10.11.17

Reductionism and the Sexual Abuse Debate:
Beyond #MeToo, #HimToo


Every woman has faced some kind of sexual exploitation. It starts when we are young. We have barely had an opportunity to watch our bodies grow and find that somebody else is noticing and making a claim over it. Often, for just a moment, for that brush against us. He does not see anything else except that bit. We begin to hide the part that now seems like an appendage to only cause us trouble.

Sadly, what we see in the course of various articles on male predatory behaviour is a similar lingering-over-bodies objectification. The Harvey Weinstein story should have been about him flashing and spraying a potted plant upon being rebuffed; instead it has become anecdotal about parts of women, their person stamped with the victim tag.

Another problem with the exploitation discussion is that it gets reduced to a parade of names with a pecking order. So, while Bafta and the Oscar honchos throw Harvey Weinstein out, Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby continue to hold their place. Are their abusive actions any less damaging? Their victims too did not inspire the kind of solidarity we see with the Hollywood A-listers. The crime seems to matter only when the criminal and victim are mainstream.


Forty years after he was charged with and served a sentence for raping a minor, women took out a topless protest against Polanski in Paris as a result of the ‘Weinstein effect’. He has his supporters, from French philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy to George Clooney, who finds the behaviour of Weinstein “indefensible” but had expressed sympathy for Polanski: “When you think about all that this 83 year old man has been through, it's awful to imagine that they're still after him.”

More prominent men are being outed, Kevin Spacey being the latest. Worryingly, the reportage has transformed the victims into numbers. 30 women, 50 women, 80 women. More women and counting. Men, too. Recall that New York magazine had done a lead story, its cover picture a montage of all the women who had accused Cosby. It was like a “wanted” list. The women were on parade. And given that he got away due to a “mistrial” and that he had plans to teach young people how to escape sexual assault charges, we need to examine whether, aside from celebrity gawking, these ‘outings’ have any real effect on the social mindset.

Me Too


While it is understandable that women would speak out as a group to feel safe and bolster their chances of being heard, this is not how it happened. They did not speak in one voice; it was a snowballing effect. Why does it have to be a sorority of victims? Isn't one victim enough for us to pay heed? Had the victim names not been famous would we have been interested?

Another aspect of the Weinstein episode is that women recognised for having broken the glass ceiling and fighting for equal pay have been relegated in public perception as people who struggle with silence when faced with physical humiliation. Most of them have a backdated encounter with Weinstein and they held their own despite him, yet there aren’t any paeans to them being survivors.

In trying to reclaim space, such attempts ghettoise women. Mass and social media are building up a cult of victims they can feed on. We may say “me too”, but how will hashtag comradeship make men answerable for specific crimes? The tendency to generalise and transform every issue into a jumpable bandwagon is detrimental to dealing with misogyny and the different kinds of extreme behaviour it manifests as.

Him Too



A UK actress says she lost out on roles because she refused Weinstein’s crass offer to “touch your tits. Kiss you a little”. This is a desperate man begging, it is not about power.

Weinstein had taken a woman out for lunch because he said she had looked at him. Cosby said, “I think that I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things.”

If it is not about imagining signals, it is about how a woman looks. And now even some feminists have begun mansplaining. From ‘me too’ to ‘why not me too’. Actor, and neuroscientist, Mayim Bialik writing on ‘Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World’ chalked it up as an achievement that she was not “a perfect 10” and therefore safe. There were angry reactions for this regressive, ignorant and horribly standoffish statement: “As a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms…I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”

Such a moral prism is what dictates much of the debate. The question should not be, why is she assuming the abused women were flirting, but why should any man assault a woman even if she is flirting or dressed in a certain way?

Many women dread facing the jury, to answer the question about what they were wearing when they were abused. But the legal system only follows the socially-sanctioned approach. A journalist who was a teenager in the 60s was quoted in a Hugh Hefner obit piece as saying, “When the sexual revolution happened, none of those women looked like playboy bunnies. They looked like hippy chicks.”

