West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and some other states in India’s North East were a simmering cauldron against compilation of a so-called National Register of Citizenship (NRC). Oblivious of national and international furor, Indian House of People (lok sabha) and Council of States (rajya sabha) passed a controversial amendment, Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), to its Citizenship Act, 1955. It naturalises non-Muslim refugees as Indian citizens but excludes Muslims.
The amendment sparked country-wide protests. Different states welcomed or abhorred the refugees for different reasons. Assam had the grievance that the amendment violated Assam Accord that ended agitation over six years. Gory agitation took thousands of lives, disrupted the economy and toppled several governments. The Accord barred `illegal immigrants’ from entering the state without an Inner Line Permit. In India’s home minister’s parlance, immigrants are variously described as `persecuted non-Muslims’ or `Bangladeshi infiltrators’ or `termites on Indian economy’.
Tripura had concerns about tribals and non-tribals. Much of the migration into Tripura occurred before the creation of Bangladesh. The 1993 tripartite accord signed by the Government of India with the All Tripura Tribal Force that envisaged repatriation of all Bangladeshi nationals. They included those who had come to Tripura after March 25, 1971 and were not in possession of valid documents.
The chief ministers of five Opposition-ruled states, that is, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, opposed both the CAB and NRC. They declared that they would not implement the amendment in their states. Later, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik also joined their ranks. Communist-Party-of-India charismatic leader Kunhaiya Kumar (Bihar) warned `if you do not consider us citizens, we do not consider you the government’ (Indian Express December 17, 2019). Andhra Pradesh also has expressed ennui on the new law.
Stung by the brutal police action in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, students hit the streets in Chennai, Puducherry, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kolkata and Guwahati in solidarity. Simultaneously, political leaders held rallies and sit-ins (dharnas) against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Twenty five students were killed, 18 in Uttar Pradesh alone.
Mamta Bannerji, flamboyant chief minister of West Bengal, called the NRC an act of “deliberate destructiveness and political vendetta” of the BJP-RSS (Bharatya Janata Party-Rashtraya Swayem Sevak Sangh).She alleged that railway stations in West Bengal were set ablaze by ruling party’s hooligans. She remained unruffled by pro-BJP governor’s letters and tweets forbidding her to publish anti-NRC/CAA advertisements in the press. To governor’s chagrin, she herself participated in a mammoth rally and a seven –mile long three-day anti-CAA protest. She challenged the Centre to dare dismiss her state government.
Students could not remain silent spectators to malafide legislation. Voolcanic protests erupted in several states including Assam, Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Students of Jamia Millia were brutally beaten. Police was accused of resorting disproportionate use of force. They entered the campus and thrashed all and sundry. They did not spare even female students, and even the prayer leader (imam) inside the campus mosque. The vice chancellor of Jamia Millia had to address a press conference to highlight police brutality. Videos of police highhandedness went viral. Even Oxford University students expressed solidarity with their Indian fellows.
Myopic view of consequences: The amendment embodies Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s rhetoric that no Hindu can be a “foreigner” in India. It ignores the broader perspective, emerging ramifications, particularly secular fabric of Indian democracy. It marks a historic departure from India’s disavowal of the Two Nation Theory that led to creation of Pakistan. The opposition regards the law as a dark chapter in India’s history, a vindication of Jinnah’s two-nation theory.
It is a selective faith-based amnesty for a large segment of the 1.9 million people not included in the just-completed NRC in Assam. It excluded only Muslims from its privileged domain. Those excluded risked being declared `infiltrator’ and pushed back into Bangladesh, as India’s home minister had threatened.
Even in the absence of the new law, Hindus had been entering into India from the porous East Pakistan, now Bangladesh border. As such, Hindu population in Bangladesh dropped from 22 per cent of the total population in 1951 to 12 per cent in 1981, down to nine per cent in 2011.
The law does not promise Indian citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus. Yet it may quicken Hindu immigration to India with concomitant effects on India’s North East. Simultaneously, anti-Hindu sentiments might rise in Muslim Bangladesh. Life for affluent Hindus in Bangladesh may become harder. The have-nots may be eager to prowl upon properties and possessions of the Hindu minority. Antipathy to India in Bangladesh could rise pari passu with return of so-called Bengali-Muslim `infiltrators to Bangladesh from India. Simultaneously, some North Eastern States could become restless at hordes of Hindus fleeing from Bangladesh. Already, Assam is afire. Manipur is furious.
USA’s ennui: Even the independent bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed ennui on the citizenship amendment bill, while on the anvil, now enacted. According to a press note released by the Commission the bill amounted to a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and ran “contrary to the secular values enshrined in India’s Constitution” (Livemint, December 11, 2019). The agency had even forewarned of recommending US sanctions against India’s home minister Amit Shah, if the bill was enacted.
Fascism unmasked: Obviously, Modi followed Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist playbook dot for dot. Fear, terror and intimidation are favourite fascist tools. Modi wants to create fear so that his incompetence and dismal economic performance remained out of focus.
Fascist ideology envisioned a regimented nation in grip of a totalitarian ruler. It extirpated everything inimical to monolithism. Fascists abhorred a freethinking civil society, political opponents, brave journalists, fearless academics and an independent judiciary.
A page from German and Italian history: Five-yearly censuses took place, 1871 onwards, in the newly founded united Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The 1930 census happened to be postponed owing to the Great Depression.
Adolf Hitler began the census shortly after seizing power on April 12, 1933. Then, computers not being available, it was a huge manual enterprise. By the end of 1939, all orthodox Jews had been identified, pinpointed to their abodes, twice over. The purpose of Census was to first locate the Jews (67 million, or one per cent of the populace) and then “cleanse” them. The Citizenship and Denaturalisation Law of July 1933 empowered Nazi Reich to divest the undesirable” of citizenship. The Jews, even in professional services were outlawed, and pauperized by seizing their belongings. The object of both the 1933 and 1939 censuses was to isolate Jews both in the German heartland and the occupied territories before they were ghettoised, deported and eventually liquidated.
Hitler’s Fascist comrade Benito Mussolini, also, introduced a racial census for both the Jews and the Roma people of Italy. The headcount enabled Mussolini to initiate xenophobic laws in 1938.
