Temple Inaugurations Are Not Decolonization; Indian Culture Is Much Broader

The recent ‘pran pratishtha’ (consecration) of Lord Ram in Ram Temple in Ayodhya has been a major spectacle. This has accompanied the promotion of the mass display of religiosity in most parts of the country, more so in northern India. This also saw the fusion of the roles ‘chief of religion’ and ‘chief of political power’ into a single person, the Prime Minister of India. It was immediately followed by Narendra Modi inaugurating another big temple (Swaminayan) in Abu Dhabi with gaiety and publicity. Soon the foundation for another temple in Chambal, Kalki Dham, was also done by Modi. Impressed by the serial temple events many right-wing ideologues are claiming that Modi is the first statesman from post-colonial societies to move towards the decolonization of cultures in post-colonial societies.

Temple Inaugurations Are Not Decolonization; Indian Culture Is Much BroaderHow did colonialism affect South Asia in particular? South Asia was predominantly a feudal society, ruled by the landlord-kings legitimized by the clergy. The British succeeded in colonizing most parts of South Asia, the Indian subcontinent in particular. Their primary focus was on plundering its wealth and creating markets for the goods being produced in England. It had to lay the structure of a colonial state in which transport, education and foundations of modern administration were laid down. Incidentally, they also supported the eradication of some of the ghastly practices like sati. For other reforms, the likes of Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule, B R Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi moved the mountains to bring in reforms and cultural changes.

The culture of society is not a static thing. It did start changing in multiple ways during the colonial period. While a blind aping of the West was a small part of cultural change, the major accompanying part was the journey towards a society with equality. These were baby steps towards the culture of industrial-modern society in India. This was looked down upon by the conservative political forces like the Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, the communalists, as being “Western values”. They were essentially piqued by the journey towards equality of the downtrodden, they were opposed to it and they labeled it as being ‘Western’.

On these lines, they called the Indian constitution, the embodiment of India’s political culture, as being based on Western values. One recalls that the ideologues of the Hindu Right were opposed to the ideology that talks of equality. In opposition to this, they harp on holy books like Manu Smriti, which talks of the inequality of caste and gender. Interestingly those social forces that had roots in feudal power structure stuck to the ‘anti-Western narrative’. At the same time, they collaborated with the colonial rulers. Interestingly the national movement was shaping the culture and also opposing colonial rulers.

One recalls the Muslim Brotherhood (West Asia) at this point as yet another example. It also calls the democratic culture and values as Western import and tries to impose dictatorial norms and social inequality in the name of Islam. In India, the Hindu Right wing seeks to oppose equality as being a Western import. The opposition to the values of the Indian constitution is also couched in the garb of opposition to colonial culture and is propagated as a glorification of ‘Indian culture’.

Misplaced cultural convictions

So what is being called opposing colonial culture at times is the culture that bases itself on opposing fraternity and justice. Justice for all, irrespective of caste and gender, has been the goal of the emerging Indian democracy; this gives space to pluralism and diversity. Amongst the post-colonial states, India had the best political journey till a few decades ago. This was also accompanied by a culture, which had continuity and change. This was reflected in the life patterns promoted by the likes of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Bose and Maulana Azad, to name a few. This was an attempt to tune the culture which is compatible with democratic values.

The spree of temple-related events is accompanied by the right-wing assertion that this is the decolonization of culture. Also, the impression being created that the inauguration of the temple in Abu Dhabi is the first one in the ‘Muslim countries’ of West Asia is false. One knows there are many temples in the region, including UAE, Muscat, Bahrain and Oman to name a few. As the global migrations; the economy in this case, of Indians are accompanied by the temples in the region. We also recall there are many temples in our neighboring Muslim countries. Dhakeshwwari temple in Bangladesh is well known and we also recall that apart from other existing temples in Pakistan, Lal Krishna Advani visited Pakistan to inaugurate the renovated Katasraj Temple.

