of adults or similar physically grown-up people moving on the streets or herding together wearing similar masks or identical masks? You will have sincere doubts about their mental faculties and, if possible, would love to advise them that they consult the nearest psychiatrist.
The advent of Narendra Modi—firstly as a leader of Gujarati Hindus, then projected as ‘Gujarat ka Sher’ (Lion of Gujarat), and later on the national scene as—’Bharatmata ka Sher’—has been accompanied by similar mask-wearing adults, ready to ‘dissolve’ their identity behind a face which happens to be one of the most polarising figures of the 21st century. Their near hysterical responses to his ‘pearls of wisdom’ rather confirm that there is nothing childlike in their behaviour and, if opportunity comes, that same mass of grown-ups can easily be mobilised/unleashed to bulldoze the nearest hamlet or turn the nearest row of houses into another ‘Gulberg Society’ or assault a group of women passing on the street to ‘save the community’s honour’.
While the 24x7 channels have brought this spectacle ‘live’ into our bedrooms, it needs to be emphasised that he is a mere continuation of a not-so-glorious tradition of leaders present at regional/national level who could similarly invoke mass frenzy to further their exclucivist agendas. Perhaps a glance at L.K. Advani’s role in the majoritarian movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri mosque (he is still an accused in the said ‘conspiracy’) in the late eighties and early nineties or the career graph of the rabble-rouser, Bal Thackeray, who (in the words of the Srikrishna Commission) ‘led the anti-minority violence in late 1992 and early 1993 as a commander’, would give an indication of the legacy which he carries.
Any sane person would agree that the situation, as it exists today, is just an indication of the emerging crisis which is in store for us. While the immediate question on the agenda before many of us is what will happen in 2014 when the elections are held, we cannot shy away from the fact that there are deeper causes involved and that is why a man worthy to be condemned as a Modern Day Nero is the ‘Hriday Samrat’ for many amongst the crowd.
Would it be proper to ascribe this state of affairs solely to corporate honchos who want a ‘strong leader’ who can get us out of this deep morass in which we supposedly find ourselves today? Or is it because of the media moguls dominated by the Varna elites who have been won over by the ‘Modi Magic’ and are engaged in sanitising his image from a hated figure of 2002 into a ‘development man’ or is it because of the international PR agency, APCO, which is credited with packaging many a cruel dictator as next door family man or is it an outcome of ‘bankruptcy’ of the Grand Old Party of this republic which, according to critics, has ushered us into a new kind of dynastic politics?
Narendra Modi’s emergence as a candidate for the Prime Minister’s post—whose own appeal supposedly extends beyond the usual Parivar people—and the manner in which the RSS—the flag-bearer of Hindutva—seems to be playing the role of a kingmaker raises many such questions. A close observer of the Indian situation would vouch that there is enough basis for the emergence of such authoritarian, exclusivist tendencies/formations/demagogues in our society and culture.
Perhaps it is time to revisit the idea of Hindutva as it is being understood here.
Beyond Religious Imaginaries
The idea and politics of Hindutva is normally presented/understood in the form of religious imaginaries.
For its proponents, it is the way to correct ‘historial wrongs’ supposedly committed by ‘aggressors’ of various hues against the ‘Hindu Nation’—which, according to them, has been in existence since times immemorial. It does not need recounting how this strange mix of mythology and history, which is fed to the gullible followers, unfolds itself before us with dangerous implications.
The dominant antidote to this exclusivist idea rubbishes the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ rationale provided to justify its actions, denies any such continuous strife on the basis of religion amongst people, talks of the emergence of a composite heritage and the flourishing of many syncretic traditions etc. It is no surprise that the explosive manifes-tations of communal conflict are presented here as a handiwork of ‘few bad apples’ within the communities which need to be weeded out or quarantined. A logical consequence of this understanding is that secularism, as it is practised here as part of statecraft, similarly veers around Sarv Dharm Sambhav (Equal Respect to All Religions) and not to the separation of religion from the running of the state and society as it is normally understood.
Looking at the fact that the politics of Hindutva has been on ascendance since the last two-and -a-half decades—despite witnessing temporary setbacks here and there—and the established/standard response to it losing its lustre, and the strategies devised to deal with it losing their appeal and impact, it is time to look at the phenomenon in a more nuanced way. It is time to move away from standard questions and their pet answers to an arena less probed and investigated. Perhaps it it time to raise questions which were never raised or did not receive the attention they really deserved.
Would it be proper to say that Hindutva is rather an extension of the ongoing Brahminical project of hegemonising and homogenising the Indian society and in fact could be seen as part of the Brahminical counter-revolution against the Shudras-Ati-shudras who had experienced loosening of the social bondages and restrictions under the twin impact of the policies promulgated by the colonial regime coupled with the path-breaking movements led by the social revolutionaries.
How does one relate to the emergence of the weltanschauung (world view) of Hindutva with the struggles against Brahminism pioneered by the likes of Savitribai and Jyotiba Phule and the ongoing efforts of many stalwarts of the movement—ranging from the plethora of leaders of the Satyashodhak Samaj to the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha, Independent Labour Party or for that matter Republican Party of India
and the path-breaking role played by
the legendary son of the oppressed, Dr Ambedkar.
A question could be justifiably raised as to why Maharashtra—where the population of minorities has never crossed the ten per cent mark, and where they were never politically dominant—metamorphosed into a region which saw not only the emergence of many leading Hindutva ideologues—like Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar—and their organisations but a strong base as well as popular legitimacy as well.
A satisfactory answer to all these queries can only come if we are able to look afresh at all those assumptions about the ascent of Hindutva and are ready to break new grounds in pursuit of this aim.
To put it the other way, we need to address what Dilip Menon calls ‘the general reluctance to engage with what is arguably an intimate relation between the discourses of caste, secularism and communalism.’(The Blindness of Sight, p. 2, Navayana 2006). He adds:
The inner violence within Hinduism explains to a considerable extent the violence directed outwards against Muslims once we concede that the former is historically prior. The question needs to be: how has the deployment of violence against an internal other (defined primarily in terms of inherent inequality), the dalit, come to be transformed at certain conjectures into one of aggression against an external other (defined primarily in terms of inherent difference), the Muslim? Is communalism a deflection of the central issue of violence and inegalitarianism in Indian society? (Ibid.)
Vaidiki Hinsa Hinsa Na Bhavti
(Vaidik Violence is No Violence)
Take the case of violence which extends from the temporal to the spiritual.
In fact, the issue of violence keeps recurring in debates at various levels. One discovers a great hiatus between precepts and practice on this issue. One comes across normal looking people who would be ready to formally abhor violence of any kind but in the same breath would be ever ready to appreciate what they call as ‘legitimate’ violence. It is the same mindset which puts the Buddha on the pedestal and simultaneously celebrates brutal violence by the state against its own people on flimsy grounds.
It is worth noting that in a country which talks of the greatness of the apostle of non-violence, one type of violence is considered not only ‘legitimate’ but is sanctified as well. Violence against Dalits, women and other oppressed sections of the society has received religious sanction from times immemorial and the onset of modernity has not changed the broad picture.
Interestingly imprints of many such customs and hierarchies which had their genesis in the Hindu religion is visible in the religion as it is practised by others. Caste discrimination in Islam, Christianity or Buddhism which could be unimaginable outside is very much visible in the lifeworlds of the people. The family itself is a site of tremendous violence. India could be said to be the only country where a widow is burnt alive on the dead husband’s pyre. If earlier the new-born daughter was killed in some brutal manner, today parents employ sex-selective abortion—thanks to the developments in technology. It is not for nothing that India is the only country in the world where we have 33 million missing women. Forget the dowry deaths, here we have what is known as ‘honour killing’ where parents kill their own sons and daughters for daring to marry outside their clan.
One still remembers the anti-Sikh carnage after the assasination of Mrs Indira Gandhi when Sikhs came under attack at the national level. Officially more than a thousand were killed in the Capital of the republic itself by putting burning tyres on their bodies. Everybody knows that it was no spontaneous violence, it was an organised, systematic violence which was led by leaders of the then ruling party, namely, the Congress. Perhaps very few people would like to remember it today that articulate sections of our society joined the chorus unleashed by the ruling party then and termed it a ‘natural reaction’ of the people. And the then Prime Minister of the country had made the controversial statement wherein he ‘justified’ the violence by saying that ‘if a tree falls, then the ground is bound to experience shivers’ which was considered as a ‘rationale’ behind future mass killings. The violence against minorities in Gujarat in 2002 was similarly ‘packaged’ in the infamous action-reaction thesis by its perpetra-tors.
