Shabnam Hashmi is a known social and political activist fighting against communalism in the country. Her major contribution is the efforts she has undertaken for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims and survivors of communal violence, particularly those of 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat carnage. In the wake of large-scale bloodshed in Gujarat, she felt an urgent need to fight the ideology of communalism on a day-to-day basis and carry out “absolutely action-oriented programme”. This led her, along with other activists and academics, to establish ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), a voluntary organisation in March 2003 in defence of the idea of India. As a founding and managing trustee of ANHAD, she has, in a decade, spread the areas of her activities to states including Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Kashmir and Bihar etc. While her activism has won kudos among secular and progressive sections as her name was proposed in the list of 1000 women for 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, this has, many a time, invited the wrath of the Hindu communal forces and physical attacks by them. She believes that the rise of Modi poses an ever bigger challenge to secular forces as the incidents of communal violence have increased many times in the last few months, including the latest one in Delhi’s Trilokpuri area and tension in Bawana earlier. Against the background of this, Mishab Irikkur and Abhay Kumar interacted with Hashmi at ANHAD’s office in Nizamuddin, Delhi, on 28 October on a wide range of issues. Following are excerpts of the interview:
Last month ANHAD prepared a report on the hundred days of Modi regime and the question of minorities. What can minorities, particularly Muslims, expect from Modi?
If anyone is under the delusion that social and economic conditions of minorities will improve under the Modi regime or that they are going to benefit in any way, he or she should study the past records of Modi and the Sangh Parivar more critically. I have no doubt and hesitation in saying that Modi is a dictator and a fascist. Since his coming to power at the Centre there were more than 600 incidents of attacks on both Muslims and Christians. We have documented this in “100 Days under the New Regime: The State of Minorities in India – A Report” published by ANHAD and edited by John Dayal. Every single riot is now created and there is a well-oiled mechanism, run by the RSS and its sister organisations that work through the year to systemically manufacture incidents of communal violence. They are being assisted by the police who are highly communalised and they play a partisan role, targeting mostly Muslims.
Do you also see such mechanism working in Delhi’s Trilokpuri area where the situation has still not completely returned to normal?
I have been told that the police in Trilokpuri picked up nearly 50 young Muslims. They were beaten up and were even denied food. It was only after the intervention by activists like Kiran Shaheen that a court ordered that they should be provided food. Lawyers and their relatives were not allowed to meet them. Worse still, Block No 15 of Trilokpuri, where mostly Muslims live, was blocked by the police who did not allow anyone to enter. The police did a massive combing operation and did not let journalists go inside Block 15. News reaching us suggests that Muslims are undergoing atrocities. If minorities are not guaranteed a life with dignity and a life without fear by the government, then it inflicts the biggest harm to them. That is why I do not have any hope from the Modi Government. As I hinted earlier, the sense of insecurity and fear created by a large number of attacks on Muslims and Christians, including their Churches and Fathers, is likely to increase. It is high time we struggled for protecting the idea of India.
You have launched a nationwide campaign in defence of the idea of India. How is it under threat after coming of Modi-led BJP to power?
The idea of India is based on democracy, equality, secularism, justice, pluralism, cultural diversity, communal harmony, gender equality and women empowerment, etc. But the RSS and Modi’s idea of India is to establish a Hindu Rashtra which will only be for the people who believe in Hindutva, not even for all Hindus. In fact, under the India of RSS, only the upper castes will be considered as first class citizens and the rest will be reduced to second class citizens. In this Hindu Rashtra there will be no place for lower castes, classes, women and all those who believe in the Indian constitution, democracy and secularism. The UP unit of the Shiv Sena has announced that it will award a cash prize of Rs. 21,000 to those Hindus who have ten or more children. While the Shiv Sena is desperate to see the population of Hindus increase, it does not mind treating women as just child-producing machines! How unfortunate it is that the BJP Chief Minister of Haryana Manohar Lal Khattar blamed women themselves for the incidents of rape. Besides, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that everyone who lives in India is Hindu. He also wants to get the Ram Temple in Ayodhya built by 2019. The Hindu Right is also using the issue of cow slaughter to instigate anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, Haryana and UP etc. Moreover, the issue of “Love Jihad” is fabricated and propagated by the Hindu Right to foment hatred against Muslims — a similar method was earlier used by Hitler against Jews in Germany.