Using a woman’s looks to measure her liberation is backward and to posit Woodstock and the hippie culture to the bunnies reflects slavery to archetypes. Besides, the “summer of love” wasn’t all about liberation. It often meant waking up with strangers in bed and not out of choice. As author and agony aunt of that time Virginia Ironside wrote: “But now, armed with the pill, and with every man knowing you were armed with the pill, pregnancy was no longer a reason to say ‘no’ to sex. And men exploited this mercilessly. Now, for them, ‘no’ always meant ‘yes’.”

It still does. And we are talking about situations where assumptions are made. There are many more situations where nobody asks. There is no time for a No.

Last year in the United States of America there were around 96,000 rape cases, an average of 263 every day. Everywhere in the world toddlers and grandmothers get raped. What power is being asserted and what pulchritude and seduction are at play here?

What women have to face in the street, in offices, sometimes even in the privacy of their homes is not always about those in powerful positions. 


Let us also not build up sexual power politics as a gilded space. Men from the lower strata can be exploiters too. Their victims ought to matter as much even though they might not be able to tweet or join a movement for solidarity. Their lives have hardly ever counted, and news of them being forced upon by men never results in any spontaneous empathy. 

The words of Rose McGowan, among the first to accuse Weinstein, are a simple testimony: “I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn't been proven. I said I was the proof.”

A woman alone is proof of what she has gone through. She isn’t a mere link in a callout chain.

***
Published in CounterPunch

9.11.17

Revisiting Akbar-Salim-Anarkali



Last weekend I watched the stage version of Mughal-e-Azam. I like new perspectives, even if they do not hold the old charm.

Feroz Abbas Khan’s take on the Anarkali-Prince Salim love story under the not benevolent eye of Emperor Akbar is an ambitious project. How could K.Asif’s landmark movie translate in the confined space of a stage, especially since there weren’t any claims at ‘reinventing’ the classic and the intent was to almost repeat the scenes and the dialogues verbatim?

As a tribute it succeeds; it has the  head-bowed quality about it, aware all the time of looking up to an icon. And it has improvised marvellously. That battle scene is breath-taking because it relies on lights, sound and choreography. The same applies to the kathak interludes – these are professional dancers and, to be honest, it was they who elevated the Pyar kiya to darna kya song sequence by adding heft to Anarkali’s challenge, and pathos; in the film the song was about Madhubala. There was also an innovative use of ‘mirrors’ and light to create the sheesh mahal, although the light hitting the audience made me squint and miss out on some ‘chakkars’ by the dancers.

There was also live singing. Neha Sargam as Anarkali did a marvellous job, but was it necessary, considering it was the same music? It was also rather disappointing when at curtains down, the announcer mentioned how people weren’t convinced that it was live singing and asked her to sing a few lines right there. To my mind, this was insulting to the artiste. The makers do not have to justify anything and ask their own actors to give proof.


If the original was about performances, this was not. For a supposedly more intimate medium, the acting was alienating. Probably it is the stage where expressions rely on voice and body language. Nissar Khan as Akbar was powerful at moments and desultory at others. Sunil Palwal as Salim has presence, but where was the angst? And where was the passion with Anarkali, the understated caresses, that choke in the voice? As for Jodha, there is no real pining for a son nor the conflict between suhaag and motherhood. Bahar’s - the daasi hoping to become a princess - character too does not have enough oomph and guile that the original possessed.

For me that was sad because on the film I felt Nigar Sultana had overtaken Madhubala in the qawaali not due to the lines but gumption (aidedhugely by Shamshad Begum’s voice).

Naushad’s music was the stuff of legend and it was good to revisit it ‘pictorially’, even if not entirely satisfactorily. Theatre, unlike cinema, is not really a director’s medium. But here the director rules, followed by stage design, lighting, choreography. It was treated like an occasion. People were taking selfies before the posters in the lobby…after all they had paid good money for the tickets.


-->
I’d say it was worth the few thousand bucks. For the million bucks’ worth, buy a DVD for a couple of hundred rupees.

14.10.17

Of Murder and Innocence: the Aarushi Case


I would have been tempted to title this piece, ‘Nobody Killed Aarushi’, which has become the standard headline for media prominent stories where the murderer is not found or let off because of lack of evidence. This sort of headline acts like a salve for the media that feeds off a death, a murder, and sensationalises it to the most cringing level, and then when the verdict goes against all their salacious intent, they find relief in throwing irony in our face: ‘Nobody killed X,Y,Z.’

