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October 16, 2015

Fanatic Fringe is the Modi's Mainstream

[This is an AHRC Article.
Republished in the Kashmir Times.]
"Incidents like Dadri and Ghulam Ali are really sad but what is the role of the Centre in them?" These are the words of Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, who finally appears to have broken his silence in this statement made to the Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika on the increasing instances of sectarian killings in the country.
The “incidents” he refers to include the mob lynching of a Muslim man over a rumour of him having eaten beef. Eating beef is not a crime in Uttar Pradesh where the murder took place. Local members of the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party, i.e. the party Mr. Modi leads, announced this “rumour” from a temple loudspeaker.
It has taken him more than a year to speak up after the first such hate killing, which resulted in the death of Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh, a 24-years-old Muslim techie in Pune. This occurred within weeks of his becoming the prime minister. He maintained similar stoic silence over virtually all other hate crimes committed by various Hindutva outfits including those affiliated with the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) whose political arm the BJP is, while choosing to tweet during this period even on local inconsequential BJP victories and even to congratulate individual players of India’s World Cup Cricket team. His silence on hate crimes has continued in the face of murders of writers and activists like Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi allegedly, again, by members of Hindutva outfits.
He has remained steadfast in his silence, until he was hit by an avalanche of writers returning their awards, including those by the Sahitya Akademi, the apex literary body of the country, which is government funded, but autonomous. He has been forced to speak when protests escalated to the extent of Dalip Singh Tiwana, an 80-year-old celebrated Punjabi writer, returning her Padma Shri, i.e. one of the highest civilian awards in the republic. The avalanche of protest made the possibility of his stoic silence unfeasible. Only then has he spoken, to a Bengali newspaper.
Now that he has spoken, apart from the fact that he has spoken, naturally, attention needs to be paid on what he has spoken. And, what he has spoken should bother the country more than his studied silence in the face of attacks and rising intolerance across the country.
This is not the first time India has seen a spurt in sectarian tension. Mr. Modi himself presided over Gujarat in 2002, when one of the nation’s worst communal pogroms that ensued after ghastly attack on a train in Godhra rocked the nation. Many will recall that his – controversial at best and partisan at worst – handling of the pogrom and riots earned him a rebuke from none other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India and a founder of BJP. Mr. Vajpayee had asked Mr. Modi then to follow “Rajdharma” and not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, or religion.
Mr. Modi might claim to be sad over “incidents” like Dadri, but his actions betray both the hollowness of the claim and that he never took Mr. Vajpayee’s advice seriously. Immediately after Dadri murder, Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma pontificated on the nature of injuries, which, for him, showed that there was no desire for the mob to engage in a lynch. As if that was not enough, he also took pride in the fact that the 17-year-old daughter of the victim was not touched by the mob. Mahesh Sharma is not the first minister of the Modi cabinet to indulge in such brazen defence / legitimization of Hindutva fanaticism. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, for instance, is notorious for having exhorted the Delhi electorate to choose between Ramzades (sons of Lord Rama) and Haramzades (illegitimate children).
And, these two do not represent anomalies in the Modi cabinet, which is known for rewarding and not penalising such behaviour. One can recall how Mr. Modi had inducted Giriraj Singh, a first time Member of Parliament from Bihar, despite him facing criminal charges for allegedly delivering a hate speech that suggested that after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister his critics would be banished to Pakistan. Similarly, awarded with a ministerial berth in the Modi Cabinet was Sanjeev Baliyan, who is facing criminal charges over his role in inciting the Muzaffarnagar riots, which claimed more than 60 lives in 2013.
The writing on the wall is clear. Rioting, as well as less intense forms of communal polarization, has long been a prized weapon of politicking in India; even the so-called secular parties have employed them time and again. However, no party has ever dared to bring the associated rioters in the mainstream until now; they have been accommodated and rewarded by different means until now. The republic remembers how many of those involved in rioting against Sikhs in 1984 were rewarded, but it also remembers how even tall leaders of the Indian National Congress like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler were made to pay a heavy political price for their alleged involvement in the riots. They had to be relegated to the fringe, and they never found their way back into the mainstream.
Even that pretence has now been done away with since the rise of rabid Hindutva politics led by Modi. The experiment that started in Gujarat when a violent murderous fringe started being accommodated in the mainstream has now become successful with the induction of riot accused ministers in the union government.

