Journalist Rana Ayyub was recently threatened on Twitter by a police department in India with “legal action” for making a “political comment” and was ordered to delete her tweet. She had posted an innocuous statement on the impact on Muslims of the destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya in 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists, and on her hope that the Supreme Court of India would provide a modicum of justice the following day in a widely anticipated, politically charged verdict.
While the Amethi police department eventually deleted the tweet after an outcry, a cavalcade of Hindu right-wing commenters did not go away. They claimed she was inciting religious violence, tagged multiple Indian police departments claiming she was violating communal (religious) harmony, and amplified genocidal thought against Muslims.
Ayyub is a frequent target, receiving death and rape threats for years, to the point where UN officials felt the need to intervene by calling on the Indian government to protect her. But she was far from the only one on Friday. The swarming behavior of the online Hindu right and their appeals to police Twitter accounts to harass Muslims and dissenters were widespread.
The story of how India came to this point isn’t just one of bigotry and state violence, but also of the failures of capitalism in a state that turned away from socially conscious populism toward an increasingly pro-business set of policies in the neoliberal era. But to understand its particular context with respect to what happened to Ayyub and others, we have to go back to the 1980s and 1990s.
The Hindu right believes the site of the Babri Masjid was the birthplace of Ram, a mythological figure they revere. Without objective, impartial evidence, they also claim that a Hindu temple once stood on the site before, they say, it was torn down by the Mughals five centuries ago. After years of antagonism, in 1992 they sent 150,000 cadre to illegally enter and destroy it.
The incident sparked extensive violence against religious minorities across India and the region. Thousands were attacked or killed in India and Bangladesh, and numerous other religious sites were desecrated, mostly Muslim in India, mostly Hindu in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
But the Hindu right didn’t want to just destroy the mosque; they wanted to build a Hindu temple on the remains. Meanwhile, Muslim institutions rightfully wanted to rebuild a mosque on the site. And so it went to the courts.
The Supreme Court of India recently sided with the Hindu right. It handed the site of the destroyed mosque over to a trust to build the temple to Ram. Following the decision, preemptive curfews were imposed in Mumbai, Bangalore, and elsewhere prohibiting the gathering of five or more people. This continued the policing of the public — particularly Muslims and dissenters — by the government and its Hindu right supporters that had begun before the verdict was handed down.
The Supreme Court’s decision provided judicial validation for one of the most incendiary acts of religious desecration in modern Indian history. It is unfathomable that five judges could come to the conclusion that the very force that demolished the mosque should be legally entitled to build a Hindu temple on its ruins. What the Supreme Court decision on the Babri Masjid shows is that Hindu right-wingers have captured the state’s institutions at deeper than just an electoral level.
In all likelihood, so too does the work of the government archaeological department that the court relied on. The survey, which has not yet been released, claimed to find evidence of the alleged lost Hindu temple. Previous research by the Archaeological Survey of India on the site has been contested by historians as well as other archaeologists brought in by a Muslim institution claiming the site.
All of this is a stark break from India’s secular tradition. Secularism in post-independence India was always different from the ideas of secularism in the United States or France, for instance. For India, secularism meant the balancing of interests of different religious forces by the government and respect for all of them. At its best, it was about promoting tolerance and harmony among the people.
At its worst, though, it pushed Indians to primarily identify as members of rigid religious “communities” rather than by their social position as lower caste, or farmers, or workers, or women. For example, India’s treatment of secularism has allowed the Hindu right to obscure the widespread institutionalized sexism and gender violence that undermine women across religious lines by focusing on anti-women provisions in Muslim family law. (India has separate laws governing marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance for four religious communities: Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis.) It similarly fostered a continued flattening of the enormous differences within religious communities.
But this version of secularism made some sense as a political strategy when you consider the powder keg of institutionalized religious animosity that the British fostered over hundreds of years and left behind in South Asia. Their tactics on this front, collectively known as “divide and rule,” ranged from redefining the population by religious identity through the census, to separate electorates for Muslims and Hindus, to setting the precedent for partitioning territory along religious lines in 1905.
Given this context, much organizing during the nationalist movement took on a religious hue, led by key figures like Mohandas Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The result — the last gift of the British as they handed over political control to the native elites they had cultivated — was the creation of national states on the basis of majority religious community — Pakistan for Muslims, India for Hindus.
Enormous social violence stemmed from resulting population transfers, killing over one million people during the partition into two states (later to become three with the independence of Bangladesh). The region will likely never recover from this original sin, hardened into national boundaries in the capitalist nation-state system, and provided with armies and nuclear weapons.
The lasting impact of the violence of partition on social consciousness — including on the left — can’t be overstated. By channeling social militancy into a liberal, communal framework, the trauma of partition foreclosed on any possibility of a leftist revolution in India at independence, notwithstanding important exceptions. Consequently, there was no deep land reform on a nationwide basis, as in China, or other sizable redistribution of assets and power to the majority poor. Parties on the revolutionary left faced a choice between state repression and oppositional electoral politics.Continue reading
by Serene Kasim and Saurav Sarkar, crossposted from Jacobin
On August 31, the right-wing Hindu Indian government labeled 1.9 million of its residents as stateless.
The official purpose given by the government was to root out undocumented people. But it is widely known that the true motivation was to displace Bengali Muslims from the northeastern Indian state of Assam. This was made obvious in speeches and promises made in the run-up to the recently held national elections that brought the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government back to power for a second consecutive term.
A noxious act in and of itself, the implications of the roundup are likely to be even more consequential for the future of the Indian polity, furthering a project of isolating and punishing Muslims while expanding detentions of undocumented people, Muslims, and others.
The instrument stripping 1.9 million people of rights is the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a now-arcane institution that was created in 1951 to identify who belonged to India at the time. It was reincarnated in 2014 and completed its work in Assam this year.
1.9 million people amounts to 6 percent of the total population of Assam and is two times the number of Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.
The current incarnation of the NRC’s purpose was to identify undocumented immigrants from neighboring, Muslim-majority Bangladesh. But its reach goes far beyond.
The new NRC forced all of Assam’s residents to submit documentation like passports, land records, or birth certificates to show they had been in the country or were descended from people who were in the country on or before midnight of March 24, 1971, the day when Bangladesh went to war for independence from Pakistan, with India’s eventual armed support.
Given the paucity of paper documentation in India and the cumbersome nature of its bureaucratic machinery, an unsurprisingly large number of people have been adversely affected. 1.9 million people, including those as old as sixty-five, are now legally forced to go to tribunals and the courts to prove that the only country they have ever lived in should not detain them.
In the absence of a repatriation treaty with Bangladesh, it is unclear what will eventually happen to those who are held in detention for ostensibly being undocumented migrants from Bangladesh; there is currently no legal avenue for deportation.
Concurrently, the government has ordered states to build detention centers across the country in places as far flung as Assam in the northeast, Karnataka in the south, and Maharashtra in the west (all states that have BJP majority governments, incidentally). It has indicated that its inclination is to round up Bangladeshi undocumented migrants across the country.
If you have spent any time on social media that deals with India, you have run across the name of its new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The erstwhile Chief Minister of Gujarat is in the United States this week on a state visit, overcoming a multi-year ban on his presence due to complicity in anti-Muslim pogroms while he ran the state. He is, by all accounts, being treated like a rock star, having appeared before 20,000 fans at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A less trumpeted but far more enlightening visitor to the States is Manoj Mitta. Mitta is a reporter for the Times of India and author of two books on communal violence in India. He addressed a small crowd at George Washington University in Washington, DC tonight at an event sponsored by the Sikh Coalition.
Through a recounting of anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984 and anti-Muslim ‘rioting’ in 2002, Mitta effectively laid out an argument that Indian democracy and the Indian state have a serious and ongoing issue with anti-minority violence that can’t be explained away as just two major episodes. He pointed out that there was a failure to hold perpetrators accountable in both instances, and that the impunity around the anti-Sikh pogroms helped lead to a political calculus in favor of anti-Muslim violence. This, he implied, pointed to a system problem.
Academic Atul Kohli provided a fairly convincing explanation for this system problem, why India’s politics over the last three decades have been so communal in nature. In brief, he argues that India’s governments have been pro-rich for the last 30 years, and this leaves few vehicles to mobilize the voting base. Communalism of the kind exposed by Mitta is one such avenue.
We see laid bare, then, the links between labor and economic justice issues on the one hand and the politics of communalism and other identities on the other; the neoliberals are using communal politics as a way to drum up support for a pro-rich electoral program that would otherwise be rejected.
“Fast Track” is an evaluation of Narendra Modi’s first 100 days as the hard right Hindu prime minister of India. Timed to roughly coincide with Narendra Modi’s coming visit to the United States, “Fast Track to Troubling Times: 100 Days of Narendra Modi” was released this past week. It comes after the election was concluded, but, the obvious objection holds, before enough time has passed to judge the government.
Thankfully, we can dispense with the idea that this government is starting from a blank slate. Each sections has a subsection that links current developments to relevant aspects of Modi’s record as Chief Minister, lending the report more weight than an analysis of 100 days would offer by itself.
Among Modi lowlights described in the report are a loosening of several rules around land acquisition for industrial projects that will hurt socially and economically disempowered groups, the use of anti-Muslim propaganda in UP for election campaigns, and heavyhanded pressure against members of the media to refrain from criticizing Modi or others. There are many others described in the report.
“Fast Track” is fairly comprehensive in terms of subjects, covering theModi government’s actions on “culture”, “development”, “economic policy”, “the Environment”, “women [and] sexual minorities”, “human rights”, and “religious minorities,Dalits, andAdivasis.” The independent sections are heavily sourced through links, making it potentially a more convenient read with a web browser than on paper. This design unfortunately takes away from a sense of linear narrative and there is some amount of repetition in order to allow each section to stand alone effectively. In general, the writing could be stronger; as it is, the report makes for a better reference text than a read.
“Fast Track” unfortunately does not have a separate labor section, but it does cover extensively the relationship between the state and the private sector, issues of social discrimination that are completely tied up with economic well being, and the question of development. Those interested in South Asia and its laborers will find useful information in this report.
The document is attributed to Ghadar Alliance, which describes itself as “an emerging coalition of Indian diasporic groups across the United States consisting of various social justice organizations active in the country for several decades.” (Ghadar Party was the name of a revolutionary nationalist movement in the Indian diaspora in the U.S. and Canada in the early 20th century.)
As noted earlier this week, South Asia Citizens Web is carrying a new report entitled “Hindu Nationalism in the United States” (pdf). This report provides a 2014 snapshot of the sangh parivar‘s activities in the American diaspora. Unfortunately, useful as it is, the document lacks a compelling narrative that runs through it. It doesn’t tell a story; rather, it takes a clinical approach to outline the organizational structure of the Hindu right in the Untied States.
“Hindu Nationalism in the United States” builds off of previous reports (pdfs) on the Hindu right in the United States. The report looks at four categories of groups: Youth and Family Programs”; “Charitable Organizations”; “Academic and associated sites”; and “Sangh Leadership in Indo-American Communities”. The report provides figures for the amount of money spent by groups over the past 15 years in each of the first three categories, coming to $2.5 million, $55 million, and $1.9 million respectively.
Youth and Family Programs” covers activities aimed at indoctrinating young people and generating a diasporic community that is broadly sympathetic to the sangh and includes groups like Hindu Students Council and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA). “Charitable funding” involves spending on service work in India and includes organizations like Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA and, again, the VHPA. “Academic and associated sites” frequently involves the funding of university-level research in a Hinduized framework such as through the “Hindu University of America”. “Public Campaigns” cover everything from the effort to sanitize California textbooks to fit Hindutva sensibilities to the work of Hindu American Foundation, which we have written about before.
Unfortunately, in reading the report, it is only infrequently that one feels like one is getting insight into what the sangh parivar is actually doing in the U.S. and what the impact of those actions are in South Asia and elsewhere. In one instance, the report points out that Hindu right educational activities in the U.S. are different in nature than those in India in a number of ways such as not including knife and stick fighting. As a result, says the report, “What remains…is that while attendees and their families may not be fully devoted to the Sangh’s supremacist politics, they ‘end up with a strong sympathy for the Sangh'”. These hints at an anthropological or psychological approach toward the sangh and the diaspora are important and tantalize the reader, but ultimately, the report leaves them hanging. In place of compelling storytelling, one gets lists and charts of organizations and little emphasis on what might appeal to a second generation reader. There is very little that is sexy about the report.
Now one might argue that I am asking too much of this report, that it is not designed to be a novel, but a tool for analysis, and that my critique is predominantly of style. However, given the report’s purpose, which is to combat sangh work, I would argue it needs to engage more directly with an audience that is in the diaspora- it is, after all, up to that diaspora whether to accept or reject the sangh’s work. As a lengthy analysis of how people in the diaspora are being manipulated to support sangh politics in India, the report doesn’t give someone in the diaspora enough reasons to care enough to read it. This is particularly the case since it is the third or fourth such lengthy analysis to be written in the past decade or so; at some point, these sorts of document have got to be made compelling to an audience that doesn’t already agree with them.
There are other issues that could be raised with the report, but I will cut myself off here. At the end of the day, we are better off for having access to “Hindu Nationalism in the United States”, but one wishes for a different kind of literature about the sangh and its activities in the global North than what we have been privy to over the past 15 years.
A little birdy gave me a copy of the materials Hindu American Foundation is using to lobby U.S. Congresspeople. Lobbying is a process involving visiting with policymakers that groups like corporations and non-profits use to push their agendas on the American government. HAF is a ‘soft’ right Hindu nationalist organization that uses human rights rhetoric. Critics argue that HAF is linked to militant Hindutva organizations in India such as the RSS by forming an arm of the sangh parivar, or, family, of groups.
As you will see in the materials, there are some surprises (jointly lobbying for religious worker visas with Council on American-Islamic Relations, among others) and some of the old, familiar Hindutva rhetoric (“India first faced Islamist violence, dating as far back as the 8th century, to the time of the Mughal invasions…”)
A quick and dirty assessment: the rhetoric is often fine and might work perfectly well to inform an American congressperson of, say, the most salient points of anti-minority violence in Bangladesh; at the same time, the materials are one of several ways that the slanted agenda and
ideas the intellectual framework of virulent sangh organizations can make their way into American policymakers’ minds. Why, after all, does one need to lobby U.S. Congresspeople on the alleged need for a uniform civil code in India or defend Narendra Modi against claims that he was involved in religious pogroms? The answer is that one doesn’t need to. So why is HAF doing it, if all it cares about are human rights of Hindus?
Bonus: a list of donors to the HAF is included on the last page of their newsletter, including someone with the same name as Obama appointee Sonal Shah, whose nomination was controversial in South Asian progressive circles exactly because of alleged ties to Hindu right organizations.
In the aftermath of the Indian elections, South Asia Labor Watch was one of many groups and individuals to be dismayed by the victory of Narendra Modi based upon an analysis that emphasizes the role of the RSS as the shock troops of prospective fascism.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss the issue with Shamik Sarkar, a Kolkata-based activist, who put things in a different light. Sarkar argues that a true understanding of the idea of fascism in India has more to do with state-media-corporate collaboration than it does with the foot soldiers of Hindu nationalism.