While violence is all-pervasive, there is scant recognition of it; on the contrary people have no qualms in singing paens to the supposed great tradition of tolerance in our culture and there is no attempt to interrogate the casual brutality and incessant organised violence practised under the hierarchical, inegalitarian social system. A system where a section of people with claims of high birth and purity of blood achieve pre-eminence and claim divine sanction for their actions and concerted attempts are made to dehumanise and demonise the others, broad masses of toiling people, the Shudras, the Ati-shudras and those falling outside the pale of the Varna society.
Braj Ranjan Mani, in his much-discussed book ‘Debrahminising History’ (Manohar, Delhi) makes an important point. According to him, “the term coined to demonise the other, apart from rakshasa and asura, was mleccha, the ‘unclean, unwashed other’, which has a history, according to Romila Thapar, going back to around 800 BC and occurs originally in a Vedic text. Contrary to the Hindutva claim that the term was originally one of contempt for the invading, barbarous foreigners, especially Muslims, it was used originally and frequently by the upper castes to refer to Shudras and Ati-shudras, considered the enemy. Thapar contends that demonisation/rakshasisation of the enemy—irrespective of who the enemy was—has been a constant factor with reference to many pre-Islamic enemies and going back to earlier time.” (pages 22-23)
Taking the issue further, he adds, the demonisation of the Shudra, the commoner, ‘born to sin’ and the ‘the untruth itself’ has been an ongoing affair in the brahmanic phraseology and he is saddled with so much disabilities that ultimately he is made to lose his human status. ‘For the sake of the prosperity of the worlds (the divine one) caused the Brahman, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya and the Shudra to proceed from his mouth, his arm, his thighs and his feet.’ ‘Once-born man (a Shudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out: for he is of low origin.’
Manusmriti, which is part religion, part ethics and part law book, openly declares: ‘the sight of mere possession of wealth by the Shudra injures a Brahmin’ and an attempt made by a Shudra to attain knowledge is a crime. If such a lowly-born merely listens to the recitation of the sacred texts, his ears are to be filled with molten lead; if he dares utters the sacred text, then his tongue should be torn out and if he remembers it then his body should be split. A Brahmin was divinely entitled to insult, beat and enslave a Shudra. The killing of a Shudra by a Brahmin was equivalent to the killing of a cat, frog, lizard, owl etc., tells the Dharm-shastras. According to him, ‘similar animal similes for Jews were used by Adolf Hitler, in his autobiography, Mein Kampf.’
A major rupture to this stranglehold of the priestly class, the Pandits, the Maulanas was observed during the British rule. Their intervention at various levels—to consolidate their regime and gain legitimacy from a wider cross-section of people, which they undertook very halfheartedly—created conditions which led to a slow assertion from the socially-culturally oppressed communities. This is no place to deal with the that strong current of social revolutionaries—popularly called ‘social reformers’—ranging from Phule, Jyothee Thass, Periyar, Mangoo Ram to Ambedkar and several others—who emerged during this period but in a nutshell it can be said that it not only challenged the dominance of the priestly class but raised an alternative narrative of nation-building itself. This challenge from below to the hitherto dominant elites in the society created an unforeseen situation for them.
Lokmanya Tilak, who was called the ‘father of Indian Unrest’ and belonged to the ‘radical section within the Congress, presents before us a classic example which shows the deep anxieties of the dominant section of people fighting for political freedom towards social reforms’. While much is known about his strong opposition to the Age of Consent Bill (which sought to outlaw marriages for girls less than 12 years of age), it is less reported that he refused to permit Ranade to hold his National Social Conference at the Congress Pavilion in 1895—as was the practice till then—and did not mind disrupting the session and threatening to burn down the pavilion if the conference was held.