They blame the police, the CBI, false witnesses, everybody but themselves. In fact, after Thursday’s verdict pronouncing Aarushi’s parents Nupur and Rajesh Talwar not guilty, one finds media persons blaming the media. As though they had no part to play in it, as though their sudden concern for other victims of child marriage and rape makes any frikkin difference now, except to flaunt their throbbing consciences. They ask selfconsciously: do we bother about the poor? My question is: Did you? Did anybody even mourn for or raise questions about the murder of Hemraj, the domestic help of the Talwars who was killed on the same day of May 16, 2008?

There have been other court verdicts before this. It points to the fallibility of the judiciary, not to speak of its judgements not being watertight ever. This is the latest:

Ordering the release of Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, sentenced to life imprisonment four years ago by a special CBI court for the murder of their teenaged daughter Aarushi and domestic help Hemraj in May 2008, the Allahabad High Court has meticulously detailed instances of falsification of evidence by investigating agencies — ranging from “subjective findings” by medical and forensic experts to tutoring of a witness and planting of another, evidence tampering to “deliberate concealment” of evidence.

The Supreme Court had earlier restrained the media from scandalous reporting of what was then seen as the rape and murder of Aarushi. The judges were perturbed that the information the media had was either leaked by the investigating body, the CBI, or was made up of “imaginary reports”.

I am surprised that none of the judges questioned Avirook Sen’s book Aarushi and Meghna Gulzar’s film Talvar that had pretty much the same insider look. Since there is such a noise about the media reportage (some are saying this should be taught in journalism school on how not to report a murder, something you’d never hear these elite do over the murders of the dispossessed), one wonders how these efforts were not questioned since the case was still sub judice.

Most important cases have been leaked out to the media. If there are to be guidelines on reporting, will it prevent opinions? It was Aarushi’s mother who was on the TV channels a day after her daughter was killed. Was she dragged into it? Does anyone recall how Aarushi’s friends were giving out certificates to her? Does anyone even know that many of the ordinary people are trained before they go ‘live’ with their spontaneity?

The problem is when reportage turns into an agenda. It is not the business of the media to pronounce a verdict. Unfortunately, news channels need stories that are not about an occurrence. They rely increasingly on the ability to play messiah. The cult of the exposé is flawed for it starts with a premise and tries to prove it.

It is titillating to watch blurred faces or little black highlighters over body parts to convey that the newspaper or channel are protecting the identity of the victims. These are victims created by the media, just as they are transformed into heroes for no reason other than having once been victims before those cameras.

***

Now that the CBI has become the bad guy, a gentle reminder that it was the CBI that had earlier washed its hands off the case:

“The agency has filed a final report for the closure of the case on grounds of insufficient evidence in the competent court.”

The CBI came into the picture only after the Noida police made no headway.

They had found a weapon, they had a reasonable motive – “immediate provocation”, they knew of missing files and a swapped vaginal swab, they knew that someone was tampering with evidence. Then, why was it so difficult to find out who and why?

It is impossible that the findings revealed absolutely nothing - the DNA sample? The brain-mapping? Who cleared the room before the police came in? It need not have been one person. These were people in different places doing different things. Who was calling the shots? And why?

The judgment speaks of falsification of evidence. What, then, is the truth? Who will try the falsifiers? Who will find the killers? What will Nupur and Rajesh Talwar do next? It must be tough to have a reputation sullied and so many years lost in prison and it must have been even more tough on them to have a daughter murdered in the next room and the place cleaned up while they were around just a few metres away. They should file a case against the Noida police, the CBI and the hospital authorities for shirking their duty and making a mockery of justice. And the media for making a mockery of everything.

They have the power, being educated and relatively better-off than many who do not have the means. Let this be a fight for the silent Aarushis and the silenced ones.

***


Much of the material here has been collated from my previous posts.

30.8.17

India’s Tryst with Godmen Criminals



Charlatan godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan, head of the Dera Sacha Sauda, has been sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment for the rape of two of his devotees. To prepare for this court pronouncement, the army had to conduct a flag march, the police was on high alert, some areas were placed under curfew. One might have imagined that a terrorist was on the loose. 

