Why is Civil Society mute to threat of communalism in India?
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Steve Bucknor is out. The umpire with impeccable credentials became victim of a slander, which the exploiters often use for their own purposes. All of sudden, we found the upper caste Indians crying about racism and discrimination. That Harbhajan Singh is no saint has been well elaborated by former legend Bishan Singh Bedi. It is a well-known fact that he abused Andrew Symonds. But what was the abuse is not verified. The Australians, who are known for their own brand of racism and sucked the blood of the indigenous population, are clamoring for it. Paradoxically, fight is between the two exploiters of colors and the umpire was the one who played cricket during the heydays of
racial discrimination in Africa.
This event highlighted one fact that we are afraid of admitting our own disabilities and feel that offense is the best defense. Mr Sharad Pawar, the BCCI head hails from Maharastra, a land of great social rebels like Jyoti Ba Phule, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Chatripati Shahuji Mahraj and others and how they waged war against caste system and untouchability. Perhaps, Sharad Pawar know it well how the caste discrimination is still part and parcel of our life. Defending Harbhajan’s innocence was Navjot Singh Siddhu, who is famous for his loud mouth on television channels. We laugh at his quotes and jokes but that reflect our mental make up as most of the jokes, wits and humors that we have in our country is based on somebody’s physical appearance, color, castes and disability. Mr. Siddhu often uses such terminology to emphasise his viewpoint. It is not long back that we had famous song from a Bollywood which suggests “ Mochi bhee khud ko sunar samjhe’, that the cobbler thinks himself of a goldsmith. This is nothing short of racial abuse that certain people deserve success and others do not have right to compare themselves with the ‘big’ people.
The social cultural conditions in South Asia are alarming. They are reflecting of our tainted cultural practices. It is important that before we come to any conclusion, we must introspect what is happening around us.
The events at end of 2007 do not reflect the entire subcontinent in good light. First, the election results from Gujarat gave a chance to the saffron brigade to feel happy about their presence, a victory, which was followed by them in Himachal Pradesh. Modi’s victory became a toast for all those right wing nationalists who enjoy this cocktail of capital and Hindutva in India. When Modi was celebrating in Gujarat, the Hindutva foot soldiers were busy in experimenting the same things in another state, which is one of India’s poorest states yet naturally very rich. Here this richness of nature does not help the protector of nature, the Adivasis, but the exploiters of nature, the big corporate houses, who are on a purchasing spree. Yes, I talk of Orissa, a state, which has a government whose chief minister did not know how to speak Orriya in the beginning. Yes, the legacy of the family made this corporatised man, chief minister. The Sangh Parivar worked without any administrative control and is now the horrific tales of violence against Christian community in Kandhamala district of Orissa are out. A white paper issued by some of the civil society activists led by Dr John Dayal reveal the hidden danger of communalization process in Orissa and how the state administration became a silent spectator allowing the houses of the people be torched. While the white paper does speak about violence against non-Christians or Hindus but the fact is that communalization process in Orissa has hit below the belt. Why is the Hindutva so eager to make Orissa its Gujarat replica? One needs not to be an ideologue to understand the philosophy of Hindutva or religious rights in general. They work closely with the business houses. While in the west the capitalist might have social concern and secular ideals, in India Hindutva enamors them. Not a single industrialist could stand up and be counted to condemn the isolation and exclusion of Muslims in Gujarat. Every time, the demand for their safety and natural justice was raised, Modi and his gangs made them an issue of MUSLIMS. And the resounding victory that Gujarat gave to Modi is a reflection of how the community has grown. It is a victory not of diversity but homogenization of thought and deeds. Yes, Gujarat became a perfect Hindu Rastra and Gujaratis world over, unfortunately, have remained an isolated community, rarely meeting and mixing with the locals. Yes, they remain caged in their temples and money.