The glorification of Modi for ensuring a Hindu temple is unwarranted. To assert that by inaugurating temples in India and in Abu Dhabi, Modi is showing the conviction to bring in decolonization is misplaced. In India the colonial impact was undone during the freedom movement itself, as the roots of progressive social steps and progressive writings, the theatre also ran parallel with the national movement. Post independence the process continued with Nehru’s encouragement of scientific temper and Ambedkar’s well-drafted Indian constitution.

India did not get subdued by colonial culture in totality. What we are facing today is the promotion of religiosity and conservatism. Since politics is stalking the streets in the garb of religion, India’s traditional syncretic culture is coming under attack from conservative and orthodox values. A hilarious example of this is the opposition by BJP associate VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and company legally challenging the forest department to let the lion Akbar cohabit with the lioness Sita at the Kolkata zoo.

Onslaught of orthodoxy

As far as Abu Dhabi is concerned, not only Abu Dhabi but the whole of West Asia (Middle East) has suffered the onslaught of orthodox values due to the promotion of Islamic fundamentalism by the United States. In pursuit of its control over oil resources, it had overthrown the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 paving the way for a fundamentalist regime in due course. Later it was instrumental in propping up madrassas in Pakistan to train mujahedeen which gave rise to Al Qaeda with huge funding and also supplied them with armaments. This whole American intervention shifted West Asian culture towards a retrograde one.

The inauguration of the temple in Abu Dhabi in no way can undo the cultural damage done to the region by the global forces with infinite hunger for oil. Temples are one part of the culture. The definition of culture has to be much broader than just temple-related events.

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/perspective/temple-inaugurations-are-not-decolonization-indian-culture-much-broader

Hate Speech in India: How to Promote Amity?

India has been ruled by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party for the last decade. BJP, in turn, is the progeny of RSS, which has the goal of Hindu Rashtra. It has many progeny, hundreds of associated organisations with lakhs of volunteers (Swayamsevaks) and thousands of senior workers called Pracharaks (Propagators). It has been pursuing its agenda of the Hindu Nation with twice the speed since the BJP came to power at the centre. The rise of the BJP on the electoral battlefield is due to intensifying communal issues, Ram Temple, Cow-Beef, and Love-Jihad, among others. Communal violence has been a significant factor in increasing its electoral strength.

There are well-placed mechanisms to create hate, hate speech against minorities, the chain of shakhas, Schools, Godi media, social media and IT cells, among others. Hate speech, which is a punishable offence, is used with gay abandon, more so when the BJP is in power in states and also in the centre. Those indulging in Hate speech do know that they enjoy a sort of impunity.

Hate Speech in India (The Wire) (1)
Picture: The Wire

All this is confirmed by the latest report released by ‘India Hate Lab’, a Washington DC-based group that documents hate speech against India’s religious minorities. The report titled ‘Hate Speech Events in India’ notes that while 255 events took place in the first half of 2023, “the number rose to 413 in the second half of the year, a 62% increase. The details are very revealing. As per the report, nearly 75% of the events of the total (498) took place in the BJP-ruled States, Union Territories (administered by the BJP-led Central government), and Delhi (here, police and public order come under the Union government’s purview). While 36% (239) of the events “included a direct call of violence against Muslims”, and 63% (420) of incidents include references to “conspiracy theories, primarily involving love jihad, land jihad, and population jihad”. About 25% (169) featured speeches calling for targeting Muslim places of worship.”

The resulting events are very well known by now. We remember the addition of using bulldozers and demolitions by BJP-ruled states. The demolition of the Mosque here and there is no longer a big deal. Boycotting Muslim hawkers and traders is occasionally propped up.

The impact on the Muslim community is an increasing sense of insecurity and ghettoisation. The walls of hatred are becoming stronger by the day. The hate speech signals begin from the top when the Prime Minister, lately being touted as the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, gives these hints that they can be identified with their clothes, Shamshan-Kabristan and Pink revolution. The next layer of hate spreaders further intensifies the language, and when it comes to Dharma Sansads, the Holy ones, like Yati Narsinghnand, the message of violence becomes more direct and despicable.