A Hindu rashtra (nation): A hundred years back, Savarkar scribbled these words on the walls of a prison, later published in 1923 in his book on Hindutva. “With India for their basis of operation, for their Fatherland and for their Holy land… bound together by ties of a common blood and common culture (Hindus) can dictate their terms to the whole world.” He envisioned inevitable civil war with Muslims. So, he exhorted Hindus to join the British Army, not to fight fascism, but to prepare for the eventuality. He declared Muslims and Christians could never be loyal citizens. Not all those who are residents are a part of the nation, and not all outside the territory are outside the nation’.
Unconstitutional: The religion-based amendment may be in keeping with Bharatya Janata Party’s manifesto, but it violates the Constitution. Indian parliament enacted the Citizenship in 1955. It did not lay down religion as criteria. But, the newly-enacted Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 does. It amended certain provisions of the 1955 Act.
Manifesto not the Constitution: The BJP derived inspiration from its manifesto, not from provisions of India’s Constitution. Take the CAA. The BJP election manifesto vowed to enact a citizenship law “for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution”. Earlier, It revoked `special status’ (Article 370) for the disputed Jammu and Kashmir State. Bifurcating the State into two Union territories was in line with the BJP’s manifesto. It states, `we reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370’. Now, they have embarked upon building a sky-touching temple on the site of demolished Babri mosque. That too stood codified in BJP’s Sankalp Patra (manifesto). The manifesto states BJP would “explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution and make all necessary efforts to facilitate the expeditious construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya’. BJP may implement other dangerous promises in its manifesto like
Pan-India NRC and revival of dead Sanskrit and other languages to create a Hindu nation (rashtraya). The excerpt on NRC declares, `There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in these areas on priority. In future, we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country’. The excerpt outlining language goals states `We will constitute a National Task Force to study the status of all written and spoken languages and dialects in India. We will also work towards revival and promotion of vulnerable or extinct dialects and languages’.
India’s faulty persecution hypothesis: The whole superstructure of the Indian government’s citizenship amendment bill, now enacted, is erected on the claim that religious minorities had been brutally persecuted and were still being discriminated, in Pakistan since 1947 and also in Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The persecution hypothesis is based on faulty statistics. India’s Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed non-Muslims comprised 23 percent of Pakistan’s population at the time of independence. By 2011, their proportion dropped to 3.7 percent. Concerning Bangladesh, he claimed that Muslims comprised 22 percent of the population in 1947, and their proportion in 2011 fell to 7.8 percent.
In West Pakistan, the non-Muslim population was just 3.44 percent, while it was 23.20 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He insisted Pakistan and Bangladesh had witnessed a decline of up to 20 percentage points in their populations of religious minorities. But how true are his figures?
Adulterated figures: The BJP used the 23 percent figure of non-Muslims in Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) in 1951 and compared it with the 3.7 percent figure of non-Muslims in Pakistan in 1998. This adulteration of figures led to the fallacy that the population share of non-Muslims fell from 23 percent to 3.7 percent in Pakistan.
Myth of religious persecution: The fact is that not only non-Muslims but also Muslims migrated from Bangladesh to India. Better economic opportunities in India were the dominant lure for both non-Muslims and Muslims alike. India’s home minister did not quote the source of his data. He probably picked up the figure from co-authored Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea’s article Thwarting Religious Cleansing in the Muslim World. The authors postulate,
`The percentages of Pakistan’s Ahmadi, Christian, Parsi, and Hindu communities have all plummeted over the past 30 years, with non-Muslims declining from 5 percent of the total population to just 3.5 percent. If Shiite Muslims are taken into account, the number of those emigrating from Sunni-majority Pakistan as a result of religious persecution is even greater’.
Naz expressed similar views in her another Husson-Institute article titled ‘Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities’ published in 2013. Be it marked please that Naz is married to Husain Haqqani, a senior fellow, and director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute. After resigning as Pakistan’s ambassador to the USA, Haqqani kept participating in functions, particularly those held in India, that portray Pakistan in poor light. A judicial commission’s report (Memo Gate) alleged that he was not loyal to Pakistan.
Past Censuses: The only credible information emanates from the 1951 Census. In West Pakistan, the non-Muslim population was just 3.44 percent, while it was 23.20 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). As per the 1951 census, the share of Muslims in Pakistan’s overall population was 85.80 percent, while that of non-Muslims was 14.20 percent.
In 1951, Muslims comprised 96.56 percent of the total population in the territory that is today known as Pakistan. The next census in Pakistan was carried out in 1961 which indicated the non-Muslim population in West Pakistan had fallen to 2.83 percent of West Pakistan’s total population.
By 1972 when Pakistan carried out its third census, East Pakistan had had become Bangladesh. The 1972 census showed non-Muslims in Pakistan comprised 3.25 percent of the total population. This was higher than their share in 1961.By the time the next census was done in 1981; Pakistan’s non-Muslim population registered a small rise from 3.25 percent in 1972 to 3.30 percent in 1981. After the 1981 census, Pakistan did not carry out a fresh census for more than 15 years and the next census was carried out in 1998.
As per this census, Pakistan’s non-Muslim population stood at 3.70 percent of the total population in 1998. Pakistan carried out a fresh census in 2017 but its religious tables have not been published.
Inferences from West-Pakistan Census data:
1: The proportion of non-Muslims was never 23 percent of Pakistan’s total population.
2. Non-Muslim population in undivided Pakistan was 14.2 percent in 1951.
3. Non-Muslims accounted for 3.44 percent of the population in West Pakistan.
4: Census data show that the share of non-Muslims in Pakistan remained 3.5 percent over the decades.
5. There was no appreciable migration due to persecution.
Inferences from East-Pakistan (now Bangladesh) Census data:
1. Non-Muslims formed 23.20 percent of erstwhile East Pakistan’s total population in 1951.
2. Share of non-Muslims in East Pakistan fell by 1961 to 19.57 percent, then to 14.60 percent in 1974, to 13.40 percent in 1981, to 11.70 percent in 1991 and 10.40 percent in 2001.
3. BJP cherry-picked and mixed-up data for the then East and West Pakistan to corroborate its hypothesis
Bangladesh’s latest census was carried out in 201. It reflected that the share of non-Muslims was below 10 percent of the country’s overall population. In 2011, non-Muslims constituted 9.60 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Thus, from 1951 to 2011, the population of non-Muslims dropped from a high of 23.20 percent to a low of 9.40 percent. Bangladesh has promised to take back all illegal immigrants provided India proves its point. It also pointed out that minorities in Bangladesh felt safer in BD than in India.
