Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Decapitating Democracy

Such remarks were mostly seen in the comments section of an online article, where one could safely conceal one’s identity. Whenever the topic of conversion cropped up in any article, some reader with the name “Bharat”, “Indian” or “NRI” would say that those who convert others and/or those converted should be beheaded. Later such comments also came with proper, if not real, names. But one still saw such language in the comments. The Indian Express yesterday, 8th November, carried a report with the headline: “Behead those who convert Hindus: Togadia”. The newspaper may have wanted to sensationalize things but then it carried it, at least in the Chandigarh edition, not on Page 1. It may be giving an unambiguous warning.

“Behead”.  I am not sure if this is cow-protector Pravin Togadia’s way of saying “Happy Bakara Eid”. He made this statement in Ahmedabad in village Pirana inhabited by a substantial population of Muslims. Speaking at the third and the final day of the Akhil Bhartiya Dharmaprasar Karyakarta Sammelan, 2011, which coincided with Bakrid, he also said, according to Times of India, that while anti-conversion was a priority, re-conversion of those converted to Islam and Christians was a bigger priority. Earlier he had given the call to Muslims of the area to reconvert to Hinduism and mocked the idea of politicians wearing skull caps during Muslim festivals.

Of course, Togadia has been making such inflammatory statements since forever and though they have certainly contributed in making savages out of human beings, many believe that the country has moved on from those horrifying instances of communal violence. The great Indian middle class believes that we have all matured and will not be swayed by such crass rhetoric. In fact, some news sites have called it a “lackluster” affair and they may even be right. The event may not have been very well attended but it has made a significant statement—a significant communal statement.

The sammelan was held in an RSS-run village school and many of the delegates stayed on the campus that included a Sufi shrine, a dargah, of Imam Shah Baba and a Hindu temple. The dargah attracts both Hindu and Muslim devotees. Hindus, called “Satpanthis”, comprise 85 per cent of the followers while the rest are “Saiyed” Muslims. The balance is tilted in the favour of the Hindus, though there had apparently been no history of communal tension. The trust of the shrine is for obvious reasons dominated by the Hindus. There are reportedly seven Hindu and three Muslim trustees. The Muslim trustees did not want extremist Hindus to hold a three-day event there. “We are against such meetings and we haven’t given any permission orally or in writing. They (Satpanthis) are doing what they want to do. All we want to say is that if you don’t believe in the ideology of what Imam Shah Baba taught, should leave the Dargah alone,” DNA quoted Saiyed Nuruddin Bade Miyan, a Muslim as saying. And though the dargah was a symbol of communal harmony in the area, the differences arose between trustees of the communities in 2002 and about six years ago, the communities clashed. Each accuses the other of communalizing the dargah. A 2006 article in the Christian Science Monitor highlighted the increasing communalization of the village: “Eager to slough off the shrine’s Muslim identity after the Gujarat riots of 2002, Hindu devotees of the saint built a barbed-wire fence between the shrine and the mosque that was originally built in the same complex. Muslims and Hindus then accused each other of stealing religious items and are now locked in a bitter court battle, each claiming the shrine is rightfully theirs.”

On the day the sammelan began, two organizations, Movement for Secular Democracy (MSD) and Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) gave a memorandum to the Gujarat governor Dr Kamala Beniwal to requesting her to “ensure peace and harmony during VHP’s conference”. While their efforts did help prevent simmering communal explode, they could not do much to check VHP capitalizing on the already tense relationship between Hindu and Muslim followers of the shrine.

On 7th November, the last day of the sammelan, the communal degeneration of the dargah was inscribed, if not unveiled, when the chief of the trust handed over a cheque worth Rs 1,11,111 to the saffron outfit. While ToI said that this act allayed pre-event fears of communal conflict, reports are yet awaited as to how the Muslim trustees reacted to this gesture of unmitigated gratitude. It’s possible that the majority of members overruled any dissent within the trust.

It is, thus, not difficult to see a clear divide within the trust as well as the communities in general. The Hindu trustees have already thrown their lot with VHP hoping some backing from the militant outfit even as they continue to battle legally with their Muslim counterparts.

This particular event has indeed added fuel to the fire but the reason that it becomes uncannily frightening is that it is part of a larger resurgence of Hindutva forces within last eight or nine months.

