26.5.19

And this is how liberals will speak out in a Modi-fied India...


Following the victory of the Bhartiya Janata Party and another term for a Narendra Modi government, social media was awash with liberals promising to fight, to dissent and projecting themselves as allies of Muslims. 

Elite Muslims were quick to feel indebted for the kindness, quite forgetting that their supporters have not done anything that would qualify as real opposition to the Hindutva ideology. 

So, how exactly will they fight this government?

  • They will post memes.
  • They will unsubscribe to certain newspapers/TV channels that have posted/aired a bigoted report. (Two days later they’ll quote from the same papers/channels they unsubscribed from.)
  • They will praise Ravish Kumar for his emotion-laden speech against a black backdrop.
  • Those in the media will, pathetically, even on primetime shows they anchor, announce that they do not believe in shouting like some other channels, as though that is enough to make them better than Arnab Goswami.
  • They will wait eagerly for The Telegraph to read its front page headline. After which they announce that journalism isn’t dead. Clearly, all it takes is smart wordplay to be alive.
  • They will have shows on the hijab where primacy will be given to their version of the good Muslim, the one not wearing the scarf, while the ones wearing it, who are the subject, are given short shrift, if not shirked.
  • Some will write books on why they are liberal and some on why they are Hindu. They like such balancing acts...it’s just a way of life thing.
  • Following any unfortunate act of terror anywhere in the world, they will be quick to declare that not all Muslims are terrorists. After the lynchings against Muslims, they never feel the need to say that not all Hindus are like that because that is supposed to be a given.
  • They will post videos of lynchings. Within minutes they’ll be posting screenshots of the hateful responses they get from Sanghi trolls. Soon enough, their victimisation becomes more important than the person being lynched.
  • They will take out a caravan to the homes of the victims. But...karwaan guzar gaya, ghubaar dekhte rahe...
  • They will protest against a horrible incident at some elite location. Those who cannot make it will ask them to be safe. 
  • They will pull up the Congress party to show they don’t have political affiliations, but will happily project Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee and even newbie Kanhaiya Kumar as messiahs.
  • They will talk about the moderate faces of the BJP, each time one of their leaders criticises it, forgetting that they have been a part of it during the worst moments in its history.
  • They tell you they are allies of Muslims because they eat biryani, quote Faiz (whatta rebel, also atheist, no?), go to Nizamuddin Dargah on Thursday nights for qawwali, and think Sufism rocks.
  • They will call themselves dissenters because they stand with a Kunal Kamra or a Swara Bhasker.


***

There should’ve been memes after this, but liberal selective amnesia is quite a thing. They lecture others on the need to take an ideological position, but seem quite comfortable with the idea of Swara Bhasker campaigning for six candidates from different parties. 

How can she even qualify as an intellectual asset when she says: 

“I knew that people were calling me because I am a heroine. As soon as I learnt that I would be campaigning, I went and bought 20 saris and got my wardrobe sorted. Maine blouse silva liye, jewellery leli and curated my look. I used to blow dry my hair in morning, put on my hair extensions and makeup, and wear my chunky earrings. I knew that the media would come for pictures and interviews, which in turn could be used as a platform to talk about issues that matter. For the public, it’s not a politician joh white kurta and jacket mein aa raha hai, they see a young person with colourful clothes.”

So much poppycock. She is far removed from reality, and yet gets so much traction when her destination is clear: “I am so tired after campaigning. I can’t wait to go back to Bollywood now.”

It amazes me that self-important people, those whose online profile is buffered by who hates them rather than what they stand for, are the heroes of liberals.


3.4.19

White Knights and ‘Muslimsplaining’


From Jacinda Ardern to Eggboy, the white saviours have taken over the Muslim story once again from the Muslims. To commemorate a week of the Christchurch terror attacks on two mosques there were a series of moves and events designed to make Muslims feel they belong.