Data refutes BJP’s claim: Official data does not bear out BJP’s claim that:
1: Population of non-Muslims in Pakistan dropped from 23 percent at the time of Independence to 3.7 percent in 2011.
2: Population of non-Muslims in Bangladesh was 22 percent at the time of Independence and fell to 7.8 percent in 2011.
3: The decline in the population share of non-Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh was due to widespread religious persecution.
Statistical inferences: Based on Pakistan’s Census 1951, the BJP cherry-picked and mixed-up data for the then East and West Pakistan to corroborate its hypothesis of minority persecution. Non-Muslims in East Pakistan’s population constituted 23 percent, not in both wings, as the BJP claimed. Clubbed together (East and West Pakistan), the share of non-Muslims was 14.20 percent (the highest ever) in 1951. BJP’s claim that non-Muslim share fell from 23 percent to 3.7 percent in Pakistan is incorrect. It averaged about 3.5 percent from the first census onwards. That is, 1951: 3.44 percent,1961: 2.80 percent,1972: 3.25 percent,1981: 3.33 percent, and 1998: 3.70 percent.
truth: As alleged by BJP, the non-Muslim population did decrease
significantly in Bangladesh, but not exactly as pretended by the BJP. It fells
from 23.20 percent in 1951 to 9.40 percent in 2011, not from 22 percent to 7.8
percent, as alleged.
Citizenship vs. Indian Constitution (Jus solis vs, jus sanguinisi:
The opposition, spearheaded by Congress, pilloried the iffy bill as a violation of the Constitutional provisions about `Freedom of Religion’ (Articles 25 to 28).These articles provide `all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other. Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice’. A five-bench Supreme Court judgment observed `It is clear from the constitutional scheme that it guarantees equality in the matter of religion to all individuals and groups irrespective of their faith emphasising that there is no religion of the State itself’. The Preamble to India’s Constitution, read with Articles 25 to 28 states `it is in this manner the concept of secularism embodied in the constitutional scheme as a creed adopted by the Indian people has to be understood while examining the constitutional validity of any legislation on the touchstone of the Constitution’.
`Secularism’, even if a later innovation, is intertwined into golden architectural design of the Indian Constitution, It is rooted in ethos of freedom movement and deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. The design embraced diversity and pluralism with reservations for disadvantaged groups to cultural rights for religious minorities.
The faith-based discrimination militates against spirit of Indian Constitution. It may lead to unforeseen injustices. Ready instances are sealing/confiscation of properties in Yogi Adityanath’s la-la land, Uttar Pradesh, and deportation of foreign students epitomized by ilk of German student Jakob Lindenthal, studying at Institute of Information Technology, Madras, (Tamil Nadu). Indian Express, dated Dec. 24, 2019 reported `Speaking to The Indian Express from the Chennai airport shortly before his scheduled flight back home, he disclosed he received “oral directions” to leave India from the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in Chennai’. Modi denied existence of any detention centres in his Ramlilla, New Delhi speech. But, The Hindu dated December 23, 2019 reported there are six jails, including Goalpara (Assam) that serve as detention centres also. An ex –army officer Mohammed Sanaullah, on bail, declared them “Hell”. Now, a detention centre has been reported in Karnataka also.
The Articles (5-11) on citizenship in the Constitution of India and Citizenship Act1955 embodied freedom-movement sentiments .The Constituent Assembly held the principle of jus soli (citizenship based on birth on the soil of a country) to be the more “enlightened modern civilised” principle, as compared to the “racial” principle of jus sanguinis (citizenship based on descent). The Citizenship Act of 1955, though a combination of jus solis and jus sanguinis, is compatible with Constitutional design. Yet, it confers equal rights on all citizens without discrimination on grounds of caste, creed, tribe or gender. However, under Atal Behari Vajpayee, then prime minister, an amendment was enacted to undermine jus soli in favour of jus sanguinis. It excluded people born in India with one illegal-migrant parent. Modi 2.0 could have followed Germany that moved in a more inclusive direction, combining elements of both jus soli as well as jus sanguinis, instead of majoritarian Donald Trump, fearing minorities.
Sloganeering and reforms: lessons from Modi 2.0: Modi won by riding wave of slogans.Amendment in citizenship laws is aimed at diverting popular attention from his performance.History of elections in both India and Pakistan tells that slogans helped win gullible vote banks _ roti, kapra aur makan (bread clothing and shelter), or tabdeeli (change). Likewise India has seen numerous slogans in 16 general during 72 years of independence_ Nehru’s slogan of “aaraam haraam hai.” (rest is not kosher), Lal Bahadur Shastri’s “jai jawan jai kisan” (long live farmer, long live soldier), Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao” (eradicate poverty), post- 1977 echo of “Indira hatao, desh bachao” (remove Indira, save the country), post-Indira-assassination (October 31, 1984) “jab tak suraj-chaand rahega, Indira tera naam rahega” (till sun and moon shines Indira will live on) , BJP (1996) slogan “sabko dekha baari-baari, abki baari Atal Bihari” (now it’s Bihari’s turn), BJP (2014) “achchhe din aane waale hain” (good days are in the offing), BJP (2019) Modi hai to mumkin hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible).
Modi brazenly bags credit for all achievements of previous Congress governments. Yet the fact remains that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who abolished the zamindari system. He had the nerve to face the reality that minor kings, riyasats and feudal landlords were still quite influential shortly after independence. It is Nehru, not Modi, who set up space centre that catapulted India’s ASAT Shakti. A new class of political leaders, hands in glove with corporations, replaces the royals and zamindars. Like our nouveau riches they are unchallenged.
Yet, a bitter truth is that we had to drift away from doorsteps of Medina State to knock at IMF portals. But, Modi 1.0 and 2.0 stayed the course. In its very first cabinet meeting, Modi enhanced educational scholarships, and extended scope of his income support to farmers. Now 14.5 crore farmers, instead of previous 12.5 crore owning two hectares or less land get dole of Rs. 6,000 a year.. The step will cost the government an additional Rs. 12,000 crore. The total cost to the exchequer in 2019-20 under the Indian-PM- kisan (farmer) scheme is now estimated to be Rs 87,217.50 crore. Besides, several ministries have been merged in newly-created jal shakti ministry to provide piped water supply to every Indian by year 2024. Let’s hope our `welfare’ government, also, could do something to ameliorate lot of the common man.