In India when a godman is arrested on rape or murder charges, his followers can and will take to the streets to avenge a court order. This happened on Friday, August 26 as a Central Bureau of Investigation court convicted Singh. The country was shocked that 200,000 of his band of followers had congregated well before the verdict precisely as a strategy to create mayhem — they stoned building windows, torched buses and cars, including television broadcast vans; 30 people were killed and over 250 injured. What the country does not get shocked over is the existence of such fake gurus and the respect they command among those who matter and their constant presence in the media. 

Gurmeet Singh has been sentenced for a crime he committed 15 years ago; the sexual assault on the two young women continued over three years. It was Ram Chander Chhatrapati, a journalist from a small local Hindi newspaper called Poora Sach (the full truth), who had exposed the sins of the saint. A few months after he carried the letter of a victim, he was shot dead outside his house. The murder case is still pending. 

The letter was addressed to the then prime minister, BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The young woman had given a detailed account of her trauma. She was not the only one. Her turn to be used came once every month. When she was sent for the first time, Singh was sprawled in his bed watching porn, a remote in his hand, a revolver by his side. Her parents who were followers had insisted that she join the sect. She was stunned by what she saw. She is educated and asked questions. He silenced her protests with threat, flashing her parents’ devotion as well as his clout.

And then he used his spiritual hold over her: “He told me that at the time of becoming his disciple, I had dedicated my wealth, body and soul to him and he had accepted my offering. By this logic, your body is mine now.”

In fact, many female disciples were asked to go into his private chambers for ‘maafi’, forgiveness. He sold sexual assault as penitence although there was nothing they had to repent for. “We appear like devis (pious women), but our situation is that of prostitutes.”

If women were sexually exploited, men were rendered sexually incapable. There are reports of castration of at least 400 men. They were drugged and their testes were surgically removed.

Singh seems to have wanted to play the role of an ancient king with a harem and a retinue of eunuchs. Clearly, it appears his masculinity felt threatened.
***

Singh’s Dera Sacha Sauda empire is spread across 700 acres in Sirsa, Haryana. It is a fort-like establishment that ran along the lines of a philanthropic corporation even as the guru produced kitschy films on social consciousness where he essentially promoted his ego. Not only was he cocking a snook at the famed Indian austerity and belief in abjuring, he was also challenging the white and saffron robed hypocrisy of the prevalent uniform of godmen.





His seeming lack of hypocrisy should have been a red rag. Instead, he was feted as a guru reaching out to the new masses with chutzpah. Where other gurus had bhajans (religious hymns) playing in the background, he brandished a guitar and belted out off-key pop music. News channels that began trending him as “RapistRamRahim” and inviting responses to increase their viewership were promoting him a few months ago as a movie messiah, a multi-talented maverick. The mainstream media that is today taking a moral high ground did not bother about following up on the cases against him or even boycotting him until the verdict had been pronounced. He added to the entertainment quotient as “bling baba”. Were they not alerted by his lifestyle to question his credentials?

When they now flash the photograph of Chhatrapati with the “lest we forget” hashtag it is ironical, for they had forgotten. They were woken up with a jolt only because their vans and their reporters became the targets. And much of their ire was against the followers.

Singh has around 60 million followers, and most would not be aware of what happened inside the gufaa, his cavelike residence. The Dera Sacha Sauda, like other deras, isn't a cult started on the whims of a guru. It is a group of sects that believes in the scriptures but does not owe sole allegiance to it. Their tagline is “confluence of religions”. The guru’s name itself reflects that confluence. Everybody uses ‘Insan’ (human being) as their last name.

***

Following Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan’s sentencing, there has been discussion on what drew so many people to him. One of the reasons put forth was that he catered to the lower castes that were left out of the upper caste hold on the faith and the economy. It is a plausible argument. However, this assumes that the poor kept his image alive, which is not true. Indeed, those who are denied comfort and luxury do look up to pomp and pageantry, as can be witnessed in loud and garish celebration of festivals in the streets. But that cannot be sustained over such a long period. Besides, how would they identify with his “love charger” blatancy, that too in English? 

