Bharat Jodo Yatra: Uniting India & Challenges

The Bharat Jodo yatra launched by Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi is getting tremendous response. It is as if the people were waiting for such an event to reaffirm their trust and faith in the composite Indian Nationalism. This Indian Nationalism has been undermined during last few decades in general and last few years in particular. While the national media and major TV channels are ignoring it, the social media is partly compensating for that by putting across lovely and beautiful clips and pictures of people of all age groups longing to associate with the same.

The response is mainly due to the undermining of what has been the “Idea of India’ of our freedom fighters, the response is due to the blatant bypassing of the values of Indian Constitution which underline: Equality on one hand and state’s obligation to reduce the economic gaps between rich and poor on the other. The Constitution also outlines the role of state in promoting scientific temper, which has been given a go-bye during last some time.

India became a secular nation with the emphasis on caste-gender equality. The kingdoms where the kings ruled with the ‘divine authority’ were replaced by colonial period in India. During the plunder by colonial rulers there were other changes also which led to social changes. Introduction of transport, communication, modern education and modern administration provided the ground for changes in caste and gender equations and promoting the unity among different religious communities. Those who were the bearers of feudal mindset kept themselves aloof from this process of ‘nation making’. They helped British in their policy of ‘divide and rule’, leading to the tragic partition and the biggest ever mass migration in the sub-continent.

India did embark on the path of nation making through anti-colonial struggle. After Independence, there was enhancement of the industrialization, education, irrigation, health facilities and social welfare among others. The sectarian nationalists, Muslim and Hindu communalists-mostly harped on identity issues. In due course Hindu communalists started dominating and their infiltration in different walks of life and different facets of state apparatus became apparent. Their taking over of media through sympathetic corporate world was accompanied by setting up of “social media cell’. This weakened the process of the gains of freedom movement. The major things which were undermined were the Hindu-Muslim unity also the slow march towards social justice has been further hampered. Communalization of society also retarded the march towards gender equality.

At political level, the party which led the freedom movement gradually was infiltrated by opportunist communal elements for which the politics is just for grabbing power for their own selves. Many regional satraps also came up with ambitions for regional power with local agenda. The left parties which should have been the upholders of the rights of the marginalized, themselves started getting marginalized.

So today India we see has a situation, where not only the divisive politics of BJP has tried to co-opt a section of marginalized but also its parent organization RSS, through its various arms, has worked consistently among the dalits and Adivasis to co-opt them into Hindu nationalist fold. It has also done social engineering through which at grass root level the micro identities have been strengthened. At the same time mega Hindu identity has been propped up through the issues like Ram Temple, Love Jihad, Cow-Beef, fear of Muslims becoming a majority among others.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra probably is the best thing which has happened in India during last several decades. This will surely strengthen the nation and also cleanse the Congress party. It is also an occasion of churning for social groups, which are committed to rights of weaker and marginalized, the groups committed to democratic values, the groups committed to religious minorities. This Yatra gives them a platform to work for their goals of humane democratic society with rights and dignity for all sections of society.

Another welcome part of Yatra is the pro active response of these social groups and many political parties to affirm the values of pluralism, diversity and democracy. There are many jarring parts of the yatra also. The route which it is has mapped so far seems to have lesser representation of Muslim majority areas. While we stand to criticize the fundamentalist elements of Muslim leadership, we need to connect to average Muslims (and Christians) who have been the major victims of the sectarian politics. Ridiculing Rahul Gandhi for marching with the little girl with Hijab was deliberately played up by the communal forces for sure. Yatra needs to stand up to associate with the religious minorities, emulating the Father of the Nation.

No short cuts are possible at this stage. The nation has been seriously undermined by the rise of identity politics. The diluting of caste differentials, through affirmative action has also been retarded. This yatra is a major landmark and should be beginning of the process where ‘Iswar Allah Tero naam’ and abolition of caste need to be integrated in the message of the yatra. It needs to go through the Muslim majority areas and the areas of ex Untouchables with equal frequency.