Is Modi 2.0 magic waning in India? Despite populist reforms and slogans, Modi’s magic appears to be waning.Jharkhand is the fifth state in which opposition parties have managed to unseat the saffron party in the past one year, starting with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to Maharashtra. Modi himself participated in election rallies to cast his spell. But, it was in vain. At least six states are hostile to his faith-based citizenship amendment.Now, even Andhra Pradesh, seventh in the row, has refused to support the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Anti-Congress wave is petering out. In national elections, saffron snatched away even Congress-ruled Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Even Rahul Gandhi lost its citadel, Amethi. In the gory West-Bengal contest, the formidable Mamta Bannerjee lost many seats to BJP. Congress has proved it is not just a dynasty. It embodies an ideology of secularism socialism and pluralism. It could still throw up a surprise in coming mid-term polls or state assembly elections.
To win national elections, the BJP hoodwinked Muslims. Muslim munch, distributed RSS leaflets at RSS enclaves. Even after winning the elections, BJP stalwarts visited Madrassa Deoband. Modi captivated popular imagination as a strong leader _ Modi hai to mumkin hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible). Modi gave tickets to nine Muslim candidates who lost because of banal Muslim caste –structure (ashraf, ajlaf and arzal).
Modi brazenly bagged credit for all achievements of previous Congress governments. Yet the fact remains that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who abolished the zamindari system (we could not do so being blocked by Supreme Court’s Shariat Appellate Bench’s decision). It is Nehru, not Modi, who set up space centre that catapulted India’s ASAT Shakti. Modi 1.0’s economic- progress figures were plain cookery.
Indira Gandhi, a charismatic leader, fell because of her authoritarian attitude and reliance on intelligence agencies. Modi2.0, also, is threatened with resurgence of authoritarianism and Hindutva nationalism in his party. Legislators were sworn in amid shrill ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans. Even Muslim MPs Asaduddin Owasi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Shafiqur Rahman Barq of the Samajwadi Party were heckled with Jai Shri Ram slogans. Owaisi defiantly shouted “Jai Bheem, Allahu Akbar, Jai Hind. The hooted Trincomalee Congress MPs chanted Jai Maa Kali: In stark contrast, Modi2.0 bowed his head in worshipful namaskar, before a bedecked copy of the India’s Constitution. Modi2.0 showcased ‘Jai Constitution’ pledge. However, BJP MPs displayed allegiance is to ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Modi’s confidante Amit Shah has directed intelligence agencies to report directly to him. RSS leaning is now sine qua non for appointment to political offices.
Modi2.0 has a Herculean challenge to realise his tall promises. Congress has opportunity to capitalise on unfulfilled expectations to rout BJP in coming elections
Indo-Bangla bonhomie unmasked! The NRC unmasks India’s equivocal policy towards Bangladesh. She suddenly banned export of essential commodities like onions to Bangladesh. During her recent visit to India, BD prime minister quipped “I’ve asked for food without onions” She contended that `the Government of India ought to have alerted the countries that import the commodity before rather abruptly announcing the decision’ (The Statesman October 11, 2019). The onion ban was Modi’s knee jerk to BD’s hesitation to supply natural gas to Tripura (India).
India dubbed over 19 lakh Bengali refugees or settlers in Assam after 1951 as `infiltrators’.
The citizenship register establishes genealogical family trees going back until 1951. The forbears of some Assamese Muslims date back 500-700 years. But they possessed no document to prove their nationality. Most of the settlers were sheltered during 1971 war as precious raw material for mukti bahini (freedom fighters). While disenfranchising Bangladeshis, India would grant `citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India’. The citizenship criterion violated provisions of Article 14 of the Indian constitution. The article guarantees `equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth’. The persecution argument more aptly applies to Nepal (Rohingya), Sri Lanka (Tamil settlers) and Bhutan (whence Christians trek to Indian churches for worship).
Anti-Christian animosity predates Muslims’: The Christians in India have hailed the new piece of legislation. They are oblivious of Hindu fanatics’ hatred of their own community. Baptist Press dated November 22, 2019 reported `Hindu extremists hit in the head with an axe 68-year-old Lakhpati Devi, the mother of pastor Basant Kumar Paul, in an attack on Paul’s home-based church Nov. 12 in Jharkhand’. Many churches have been rampaged. Several states have passed anti-conversion bills.
When Narendra Modi was chief minister of Indian state of Gujarat, he made several attempts to collect personal data of Christians living in the state. In February 1999, survey of the Christians living in northern and central Gujarat was started. It was withdrawn after protests. The same was the fate of the survey, conducted in March 2003 and May 2003 in Christian-inhabited areas (Ahmedabad, Sanaskantha, Jabarkantha, Kutch, Rajkot, Patan, Vadodara, Anand and Banaskantha).Indian Express dated June 13, 2003 (dateline Ahmedabad, June 13, 2003), reported Gujarat police had again started a survey of Christian localities. The Christian community in Indian state of Gujarat came to know of the survey when policemen in plain clothes visited a few institutions in Kheda district of central Gujarat and made enquiries about their source of funds, origin and items of expenditure.
The Christian community was rueful at the recommencement of the survey. To them, it negated the state’s then chief minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to visiting team of the National Commission for Minorities, “No survey or census of Christians or other minorities would be carried out in the state”.
The policemen allegedly had a list of 42 Christian institutes, including Don Bosco School and Pushpanjali Society, in Kheda district. The Don Bosco is a secondary school run for poor students from nearby villages, with 150 boys staying in the boarding. Puspanjali is a medical centre with boarding capacity for 60 girls studying in the school.
The Christian trustees refused to give information for fear of harm at the hands of the fanatic Hindus. The Christians believed that Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat state, harboured a xenophobic phobia not only towards the Muslims but also against the Christians.
Surveys were conducted some year ago also when Sangh Parivar stalwarts targeted Christian tribes in the Dangs area. Such surveys are akin to door-to-door survey of Jewish localities in pre-World-War-II Germany.