One of the peaks of this was witnessed in the Parliament itself when Ramesh Bidhudi used expletives of the worst kind against Danish Ali, ‘Mullah’, ‘terrorist’, ‘anti-national’, ‘pimp’ and ‘katwa’ (a Hindi slur against Muslims). Ramesh Bidhudi, in turn, was given additional promotion responsibility. This makes it clear the way of going in the upward direction of hierarchy in the BJP-RSS combine is hate speech. Ramesh Bidhudi was let off by the Lok Sabha Speaker by saying that if he repeated it again, action would be contemplated.

We have seen the horrific Bulli Bai and Sulli deals to humiliate prominent Muslim women and celebrities. The culprits went away without any severe punishments. Lately, the Haldwani mosque issue also disturbed the peace at the ground level. The absence of an impartial media is the worst thing in the present scenario. The anchors of the big channels find ways to blame the Muslims for every insinuation against them.

Apart from leading to acts of violence against the Muslim community, the present trajectory of events is leading to gradually intensifying Islamophobia. We can see a teacher, Tripta Tyagi, asking the class students to slap a Muslim boy one by one for not doing homework. Another teacher, Manjula Devi, told two Muslim students, who were bickering over a minor issue, that this is not ‘their country’. We also witnessed a bus conductor, Mohan Yadav, being sacked as he stopped the bus briefly, during which some passengers eased, and a few Muslims offered Namaz during that time.

Hate speech was identified by our leaders as a curse for our society. In the aftermath of the murder of Swami Sahajanand by a Muslim, Gandhi correctly identified the problem when he wrote in Young India, calling for “…purging the atmosphere of mutual hatred and calumny” by “boycotting papers which foment hatred and spread misrepresentation”. Here, Gandhi is talking about the negative role of newspapers at that time. Later, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, in the aftermath of the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, in a letter to Golwalkar, directly indicted RSS for spreading hatred, “All their speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison and enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the valuable life of Gandhi. ”

The clock has moved full circle. The same RSS has created layers and layers of hate-creating mechanisms. Apart from its own vast army of swayam-sevaks, pracharaks and network of schools, a large section of media has totally surrendered to those in power and unabashedly uses their influence to intensify hate. The social common sense created through these mechanisms leads to Bulli Bai and Sulli deals. This creates Trupta Tyagis and Manjula Devis, who take it to the young children. Things are becoming difficult for Muslim children in mixed schools.

Hate is the antithesis of our Constitution’s value of fraternity. It is also against the tolerance of the values of the morality of Hinduism as practised by Gandhi. This is an aggressive attack on the dictum of the Vedas, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam’ (World is a family). This is not only intimidating the religious minorities, it is an attack on the values of our Constitution. To combat hate speech, Gandhi’s Hinduism, Vasudhaiva Kutumbaka and the fraternity of the Indian Constitution are needed more than before. (Courtesy: The Indian Currents)

Restoring the Inclusive Idea of India in the Times of Sectarian Nationalism

Satyapal Malik, the ex-Governor of many states stated that the role of Pulwama and Balakot was very much there in the victory of Modi-BJP in the previous 2019 General elections. He also predicted some other major spectacle may happen before the 2024 elections. The hysteria created around the temple consecration is a spectacle of high order. At the same time Suranya Aiyer, a lawyer and author has undertaken a fast and penitence, calling it 72 hours of love and sorrow to fellow Muslims. She proclaims her pride in Mughal heritage. One can see the creation of a stifling atmosphere of divisiveness around, which sounds very intimidating.

As such temple inaugurations have also been occasions of promoting communal harmony as a couple of instances will show. Mahatma Gandhi while inaugurating Laxminarayan Temple (Birla Temple) in Delhi in 1939 had stated, “It must be the daily prayer of every adherent of the Hindu faith…that every known religion of the world should grow from day to day and should serve the whole of humanity…I hope that these temples will serve to propagate the idea of equal respect for religions and to make communal jealousies and strife; things of the past.”