The message of Bharat Jodo (Nafarat Chodo) has been well received for sure. The need now is to give the signal for reduction of economic disparity, social and gender equality. This is the beginning of revival of what majority of Indians identified with during freedom movement. There is also a need to have backup action for consolidation of the positive energy being generated by the Yatra. This is where the major challenge will be. Lakhs of RSS shakhas are the backbone which give the ground for identity politics and glorification of past where the caste, class and gender hierarchies dominated the society. Need is to activate the quiescent Rashtra Seva Dal type organizations, community centers, which keep promoting the values of peace and harmony which majority of Indian cherish even today. These values of love and peace are very much there, but they have been dwarfed by those forces, which were never a part of freedom movement and never part of the movements, which made us Indian Nation.   (https://www.southasiamonitor.org/open-forum/rahul-gandhis-uniting-india-march-ignored-media-welcomed-social-groups)

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: How to Reunite India

Unity in diversity is a phrase we all picked up in our school years. Enjoying the Ramlila festivities for the ten days to Vijayadashami ran parallel to watching the Tazia processions or the Jaina processions with slogans of Vande Viram (Hail Lord Mahavira), the celebrations of Dalits on the day Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism, and the celebration of Christmas. These diversity experiences were deeply rooted in how Indians marked various festivals—it was experiential, not just in the realm of theory.

In Indian society, diversity goes as far back as the imagination can. Christianity is older in India than many countries with far larger Christian populations. Right in the seventh century, Islam became a part of this land. The Shaka, Kushana, Hunas, and Greeks added their flavours to our culture. How did diversity become so deep-rooted in our culture? While there was ethnic strife, the social conditions settled into coexistence and harmony between religious streams.

The Ashokan edicts ask for mutual respect between members of different religions (which included Buddhism, Brahmanism, Jainism, and the Ajivikas). Much later, the Mughal ruler Akbar promoted Deen-e-Ilahi and Sulh-e-Kul. In his book Majma Ul Baharayn, Dara Shukoh described India as a vast ocean made of two seas, Hinduism and Islam.

The Bhakti saints such as Kabir, Ramdeo Baba peer, Tukaram, Namdeo and Narsi Mehta drew followers from Hindus and Muslims. Sufi saints such as Nizamuddin Auliya, Muin al-Din Chishti, and Haji Malang became part of the Indian ethos. These saints embraced all the people irrespective of their religion and caste. They melded with the local culture fully.

 During the colonial period, divisive tendencies in the name of religion reared their head due to the British policy of divide and rule. The elite sections of society initiated and encouraged these tendencies. However, they were overshadowed by the integrative and all-inclusive freedom movement. It is here that the magical interpretation of Hinduism by Gandhi succeeded in mobilising people of all religions within the single thread of Indian nationalism. The charisma of Gandhi’s movements left a deep impression on people of all faiths. People recited shlokas from the Gita and verses from the Koran and the Bible in his prayer meetings.

During this period, we saw Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Shaukatullah Shah Ansari, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Allah Bakhsh, and many others rubbed shoulders with Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and other leaders of the freedom movement. Diversity added richness and strength to the composite notion of Indian nationalism.

Cultural values drew heavily from interactions in subtle and profound ways, influencing all aspects of our life from food habits, literature, art, music, architecture and what have you. For the last few decades, events in India appear to be moving in the reverse direction, detrimental to peace and harmony. On the positive side, we witness the bubbling up of integrative efforts within and beyond religion. We had eminent social workers such as Swami Agnivesh and Asghar Ali Engineer, who promoted interfaith dialogue and sought to remove misunderstandings between members of different faiths. Many crusaders are silently working in society—Martin McWan, John Dayal and Cedric Prakash come to mind—who dedicated their lives to promote harmony. Such movements of interfaith dialogue went a long way in reducing theological and social misunderstanding among Hindus and Muslims and members of other faiths. Their initiative contributed in profound ways to maintaining amity between diverse groups. Each in their own way has come to imprint harmony on all of society.