Let the Christians not forget anti-conversion laws, enacted in several states to bar Hindus from converting to Christianity. The down-trodden (dalit) find Christiantiy a whiff of fresh air out of Hindu caste-based system (varna).Indian Express (dateline New Delhi, June 6) reported that the Hindu extremist party, Rashtriya Swayem Sevak Sangh, bitterly criticised the Pope for his alleged remarks against anti-conversion laws in India. The RSS claimed, “The Pope’s utterances were tantamount to a direct challenge to India and its pluralist tradition” It urged the government ‘‘to register their protest to the head of Vatican for his intemperate remarks on Indian laws’’.
At a press conference, RSS spokesman Ram Madhav quoted the Pope as having said to some Indian bishops: ‘‘Unfortunately in some regions, state authorities have yielded to the pressures of extremists and have passed unjust conversion laws’’. Mr. Madhav defended anti-conversion laws promulgated in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. He stressed such laws were needed in other states too ‘‘because the activities of missionaries for converting people to their faith are leading to tensions and posing serious threat to peace and harmony”. The RSS spokesman justified forced-conversion activities of the VHP and other Hindu bodies. He termed such conversions as ‘‘homecoming’’, bringing back people to the Hindu-fold.
The Indian bishops had told the Pope that the anti-conversion bills contravened the UNO’s charter of human rights, signed by India also, and protection of religious freedoms as under India’s `secular’ constitution.
Plight of Muslims under quasi-Hindu caste system: In post-election India, the Muslim is being `lynched, shot at and told to “go back to Pakistan” simply for having a Muslim name, carrying or eating beef’ or `wearing a prayer cap and made to shout slogans in praise of Hindu gods’ (Aljazeera, and Organisation for World Peace dated June 4, 2019). Hindus even demanded that eid prayer-goers should not spill over on adjoining roads. BJP MLA Narendra Mehta, affiliated with dangerous bajrang dal, has started live weapons training at his Seven Eleven Academy. A Facebook user Prakash Gupta shared pictures of live-weapons training on Facebook from May 25 to June 1. NGO, Democratic Youth Federation of India, has filed a complaint with Navghar police station (Thane Rural police station). BJP President Amit Shah referred to undocumented Muslim immigrants as termites”. Nathu Ram Godse killed `Mahatma’ Gandhi `for supposedly cowing to Muslim demands’. He is being glorified as a patriot. Modi himself as then chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, `presided a pogrom that killed over 1,000 people; in 2011, a senior police officer testifying in the Indian Supreme Court stated that Modi defended this violence at the time as a legitimate route through which Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger’. He described refugee camps housing Muslims displaced by riots as “baby-making factories”.
Modi’s first five years in office were marred by a rise in violent attacks on minority groups, particularly the Muslim. According to the Sachar Committee Report, conditions of the Muslim in India are worse than that of dalits (downtrodden/untouchable). But, the Muslim itself is to blame for its current plight. The Muslim literacy rate ranks well below the national average and the Muslim poverty rate is only slightly higher than the low-caste Hindu. The Muslim makes up only four per cent of the undergraduate student body in India’s elite universities. He falls behind other groups in terms of access to credit. So is the case despite the fact that the self-employed Muslim population exceeds other groups.
According to Islam, the Muslim society is homogeneous. There is no hierarchical caste-system in Islam, like the Hindu varna system of social stratification. In Sanskrit, varna means type, order, colour or class. The term refers to social classes in dharma-shastra (religious text) books like the Manusmriti. Hindu literature classifies society into four varnas: (a) Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers. (b) Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators. (c) Vaishyas: agriculturalists and traders. (d) Shudras: laborers and service providers. Communities which belong to one of the four varnas or classes are called savarna. The dalits and scheduled tribes who do not belong to any varna, are called avarna. This four-fold division is a form of social stratification distinguished from jati or the European term “caste”. The varna system is discussed in Hindu texts, and understood as idealised human callings. The concept is generally traced to the Purusha Sukta verse of the Rig Veda.
Contrary to these textual classifications, many Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with the Varna system of social classification. Unlike the Hindu caste system, where it is easy to discern the stratification, caste identities among Muslims are not defined rigidly. As such, the reservation quota and other benefits, available to scheduled castes, do not trickle down to the needy Muslim.
It is bitter reality that the Muslim in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. The Muslim is divided into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). The ashraf are regarded as the superior group and are mainly endogamous, while the ajlaf are considered to be inferior. Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).
To ameliorate the lot of the downtrodden Muslim (arzal or ajlaf), there should be a caste-based census to identify those deserving `reservation’ in scheduled caste. Is such a census in accordance with definitive text of Holy Quran Allah. “O you, who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” (Al-Baqarah : 208).
Some Indian scholars justify Indian caste system according to Islam.At the top of the hierarchy are the ashrafs (nobles), of Arab, Persian, Turkish or Afghan origin. They lay claim to a prestigious lineage that they trace back to the Prophet (in the case of Sayyids) or his tribe (in the case of qureshis). The shaikh (descendants of the Prophet’s companions), the pathan (descendants of migrants from Afghanistan), and even the Mughal (originating in Central Asia and Iran) can also be included in this group. Many ashraf are either ulama in the case of the sayyid, or else landowners, merchants or business people. One’s birth group constitutes a major criterion for defining social status. At the middle level, the ajlaf (low-born) represent the masses. His status is defined by both his profession (pesha) unlike the ashraf. Many castes of intermediate status fall into this category, such as farmers, traders and weavers (ansari and julaha). Social elite of many ashraf in rural areas believe that this category is not part of the Indian Muslim community (millat).
At the bottom of the social scale is the arzal (vile, vulgar). It is a group comprising non-untouchables and converted “untouchables” who, as in Hinduism, practise supposedly impure trades. This was the case of slaughterers, laundrymen (dhobi), barbers (nai, hajjam), tanners (chammar), and so on.
Like the Hindu caste-ridden society, relations between Muslim social groups are governed by a social taboos _ sharing a table, marriage, sociability) and spatial restrictions (access to domestic areas and places of prayer, segregation in cemeteries and neighbour-hoods.
The ashraf opposes caste based count of Muslim community. But the ajlaf and arzal support it. The ashraf, being a “creamy layer”, obstruct any step that may improve lot of the downtrodden. The Indian Supreme Court decided to exclude the “creamy layer” from the quotas in 2008. But, it was never implemented. Questions about Islam mostly relating to ibadaat like hajj are asked in Indian parliament by the non-Muslim. No question about economic justice for all and sundry is asked.