New Zealand radio and television sounded the call for prayer at 1.30 pm, the time of the shootings. Policewomen and TV anchors wore the scarf; the latter began their telecast with a ‘salaam alaikum (peace be upon you), newspapers had Arabic scrawling on their front pages with an explanation of Muslim rituals, and Prime Minister Ardern quoted the Prophet. The distinction between state and religion was lost. Also, instead of an expression of solidarity, it appeared to be a catering to a homogenised people, if not a special needs people.

Entitled brown folks were, however, over the crescent moon. They were complicit in propping up such privilege with their gratefulness for a white headscarf wearer or a young man egg-splattering the head of a racist Australian senator.

A fundraiser for Eggboy Will Connolly raised a whole lot of money for his legal fees and for being “a good egg”. Using him as an example of how the West responds to hate speech ignores the immensity of the vile comments by Sen Fraser Anning blaming immigrants for the terror act.

Ardern visiting the bereaved with much empathy is no doubt a potent image of a caring leader, but would a Muslim leader reaching out to his people be greeted with as much enthusiasm?

These gestures have a limited shelf life, but by becoming totems they reduce the Muslim identity to a community that cannot manage without an Other’s heroism.

***

“I’d love to wear one, how do I tie it?” asked an enthusiastic white woman expressing her support for the March 22 Scarves in Solidarity Day.

To lift the spirits of New Zealanders, Christchurch youth worker Jay Geldard decided on Colour Your Day: Colour Your Day has come from asking how do 4.8 million people respond to an event like this? You get a sense that there's this desire, and it's like people who have been quite down don't know how to respond. So it's saying, let's just put on something bright. It could be socks, it could be scarves, it could just be mufti - you'll just see people in bright colours and you'll know you are all together.”

The problem with sentimental gestures is that they do not go deeper than the displayed symbolism. While wearing colourful socks could have worked as casual weekend dressing, it being a Friday – the day of prayer for Muslims, the day when the attacks took place while they were on their knees in obeisance – the sense of joyousness was a bit incongruous.



However, it was not as disingenuous as wearing a scarf in solidarity. As a Muslim woman who does not wear one, I often get praised for my assumed breaking of shackles by the rightwing and the liberals in India. The hijab has been a red rag for democratic regimes as well as feminists. Curiously, both these pro-choice proponents use it to indicate oppression and refuse to grant the wearer the dignity of having made a choice to assert an identity. They also seem to forget that women are shamed in the streets for wearing this identity.

That these liberals were ready to don a scarf in solidarity amounts to a denial of the rights of a people to stand up for themselves without being caricatured, howsoever benevolent the motive might be.

***

The notion behind speaking on behalf of a community is not inclusive but exclusive. It is a declaration that white is the mainstream, the standard gold. To belong, immigrants will have to look through this prism.

In an impassioned speech, Ms. Ardern said, “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing – not even his name.”

This is most simplistic. He did not merely seek notoriety; he wanted to annihilate people. His manifesto clearly stated that. Terrorism by a white man cannot be explained away as an attention-seeking exercise. By making him invisible, his supremacism is being whitewashed.



Aiding in this process are the elite among the immigrants who rarely speak about such entrenched racism in their adopted homes and help in sidestepping the dangerous fact that such violent responses are not really an exception that commentators and Ms. Ardern herself makes it look like. They do the white thing by deifying a man who lost his wife in the attacks but forgave the killer because he represents the spirit of Islam. How different is it from the West creating binary stereotypes of the good Muslim and the bad Muslim?

Unless we have a Muslim, an Arab, an immigrant speak up against supremacists, and not just with eggs, and unless Muslim societies stop feeling beholden for tokens, the white killer will remain in whitened public perception merely a gunman seeking notoriety and not the terrorist that he is.

*****

Images: The Washington Post, New International

Published in CounterPunch

18.12.18

Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva





Although there is no evidence to suggest that John Allen Chau, an American adventure enthusiast and Jesus lover, had achieved any success in converting people to his faith or threatened them into doing so, he is being portrayed as a missionary who deserved to die.