More or less on similar lines Swami Vivekananda had earlier stated, (1997) ““it is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans.” In his book ‘Lectures from Colombo to Almora’ we see Swamiji stating “Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but also positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India as I have just related to you… That is the thing to do.”

The present atmosphere is in total contrast to this as reflected by the fast of Suranya. It is also reflected in the incidents where cultural activists screening censor approved all time classic by Anand Patwardhan, ‘Ram Ke Naam’ are being arrested and issued non bailable arrest warrants. This happened in Hyderabad on 20th January.

Then there are claims by the likes of Prafulla Ketkar, Editor of unofficial RSS mouthpiece Organiser claiming that “the pran-pratishta (consecration ceremony) of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya was not simply the culmination of the decades-old Ram Janmabhoomi movement, but the beginning of a “reconstruction of national consciousness”. This essentially means the whole process of social change and the idea of India which accompanied the freedom movement now stands to be negated and what can roughly called ‘Hindu India’ is already there and multiple steps towards Hindu rashtra have been achieved by the communal forces.

What accompanied the ‘Idea of India’ was a coming together of different sections of society to fight the colonial powers, with the aspirations of striving for Liberty Equality, Fraternity and Justice for all. This massive movement had the overarching ‘Idea of India’, which culminated in the values of Indian Constitution.

There were challenges to this idea of India, which were rooted in the values of Kingdoms and what can be roughly called feudal society. The core of these values which are being hailed by the forces creating hysteria around temple consecration were/are the birth based hierarchies of caste, class and gender. The roots of these lay in the Kings and landlords of different religions and their ideologues who came forward as Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabah and RSS. While Muslim communal forces are implementing their idea of feudal values in Pakistan, the Hindu communal forces are now rejoicing, in gradually increasing intensity, now reaching its semi-peak with Ram Temple consecration.

The idea of India of freedom movement got manifested in the values of Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar and Gandhi focusing on Liberty Equality and Fraternity or friendship. Despite few differences with the father of Nation, Subhash Chandra Bose was also firmly committed to this “idea of India’.

The elite landlord and Manusmiriti worshipping ideology was the social base of Hindu Rashtra, Hindutva. These forces and this ideology have grown stronger particularly during last four decades and are rejoicing the sectarianism becoming stronger by the day. They are also giving narrow projection of the temple consecration in contrast to what Gandhi and Vivekananda stood. The sectarian nationalists are for the further deepening of particular ‘civilizational values’ inherent in what can be called as Brahmanism inherent in Manusmriti.

Those standing for doing away with the values of Manusmriti, those integrating all into the umbrella of Indian-ness, those who have stood together cutting across class, caste and gender are currently under different types of intimidations of Hindu India, the parallel and opposite of Muslim Pakistan are emerging.

The only ray of hope for ‘idea of India’ is the same classes of society who ushered in the Idea of India during freedom movement to come together. It is their collective movement; the overarching effort to undermine the forces which gloat over the birth based hierarchical values in the name of religion, those who uphold the Holy Scriptures in contrast to the Indian Constitution. Their movements have been scattered. Their group interests may be different but their interests in protecting the Indian Constitution and Idea of India which emerged during freedom movements does need a collective expression, cutting across the groups- party lines.

Many non sectarian parties do exist today. The predecessors of many of these had fought the British colonial powers together despite their differences. It is time that the social and political alliance of these sections of society given primacy. As colonial rule was detrimental to the interests of large sections of society, similarly those in power ruling through polarization are also out to undermine the rights of weaker sections of society. This is abundantly clear during the last ten years or so.

Hysteria cannot be combated by hysteria. We need the ideology which binds the weaker sections of society, the dalits, religious minorities, women, workers and Adivasis. They have many common values to protect and that is the ‘Idea of India’ which came with freedom movement. Can Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra be the first step in building such a common platform, can the yatra succeed in doing this is the question baying us all?

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.