Faisal Khan revived Khudai Khidmatgar, the organisation Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan founded. This grassroots organisation promotes amity and the spirit of mutual respect between Hindus and Muslims. They launched an open house—Apna Ghar—a system wherein members from all communities can live together and share their practices with others in a respectful way. Noted film maker Anand Patwardhan wrote, “…the Khudais have touched people’s hearts across the country and membership has swelled to 50,000. Today it has many Hindus, including a few who had once been in the RSS.”

India has been the site of many ghastly lynchings. The families of the victims have no social support and are desperately helpless. To empathise with them, social activist Harsh Mander started the Karwan-e-Mohabbat—Caravan of Love—that reaches out to the families of the victims of lynching to extend moral and social support. It has come as significant assistance to families and communities.

Many cities have communal harmony groups today and charity groups that help all, even though we may not hear about them much. These groups are working silently, unnoticed, while the violence of groups that promote divisiveness always hog the limelight. Even the farmer movement, the most significant post-independence mass movement, has promoted communal amity in a big way. Similarly, the Shaheen Bagh protests strengthened intercommunity amity.

The deeper problem is the global rise of those who believe in the “clash of civilisations” thesis and promote divisive tendencies. India is no exception. A United Nations-sponsored high-level committee when Kofi Annan was Secretary-General put forward the notion of an ‘Alliance of Civilisations’. This is the guiding principle of many groups who wish to revive India’s syncretic traditions. In the current troubling scenario, these rays of hope are lesser-known but critical for a peaceful future.

Netaji Bose: Attempted Appropriation by Hindu Nationalism

Netaji Sbhashchandra Bose’s birth anniversary was marked by various events this year (January 23). His portrait was unveiled by the President in Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was declared that his anniversary will be celebrated as Parakram Divas (Bravery day). Railway Minister announced the renaming of Howrah-Kalka Mail as Netaji Express. Mamta Bannerjee in contrast stated that his anniversary will be celebrated as Dehs Nayak Divas (National Hero Day). Through word of mouth propaganda and the social media BJP and company is spreading the falsehood that Congress did not honor Bose and that Bose supported Hindutva.

All this is happening in the backdrop of forthcoming West Bengal elections where BJP is making all the attempts to win the Assembly elections. In tune with the attempt to pick up the icons by BJP; Subhash Bose is the latest on the line. He is a tall National figure and is greatly revered in WB. So far BJP never talked of putting Netaji in such a way as it is doing currently. The truth that Netaji’s ideology was totally in opposition to the one being pursued by BJP is being hidden under the carpet and strong attempt is underway to show that Netaji had ideology similar to the present ruling dispensation. Netaji was for socialism, democracy and communal amity and the present ruling party is for Hindu nation, is practicing the divisive politics and is undermining democracy through all its action.

As far as his differences with Congress party (INC) are concerned they related more to means to be employed for getting Independence. He was twice President of INC. The difference came up mainly in the wake of Second World War when Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi planned a nationwide agitation; ‘Quit India Movement’. Bose at this point of time wanted to make the British quit by allying with Germany and Japan who were Britain’s enemy countries. The majority of Congress Central committee was with Gandhi’s proposal and leaders like Patel and Nehru totally opposed the strategy proposed by Bose.

Still it was a tactical difference; Congress and Bose both were for getting freedom, while Hindu Mahasabha and RSS supported the British war efforts. Savarkar of Hindu Mahasabha was in the lead to make the British army strong by helping them to recruit Indians into British army. Bose on the contrary formed ‘Azad Hind Fauz’ (Indian National Army, INA ) in Singapore with the aim of countering British army. He continued to be admirer of INC, Gandhi and Nehru; as is evident from the fact that he wrote to Mahatma Gandhi addressing him as Rashtrapita (Father of the nation). He sought Gandhi’s blessings while forming INA and two of INA Brigades were named after Gandhi and Nehru.