He was reportedly murdered on November 17 by the North Sentinel tribesmen when he approached them for a third time in as many days. The island forms part of the archipelago of 29 islands in the Andaman and Nicobar. It is among the most vulnerable and protected.

His body has not been found, but public debate in India has demonised him as a Christian missionary looking for a kill. This works well for the rightwing. The sudden interest in the preservation of tribal culture is a strategy that justifies their call for a return to Hindu cultural purity as a matter of national urgency.

There has been little attempt to see Chaus potential as a religious middleman in a reasonable manner. Why would he choose a people who are secluded to spread his message? Besides, he had no background in tribes; he did not know the language of the North Sentinelese. How would he communicate with them about his way? Had he succeeded in making contact and handed them a Bible copy and perhaps even anointed them, they would still not be Christian.


While the zeal of Jesuits cannot be discounted and they have used the poor and needy to spread the faith, the projection of the missionary as predator validates minority bashing that gives rise to violence against them. On a winter night 20 years ago Dara Singh, a Bajrang Dal activist, and his gang set fire to a station wagon in which Australian missionary Graham Staines, who worked among the tribals and lepers in Odisha, and his two young sons were asleep. They were charred to death. 

Hindu groups said that he was converting their people. Such a suggestion, that this is the fate you meet for proselytising, is not a tribal but a feudal reaction. The tribesmen have not been rejoicing over their victory against a missionary, but rightwing groups routinely seek vengeance for often-imagined crimes carried out against their culture.

The save the tribes from missionaries cry does not take into account that in recent years Hindu groups have been damaging churches and converting Christians in a few tribal belts for a “Christianity-free block”. They call it ghar wapsi, a return to the original fold.

***


“The tribes have been living on the islands for centuries without any problem. Their troubles started after they came into contact with outsiders. The tribes of the islands do not need outsiders to protect them, what they need is to be left alone.” This is what Madhumala Chattopadhyay, the only woman to have visited the North Sentinel island, said in a recent interview. She was part of the Anthropological Survey of India team that first went there in 1991.

The discussion on making tribes more inclusive at a time when most societies are not geographically restricted is worrying. Inevitably, the mainstream is a majoritarian construct. Diversity and plurality are seen from the perspective of patronage of lesser (numerically or otherwise) societies rather than accepting their inherent right to be different. 

Tribal spaces are not unlike urban ghettoes. These are created by members to retain an identity, to be around safe spaces, and due to fear. Sometimes these ghettoes are formed when the majority pushes people away from the very mainstream they want the groups to belong to, thereby highlighting their otherness. 

Societies like the North Sentinelese resist outsiders not to preserve their tradition but their livelihood and personhood from outside interference, be it religious, political or merely curious.

***

John Chau’s journal entries are a cornucopia of myth. His fellow travellers to the island were fishermen, as indeed were Jesus’ in his early preaching years in Galilee. The gift of fish for the tribe is also mythic – in Greek, fish is an anagram for Jesus. As Chau wrote in one entry about his attempt at reaching out, “I hollered, ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you’.” On the second day, a young tribesman aimed an arrow at him; it pierced through a copy of the Bible he was carrying. 
However martyrdom, that some Christian groups have accorded him, does not quite fit Chau, for he bartered with god directly: “If you want me to get actually shot, or even killed with an arrow then so be it. I think I could be more useful alive though, but to you, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens. I don’t want to die.”
Although his next appeal for forgiveness for “any of the people on this island who try to kill me, and especially forgive them if they succeed” might suggest intimations of immortality, he probably just had a keen eye and was practical about his religiosity. 

This begs the question: why do we have a problem only with religious conversion? India is full of charlatans and savants. We will continue to be victims of social colonialism as long as there is  inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity and the ruling elite offers progress with the promise of a statue of god.
--
Published in CounterPunch