Are you worried about the fact that some of the recent communal conflicts, as reported in media, were fought among Dalits/lower castes and Muslims, who are the most oppressed sections in the Brahmanical social system? How much the RSS has been able to “saffronise” lower castes, particularly Dalits?
The term “Dalit” is not simply a caste but a political category. Anyone who fights against caste system is a Dalit. Thus real Dalits cannot fight against Muslims. Those who are fighting against Muslims are a miniscule minority of their community and they have been saffronised by the RSS. The process of saffronization of lower castes has been going on for the last two to three decades.
You have worked with the victims of 2002 Gujarat communal violence. Is it true that now the RSS, the VHP, and the BJP do not want to organise riots on a massive scale. Instead, they want to keep it at a low intensity level so as to maintain the atmosphere of communal tension. In other words, do you see any shift in Hindu Right’ strategy about riots?
In the last few years, communal forces have changed their strategy. They are now going for low-intensity riots so that they may not be reported in media and the national or international attention could not be drawn to them. Even the locations of riots have shifted and now they are organised mostly in small places and rural areas with a view to creating and maintaining hatred among different communities and in places where people have lived in peace in the past. One should also keep in mind that the constructed image of Modi as the person standing for development (vikas), may be tainted if a large-scale violence, like 2002 Gujarat, breaks out in the country.
You have been leading campaigns against assaults on freedom of expression, communalisation of media and saffronisation of education etc. Could you tell us more about this?
Let me begin with social media. My ‘Facebook’ page is followed by 5000 friends and some 9000 followers. Earlier, whatever I used to post on my Facebook wall, it was liked by a large number of people. But today their likes have drastically gone down because people are frightened of a possible crackdown on them if they appear to be “anti-ruling classes”. Earlier, in social media, the presence of secular and communal contents was almost balanced but today the space is captured by communal forces. Increasingly, media is now owned and controlled by Right-wing corporate forces. The point I want to stress is that the secular voices and dissents in social media have been drastically reduced to one tenth of what they had existed earlier. There is also an attempt to saffronise education. HRD Minister Smriti Irani is just a new kid on the scene. This process of saffronisation of culture and education began some two decades back.
Moreover, over 60-70,000 RSS-run schools, Saraswati Shishu Mandir, teach hatred and they have penetrated in society. Communal-minded administrators, officers, academics and journalists have been placed at almost all the institutions of the country. Even the peaceful Kanwariya (devotees of Lord Shiva) have been militarised by the RSS. As far as TV programmes are concerned, they have been used to poison the minds of people. Who could forget that the demolition of Babri Masjid was preceded by telecasting the Ramayana serial? Today most of the soap operas are highly anti-women. The Hindu Right has also appropriated Uniform Civil Code as its agenda, creating fear among minorities. Let me make it clear that the advocacy of the RSS and the BJP for Uniform Civil Code is not aimed at democratising society but to use it as a tool to impose Brahminical culture on all of us where there will be no rights for women. Unlike the BJP, the kind of Uniform Civil Code I am supporting is based on the idea of equality, gender justice, freedom and democracy etc.
Your critics have alleged that you are soft on the Congress and you tend to overlook its failures. How far is it true?
I have strong differences with the Congress on its economic policies but I disagree with Left critics including those of the CPM, who talk about maintaining equal distance from both the Congress and the BJP. I also disagree with the view that the Congress and the BJP are the same. I think the Congress does believe in secularism and democracy in principle while the BJP is anti-democratic and anti-secular. But it is also a fact that when it comes to practice and implementation, the Congress has many times failed to fulfill its promises. The reason behind this failure is the growth of communal consciousness among a large number of Congress’ leaders and cadres. Yet, around 25 per cent of Congress’ leaders and cadres remain secular but in the BJP there is not even one percent secular force. In the absence of any secular and Left force at the national level, one should choose the lesser evil. About its failure to fully implement the Sachar Committee recommendations and to pass Prevention of Anti-Communal and Prevention Bill, it is the growing influence of communal consciousness in the Congress that has halted the welfare policy for the minority. But one should also not deny the fact that during UPA-I and UPA-II considerable work was done for minorities in the light of the Sachar report as well as other marginalised sections.
Mishab Irikkur (mishabirikkur#gmail.com) and Abhay Kumar (debatingissues#gmail.com) are pursuing Ph.D at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.