Like most gurus, he offered welfare. The Dera ran a hospital, had medical camps. It is unlikely that this is what the devotees came for and stayed back with, although it might have helped them at some point. The operative term is slavish obeisance. Whether through drugs, hypnosis, guilt, threat or fear, followers can be held hostage. 




Political leaders genuflect before these godmen in full public view, often consulting them on matters of state and law, making a mockery of the Constitution. Singh had helped the BJP win seats in the Punjab and Haryana regions. The Congress Party too had earlier enjoyed his goodies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised his efforts for his government’s cleanliness drive. Two days after the godman’s men went on a rampage, the PM in his radio address to the nation said, “No one has the right to take the law into one’s own hands in the name of one’s beliefs.” It is easy to pick on a mass of unknown faces and names with pop pleas. He made no reference to the charlatan or his crime or to the verdict. Because there are many such gurus who owe their existence and provide patronage to politicians. 

And one reason Indians even on the right are celebrating this conviction is because Gurmeet Singh is a Sikh who took potshots at Sikhism and Hinduism. He was grudgingly accepted for facilitating new money and votes, unlike the glowing accolades reserved for the levitating elevated gurus of mainstream godliness.

***

Rather shockingly, a day after the protests in support of Gurmeet Singh The Indian Express carried a piece by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (who is often invited by media think tanks for their seminars) in which he wrote: “All the embodiments of the divine you worship — Rama, Krishna, Shiva — cannot call be called morally correct figures. They are not. Because it never occurred to them to be that way. But they are the peak of human consciousness.”

This echoes Singh’s stance. When he boasted that he was god to the sadhvi he planned to rape, she had asked him whether god did such things. He replied: “Sri Krishna too was God and he had 360 gopis (milkmaids) with whom he staged Prem Lila (love drama). Even then people regarded him as God. This is not a new thing.” Asaram Bapu, another godman and rape convict, had said: "Lord Buddha, too, had faced such kind of allegations and I am also facing the same. But the truth will come out…I am willing to go to jail with a smiling face. And I think I want to spend some time in Tihar jail. I consider jail as my Vaikunth (heaven)."

But Indians live in denial. Each time a person who owes allegiance to a god comes under the scanner, the knee-jerk reaction in the 140-character and 4-minute read op-ed world is, “Stop calling him a godman.” The fact is that they become the powerhouses they are because they project themselves as men of god and are accepted as such not only by the masses, but by the elite too. India is a country of gods and in this crowded environment there are bound to be middlemen who make devotion accessible and human, even if not humane.

In 2005, the Communist Party of India had exposed Baba Ramdev for using human and animal bones and flesh in his ayurvedic concoctions; he runs a thriving empire today. Yogi Adityanath is the chief minister of the largest state in India. MPs attend Parliament wearing saffron robes. A monk even addressed the Haryana assembly naked.

Indians love to idolise, whether it is godmen or judges. The judge who sentenced Gurmeet Singh is being lauded for his bravery. It does not strike anybody that this is what the law says and the judge was doing his job. 

The CBI took 15 years. This, when the victim had stated categorically in her letter: “If a probe is conducted by the press or some government agency, 40 to 45 girls — living in utmost fear at the Dera — if they are convinced, are willing to tell the truth.

There are many more victims of many more such godmen who represent neither religion nor culture. Their ashrams are dens of vice preying upon gullible minds to further their spiritual corporate empires.

--
Published in CounterPunch

22.7.17

The Murder of Muslims



In India today, nationalism has a religion. Hinduism. We may pussyfoot around it and refer to it as Hindutva, saffronisation or, what the ruling rightwing Bhartiya Janata Party calls “fringe elements”, but the discourse is clearly embedded in the faith of the majority community. 


Slurs against Muslims have become commonplace. A country that wants to declare the cow as the mother of the nation and where minorities have to prove their patriotism not by allegiance to the flag but to the political party in power is bound to descend into chaos.


Two years ago, a mob brandishing hockey sticks and knives barged into Mohammed Akhlaq’s house in Dadri in north India and assaulted all the family members before killing him because they suspected there was beef in their fridge. The meat was sent to the forensic lab and it was found to be lamb. 