In his long essay ‘Educate Women and Lose Nationality’ (Parimala V. Rao, Critical Quest, 2010) the author deals with the nationalist discourse in Maharashtra spanning over forty years which “[a]rgued that educating women and non-Brahmins would amount to a loss of nationality. The nationalists, led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak during 1881-1920 consistently opposed the establishment of girl’s schools, the imparting of education to non-Brahmins and implementing compulsory education. They were also instru-mental in defeating the proposals to implement compulsory education in nine out of eleven municipalities. By demanding ‘National Education’ the nationalists sought to reshape the meaning and scope of compulsory education advocated by reformers, as their national education consisted of teaching the Dharma-shastras and some technical skills.“
The anxieties of the conservatives were not limited only to the field of education. They were also faced with the challenge that Dalits and other members of the Bahujan Samaj were slowly coming under the influence of what could be said as celebrations of ‘composite heritage’ in that part of India, especially Muharram processions. It need not be underlined that a caste-ridden Hinduism, whose raison d’etre was the logic of purity and pollution, had never much encouraged such public spectacle-type of celebrations.
To address this challenge, Tilak transformed the worshipping of Ganesha into Ganesh Chaturthi, (1894) which had twin aims. On the one hand it was a replacement counterpart to Muharram observance and on the other a mobilisational strategy to unite the people. It is said that upon the inception of Ganesh Chaturthi, Hindus abandoned participating in Muharram and instances of riots were reported when the musicals passed mosques in Poona in 1894 and Dhulia in 1895.
The following was the devotional song sung during the festivities.
“Oh! Why have you abandoned today the Hindu religion?
How have you forgotten Ganapathi, Shiva and Maruthi?
What have you gained by worshipping the tabuts?
What boon has Allah conferred upon you
That you have become Mussalmans today?
Do not be friendly to a religion which is alien
Do not give up your religion and be fallen
Do not at all venerate the tabuts,
The cow is our mother, do not forget her.“
The communal overtones in the actions of the upper-caste elite participating in the anti-colonial struggle can easily be discerned here.
It would be opportune here to quote Dileep Menon once again (Ibid., page 8):
“To put forward my argument briefly, between 1850 to 1947, communal violence has always followed periods of mobility and assertion on the part of the dalits and other subordinated castes. As structures of coercion were challenged in the villages, the increasing difficulty of exercising violence against subordinated castes in the face of their assertion resulted in the closing of ranks within Hinduism both around symbols of unity such as the cow in the 19th century and through a deflection of violence against Muslims. The sequentiality of Mandal (anti-reservation riots) and Masjid (anti-Muslim riots) in the early 1990s was part of a longer, historical pattern.”
The birth of the RSS should be seen in this background. The official biography of Hedgewar, written by C. P. Bhishikar, ‘Sanghvriksh Ke Beej’ throws light on its emergence. It is known that Dr Hedgewar alongwith B.S. Moonje, L.V. Paranjape, B.B. Thalkar and Baburao Savarkar who were all ardent advocates of Brahminical revivalism-founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925. Explaining the need to start RSS, Hedgewar is reported to have given two reasons: one, the Muslim threat, and second, assertion of the lower castes. ‘Conflicts between various communities had started. The Brahman-non-Brahman conflict was nakedly on view.’ One can easily notice he has shown the lower caste assertion on par with the Muslim threat.
In fact it would be more prudent to say that the very edifice of the RSS, which yearned for a Hindu Rashtra based on the Brahminical worldview, was built on an inbuilt antagonism towards the assertion of the Shudras-Ati-shudras and women. And Maharashtra, which never had a significant Muslim presence, became a home to this project as it was witness to the massive social-cultural movement challenging the stranglehold of Brahminism and Patriarchy under the leadership of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule. The Phules’ struggle against the Shetjis and Bhatjis (Traders and Brahmins) got a new fillip with the emergence of Dr Ambedkar, whose first historic struggle for the dignity of Dalits culminated in the burning of Manusmriti itself in 1927. Interestingly most of the studies of the origin and expansion of Hindutva brigade have rather concentrated on the anti-minority aspect of its foundation and have inadvertently or so skipped the anti-Dalit or anti-Shudra aspect of its formation which has led us to a situation where a concerted attack on the foundations of the politics Hindutva has not been possible.