While Hindu Mahasabha and RSS have been totally against the state sponsored welfare programs and the concept of Socialism, Bose was a firm socialist. Within Congress he was with Nehru and other socialists for incorporation of socialist ideals in the national movement. When he left Congress he formed Forward Block, a socialist outfit, which had been part of the Left Alliance which ruled WB for decades.

Congress also looked at INA in a positive light and when after the end of World War II, the soldiers and officers of INA were tried in the Courts; lawyers like Bhulabhai Desai and Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru among others fought the case for the INA. Interestingly Nehru adorned the lawyer’s gown precisely to fight the cases for the brave soldiers of INA.

One should note that Hindu Mahasabha’s Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was part of the Government of Bengal in alliance with Muslim League. When British Government was suppressing the Quit India Movement, Mukherjee promised British not to bother about the Quit India Movement in Bengal as he will deal with them properly. Parallel to this Hindu Mahasabha’s Savarkar wanted British army to be strong and chief of RSS, Golwalkar put out a circular to its branches to stick to their regular activities and not to do anything which will annoy the British.

Hindu Rashtra (Nation) has been the main plank of Hindu Mahasabha-RSS. It is not much projected as to what were the ideas of Bose on the issue of nature of Nationalism and Hindu Muslim unity.  To quote Bose from his writings, “With the advent of the Mohammedans, a new synthesis was gradually worked out. Though they did not accept the religion of the Hindus, they made India their home and shared in the common social life of the people – their joys and their sorrows. Through mutual co-operation, a new art and a new culture were (sic) evolved ….” And also that, “Indian Mohammedans” have continued to work for national freedom.” In order to uphold rights of minorities, he conceptualized a new State where “religious and cultural freedom for individuals and group” should be guaranteed and no “state-religion” would be adopted [‘Free India and her Problems’].

While sticking to ‘first comers’, RSS ideologues say that Aryans were the original inhabitants in India and from here they emigrated to parts of West Asia and Europe. In contrast Bose points out “, “The latest archeological excavations … prove unmistakably that India had reached a high level of civilization as early as 3000 B.C. … before the Aryan conquest of India.” His praise for Mohenjo-daro and Harappa is certainly a rational counter-argument based on ‘scientific findings’ against the imagination of a Hindu-Aryan origin of Indian culture.

Time and over again the Hindu nationalists have been trying to gain legitimacy by appropriating the national icons like Vivekanad, Sardar Patel and the like. Now with WB elections forthcoming ‘no holds barred’ efforts is on to appropriate a tall leader of freedom movement, whose ideology is totally in opposition the one of Hindu nationalists. He was a true socialist wedded to the concept of Hindu Muslim unity. He fought against British while Hindu nationalists supported them. He called Gandhi as rashtrapita, while one of the Hindu nationalist murdered him!

Peoples Media Advocacy & Resource Centre- PMARC has been initiated with the support from group of senior journalists, social activists, academics and intellectuals from Dalit and civil society to advocate and facilitate Dalits issues in the mainstream media. To create proper & adequate space with the Dalit perspective in the mainstream media national/ International on Dalit issues is primary objective of the PMARC.

A Saint of Modern Times: Stan Swami

On 5th July 2021, India’s human rights movement lost one of its dogged and principled workers Fr. Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly call Stan Swamy. He breathed his last in Holy Spirit Hospital Mumbai. Coincidentally at that time his bail petition was being heard by the Court. He was in Taloja prison on the charge of Bhima Koregaon case, he was the oldest person to have been accused of terrorism by NIA and was in prison under the draconian UAPA law, in which the hearing of the case is not time bound and the person can be incarcerated for long time, without any tangible reason. Authorities are not duty bound to present the evidence of the crime particular timeframe. He was arrested nearly eight months ago.