Though Islam preached homogeneity, social stratification among the Muslim in India is a fact. The Muslim caste system has hampered their progress in various realm of life. The Indian Muslim is impervious to whatever happens in Kashmir, or in the world.
Where should the excluded go? Muslims in India are already ghettosied, not `termites’ on economy as Amit Shah thinks. Islam did away with caste superiority. Yet, the Muslim in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. The Muslim is divided into into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).
Would Amit Shah detain them in concentration camps akin to those in Germany? If so, for how long? Could Bangladesh, already under Rohingyas burden, or India retain the stateless people under international covenants? Amit Shah says Rohingyas (as also Baluchis and Ahmediyya) could still apply for citizenship under Foreigners Act. But, his statement sounds like an eye-wash.
Kashmir under Hindutva citizenship: The laws in the state grant hereditary pushtini) certificates to its citizens. As such, only the hereditary residents are entitled to express their voice in a plebiscite to be held to determine future stats of the disputed state. To scuttle UN mandate and to dilute the demography, Modi government has decided to grant domicile certificates to even non-hereditary residents.
Modi government’s sinister lies on citizenship: In his Ramlila-Maidan speech, Indian prime minister reiterated “no detention centres in India” to “no plans for nationwide National Register of Citizenship. Though it is eerie that these `plans’ are incorporated in ruling Bharatya Janata Party’s manifesto. Amid protest that took 25 lives, 18 in Uttar Pradesh alone, India’s Union Cabinet approved (24 December 2019), funds to
the tune of over Rs 3,941.35 crore to update the National Population Register. Both the Union minister and home minister vehemently denied any connection between the NPR and the NRC.
Yet, the brutal truth is that several official statements, including those in parliament, corroborate that the NPR is the first step towards planned NRC. On July 23, 2014 Kiren Rijiju, former Minister of State for Home Affairs, replying to B K Hariprasad in Rajya Sabha said, “The government has now decided to create the National Register of
Indian Citizens (NRIC) based on the information collected under the scheme of NPR by verifying the citizenship status of all individuals in the country.” On 26 November 2014, Rijiju, once again, reiterated the aforementioned point in Rajya Sabha in response to a question by Dr. T N Seema. On April 21, 2015, a press release by home affairs ministry iterated “logical conclusion” of the NPR is the creation of NRIC. “It has been decided that National Population Register (NPR) should be completed and taken to its logical conclusion, which is the creation of National Register of Indian Citizen (NRIC) and National Identity Cards would be issued to citizens by verification of citizenship status of every usual resident in the NPR. The proposals for the same are under consideration of the Government.” Rijiju replied in the Rajya Sabha on 31 July 2019 `NPR is linked to CAA as it seeks to implement the citizenship requirement under the Citizenship Act i.e., to prove that one parent is an Indian citizen’.
It is eerie that USA has again blinker-eyedly designated Pakistan, earlier on watch list, as violator of religious freedom. No focus on India where several states enacted anti-conversion laws, a pastor was axed dead right before eyes of his son, menstruating women not allowed to enter Sabarimala temple despite court’s orders, dalits hacked for daring enter high-caste temples. Interestingly, a court held that a mosque was not necessary for offering prayers.
Let jaundiced eyes turn to religious repression in India.
Conclusion: The amendment in the citizenship law violates spirit of Indian Constitution. Spearheaded by students, it has engulfed many states. Already, 25 students have been killed, some buried incognito by police. Flabbergasted by violence, Modi and his coterie are giving contradictory statements that are adding fuel to the fire. Several renowned intellectuals have been arrested. Muslims’s properties are being sealed. And, they are being served notices to make good fictitious damage to property. Student amity transcends ethnicity and religious leanings. Hindus shielded Muslims while they offered prayers on roads.
However, an enduring problem in India is that Muslims are not united. They are highly stratified. The upper affluent layer is sold out to ruling party. It never expressed sympathy with Kashmiris under Indian yoke, nor Muslims being perxecuted. Similarly, Christians are lukewarm to Hindutva onslaught on Indian Muslims. The minorities need to coalesce to avert extinction.
The Muslim should learn from the Christian. To ruling Bharatya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after the jain. Today, the Christians live all across India, particularly in the South and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeastern India. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners
The paradox of belonging to Islam, a religion that is premised on the notion of equality, and at the same time imbibing local traits which affirm inequality has to be admitted. Muslims are segmented into different status categories on the basis of income, occupation, education and lineage.
It is the Muslim himself who can change his lot by following Islam in full. They should resist stratification and demand equality from their community. The Muslim world at large should help them with funds. Unless they are united, they can’t survive Hindutva aggression, manifested in legislation or in social life.
More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar
Tannisha Avarrsekar, a political activist who wants to increase equality in the representation of political candidates in India. In this interview, Tannisha discusses more about her journey, political beliefs and her platform Lokatantra.
Why did you start Lokatantra?
I started it because I wanted to make politics more accessible for the youth.
I moved to London for my undergrad when I was 18, so 2019 was the first election that I was able to vote in. But after I came back, I found that gathering information about the registration process, as well as probable candidates took more time and effort than it should.
I began realizing that for citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. And that’s how Lokatantra came along.
Tell us more about Lokatantra.
Lokatantra.in is an online political platform that aims to make the youth more politically aware and socially conscious. It attempts to bridge the gap between voters and politicians by empowering voters with comprehensive information about their candidates and the voting process, after verifying its authenticity and organizing it in a manner that makes it quick and easy to understand. It also does telephone voter registrations for those having trouble with it.
On the flip side, the social enterprise also collects data on citizens’ opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making of leaders. In this way, the platform sheds light on the accomplishments of politicians- especially independents who can’t afford expensive campaigns, as well as the troubles of the common man.
The Lokatantra.in website and mobile application prides itself on its treasury of information about each and every candidate from the Mumbai City district. This extensive material includes details about these candidates’ educational qualifications, past political affiliations, career highlights, controversies, criminal records, and standpoints on critical debates. The platform also allows users to ask candidates questions, as well as rate them so as to help other voters from their constituency make their choice.
What do you think can make journalism more neutral?
More crowdfunded platforms. Limits on investments by big corporations, and complete transparency in the finances of media houses. Also, stricter penalties on misinformation.
Why is equal representation in politics important?
