9.12.19

What Religion is Your Nationalism?

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In India today, if you do not belong to the majority community, your nationalism is suspect. If you do not hail their worship, you are a dissenter. But can a deity represent a nation’s ‘asmita’, self-esteem? Is building a temple nationalism?

On November 9, 27 years after mobs destroyed the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, the Supreme Court of India, despite stating that the demolition of the mosque was against the rule of law, pronounced the lawbreakers as victors. Those who had indulged in a bloodbath to build a temple where they claim Lord Ram was born have become the owners. Slogans of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ were raised in Parliament hailing the Hindu god.

Faith as nationalism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi commented, “This verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody. Be it Ram Bhakti or Rahim Bhakti, it is imperative that we strengthen the spirit of Rashtra Bhakti.”

By saying that the judgement isn’t about Hindu or Muslim worship but devotion to the nation, he has in fact transformed nationalism into a faith and, given the history of the dispute, it is about majoritarian faith.


It was Hindu mobs wearing saffron bandanas egged on by Hindutva party leaders who not only destroyed a structure but engineered riots in other states. 1500 kms away in Mumbai 2000 people were killed; 200,000 left in panic.

This was the beginning of the licence to kill raj under the guise of upholding nationalism. Mahant Laldas, who was head priest of the Ram temple, spoke passionately against the proposed destruction of the mosque. He was killed. They kill for the holy cow; kill for imagined beef in Muslim homes; kill for the “800 years of slavery” by colonialists with whom the minorities have no ancestral relations; kill to protest an imagined ‘love jihad’ by Muslim men seducing Hindu women; kill the pluralistic ethos.

Ashok Singhal, who headed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had said, “I was at the Sai Baba Ashram where Sai Baba told me by 2020 the entire country will be Hindu and 2030 the entire world will be Hindu. I feel that revolution has started.”

He had in the past gloated that there were more mandir (temple) votes than masjid (mosque) votes.  They collected loads of money from rich Indians and expats looking to spice up their nostalgia beyond the masalas in their Little Indias. The income tax officer who probed into the funding of the Hindu organisations was transferred.

Hindutva leaders see the minorities through a narrow prism, such as “the blood of Ram and Krishna coursing through the veins of Muslims and Christians”. They want Christians to be separate from the Church and Muslims from the clergy, but Hindu sadhus rule in Parliament and are consulted on national issues, including the economy and defence.


The BJP has marketed the reclamation of the deity’s birthplace as an election issue. People voted for it. They consider the rebuilding of the temple that isn’t even a major pilgrimage site as a victory of nationalism. People buy it.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill too has been given a religious colour. Foreign entrants/refugees will be granted citizenship only if they are Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist or Parsi. Not Muslim. The Home Minister has promised to expel all illegal entrants before the 2024 elections. It is an attempt to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra which, as it turns out, is all about giving god a home and rendering humans homeless.

The idol as litigant

The first of the review petitions against the verdict has been filed raising pertinent questions: “It argued that the court could not treat the deity as a perpetual minor for the purposes of limitation, could not correct historical wrongs and could not treat historical accounts as conclusive.”

The court has relied on mythology and oral history instead of evidence. If any proof has been offered, it is based on an excavation that suggests the building beneath the mosque structure “was not Islamic”. Would the same verdict have been passed if the mosque was razed due to a natural disaster?

While it may be possible to prove that the structure at the site could have been a temple, there is no conclusive way to prove that Lord Ram was born there.

Economist Amartya Sen had once said, “Hindu activists who demolished the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, wanting a Ram temple, have instead to come to terms with the fact that even among those who see themselves as religious Hindus, many would actually differ on the subject of Ram’s divinity.”

Yet, in the largest democracy in the world, whose Constitution professes to be a secular republic, where the largest minority constitutes of 201 million people, the deity was named a litigant. The absurd aspect about this case is that although there are varied political and religious beliefs in India, nobody batted an eye over an idol fighting to reclaim his birthplace in the courts.

Since he could not be manifest, a ‘friend of god’ represented him. Triloki Nath Pandey, the current friend, “claimed ownership of the land in Ayodhya, purely because he claimed it was his birthplace”. The ‘friend’ does not have a clean record, though, having helped arrange for the defence of the mobsters who destroyed the mosque. These criminal cases are still pending in the courts. He believes, “To raise Hindu pride, we needed to become aggressive and not remain defensive.”



It is therefore disturbing that some liberal activists, journalists and sundry celebrities are urging Muslims to “move on” and accept the court’s verdict. Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde said, “They have applied a plaster. Let’s not reopen the wounds.”

A week after December 6, 1992, the day they hammered down the mosque’s domes, I had watched the ashen remains of a market that had been set on fire from the shattered windows of a house with stories of death and helplessness.

A deity getting back his birthplace cannot act as a plaster to those wounds. 

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Published in CounterPunch

30.9.19

Why should Kashmiris be Indian?

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Many Muslims follow the traditional 40-day grieving period, but Kashmir has been grieving for decades. Now, 46 days later, even the grief is helpless, and soon the voices of outside support will fade. Today, too, Indian sympathy for the state is a quid pro quo. “They are one of us,” say the hashtag supporters, completely ghosting the plot. There is barely any acknowledgement of their right to be independent of the country. “I stand with Kashmir” is the slogan, not “I stand with Kashmir to be free”.


Are there headlines referring to the state as Indian Occupied Kashmir?


When the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, in a most cowardly manner, got tourists and pilgrims out of the state before announcing that Article 370 granting Jammu and Kashmir special status was being revoked, when they put political leaders, activists, businessmen, civilians behind bars or under detention, when they shut down all internet and mobile services and put the state under curfew, when they took away the rights of 8 million people not only to have a flag and a say but to even conduct their daily lives with dignity, imprisoning them in their homes – no work, no schools, having to subsist on the food and medicines they could manage to procure, even then the liberals called it a mere “lockdown” and not the colonisation it was. When the National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval was shown sharing a meal with a group of Kashmiris, downed shutters in the background, the Indian media lapped it up as “confidence building”.