For example, the recent “clashes” in Rajasthan’s Gopalgarh (Sept. 2011) between Meo Muslims and Gurjars have been called communal riots, where the local BJP MLA tried to raise the bogey of Muslim fundamentalism. The truth, however, is that it is clear case of massacre by the police, targeted at a particular community (see Pramod Ranjan’s “Not a Riot, Repression”, Cover Story, FORWARD Press magazine, Nov. 2011). That little town did not witness any communal riot in the past before the RSS became active there.

The rise of the so-called anti-corruption movement under Team Anna too is symptomatic of this resurgence. While skeletons are tumbling out of the cupboard for the leaders, the discussions, especially on the social media are exposing the true face of the rank and file of this campaign. The self-righteous freedom fighters of the “second freedom movement” are the same sort of people who brought down the Babri Masjid in 1992. For many of them, corruption-free Indian is nothing but another name for saffron brigade’s Akhand Bharat. Krantikari Manuwadi Morcha is one of the many Hindutva organizations extending their support to Anna Hazare’s campaign. It holds that reservations are the chief cause of corruption in the country; and it is not difficult to see that it has become especially vocal since implementation of reservations for the OBCs. Gail Omvedt, in a recent column, suggests that possibility of OBC influx in educational institutions and government jobs has terrified the Manuwadis, the casteists. Talking of reservations she says, “This major aspect of democratising and acting against the old privilege of birth, is hated by those who benefit from it. Now those who hate it are getting a chance to divert attention into the single issue of ‘corruption,’ with the hidden agenda of blaming much of it on reservations!”

Almost every evening the ‘fans’ of India Against Corruption on Facebook berate and hurl choicest abuses at all those who seek serious dialogue regarding Team Anna’s crusade, its larger motives, programmes and goals. Behind their ferocity is nothing but a misguided caste and communal pride that is deeply offended by democratic principles of affirmative action and even the Constitution. When I last followed one such a discussion, I found people calling it a pirated document, which needs to be thoroughly revamped.

It’s not before long that this anger falls on another cardinal democratic freedom, freedom of conscience. After reservations, conversion can be the next target of this movement that initially only wanted its own version of a bill to be passed. After all, there are ready-made arguments against corruption—in the eyes of the Hindutva forces, conversion is always a result of Christians and Mulsims “bribing” the so-called poor (read, lower caste) people.

Such is the force of this argument, though quite illogical and so far without any credible evidence, that a former member of Team Anna has already made a statement against conversions. Recently the head of the Roman Catholic Church, who is also revered by many Protestants, Pope Benedict XVI sent his Diwali wishes via a letter to all Indians, in which he mentioned that one should also celebrate the freedom to change one’s religion. Swami Agnivesh responded to that letter “suggesting a moratorium on the religious conversion of ‘unlettered tribals’ and children who cannot make an ‘informed choice’”, reported Hindustan Times. A totally unnecessary reply, one would think. It is a common knowledge that in most families, except where both the parents are atheists, children as young as one year old are taught to bow before the idols and are shown religious books and pictures to train them in religion. That aside, one must ask what propelled Swami Agnivesh, who is respected across religious spectrum, to make such a suggestion. It may be that continuous personal attacks on him by virulent Team Anna followers have forced him to establish his credentials as a good Hindu, in the mould of Gandhi and Vivekananda, who made similar suggestions. And, these two are also inspirational figures for some of the most powerful Hindutva ideologues.

The feel-good campaign of the saffron brigade may not have been politically approved by the electorate in the 2004 general election, but the socio-cultural machinery that creates and perpetuates it was never shut off. Now when the Congress party is in ruins, Hindutva forces are already sniffing victory in the 2014 election. Earlier this year in an interview with Frontline magazine Christophe Jaffrelot said it as a maxim: “…the centre of gravity of the political discourse in India has shifted to the Right.” It’s their best chance.

Pravin Togadia seems to believe that. Swami Agnivesh perhaps thinks likewise. Who knows, he may even be trying to play Good Samaritan by asking Christians and Muslims not to involve themselves in conversions, else Togadias of VHP would act on what they are only saying. Behead!


AJ said...

After reading an article like this, one wonders whether the world in it's present form should be nuked out, be left with a lesser number of people that can co-exist in peace.

sunil sardar said...

Reservation ,conversion and enumeration( census) are litmus tests for true and law abiding constitution honoring Indian. Togdia, Swami Subramanyam, Swami Agnivesh, and so called liberal Brahmins are basically Anti Constitution wants to be like England country without constitution. They need to be exposed by OBC's. Thank you for blog.