Writing about this ‘Symbiosis of Cultural Chauvinism and Communal Politics’, Braj Ranjan Mani (Debrahminising History, page 237) writes
“The Phule-Ambedkar ideology rejects the basic Hindutva concept of a Hindu as one who considers India to be both his punyabhoomi (holy land) and pitribhoomi (father land). Not surprisingly, the RSS targeted Phule-Ambedkarism and touted the theory that such movements emanated from a divisive ‘caste mentality’.”
Like the earlier versions of cultural natio-nalism, the RSS respects the principle of Varnashram Dharma, but pretends to oppose caste... The RSS pretension of forging Hindu Unity is basically built on its antagonism against Muslims. As Ambedkar once pointed out, ‘A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes except when there is Hindu-Muslim riot.’ The RSS’ ‘anti-casteism’ serves the twin objec-tives of keeping the lower caste people under the brahminical umbrella on the one hand, and fighting Muslims, with the unity thus achieved, on the other.
It was in the late 196s that Maharashtra witnessed a massive mobilisation of people, cutting across party lines, something precipitated by a controversial interview given by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the then Supremo (Sarsanghchalak) of the RSS, to a Marathi daily Navakal. Golwalkar in this interview had extolled the virtues of Chaturvarnya (the division of the Hindus in four Varnas) and had also glorified Manusmriti, the ancient edicts of the Hindus. It was not for the first time that the Supremo’s love and admiration for Manusmriti, which sanctifies and legitimises the structured hierarchy based on caste and gender, had become public. In fact, at the time of framing the Constitution also, he did not forget to show his disapproval towards the gigantic effort, claiming that the said ancient edict could serve the purpose.
It was not surprising that Golwalkar did not take kindly to the affirmative action programmes undertaken by the newly independent state for the welfare and empowerment of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. He expressed his disapproval by saying that the rulers were digging at the roots of the Hindu social cohesion and destroying the spirit of identity that held various sects into a harmonious whole in the past. Denying that the Hindu social system was responsible for the plight of the lower castes, he held the constitutional safeguards for them as being responsible for creating disharmony.
It was in the same period that attempts were made to give limited rights to Hindu women in property and inheritance through the passage of the Hindu Code Bill, which was opposed by Golwalkar and his followers with the contention that this step was inimical to Hindu traditions and culture. Looking back one could say that the RSS was one of the leading forces of this al- India campaign to stop enactment of the Bill. Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, who later became the founding President of the Jan Sangh, the mass political platform floated by the RSS, and who happened to be a Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet, also expressed his opposition to the passage of the Bill in no uncertain terms. It is now history how the Bill could not be passed when Ambedkar was the Law Minister and he resigned from the Cabinet mainly on that ground. Although much water has flown down the Ganges (and the Jamuna and Godavari as well as Kaveri), it cannot be said that there is any rethinking in the camp of Hindutva about Manusmriti or the social system sanctioned by it. The only difference which has occured is that the critique of the present Constitution—which at least formally (to quote Dr Ambedkar) ‘ended the days of Manu’—has become more sophisti-cated.
Of course, there are occasions when the criticism does not remain so guarded and it manifests itself in a blatant manner. One still remembers how Giriraj Kishore, an RSS pracharak, who happens to be a leading light of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had rationalised the killings of five Dalits in Jhajjar, Haryana (October 2002) by a mob for committing the ‘crime’ of skinning a dead cow by saying that ‘in our religious scriptures (Puranas) the life of a cow is more important than any number of people’.
It is now history how the Uma Bharati (then a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party)- led MP Government promulgated an ordinance for banning cow slaughter with an official statement which extolled the virtues of Manusmriti. (Janurary 2005) It said: ‘Manusmriti ranks the slaughterer of cow as predator and prescribes hard punishment for him. As Shamsul Islam, in his piece in Hindutva andDalits (ed. Anand Teltumbde) writes, ‘It was for the first time in the legal history of independent India that a law was being justified for being in tune with Manusmriti.’
It is the same BJP which helped install a magnificient statue of Manu in the precincts of the Jaipur (the capital of Rajasthan, perhaps the only State in India) High Court in the early ninetoes when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat—a longtime RSS worker and former Vice-President of our country—happened to be the State Chief Minister.
The author is a writer and social activist; he was publishing a Hindi periodical, Sandhaan, sometime ago.