A few days later after Modi’s victory we found Gujarati’s being amidst a storm in Kenya. Reports appeared in newspapers here that they were targeted but independent sources said that the violence was general and not particular against Gujarati community but Narendra Modi was ready to give them shelter in Gujarat, bypassing the foreign ministry’s domain. He wanted government to act immediately. Of late, the Indians are becoming target of attacks but not due to any racial prejudices but because of their own isolation in those societies. In April 2007 when I traveled to Uganda, a country which witnessed violence just before I reached there, between the ethnic Ugandans who targeted Indians. It is no doubt that the Indian’s worked hard to reach to top slot but it is also a fact that a large number of them have reached to such a position with not much hard work but by sheer manipulations too. I was alarmed to hear from my African friends as why the Indian community is unable to mix up with the local communities even when the Europeans come and marry there, mix up with the local populace and share their feelings, the Indians have a deep sense of color prejudice and a superiority complex. While some of the Indians wrote me back from Uganda that they have contributed a lot but the fact is that the Gujarat’s exclusivism will ultimately hurt their own communities. Today, Modi want Gujarat exclusively for the upper castes and there is no voice of the tribals who have faced the brunt of the industrial Gujarat as their voice is not heard, the Dalits who plight is not heard. Such things do not make stronger India. Gujaratis enjoyed fruits of diversity world over and they do not want the same thing in their own province. In Uganda, Kenya elsewhere they are using Gandhi but in Gujarat, they have thrown away the old man.
Spending the last 10 days of the year 2007 in a remote town of Andhra Pradesh, I got opportunity to understand and meet many people from different parts of the country. A humanist friends from Gujarat made his presentation on the issue of communalization in Gujarat for which he openly blamed the killings and ostracisation of the Kashmiri Pandits. How can the Gujarati’s keep quiet if the Hindus are being killed and ethnic cleansing happening there on large scale, he retorted. Then he went on to explain, how the Gujarati people got annoyed after the Muslims had burnt the train in Godhara. When I asked him as why he feels that the Muslims burnt the train at Godhara and Hindus retaliated elsewhere? That is where we make mistake, I told him. How can you say that the Muslims burnt the train? They were criminals who might or might not be Muslims as their identities have not been established, I said. It is the duty of the state to nab the culprits and get them punishment. Who are you to punish the people of Gujarat, I questioned. ‘Oh, but tell me why are the terrorists only from the Muslim community’, he responded to my observations. My answer is simple. ‘Not a single Hindu has been implicated in the communal riots in India. Not a single one has been punished. You can catch a Dawood Ibrahim or Chhota Shakil but the culprits of the Mumbai Riots, Gujarat Violence, Delhi’s anti Sikh violence are roaming. They got rewarded by getting elected to parliament and became ministers’, I said. In a diverse society, the communalism of the majority is soon turned into a ‘national’ ethos while the demand of the minorities become communal, hence the votaries of the Ram mandir have become ‘national’ while those who demand justice for Babari Masjid become anti national. I am shocked not because people say such things. I have no doubt about death of civil society in India but it pains when those proclaiming humanists and human rights defender behave in such a way to justify one brand of communalism. One has to understand the dilemmas of the Muslim community in India to understand the ground reality. The more the community is marginalized the better the space for the fundamentalists to take over. That political leadership failed Muslim community in India, which depended on the Hindu leaders to prove their secularism, is another tragedy of the post independence India. A dalit can shout on the rooftop saying Bahujan Samaj Party is my part but for a Muslim to say Muslim League is my party would mean a tag of communal mindset.
It is easier to blame the Muslims for everything. Often such questions greet us. Why are they terrorists? Why no Muslim country is secular? Why Muslim breeds so many children? Why do they have so many wives? These things are true about every one. These things depend on your socio-economic status. One can also say that the population growth in the North India is tremendous comparatively to South. Secondly, the North Indian population is not just confined to Muslims; the increase in the population of Dalits and OBCs is enormous. The fact is that the population grows because of poverty and has nothing to do with religion.
Now, the important aspect is the false hood of the Hindutva campaign If they are against the Muslims for all those reasons, I mentioned above, then the important question, I am asking is, why are they hitting the Christian community? Are they terrorists? Do they have more children? Do they have more wives? the Hindutva does not want to understand that despite 9/11 incidents, Europe and American showed exemplary resilience. There were violence but those incidents were stray and isolated. Even when technically many of the European countries are still Christian, the individual freedom and human rights are highly respected and are well in place and the society by and large is secular. If the Hindutva want to compare India’s own record of discrimination, it must come out of a better alternative rather than blaming the Christians and Muslims for its own problem.