Equal representation in politics is important because it encourages newer political faces and fresh ideas into our country’s governance, which has been largely polarized and dominated by big political parties, with old loyalists and deep pockets. It allows us to choose our leaders based on more than just their party symbol and spending power, and instead take into account their character, ideology and objectives.
How is Lokatantra a unique platform? What do you do differently?
Before an election, Lokatantra interviews all the candidates standing, with a uniform questionnaire to gather their opinions on issues that play a key role in deciding who to vote for and are yet often not a part of mainstream discourse. The answers from these interviews are then fed into an algorithm, which allows voters to answer the very same questions, and then ranks the candidates in their constituency based on how much their political opinions match. What makes this quiz truly extraordinary is the fact that it takes into account the nuances of one’s answers, by letting you weigh how much each issue affects your vote.
We also spend a lot of time answering personal questions and engaging in individual conversations about politics, with members of our community that message us.
Tell us more about your personal political affiliations.
As the face of a politically neutral platform, I’m not permitted to have political affiliations. But I would describe my personal ideology as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.
What do you think are the biggest electoral problems India is facing at the moment and what do you think are the solutions?
I think it is the shocking mass disappearances of voter names from electoral lists, which has caused erosion of public faith in the democratic process.
A colleague of mine- Siddhant Kesnur and I, recently wrote a policy memo about the solutions to this, and if I had to pick one that I think would be most effective it would be stopping the misuse of the ECI’s Form 7, which is an application for voter deletion that ridiculously enough can be sent on behalf of any citizen by any citizen. Simply communicating the receipt of this form to those on whose behalf it has come in, would significantly curb its abuse.
What do you think will pose the greatest challenge to India’s growth in the future?
The move from patriotism to nationalism. In May 2018, Kaushik Basu the economist had cautioned Bangladesh saying that “vibrant economies have been derailed by zealotry many times throughout history”. He had given three examples to support his point: (1) the golden era of economic growth in Arab cities like Damascus and Baghdad which passed when religious fundamentalism began to spread about a thousand years ago (2) Portugal’s position as a global power in the 15th-16th century, which ended when Christian fanaticism became it’s driving political force, and (3) Pakistan’s economy, which after performing fairly decently started slipping from 2005 onwards because of military rule and Islamic fundamentalism.
It makes me sorry to say that the extremist rhetoric we witness in India these days is an alarming harbinger of this kind of zealotry, which has the potential of not just derailing us economically but also causing lasting damage to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.
India: Metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies
When European Disinfo Lab exposed India’s disinformation network, India apologized. But, the portents are that India continued spreading disinformation, nay stark lies against Pakistan. India’s usual modus operandi was to employ dubious thinktanks and journalists of doubtful credentials to tarnish Pakistan’s image. For instance, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a registered Canadian charity, published a Pakistan-bashing report ‘Khalistan—A project of Pakistan’ which found mention in almost all leading Indian newspapers. Now, Indian government has told its Supreme Court that farmers’ protest in India are being pro-Pakistan and pro-Khalistan elements. The SC has called upon Indian government to submit an affidavit about its allegation along with corroborative evidence.
Another pro-India “thinktank”, spouting venom against Pakistan is the “International Terrorism Observatory”. It is chaired by Roland Jacquard. Prestigious French newspaper Le Monde (The World) pointed out in 2015; he is the only member “without publications, without a website, without postal address and without any legal existence”. He runs a bookstore stacked with books on “networks of Islamist terrorism’. According to journalists Didier Bigo, Laurent Bonelli and Thomas Deltombe, Roland Jacquard’s claim of being a media expert is questionable.
India-sponsored think tank International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies run by Srivastava Group of India shot into limelight when it paid for the travel and accommodation of an unofficial far-right delegation of 23 European Union parliamentarians to Srinagar on October 30, 2013. The trip was arranged by Indian intelligence surrogate, Madi Sharma, who posed as a self-styled “international business broker”.
India’s metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies
It appears India has now realized that its disinformation is losing clout. So, instead of banking on dubious journalists and think tanks, it has begun to churn out lies against Pakistan through its own agencies, including the prestigious India Today.
Almost all media outlets and TV channels disseminated the false report that an ex diplomat has admitted that India did actually kills 300 men in Balakot air strike on February 26, 2019. Some channels have retracted the false rreport while others are staying mum.
What did the news agency ANI say?
The statement falsely attributed to diplomat Agha Hilaly was carried by several news organisation, including India Today, and was based on an input by news agency ANI. The News agency ANI quoted Pakistani diplomat Agha Hilaly as saying, “India crossed the international border and did an act of war in which at least 300 were reported dead. Our target was different from theirs. We targeted their high command. That was our legitimate target because they are men of the military. We subconsciously accepted that a surgical strike — a limited action — did not result in any casualty. Now we have subconsciously told them that, whatever they will do, we’ll do only that much and won’t escalate.”
The video was misattributed and the quote was actually a snippet of a larger quote made by former diplomat Zafar Hilaly in a television debate.The full quote by Zafar Hilaly is as follows:: What India did was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people. Coincidentally, they [Pakistani people] did not die and India bombed a football field. “Hilaly has also said that the viral video is edited and does not represent his full quote. He also shared the full video on his Twitter account. A fact-check by “Alt News” found that the comments were misreported and the ex-diplomat who made the comments was “Zafar Hilaly”.In the debate posted on YouTube by HUM news as part of a program called “Agenda Pakistan”, Hilaly had said, “What you did, India, was an act of war. India ne jo kiya, international boundary ko cross karke ek act of war. Jisme kam se kam 300 logo ko unhone marna tha. (What India did was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people).”Zafar Hilaly also tweeted a video saying his statement was spliced and edited. Alt News said a version of the video posted on Twitter had an abrupt cut “around 0:7-0:9 seconds” and the word “marna (to kill)” sounds as if Hilaly said “mara (killed)”. The news has since been removed by websites.
A basic principle of disinformation is ‘never lose sight of truth’. A half-truth or even .005 per cent to 5% untruth, a twisted truth, or sometimes a truth concealed may appeal more to readers or viewers than a stark lie. Goebels is not alive to tell that he never said ‘the bigger the lie the more it will be believed’. Pathological lying is not the art of disinformation. Psychologists would tell that, even under stress, a mature person would suppress truth rather than tell a lie.
Richard Deacon says, ‘Truth twisting…unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, it will inevitably fail, if practiced too often… It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear (something propaganda), but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear a something quite different’ (The Truth Twisters, London, Macdonald & Company (Publishers) Limited, 1986/1987, p. 8).
He gives several example of disinformation including sublimininal disinformation by which the truth can be twisted so that the distortion is unconsciously absorbed, something which both television and radio commentators have subtly perfected’. (Ibid. p. 9).
Role of India’s foremost intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in conducting disinformation campaigns has, by and large, remained hidden from the media watch. It is now being exposed. RAW is burning midnight oils to exploit USA’s sensitivity about certain ticklish subjects like Hawala transactions for funneling funds to “terrorists’, nuclear proliferation, use of missiles to hit aircraft, and development of chemical biological and nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
The RAW’s disinformation campaign, often bordering on lying, is well reflected by innocuous-looking news (unsupported by reference to information sources) that appear, from time to time, in Indian media. Hilaly debacle is a case in point.
Casteism inside RSS, and its’ abhorrence
Dr Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, believed that ‘RSS is a dangerous association’. The latest to join this belief is Bhanwar Maghwanshi, a former RSS worker and also the author of the book ‘I could not be Hindu’ (2020)
At the age of 13, Bhanwar Maghwanshi joined RSS. Instead of playing, learning and exploring, he opted to do something ‘bigger’ in his life. But, unfortunately, he was shocked to learn how RSS practices casteism without using the term ‘Dalit’ in its shakhas. He was active with RSS, as a sevak, during the so-called Janmbhoomi movement of Ayodhya in late 1980s. In his panchayat in Rajasthan, he never listened to azan or interacted with any Muslim – in person, but developed strong abhorrence for the Muslims when he was learning ‘skills’ in RSS. His dad was a Congress activist and discouraged him to join RSS (because, for him, RSS would never want ‘brahmin’ sevaks to sacrifice their lives) but BhanwarMeghwanshi – on positive note – entered RSS.
RSS is a hydra of Hindutva, Hindu Nationalism and Hindu Rashtra. BJP is its outcome. Since 2014, India is witnessing a systemic degradation of free speech, social equity, human development, economy, environment and women safety. The Modi government came to power in 2014 chanting ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ slogan but unfortunately it transformed India into ‘new’ India with the maxims of ‘minimum governance, maximum statism’. One of the oldest, yet contemporary, [social] statism is casteism. It’s 21st century and the elements of caste as a whole continues to haunt the democratic features of India. A recent NCRB data suggests that India is unsafe for Dalit and Adivasi girls. There’s an increase of 300% in hate crimes. The architect of India’s constitution Dr Ambedkar was ‘untouchable’ and had come to conclusions that Hinduism can’t be reformed. He chose Buddhism in October 1956 and found emancipation through the teachings of Buddha. The same is the case with BhanwarMeghwanshi who is an Ambedkarite today, learned a different version of Ambedkar in his RSS years. Even God knows that RSS has appropriated Dr Ambedkar conveniently, for its own political agenda.
Bhanwar’s ethnographic encounter in his book “I could not be Hindi – the story of a Dalit in the RSS” is essential to refute the pseudo-science of RSS or Hindutva trollers on the subjects of Islam, untouchability and other narratives. The book sheds a detailed light on what RSS is, casteism in the RSS, and how RSS makes its ground in the society. Navayana Publishing House mustered the courage to publish the book, unlike other ‘popular’ publishing houses, according to Bhanwar. He dreamt of becoming a ‘pracharak’ but was stopped to become a ‘vistarak’ because of his ‘caste’ and this is where he learned that he is a lesser Hindu than other Hindus in RSS. He left RSS after a very bitter experience. He writes, “We had organised an event of Sangh in my hometown, I was heading the event as I was the most active and passionate worker in my area. I had planned to make food at my home only for the senior guests and the priests who would join the event. My father strongly opposed and said that they would never eat food cooked by us. I did not listen to him. I cooked good Rajasthani food with pure ghee and invited them. They did not come home but said that ‘you just pack the food we will eat it in the next village, as we are running out of time’. I packed the food for them, I later learned that they did not have my food but threw it in a naala (gutter). As the district chief, I got angry with them and asked the reason, but did not get satisfactory answers. I was reminded of my father’s words that ‘people like us did not own any place in the Sangh’, it solely belongs to the upper castes.”
The book smashes the rosy picture of RSS and explains that the Dalits’ role in RSS is mere foot soldiers for the communal polarisation and Hindutva activities. In an interview to Caravan magazine (14th March 2020), Bhanwar Meghwanshi made it clear that “In the eyes of the Sangh, the Hindu Rashtra is a Brahmin nation with the varna system, the four vedas and the Manusmriti. The Sangh wants to run the nation on this very base. I feel that in the Sangh’s Hindu Rashtra, shudras or untouchables will be slaves, and Muslims, heretics or foreigners, will be given a second-class status.”
In this memoir, Bhanwar also writes that in his village, low caste people joined the RSS in large numbers: “Of the fifty or so children who attended the shakha in my village, most were OBCs—Kumhar, Jat, Gurjar, Mali and so on.” They joined because of the Sanskritization processes and because of the games they played in the shakha, but they resided for ideological reasons too as, slowly, they learnt that “hindukhatre main hai” (Hindus are in danger) because of Muslims and Christians. He also recalls that, while in the Sangh, he “heard a lot about weapons being stored in the basements of mosques” and that getting rid of the Babri Masjid was like “a second battle for independence”.
Bhanwar is not new in this race. A sarcastic letter authored by a Dalit activist P.D. Shelare, on 13/1/1934, published in ‘Janata’ divulged about casteism or caste segregation practices in some shakhas of RSS. Shelareratiocinated that RSS was aware of the practices but it did not react. It’s obvious to learn that Hinduism is incomplete without casteism. The caste practices made me leave Hinduism too, on 30th December 2018. I adopted Buddhism, on par with Dr Ambedkar’s teachings. While reading the book, I could resonate my experiences too. In the current landscape, interactions and social relations have changed a lot. Caste dynamics too. To add to the woes, love jihad law will further strengthen more endogamy and discourage intercaste marriages. Dining with Dalits alone would not bring about social changes. The ‘safe space’ for the dissents and Dalits is diminishing, whereas love for hatred is openly normalised.
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