When one of his killers died (of natural causes), he was given a martyr’s funeral; his coffin was draped in the national flag and there were speeches by leaders from Hindu organisations that have direct access to the government. 



Last month towards the end of Ramadan when Junaid boarded the train to return home with his Eid shopping bags, he might not have imagined that the elderly man whom he offered the seat to would egg on a mob punching him and his friends. Abuses flew. “Beef eater”, “antinational”, “mullah”. They pulled at their skull caps and newly-sprouted beards. Knives came out telling them to go to Pakistan. They were bleeding. Nobody came to their rescue. Junaid was stabbed. He died. He was 16.


At the stations en route some of the lynch mob got off, enough to let the cops shrug about little evidence. 


A scuffle for seats got transformed into a fight for political and religious space. Or, perhaps, religious assertiveness is seeking out reasons. 


Meat trader Alimuddin Ansari was beaten up by a mob and his van, ostensibly with cattle meat, was set on fire in Jharkhand. There seemed to have been a dispute with some people who were extorting money from him. Such excuses have become the norm where the victim is invariably Muslim, for it was not a spontaneous act. His movements were tracked for hours before he was murdered. 


Mohammad Majloom and Inayatullah Khan of Latehar were taking their cattle to a fair many miles away. Five men with a mission waylaid them. After they killed the 35 and 13 year old, they tied a noose around their necks and hung them from a tree.


“Prima facie it appears to have been a case of a gang attempting to loot cattle,” the cops said. For those in a hurry to rob and make a quick escape with the cattle to profit from it, they seemed to have relished in committing the murders. Not only did they kill the two, they hanged them. The hanging was a message. To shame. To hold them up as an example. How dare they not respect their gau mata, the cow mother, their religion? 


It is disconcerting that mobs are using cow protection as the higher cause even to settle petty disputes. The shaming has got a further boost because the videos are uploaded and shared. The message gets more traction. What is so evident in these viral videos is that the so-called ‘jihadi mentality’ that Muslims are accused of does not respond in kind. The victims are just overwhelmed by the suddenness of the attack; in some instances they are pleading, in one the man does not even have the energy or presence of mind to protest as they grab his hair and kick him. He just takes it like a stoic who has become accustomed to lie on a bed of nails.


***


Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, has not uttered a word condoling any of these deaths. He tweets mourning for the loss of lives in a fire in Portugal, but makes no attempt to reach out to the families of those killed by men purportedly supporting his party’s Hindutva dream, a dream to reclaim ancient India and transform the country into a Hindu nation.


When he does speak, it is evasive: “All (state) governments should take stringent action against those who are violating law in the name of cow protection.”


How will this happen when some state governments are handing out expensive beef detection kits to the cops to smell for trouble, effectively converting the police force into cow protectors too? The very fact that there are several cow protection groups is worrying, for they aren't animal rights activists but soldiers of the faith.


“Bolo Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Rama), is the war cry. People are stopped in the streets and asked to owe allegiance to their god. A mentally unstable woman was slapped and forced to utter the words; a cleric was pummelled just outside the mosque by a group insisting he chant the phrase; journalist Munne Bharti was driving with his elderly parents. Suddenly, their car was surrounded by a group. They threatened to set the car on fire if they did not chant “Jai Shri Ram”. They did. An adult was frightened, for himself and his aged parents.

***


How is this not about religion, then?


It was always about religion, perhaps by a few skewed minds. 25 years ago Bal Thackeray, the leader of the militant Shiv Sena, had asked for the disenfranchisement of Muslims. He would address huge rallies at an open ground referring to Muslims as “katuas”, the cut ones without a foreskin. After the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya, on the instructions of these political parties, and the riots reached what was then Bombay, the men in the streets would point at the crotches of Muslim men and snigger, “katua”. They were stopped and asked to strip for a random check by random people. Unlike the Sikhs after the riots in 1984 who discarded their turbans and shaved off their hair to protect themselves, Muslims could not get back their foreskin.


At the All-India Hindu Convention held last month in Goa, for 4 days all the cars at the venue were sprayed with cow urine to purify them. “Their car needs shuddhi karan. We do it to all objects — watches, clothes, sometimes even handbags. It’s a spiritual exercise.”