The problem is clear. The issue of Dalits and tribals are getting not only politicized but also internationalized. The great tolerant society now is exposed to the world. And we feel that this expose of our society can be countered by a false aggression that we have shown in Australia. In the age of information technology, we still want to hide our evils and not fight against them. Conversion was a potential tool once upon a time, a sense of revolt against the unequal system. One can differ with its perceptions and outcomes but definitely for the Hindutva propagandists, they were the first one to hit upon the rights of the Dalits and marginalized in India. Arun Shourie, the former editor of Indian Express is today the propagandist of the Hindutva in India. Shourie who once upon a time epitomized the probity in Public life, fought for the victims of the 1984 riots in Delhi when every news paper forgot about them, is today, ironically, speak against not only human rights but want to speak in terms of an eye for an eye. His writings against Dalits, Muslims, Christians are well known to be documented here. The only thing he changed in these years was that his love for Ambanis has increased. A company against whom he wrote passionately like a Gulshan Nanda’s fiction. These are the people who came out from some of the best-known Christian Institutions and later grew up in the shadow of the veterans of the human rights movement in India.
The justification of happening in Gujarat and now in Orissa underline two things. That the Sangh Parivar have Hinduised the entire political system. Second, despite a secular constitution, we still have not won battle against fundamentalism and religious intolerance. It is a challenge for all of us. The gain comes from the Political Islam in our surroundings but comparisons are rarely made with the Europeans where a large number of those who supply hate to India, live. Now, whether it is civil society or the political parties, the basic framework is the ideas, I mentioned earlier. Justification to violence under the garb of something else. You kill Hindus in Pakistan hence we have a right to retaliate in Gujarat. The Pakistani fundamentalists will do the same thing.. You kill Muslims in Gujarat and we will avenge it in Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere? When will this politics of prejudice end?
One needs to understand the threat perception in Orissa. The violence that killed Graham Stains and his two children was preceded with violence against the church and Christians in Gujarat. Prior to killings of Muslims in Gujarat, we had seen attacks on the churches and Christian Institutions in Gujarat and other parts of India, predominantly the tribal areas. So while Muslims are ‘terrorists’, produce more ‘children’, keep more ‘wives’, the Christians convert to our children. Why are Mr Adwani and his team leaving the prestigious Christian Institutions in the cities? why they target in the villages? Is it because these Christian Educational Institutions have more RSS wallahs than the Christians there? Is it because the Adivasis might also learn English language and understand their rights. Some body has to work. Let the Sangh also work there. Let the government work in the tribal areas. Displacing them from their habitat, killing them culturally and then imposing some religion on them, which has never been their own, is against their fundamental right. Another question comes in my mind is Christian contribution in India to civil society, health sector and education system. Can the Sangh Parivar and their different offshoots give us some counter argument on these issues?
Hatred in Orissa is long-term idea. The National Commission for Minorities has already said it in its note. Why is civil society so submissive, is a matter of grave concern. The fact of the matter is that barring a few exceptions; it has remained so every time. It is systematic intrusion in our civil society through the right wing forces, like media where even the most secular character has saffron rob underneath; the face of civil society is more tainted. It compromised on these issues because of various reasons. India’s health will only be good if it has a pluralistic heritage and a will to live together. Any imposition of ideas, identities, cultural and society on any other non willing partner will make it a nation, more dangerous than any of our neighbors. If lessons could be drawn from our immediate neighbors like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri lanka then, diversity, human rights, new ideas should be hallmark of a democratic system. Any deviation from these will turn India into an Afghanistan, which is still battling for unification and where different tribes are up in arms against each other. An India, where the women are not safe and where the discrimination on the basis of your caste, identity, colors and physical appearance are still rampant. The Sangh and its different Avatars should focus more on these issues so that life of the common person is changed. At least, this is what they can learn from the Christians.
At the end, we all pay our taxes. A government is there to protect the people and not become mute witness to violence against one community. If we do not find answers to our inherent discriminations as well as false nationalism, which is disturbingly turning into an upper caste cricket match that we witnessed in Sydney, then, I am afraid, the situation would go out of hand. This is the biggest hour of crisis in our social life and we have to respond it with responsibility and courage and not to let down the founding fathers of our nation, who gave us a secular and liberal constitution which is still our proud possession and a guarantee for social justice and equality for all.