As you’ll see, ‘fascism’ can have very different meanings to different people, and their analyses for the process for making change can differ alongside that. On to an edited transcript of the conversation:
SALW: Greetings, Shamik. I’m very curious what you make of the elections.
SS: For us, election is not a big thing, you know. Whoever comes to power, life of the working people in this country will remain same. Moreover, electing, and electing a ruler, and electing a powerful ruler in this election are agenda of powerful middleclass (almost 30 pc of total electorate/population) in our country. They always decide the election, as they swing to here and there. In most of the time they are fractured, thanks to their attachment with regional powers. In this election, in most of the states they overwhelmingly opted for a ‘strong’, ‘decisive’ ruler in the Center (barring a few, like TN, WB, Odisha, Punjab, Kerala). Their idea of being governed by a stick-yielding one, of being ruled by a strongman, of getting f**ked by a hot rod in the a** is indeed an indication of fascist mindset. Our electoral democracy and party system has every element of making this wish fulfilled. But I think their lust of self-repression will not get a go as a diverse country like us cannot be governed with iron hand, and BJP is wise enough to understand this. Rest of the people are least interested about electioneering apart from casting their votes, sometimes calculating immediate material gain out of it.
Thus, I am not in the chorus of Fighting Fascist Ruler, which in my opinion is more ideological than practical or real life. But we will surely fight the fascist tendencies of middle class and common working people, not only in their politics but in everyday life as well, and will watch the liquidation and reform of fascist ideology of RSS by their own man.
SALW: What do you think is the answer to the kind of class tyranny you describe and won’t conditions for organizing worsen under RSS-rule?
SS: We are in favour of organizing at grassroot level, with whatever popular issues are in hand. It is not wise to fight them face to face. Actually, for some years (2008 onwards when people’s movement against land acquisition subsided), face-to-face fight against any ruler has become almost impossible for common people. Perhaps since 2001. The State has turned into a fascist direction since the War on Terror has arrived. The RSS today is not more powerful than State-Corporate-Media, and thus people are under a systemic fascism and a little change would occur if RSS is made a little more powerful organisationally. Left in India is still visualizing RSS as the face of fascism and doesn’t see the actual structural fascism through state-corporate-media combination. That is pity.
“If the BJP becomes dominant in the next government, the Sangh juggernaut will likely begin rolling, entering a period of potentially unprecedented activity to fulfil its broader social goals.”
The quote above is from an excellent article in the Caravan on the RSS, the political mobilizing force behind the BJP. If the BJP is the electoral arm of the Hindutva movement, the RSS is its torso and its legs, keeping it strong and keeping it moving. In conjunction with the BJP, the RSS represents the threat of fascism in India. As the head of the organization said in the article, if the BJP wins this election, it threatens to rule for 25 years.
Whether or not that belief is accurate, the 2014 Indian election is an enormous moment for India, for the future of apolitical Hinduism, and for secular politics. Those concerns make this election important for Indian workers: you can’t have political consciousness in the working class if they are brainwashed into rightwing religious politics, especially once that politics descends into national or international violence as in Sri Lanka and the U.S. imperial wars. Avoiding that kind of catastrophe, among others, is what this election is about for the international working class.
If you want to save India, start this year, by defeating a prime ministerial candidate that is already linked to religiously inspired pogroms and a fascist ‘volunteer’ organization. He, Narendra Modi, is the poster child for the RSS-BJP alliance. And if he wins, RSS will have at least a few years to start implementing ‘Phase 2’: rolling out out their policies and programs with the imprimatur of the Indian government.
I don’t want to wake up in a couple of decades wondering how it all went wrong, why a national and maybe even an international humanitarian catastrophe wasn’t prevented. I don’t want to see a repeat of the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 on an international scale, I don’t want to see an increasingly aggressive nuclear-tipped standoff between India and Pakistan, I don’t want to see an entire generation of ordinary people brainwashed into rightwing lies through schoolbooks and the media.