How people choose to practise their faith is a personal matter. But when you have a cow piss soda, cow dung and urine being made a part of ayurvedic medicines and astrologers treating people in hospital OPDs, then it becomes obvious that the cow and beef are incidental here. They are only the more potent batons to beat the minorities. There is also the commercial angle. Giving a charlatan guru called Ramdev land and business rights to run an empire ostensibly selling indigenous products is a strategy to bring the devil close to your home.


Young Hindu women are training in self-defence to protect them from “love jihad”, a bogey created by the rightwing suggesting that Muslim men are luring them to fall in love to later convert them.


In May last year, there was a report about a camp in Uttar Pradesh training the youth wing of militant Hindu organisations to protect the country from terrorists. In the video images they are aiming their air guns and sticks at men wearing skull caps. The governor had justified the drill: “Those who cannot defend themselves, cannot ultimately defend the country and there is nothing wrong if some youths are getting arms-training purely for self defence.”


That instead of urging these fit youth to join the army, they are being brainwashed to target a particular group makes the intention clear.


How is this not about religion?

***


The fallout of such brainwashing is not restricted to the extremist Hindutva proponents alone. There is a not-so-subtle attempt to deflect from the Hinduness of the terror by liberals too. An academic who has taken it upon himself to explain India to Indians on social media from his perch in the US has written about the global Muslim victimhood industry by playing victim: “One cannot use the term ‘Muslim terror’ (but Hindu or Christian or Left terror is fine) or even Islamic terror without worry of being termed communal, bigoted, or Islamophobic. The appropriate phrase is 'Islamist terror,' which, we are expected to clarify, has nothing to do with Islam.”


Some commentators have begun to call India Lynchistan, the land of lynching. We do not seem to realise that mobs thrive on notoriety. They are not seeking a popular mandate, because they already are the popular mandate. Paper tiger responses only embolden their cause. The truth is that nobody in mainstream media or in activism or with an outsider’s perspective, like Dr. Amartya Sen, has had the courage or the will to call these planned lynchings as Hindu terrorism. 


Is such nomenclature important? It is. Because it is a systematic attempt to annihilate the minorities, specifically Muslims. (Quite different from Islamist terrorism whose victims are mainly Muslim and, in some cases like the ISIS’s victims, also people who are liberal enough to support Muslims.) 


Muslims immediately distance themselves from any jihad violence, even though that does not assuage their neighbours from seeing them as potential suspects. Hindus are not doing so in large enough numbers, and they are chary of admitting the faith angle because they believe that Hinduism is not a monotheistic faith with allegiance to one book and one god. It is amorphous and therefore fluid, they reason.


The caste system and its treatment of Dalits and the backward castes certainly reveals ‘fluidity’. All the government-engineered riots have been masterminded by a vile intellect that outsources the war to the police and army and pumps up the trading class to decimate minority businesses. The murder of minorities is only a more violent assertion of this sheltered ghettoisation of the elite majority. 


There are many who use their internet liberalism to rationalise their own subtle bigotry. That many of them also have a stake in steak does lend weight to their public “I'm not too Hindu” utterances. 


In one such recent piece, the headline flashed about how Hindu victimhood is a manufactured cry. In the first para itself, though, the writer gave a clean chit to Muslims quoting, of all people, George Bush: “India is a country which does not have a single al-Qaida member in a population of 150 million Muslims.” Hindus do not have to prove whether they have allegiance to any extremist organisation, even if they elect them to power.


The usage of Islamist phrases like fatwa and jihad to explain Hindu terror acts and suggest they are only “mimicking” reeks of another version of Islamophobia and projects violence by Hindu extremists as a reaction to centuries of abuse by Muslim rulers. This historic narrative pushes the ‘tolerate Muslims despite their past’ idea, the moral compass revealing who considers itself the superior side.


These recent attempts to call out Hindu extremists is not organic. They are a response to some of us wondering why we did not link the Hindu word with terrorism. We have woken up or, in good old Hindu speak, and in deference to many of us being converts from the ancient religion, our third eye has been awakened.
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Published in CounterPunch