Bhima Koregaon incidence took place in 2019, 1st July. As thousands of dalits were returning after paying homage to dalits who lost their life in battle against Peshwa army in 1818, they were attacked. This battle had taken place between the Peshwa Baji Rao’s upper caste army against the East India Company’s army constituted mainly by Mahar community. Mahars saw it as a defeat of casteist forces and celebrated the victory, a victory pole was erected and annually dalits started visiting the place as a mark of defeat of Brahmanical forces. Babasaheb Ambedkar also visited the place in 1928. It became an ideological identity booster for the dalit community.

In 2018 as it was second centenary of the event lakhs of dalits visited Bhima Koregaon to show their solidarity with the cause of dalit upliftment. After the attack on dalits initial FIR was filed against Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, two Hindutva leaders. Elgar Parishad was organized in Pune by Justice P.B. Sawant and Justice Kolse Patil. Later NIA took over the case from the state Government and initially started arresting people Like Sudha Bhardwaj, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Vernon Gonslaves, Arun Feirera on the ground that the violence was planned by the Maoists. The charge was that they had planned to overthrow the Government and kill Prime Minister Modi. Those arrested have been given the label of Urban Naxals, the ones who are supporting the naxal activities from urban centers.

The evidence has not been presented by police so far. Contrary evidence has surfaced. As per the US firm ‘Arsenal Consulting’ letters were planted in laptop of Rona Wilson and Surendra Gadling. The Court has not taken notice of this. The only person to get six month bail on health ground has been revolutionary poet Varavar Rao. In case of Stan Swamy, he is having Parkinson’s disease. He was denied the sipper for long time to help him drink tea etc.

From jail he wrote a moving ‘caged birds can sing’. He stated in his letter from jail that he is being helped by prison inmates to take care of his daily needs and that in prison all his body systems are deteriorating. Much later without giving bail Court permitted him to be treated in a community hospital. Meanwhile he also had the Covid infection which left him weaker and more debilitated. His death has been mourned by most of the civil rights groups not only from India but also from abroad. United Nations Human Rights body (Nadine Maenza) and European Union representative for human rights (Eamon Gilmore) have expressed deep sorrow and concern on the whole issue

Father was working among the Adivasis of Jharkhand. The BJP regime was taking away the forest lands and passing it on to Corporate for the natural resource. Thousand of Adivasis were put behind the bars for opposing this move of the Government. Fr. Stan stood tall in supporting the cause of these marginalized sections of society. “If you question this form of development, you are anti-development, which is equal to anti-government, which is equal to anti-national. A simple equation. This is why government calls me a Maoist, although I am completely opposed to Maoist methods, and has nothing to do with them”. He was part of the team which authored the report in 2016, “Deprived of Rights over Natural Resources, Impoverished Adivsis Get Prison.” His life was very simple. Used to travel in the ordinary rail compartment to save out on money. Lived on frugal means, totally committed to the rights of Adivaisis among whom he was living.

We have lost great human rights activists, no lime light, quiet and committed work for the basic human rights of marginalized sections. Even from prison he wrote more about those who have been lodged in jail without the cases being brought up in the Courts, basically being made to rot, incarcerated for raising their voice for justice.

The great loss to Human rights movements reminds us about the methods being used by the state and the lack of sensitivity of judiciary in dealing with the likes of Stan Swamy, who have been put behind bars on the pretext of plan to murder our Prime Minster! It is to silence the voices of dissent, to undermine those who speak up for the average and marginalized, in the language of Gandhi those who speak up for those who are standing last in the queue. We are living in times when policies are being manipulated to please those who are standing in the front rows of the queue. We are living in times where on one hand organizations like Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram have been floated by RSS to co-opt Adivasis into the agenda of Hindu nation and on the other those working for the just rights of Adivasis, like Fr. Stan are being implicated.

The only comparison I can think for this great person is the Saints, who were articulating the morality of Justice. Saints had to face the wrath of powers that be. This institutional murder of Fr. Stan on one hand reminds us as to how saints were persecuted by those in power and on the other it has diminished us as a nation. It is time that we need to form joint platforms to protect justice for all marginalized sections. His life should make us stand against the prevalent injustices and work for stopping the deep erosion of democratic values. That will be the fitting tribute to him.

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