The saddest part of this shameless display of opportunism is that you don’t get to hear the voices of Kashmiris living in Kashmir. Those who try, suffer. The supposedly sympathetic section of the Indian media that projects itself as honorary Kashmiris retains a proprietorial tone replete with ridiculous equivalences. “If international headlines report the death of a 17-year-old, they should also tell us the story of the 5-year-old battling for her life after a militant attack.” A senior journalist cannot tell the difference between how terrorists and the state ought to behave.


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Kashmiris will lose their identity, an identity they have held on to assiduously ever since the Partition of India left them with a piece of paper that would ensure a plebiscite to decide their own fate.


The nationalism narrative is not only politically fascist but also dehumanising. UK-based Kashmiri writer Mirza Waheed in this wrenching piece talks about wanting to hear his mother’s voice, to know if his ailing father is well, “You want to ask if they’ve got enough medicines, if they’ve been allowed to go for their weekly or fortnightly consult with the good doctor—if they’re alright, damn it. But you can’t pick up the phone and ask. You simply can’t call anyone. The world is made soundless when you can’t hear your beloveds.”


The NSA’s response after accepting the hardships caused was: “People were not born with Internet. For us, it is more important to protect the right of life of the people and keep them safe.”



Safe from whom? If protecting people against terrorist infiltration from Pakistan was the issue, why could the army not control it? Kashmir is the most militarised region, and yet the government felt it necessary to deploy 35,000 more forces for the safety of a people under curfew. An administration spokesperson reportedly said, “We decided to protect lives, some liberties may have to be compromised.”


The first casualty of this protection occurred on Day One of the incursion when a 17-year-old fell into a river trying to escape the police that cornered him. There have been many instances of pellets being fired to blind civilians and of torture after this ‘safety’ initiative. A young villager was one such victim: "Once they realised I was innocent, they wanted me to name a stone-pelter. I told them, I don't know anyone. So, they continued beating and electrocuting me. They wanted all of us to give the names of stone-pelters…They began pulling my beard and even tried to put it on fire. Then, someone hit me on the head and I fainted. It is then they, perhaps, realised that I might die. So, they asked my friend to take me home. I regained consciousness after two days and it's been 20 days and I still can't walk properly.”



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What sort of assimilation is the government speaking about when it excludes the people?


“What integration? We Kashmiris have been working and living in other cities as have people from other states in Kashmir.” I met Bilal six years ago. He was hesitant to admit he was Kashmiri at first. “I am from the other side, far from the trouble,” he had said. He was happy in Mumbai and earned enough to be able to send his kids to English-medium schools back home. He visited every year.


He remained steadfastly against separatists, but whenever the news flashed incidents of brutalities and deaths, he’d say, with remorse rather than rage, “When young boys see their fathers and brothers suffer and die before their eyes, will they not want revenge?” Yet, within minutes he would wonder if there was any alternative, and go back to the room he shared with four others, a room with mattresses on the floor and a stove on a stool to cook their meals. A room where family was a WhatsApp video call away.


That stopped on August 5.


The inclusiveness that the government speaks about is a lie. This lie has been repeated over the years by successive governments. They dangle the development carrot without any attempt to assuage the disaffection of the people. Rahul Gandhi had some years ago taken big corporate magnates to recce the state; Modi will not need to – it is a given now. On October 31, the Centre will divide Jammu and Kashmir and officially claim the Valley as its prized catch.


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In the latest bit of news, 81-year-old former chief minister and leader of the National Conference Farooq Abdullah has been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), ironically the handiwork of his father Sheikh Abdullah. All the rooms in his house have been sealed, his staff fired, and he is confined to one room with an attached bath and toilet for 12 days. Tragic as it is, under the PSA that allows for arrest without trial and detention for upto two years, Kashmiris, including children, have been languishing in prison for years.


Local leaders and former chief ministers like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have aligned with the BJP, despite the party carrying its Hindu Rashtra dream and ambition to infiltrate Kashmir on its sleeve, only so that they could save their seats. Worse, they did not emphatically raise their voices over the disappearances and random killings of civilians in the state for all these years.


What happened on August 5 has to an extent been facilitated by such vacillation. Mehbooba Mufti’s first tweet on that day was, “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy. Decision of J&K leadership to reject 2 nation theory in 1947 & align with India has backfired.”



It raises the moot point: Are Kashmiris Indian? Do these leaders represent their struggle?


Kashmiris are taunted that they are not grateful to the army that helped them during the floods. They are taunted about living and earning “from us”.


They live in India because their home has been converted into a disputed territory that they have to reclaim. They have lives to live, families to feed. They take up jobs available to them and to all those in the much-touted ‘globalised’ India. Even if Kashmir were free, they could still work in India but as citizens of an independent state and not as residents of an occupied state they are ideologically fighting.


Kashmir has always been in a state of insurgency, but unlike in the Middle East the protests did not lead to overthrowing any regime, simply because there wasn’t any leader to overthrow. The anger on the streets, the “Go back, Indian dogs” graffiti on walls, the stone pelting were reactions to the daily harassment    being stopped in the streets and made to identify themselves, the disappearance of many, unmarked graves of “unidentified militants”, and war crimes like mass rape and third-degree torture.

These were crimes by the authorities, not terrorists. The authorities target the young because that is one way to wipe out a people and not just their protests. Each day is a struggle to hope, to live. But, as Mirza Waheed put it, the children “must grow, and try not to die”.

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Published in CounterPunch