– by Farzana Versey, CounterPunch
Chanting hymns and spraying holy Ganga water, a group of religious leaders and students from the rightwing conducted the purification ritual of a 26-year-old woman inside a police station in Dehradun, Uttar Pradesh. Her crime was that she married a Muslim and was allegedly forced to convert to Islam. Her saviours felt that bringing her back home and into the fold was not enough; she needed to be cleansed of any traces of Muslimness to be acceptable again.
This took place inside a police station with the cops around. It should tell us how political perceptions are brainwashing social attitudes in India.
We may laud the “U-turn” of an alleged victim denying she was a victim, but will such extempore anger have any effect? In Meerut a 22-year-old managed to get nine people arrested on the basis of a false charge of kidnapping, gangrape, and conversion. For many, the conversion seemed to be the real crime that made the state BJP ring alarm bells about Muslim men going around with a seduction to conversion blueprint.
After two months, it turns out that she was forced to make these serious allegations. In her statement to the police she wrote: “I was staying with my parents, but I ran away from home because I feel a threat to my life from my parents and relatives. I went with the boy belonging to a different community out of my own will.” Her parents were against her affair with Kaleem. Some members of Hindutva groups got wind of it and offered to help. Help for them meant milking it for political gain. ‘Love jihad’ had found one more victim, according to them, and Hinduism was therefore under threat from Islam.
The story of an almost love lost that has grabbed public imagination pays no attention to the “eight others” who are behind bars. The cleric Mohammad Sanaullah was said to be the main accused in the gangrape and conversion. Why is his innocence not highlighted? By concentrating only on the love angle, the ‘jihad’ against Muslims is allowed to continue to regain what is thought to be a lost colonial supremacy.
Forced conversions can be tried in court, but that would need evidence, which is not available simply because this does not take place, except for stray instances. Another reason to keep the paranoia alive is to feed the fear.
He talks about converting people to Hinduism and then says, “If they take one Hindu girl away, there will be at least 100 that we will…” and he pauses, as the crowd cheers and completes his sentence to gloat, “take away”. He does not stop there and goes on to say, “If they kill one Hindu, there will be 100 that we” and pauses, as the gathered crowd shouts: “will kill”.
This is not mere rustic appeal. As a member of parliament from Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath has used the floor of the house to declare that Hindus would need to organise themselves. “They (the pseudo-secular forces) split the country on communal lines in 1947 and there is a conspiracy to split the country again on Pakistan’s agenda. There is a conspiracy against the Hindu way of life and the people are uniting against this. Hindutva is a symbol of Indian nationalism. The Hindu religion does not allow the superiority of any one religion. Even Muslims who go for Haj are known as Hindus.”
Our US-return PM Narendra Modi has been silent; the BJP cadre has been silent. Adityanath continues to be MP. He even appeared on a TV show where he transformed the mock witness box into a speaker’s corner. The real story of bigotry is not what he said but how the young studio audience rooted for him. This was not an anonymous forum. They would be recognised and seemed to take pride in that, unconcerned about how their peers would view them. Prejudice has become the new identity.
Fringe outfits are on national television speaking in a quasi-government tone. Its members distribute pamphlets against Muslims and nobody is arrested for it. Even if it is a political move prior to polls it reveals how society thinks or how they expect society to start thinking.
The love jihad incident is deviously linked with madrassas, which will be the big target eventually. Sakshi Maharaj, another one of those godmen-ministers that are part of the righting government, said, “Education of terrorism is being given in madrassas. They (the madrassas)… are making them terrorists and jihadis…It is not in national interest.”
If madrassas are teaching terrorism, it makes no logical or tactical sense for them to be counteracted with ancient Hindu texts. India is a nuclear power, has a space mission, an information technology hub. None of this has been possible because of the Vedas or any religious text. Yet, the human resources development minister spoke to officials about the introduction of Hindu texts and epics in the curriculum and the contribution of ancients to topics like science and philosophy.
In isolation, the latter does not seem like an idea to dismiss. It could be a lesson in history. However, the intent is not as innocent. It would be inflicting the history of Hinduism, the contribution of Hindus in a pluralistic and secular nation. RSS ideologue Dinanath Batra, whose books Modi has called “inspirational literature” in the foreword and are filled with gems about redrawing the map of India as “Akhand Bharat” (united India of the ancients), is promoting Hindu Rashtra. His works were made compulsory reading in 42,000 schools across Gujarat in June this year.