It is in this context that Modi’s self-claimed helplessness becomes a significant marker of the times to come, and not only because his claim is plain wrong. India, after all, is a Union and the Union government has a plethora of constitutional rights to intervene if state governments fail in their mandatory duty of protecting citizen life, in this case that of minorities.
Further, these provisions are not limited to the much-misused Article 356 of the Indian Constitution that allows for imposition of presidential rule in states. There is also Article 365 that authorizes the Union government to intervene in cases where state governments fail to follow its directions. Article 365 reads as follows in its entirety:
“Effect of failure to comply with, or to give effect to, directions given by the Union Where any State has failed to comply with or to give effect to any directions given in the exercise of the executive power of the Union under any directions given in the exercise of the executive power of the Union under any of the provisions of this Constitution, it shall be lawful for the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
The writing on the wall is clear. It is not some constitutional provisions that have prevented Mr. Modi from speaking up or asking chief ministers of states showcasing increasing violence to ensure the rule of law and punish the troublemakers, most of whom are in any case from RSS that Mr. Modi himself owes allegiance to. This is why Modi’s decision not to ask even the chief ministers of states ruled by his party either alone or in alliances, never mind the ones ruled by parties in opposition, becomes tacit approval for such attacks by the erstwhile fringe.
This is exactly what Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut has exposed when he lashed out at Mr. Modi’s “sadness” over Dadri and the cancellation of a Ghazal concert by Ghulam Ali. One does not get an ally exhorting to Mr. Modi’s Godhra past everyday and here is a senior Shiv Sena leader speaking the obvious: Modi is known around the world for Godhra and this is why Shiv Sena respects him.
The irony hidden in the outburst is startling. Shiv Sena has long been the violent fringe of Hindutva politics – the violent and uncouth fringe. It was never known for lacking in guts to call anyone with any names. But then, exhorting the PM’s not so inspiring past with sound logic exposes how far the fringe has travelled.
The problem with the fringe becoming mainstream does not augur well for the future of the republic, and not just for the future of its beleaguered minorities. Once the fringe entrenches itself in power, it turns against everyone, even those instrumental in bringing it there. Experiences from recent history bear witness to this. Pakistan has learnt the lesson that no amount of pretensions can turn a faction of Taliban into a good faction without high cost.
India, too, will arrive there if the governments, both at the union and provincial levels, fail to crack down on the fringe decisively. Being sad is okay but one cannot fight crime with that; it requires prosecution and punishment for those responsible. Sadly, with ministers accused of inciting riots and delivering hate speeches, the current regime does not seem to be particularly interested in the punishment of such crimes.

October 10, 2015

Dalit Women Stripped: It Is The Republic Of India That Stands Naked

[This is an AHRC Article.

Republished in Counter Currents]

It is the Republic and not a Dalit family that stands naked in front of Dankaur Police Station in Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, located not more than 50 kilometres from the national capital. There are “conflicting” reports, as well as pictures and videos, which have gone viral on social media about what exactly transpired, i.e. if one can still believe anything the Indian media machine churns out in the never-ending Television Rating Point hunt.

The reports are indeed fuzzy. A few of them like this one have reported the incident as a protest by the family against the police who refused to register their First Information Report (FIR) about the loot of family valuables, including a motorcycle. Such reports claim – and corroborate the claim with statements by unnamed local residents – that “family members deliberately tore their clothes themselves to create ruckus”.

A few others, mostly Hindi sources (like this one), which have also been quoted in the international media (like here) have brought forward a different version: the family was stripped naked by the police when they went to the Police Station to register their complaint about the loot on October 8. They add that criminals robbed Sunil Gautam, head of the family, on Wednesday night near Atta in Noida. He went to Dankaur Police Station on Thursday to register an FIR, along with his wife and baby, and sat in protest outside the police station when police refused to register the same, despite being obligated to do so. These reports add that the cops got angry at this impertinence, assaulted the family, and tore off their clothes. Another report, in yet another newspaper, quotes the victim saying that he was making rounds of the Police Station for three days. 

Amidst all the “conflicting reports”, one fact is crystal clear: the family ended up naked in front of a Police Station in a market with a large crowd in attendance that was busy filming the incident on their phones and not helping either side: the family if it was indeed stripped or the police, if the police were indeed trying to cover up the naked family. 

From this emerges another fact. The decision to strip off their clothes cannot come easily to the women of a country that, despite all its democratic pretensions, still abides by the strongest patriarchal codes of honour and Victorian morality hinged on the bodies of its women. Going naked in such a society, now armed with cell phone cameras to record the act and derive sadistic pleasure out of it, betrays the desperation that pushed them into this extreme form of a protest. 

Such desperation, which forces women to go naked in protest, is old hat for the republic. India has seen mothers of Manipur stripping in front of the headquarters of Assam Rifles, the oldest paramilitary force of the country, with placards screaming “Indian Army Rape Us” to protest against the rape and assault committed by those in uniform. It has also witnessed women of Govindpur Village of Jagatsingpur District in Odisha resort to going naked in protest against police atrocities. The immediate reason behind that protest was no different from the one in Dankaur. The women there were aghast at Odisha Police’s dogged refusal to lodge an FIR against a bomb attack allegedly carried out by hired goons of POSCO, a multinational steelmaker giant. The attack killed several members of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) that has been opposing forcible land acquisition by the company.

And, there is another fact exposed amidst the cacophony of all the “conflicting reports”. The Indian justice institutions have abandoned a significant section of the citizens for long. Even a person with a cursory idea of Indian justice institutions would know how difficult it is to seek redress in the self-designated “largest democracy of the world”. How else can it be in state where the law enforcement agencies chose not registering complaints as the best way of bringing down the crime rate?

It is this that should bother everyone in the Dankaur case, far more than the question of ‘who stripped them’ that has been spun in this case. As it is, the Uttar Pradesh police, like almost all provincial law enforcement agencies in India is known more for the crimes committed, not averted, investigated, or solved. And, this is particularly so in terms of cases of sexual assault. In fact, not even a week has passed since a female constable of the UP Police accused several colleagues of gang raping her inside a police station.

Uttar Pradesh is not known for standing by either Dalits or women. These are two of the most marginalised communities of the state. The state keeps witnessing cases of Dalit women being paraded naked by the so-called upper castes, without as much as a frown. Though many such cases never get reported because of both the social stigma attached and the administration’s attempts to brush them under the carpet, the last reported case came from Sitapur, as recently as in May.

Dankaur exposes, yet again, how the Indian justice institutions deny justice to the poor and needy more often than delivering the same to them. This is lost in the political discourse that keeps the myriad of news channels churning without ever recognizing that a country without a functioning justice system cannot be a democracy. Unfortunately, many even in the civil society fail to see this despite all the Dankaurs, by focussing more on the ‘political motives’ and all else but justice. Be it the murder over the rumour of eating beef in neighbouring Dadri (despite eating beef not being a crime in the state) or conflicting reports over Dankaur, the debate shifts to the politics of such crimes, not the injustice at the heart of the case and the redress that must be ensured for the victims.

Political debates over crimes are worthless unless one builds a system that prosecutes and punishes the guilty and ensures justice to victims. In the absence of such a system, one can keep moving from one debate to another, from Dadri to Dankaur, ascribing political motives behind hate crimes, sexual assaults, and what not. Crimes need to be investigated and punished to ensure justice or else they serve the agenda of those committing them.