Union water resources minister Uma Bharti’s theory about the floods in Kedarnath last year while agreeing that cloudburst was the immediate cause went back to past glory to state that “the underlying reason was human excretion” that too due to the “atheists (who) came here, mainly for business purposes”.
Even if we were to make provision for comical asides, the geek generation enthralled by such history does not realise that the parchment is frayed. The men in saffron want them to feed cows, recite mantras and stop celebrating birthdays with cake, and wear swadeshi (indigenous) clothes. The distorted history that is sought to be corrected will wipe out incidents of rightwing terror, including the two major riots of 1992 and 2002 where Muslims were targeted.
Nazim was issued summons because he was considered a threat to peace and might indulge in booth-capturing and intimidating voters. He was asked to provide a bond if he did not wish to be arrested. Nazim could not read a word of the statement. He was, in fact, oblivious to all that was happening around him. Nazim is only a year old.
Not taking any chances for the by-polls held last month, the sub-divisional magistrate in Usmanpur village of UP made no distinction between Yaseen and his son Nazim. Both were dangerous. This bizarre tale is an extreme form of the increasingly fanatical attitude towards minorities in India. They are now even putting toddlers under suspicion by branding them.
Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi said, “Money through trade of slaughtered animals goes into terrorism, therefore goes into killing us, why are we allowing this?” She added, “A slaughterer could be a Muslim but the transporter and the owners of the cows are often Hindus and non-Muslims. So it is not about religion but about trade and greed for money.” Would she have the courage to mention Hindu terrorism?
The Indian prime minister resorted to a backhanded insult to 170 million people when he said in the CNN interview: “My understanding is that they (al Qaeda) are doing injustice towards the Muslims of our country. If anyone thinks Indian Muslims will dance to their tune, they are delusional…Indian Muslims will live for India, they will die for India — they will not want anything bad for India.”
Not only was this slur swallowed, it was also applauded for inclusiveness. That the delusion of the al Qaeda prompted a note on patriotism and Indian Muslim fealty was made conditional on living and dying for the country did not seem to register or bother many. The message is clear. The loyalty of Indian Muslims needs to be flagged off by the head of government. Hindus do not need to prove they are citizens; their rights as worthy members of the Republic are assured.
Running through all this is an element of racial superiority. Subramanian Swamy of Ivy League education is an enthusiastic proponent of the Rashtra molecular heritage: “All Indians have Hindu ancestry and I will get Union Minister Najma Heptullah’s DNA tested in order to prove the theory.” Ms. Heptullah is the Minority Affairs minister and a senior leader who happens to be Muslim.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat stated, “The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture.” Had there been acceptance there would not be inequity and rejection. The greatness of such culture relies on artificial selection.
The development module too tries to mimic social evolution. It audaciously opposes the rare inter-community marriages by containing the coloniser within a ‘barbaric’ madrassa, and will not address the educated idea of pro-choice alliances. These are not the norm, so why would a political party with a huge mandate allow its members and its satellite groups to perpetrate such paranoia? The reason seems to be to use the women as territory analogy. A potent symbol was the jauhar, where women jumped into a well or the fire to protect themselves from Muslim armies in the 14th century. Young Muslim men are seen as the inheritors of such armies in the contemporary context.
These images are regurgitated by sidestepping the truth and projecting lies. In a 2007 CounterPunch article I had shown how there were attempts to pass off the murder of Muslim Rizwan for marrying Hindu Priyanka as a class divide.
Bhagwat has said recently, “For the next 5 years we have to work with the aim of bringing equality among all the Hindus in the country. All Hindus should be drinking water at one place, should be praying at one place and after their death, their bodies should be burnt at the same place.”
This is a feeble attempt to accept the backward castes that have suffered due to Brahminical entitlement. That it needs to be reiterated exposes the inherent problem with social mores as reveled in by the rightwing Sangh parivar. The ‘cultural’ organisation has done little to ensure that these castes are not discriminated against. The new sound bites will not bring about change, for they are used to merely titillate. Dalits have not been named specifically, leaving the options open to abuse.
Hindutva can get away with marketing itself as an all-purpose karma and culture, the blandishment camouflaging despotism.
Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections.