Rohith Vemula: Indian Left and the Dalit Student Suicides

 

By Saswat Pattanayak (Written for CounterCurrents)

Rohith Vemula did not just commit suicide – he was murdered. And this murder was not committed by the right-wing ABVP – it was conducted by the left-liberals. The “Dalit problem” citing which Rohith gave up his life, is not the creation of any fringe elements among communal Hindus – it is sustained by the liberal Hindus who tremendously profit from the status quo it provides. None of this is an exaggeration – these comprise a reality that must be confronted. The entire Hindu society, the Savarnas, are the perpetrators – no one among them is eligible to be member of the jury.

This is so because, whenever the colonial masters have been credited with infrastructure and development, the critical thinkers have added to the discourse a very crucial aspect – that, the ruling class of any given era also deserves to be blamed for the maladies. For instance, it is often said that the British could not blame the Indians for Satti and child marriage practices – if the British could take the credit for building colleges and for educating the Indians, they should also take the blame for the prevailing societal violence against women and widows that took place under their rule.

The ruling ideas of any era belong to the ruling class, and so do the existing contradictions. The ruling class of Indian academia are not the British anymore. They are the left-liberals. And Vemula’s suicide is not the first one to have been committed by a Dalit student at a higher education institute of India. Quite the contrary; it is an alarming continuation. The only reason why Vemula’s news has so caught up the protesting landscape is precisely because there is a right-wing government at the center and its youth wing ABVP that is purportedly responsible this time. In a macabre parallel, the Occupy and the anti-war activists have re-emerged now that the liberals need to be salvaged. The truth is the left parties and their student bodies which dominated the academia ever since India turned a sovereign republic, have consistently downplayed caste discriminations on campuses. Reason why the Left is responsible for Vemula’s demise today is because it did not sufficiently critique the hostile environment its own student leaders and professors were/are enabling all these years.

If the education system in India takes pride in being predominantly leftist, then it must also accept the utter failure in practicing the tenets of progressive politics. The hypocrisy of the Indian left is exposed threadbare in its historical incapacity to take a principled stand against caste atrocities that are systemically flourishing across top research centers of India. From policy makers, to academicians, to vice chancellors – almost all the shining stars in Indian institutes are progressive intellectuals strongly aligned with the Indian Left. College campuses have historically been dominated by youth brigades of Congress and CPI/M. Textbooks are overwhelmingly authored by leftist historians. Open Air Theaters and Ganga Dhabba meetings and the IIT/IIMs are crowded by liberal intellectuals at both student and leadership levels. And instead of addressing the legacies of segregations, all these institutions of higher learnings in India, spearheaded by JNU have remained busy with earned accolades for being tolerant and diverse.

Just as they have been rightfully receiving laurels, they must also be made accountable for what systematically continues in a parallel manner in all the major universities across India. What is it that makes the deans and heads of departments invariably always upper caste Hindus? What is it that sustains a climate where “reservation” is treated as though it is a favor, and not a right? What is it in academic environment that encourages student politics of dissent, but the dissenting voices are indeed from the profiteering social classes? What is it that labels minority students “casteists” while the students whose ancestors invented caste system and passed it down as a virtue, are labeled youths for “equality”? What is it that produces so few scientists, engineers and doctors within the Dalit students? What is it that drives so many Dalit students to suicides and yet the pattern remains unreported in mainstream media?

The Left needs to answer why most Indian universities glorify Marx and Engels, but do not even admit Ambedkar and Phule in their midst. Expulsion of Rohith Vemula and other Dalit students need not have come as a surprise, therefore. The hegemony of left politics inside campuses remains without a dispute, but its consequences upon the Dalit students deserve studious attention. It is not Savarkar or Golwalkar whose presence in university curricula overshadows that of Ambedkar or Periyar. Gandhian and Nehruvian scholars are the ones who have for decades marginalized, if not silenced the voices of Dalit icons inside campuses.

More than just the historical battle between the ideologies, the prevailing animosity against Dalits in Indian educational settings have been nothing less than ghastly. All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is a classic case in point. The Medical strike of 2006 had “merit” students holding placards in broad daylight of Delhi announcing their disdain towards a possibility that their own children may end up becoming cobblers if reservations are implemented. Being the most prestigious governmental institute in medical sciences, AIIMS has continued to offer such a casteist climate that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to personally intervene and set up a three-member committee headed by UGC chairman Sukhdeo Thorat in 2007 to assess the situation there.

The findings at AIIMS pointed to nothing other than a climate of “Caste Apartheid”. 100% of Dalit students reported caste-based ragging, 88% complained of hostel isolation, 76% reported mess discrimination, 72% of Dalit students expressed bias in Cricket, 92% in basketball, 72% highlighted teacher bias in classroom. Regarding the caste-based ragging, a Dalit student said, “They would call us to their rooms and order us…’tell us 10 reasons why you should get reservation…if you don’t we’ll beat you.”

Despite media coverages of the above, neither the government nor any educational institute aided by powerful leftist student bodies established procedures to address the climate of segregation. Insight Foundation reported the suicide of Linesh Mohan Gawle, a second year PhD student from National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi on April 16, 2011, the suicide of Balmukund Bharti, final year MBBS student from AIIMS on March 3, 2010 and even recorded testimonies of family members in a documentary “The Death of Merit”. The complete report “On Suicides of Dalit Students in India’s Premier Educational Institutions” is available on Countercurrents.

The instances of suicide among Dalit students are too many to be blamed on “right-wing political student groupings like the ABVP”. This shifting of blame to an external agency, preferably “fringe elements” is a convenient method adopted by liberal Hindus who wish to retain the status quo while coloring it progressive only because they enjoy the privilege to see published their feel-good stances of meaningless empathies. A win-win situation where the protest is registered, self-respect enhanced, and the tag of being social reformers keeps giving. In a sickening parallel to charitable organizations that need a state of poverty to remain so they can stay relevant. Bizarre but true, political parties like the Congress and the Left need caste hostilities (and despondency among Muslim youths) to remain, so that they can occasionally support the politically correct positions as progressive political outfits. Appears like Caste in India must not be annihilated, but sustained, across the spectrum – Left to Right.

This double standard has been long exposed at the level of electoral politics, where the Dalits and Muslims are increasingly choosing candidates not aligned with either the Congress or the Left. But more crucially, it is also being increasingly realized among the Dalit students who are joining “study circles” to seriously examine Ambedkar and Periyar and the likes who are deliberately kept out of academic curricula.

Rohith Vemula was himself one of those who realized that the Left in India was “inefficient” to tackle caste issue and to unite the working class. Even as he remained an admirer of Marxism, Vemula was disenchanted with the left politics on the campus that was led by the SFI. He made a call to “resist the communal ABVP, reject the inefficient SFI and to support the UDA for a stronger union”. But he was not limited only to student politics on campus. More importantly, he had made a theoretical intervention that is worth analyzing. On August 13, 2014, Vemula wrote, “The shift of my political identity from Marxism to Ambedkarism is a conscious move into building a new future on the basis of more humane, more inclusive society. Thus compelling the present stratified society, perforce, to take off it’s elitist mask of generosity and solidarity in the name of seamless majoritarian cultural unity or nationalism. My core intention is to challenge and expose the upper-class hypocritical advocacy of progressiveness which shamelessly maintains it’s ties with the oppressive structures of class, caste and gender. To fight against the symbiosis of cultural chauvinism and communal politics, to popularize the subaltern, dravidian history and to shout out sharply the radical realism amidst the euphoria of freedom. With my basic world view conditioned by marxism, I dream and work for a society which Baba Saheb has always aspired.”

If the Indian Left needs a wake-up call, this is it. Yet another occasion to own upto the utter failure on its part to align with the working class interests of those who are most exploited in India. Luckily for them, despite pointing out the “upper-class hypocrisy” represented by the Indian Left, Rohith Vemula never quite gave up his hope in communism. With his astute and critical observations that shall comprise the legacy of Rohith Vemula, he refused to fall for political polarization and bourgeois opportunism. He called for the revolutionary unity of the working class instead, and for a much more efficient and radical Left that would spark revolutionary spirits.

Almost a year after his analysis on shift in his political identity, Vemula would assess and hail Marx as “one of the greatest of minds that ever lived on this Earth.” He wrote the tribute on Marx’s birth anniversary on May 4, 2015, “He (Marx) along with Engels produced the fierce theory of revolution. He explained the capitalist exploitation and gave a scientific sense to out anger. His dialectical materialism proletariat revolt idea, historical materialism and class conflict concept will forever help the oppressed sections in revolting against the oppressive systems. Long live Marx..Long live Marxism…Long live Revolution.”

No rest in peace.

Jai Bhim, Comrade Rohith Vemula!

Advertisements

Silent Majority

First they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Pakistani.

Then they came for the women, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Feminist.

Then they came for the Adivasis, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Naxalite.

Then they came for the Dalits, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not an Ambedkarite.

Then they came for the rationalists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the farmers, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Gandhian.

Then they came for the beef-eaters, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Sickular.

Then they came for the historians, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not an Intellectual.

Then they came for the filmmakers, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a starving Artist.

They are coming after the working class, dividing us up, every single day –
And I know I will not speak out still –
Because I am not really a revolutionary.

– Saswat Pattanayak, Peoples’ Poet, 2015

(My reflection above is inspired by the famous poem by Martin Niemoeller who was an outspoken critic of the Nazis. The idea is to convey that one Hitler or one Modi is not responsible for the mayhems in any society. They are accomplished with the tacit support of the otherwise decent people who choose to remain silent while oppressive policies continue against “other” groups to which they immediately do not identify with. In Indian context, too many of us have remained silent throughout as state machinery and hindu nationalists have continued to target various marginalized groups. And it will not be far when those of us who have been thus far spared of the wrath have to also pay the price for maintaining stoic silence. Revolutionaries do not remain silent at atrocities – they have always spoken up and chosen sides and vocally articulated their position. And the circumstances to produce revolutionaries are not ordained by divine orders. They are for us to realize. Each of us has the ability to speak up, to protest. Let us not wait for an opportune time guided by just our own interests.)

Roots (and prospects) of Justice

Our justice system has failed to protect the very principles of liberty and equality it was tasked to defend and become a willing participant in the State oppression it was supposed to prevent. Reforming it requires us to revisit what we’ve previously held sacrosanct, says Saswat Pattanayak. (Kindle Magazine)

“I request this House to adopt the same conciliatory attitude to all political minorities and to adopt the same principles as have been adopted by the Soviet Union…I propose my amendment and request Dr. Ambedkar to accept it—That in the Preamble for the words ‘We, the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Democratic Republic’, the words ‘We The people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a union of Indian Socialistic Republics to be called U.I.S.R. on the lines of U.S.S.R.’ be substituted.”

—Amendment proposed by Maulana Hasrat Mohani, 17 October 1949

Maulana Mohani’s visions were threefold: “Our Constitution must be federal, it must be centrifugal, and the constituent States or Republics should willingly hand over certain central powers to the Centre”. He was highly critical of the draft under consideration and minced no words: “We should take our minorities into our confidence. Instead of doing that, you are going to outcaste them altogether. You are passing anything you like, without the slightest consideration for the interests of even your political minorities.”

The Constituent Assembly of India had quite predictably negatived Maulana Mohani’s proposed amendment. The feelings were reciprocal—Mohani, the man who symbolised religious harmony and coined the phrase “Inquilab Zindabaad” also remained the only voice of dissent in the Assembly and refused to go along with the finally adopted Constitution. His desire for a free voluntary democratic Indian Union of sovereign units never materialised.

Almost seven decades have passed since, and the sole dissenter Maulana Mohani has been vindicated. India has failed on both grounds: our states are constantly at odds with the Centre, and our political minorities are routinely persecuted. Both social justice and individual liberties are duly neglected and travesty has become synonymous with justice.

Social (in)Justice

India’s most devastating failure to tackle social justice started only a year after independence was gained. The Hyderabad massacre of 1948—the deaths of around 40,000 people, mostly Muslims killed by Hindu mobs—was well documented but remained suppressed for decades and no justice was rendered. Two decades later in 1969, the Muslim community was again targeted, this time in Gujarat where Hindu nationalists killed hundreds of Muslims and destroyed nearly 40 mosques and 50 dargahs. Exactly two decades later, Bihar (Bhagalpur) witnessed the worst communal violence until that period, resulting in over 1,000 deaths (900 of them Muslims) and the displacement of over 50,000 people. The Moradabad riots of 1980, the Nellie massacre of 1983, the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the anti-Muslim Bombay riots of 1992–93 and the 2002 Gujarat riots together have resulted in innumerable deaths and massive distrust among minority communities. Add to these the recent Muzaffarnagar riots, the plights of Northeast and Kashmir and we have a region fragmented into different imaginary and competing republics, bound by the law of the land, but not by its spirit.
What can explain the dismissive manner in which the accusations of over a hundred “political” rapes in Kunan Poshpora (among many others in Kashmir) have been handled? What about the justice in caste-based violence resulting in the rape of Dalit women in India (statistically, 21 rapes every week)? So absurdly absent has judicial intervention been that people not only have “taken the law unto their own hands”, but private militias have been established to oppress the Dalits. As a result, the dispossessed are either too often casually disregarded as willful participants in the violence, or are publicly used as case studies carrying Maoist aspirations.

From vilifying insecure communities and terrorising the marginalised, to carrying out broad daylight romanticised “encounters”, the Indian justice system has stoically overlooked communal clashes, rendered selective justice, oppressed political minorities, ignored indigenous peoples and fostered hegemonic nation-building excesses. In the latest instance, the Hashimpura massacre has turned out to be a textbook example of injustice. Even as the police and the military orchestrated the murder of 42 innocent Muslim youth, no one has been found to be guilty. Nearly three decades have passed, and yet not a single member from the military could be brought to the trial for investigational purpose. From entertaining charges of sedition against Arundhati Roy and Geelani, to actually declaring Dr. Binayak Sen guilty, the judicial system is notoriously indifferent to heinous crimes of hateful nature, while it promptly penalises conscientious dissenting citizens who express unpopular political opinions. Even as the sacrosanct wings of democracy in the form of executive-legislative-judiciary-military have long ceased implementing laws that can guarantee a life of dignity for all the citizens of India without discrimination, they have been acutely enthusiastic about reminding people of how serious a charge of “sedition” can be—a remnant of a cruel colonial legacy that has been neatly preserved.

Individual Liberty

Like Maulana Mohani, there was another unsung member of the Constituent Assembly who had predicted the approaching disasters: Mahavir Tyagi. While Mohani was concerned that in our anticommunist quest, we were ignoring an emancipatory USSR Constitution, while heavily borrowing from colonial legacies of oppressive Constitutions of the imperialist world, and that, by doing so, we were facilitating prospects for dangerous communal violence in the coming years, Tyagi was equally emphatic in rejecting the proposals of the Drafting Committee that had introduced the clause of “Preventive Detention”, which curtailed basic individual liberties and in turn made the judiciary system a draconic one.
“What relevancy is there for a detention clause in the Constitution which is meant to guarantee fundamental rights to the citizens? I am afraid the introduction here of a clause of this kind changes the chapter of fundamental rights into a penal code worse than the Defence of India Rules of the old government. I have suffered under the Defence of India Rules long detention“. Tyagi went one step further and proposed that a truly emancipated people must possess the capacity to overthrow a government that acts destructively against the rights of the people: “I would ask Dr. Ambedkar and the Drafting Committee if they are also prepared to arm the people also with the power to overthrow a government which works destructively against the fundamental rights which they have granted to them. Surely the people have got the right to overthrow, abolish or alter such a government and to constitute another government which they think would be more likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

It was not a matter of sheer coincidence that both the divide-and-rule policies resulting in communal violence and curtailment of liberty by means of detention without trial were gifts from British colonialism. R. Palme Dutt cited in India Today (1940) the official policy of the British Raj: “Our endeavour should be to uphold in full force the (for us fortunate) separation which exists between the different religions and races, not to endeavour to amalgamate them. Divide et impera should be the principle of Indian government.”

And yet, despite having an anti-colonial spirit at the forefront of freedom struggle in India, we heavily retained the colonial judicial chapters. Ironically, the British have themselves completely abolished sedition as an offence, but India has zealously guarded the provision, which reads: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government estab­lished by law shall be punished with im­prisonment for life, to which fine may be added”.

Let alone entertaining Tyagi’s demands for rights to the citizens to oppose reactionary governments, the Indian injustice system is rife with criminalising citizens without providing them with basic safeguards. Nearly 70 percent of the prison population in India comprises citizens who haven’t been tried (pre-trial detainees or remand prisoners), even as the occupancy level in the prison system is at 118.4 percent. Monthly pending cases in just the Supreme Court amounts to 61,300 (February, 2015). The number of pending cases in the High Courts is 44.5 lakh and in the lower judiciary, the number is 2.6 crore.

Judicial Activism

Even as the pending cases and prison system are depressing indicators, the enthusiasm to encourage judicial activism is a parallel development that is founded upon utter hopelessness. If democracy is meant to reflect the will of the people, then judicial activism/overreach is in reality a legitimate tool to undermine that will. There is no doubt that public interest litigations have done a world of good and that the Supreme Court of India has enormously improved the country’s state of affairs, but at the same time, by essentially violating the separation of powers principle, the courts are setting wrong precedents. Most notably, the manner in which the Chief Justice of India and four other judges get to select and appoint judges clearly sends alarming signals.
Most of the judicial activism is made possible owing to interpretations of our Constitution, which are perfectly legal (naturally), but it will not be a stretch to visualise the courts as the new bureaucracy. Not to mention, considering the social locations of the powers to be within the judiciary, a tad elitist (again, naturally so).

As the recent “Nirbhaya” documentary episode demonstrated, not only was the ban itself rightfully controversial and therefore ignited discussions, but the media interviews with the defense attorneys displayed almost a trend of judicial vigilantism. Whatever be the nature of its content and regardless of how useful to or judgmental of the feminist movements it is, the excuse that the telecast of it can influence the due process of law is open to debate. The vigilantism accompanied the manners in which one attorney threatened a member of the audience with an accusation that he was insulting the Supreme Court if he was going to pose critical questions to the lawyer. The lawyer then went on to boast how his daughter would never do something for which he would have to set her on fire—as he was the custodian of his adult daughter.

As shocking as such revelations appear to be, the truth is the lawyers and judges hail from the same patriarchal society which enables rape culture, the same casteist regions that pervade the entire landscape of the country, and the same corrupt playing fields that separate the commoners from the VIP judges for whom the traffic gets cleared on priority.

Back to the Basics

The same meritocracy, which continues to disadvantage the historically oppressed, finds its greatest manifestation in the country’s judiciary. It is undeniable that the justice system—law enforcement and courts alike—bears great responsibilities, especially during times when the executive and legislative branches have reached the lowest ebb. But it is even all the more important that while judicial activism arms the judges with the unprecedented privileges, they open up to much greater scrutiny.
One of the ways to move forward is to ensure social justice and individual liberty, while at the same time abolishing provisions for seditions and detentions without trials. Constitutional interpretations are necessary, but thanks to amendment provisions, there are greater hopes still. For amendments of course, using the participation of other branches of governance is crucial, so that overreach of any specific unit is contained.

India has multitudes of problems when it comes to issues specifically impacting the women and religious minorities. If we have not been able to adequately safeguard their interests, it is quite possible that we may need new laws in place, employing feminist languages that aim at liberating the oppressed.

For instance, in the past, we might have neglected to consider the USSR Constitution or the idea behind the Soviet of Nationalities or Korenizatsiya. Following Maulana Mohani’s proposal, if we look at 1936 Constitution of the USSR, we shall realise how we could adopt a right to free higher education conducted in the native language, a right to rest and leisure that guarantees a working day to last not more than seven hours. We shall realise how as important it is to provide for a fundamental right in the name of religious worship, it is equally necessary to let people enjoy the freedom to conduct antireligious propaganda. To make sure that citizens are “guaranteed inviolability of the person”. where women are accorded equal rights with men without exploitations, citizens have the “right to maintenance in old age and also in case of sickness or loss of capacity to work. This right is ensured by the extensive development of social insurance of workers and employees at state expense, free medical service…”

Whatever might have been our collective past, the future still shall hold promise if we revisit what we have conventionally considered sacrosanct. We need to improvise upon our own laws, to be more inclusive, to be more sensitive, to be more egalitarian. To do away with capital punishment, to consider marital rape as a crime, to prohibit corporal punishment. To prioritise structural reforms over a penal system. To redefine what constitutes a crime: a petty theft out of hunger owing to failure on part of the State to provide for basic needs, or accumulation of disproportionate private properties no matter how legitimate the means may appear to be.

A justice system’s success does not lie in exceeding the capacity of prison cells, as ours has done. It lies in establishing conditions in such a manner that prison walls will need to be crumbled down. That is the new era we have to work towards, and hope for.

As Sahir Ludhianvi so prophetically wrote:

“Manhoos samaaji dhaancho mein jab julm na paale jaayenge
Jab haath na kaate jaayenge jab sar na uchhale jaayenge
Jailoen ke bina jab duniya ki sarkaar chalaayi jaayegi
Woh subah hum hi se aayegi”

(As crimes cease to be structural givens of societies
Justice no longer served with torture, death penalties
A new world needs no oppressive prison
We shall usher in such a new dawn!)

Sovereignty, Unity and The State Of Denial

The self-appointed champions of secular liberalism are decrying the recent electoral triumph of Hindu nationalism as a subversion of the true will of the people. Saswat Pattanayak argues that ‘we the people’ must not be let off the hook so easily…. (Kindle Magazine)

Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. – Albert Einstein

Contrary to dominant media claims, it is not despite divisive politics that Narendra Modi won the resounding mandate; he instead is it’s natural culmination. For, divisiveness is never the result of political assertions by oppressed socio-cultural minorities against militant nationalistic aspirations; rather, it takes concrete shape through the majoritarian identity politics reveling in patriotic overtures. Divisive is not the politics which ideologically identifies and combats fascist tendencies in one’s assumed country; divisiveness in political climate owes itself to sanctimonious imposition of opportunist conceptions as unquestionable national priorities that override specific needs of the oppressed.

One such conception in recent times involves projection of India as emerging superpower that hosts “world’s oldest civilization” – an enduring and endearing myth that unequivocally demands an end to multicultural pluralism within the country, and harbors a deep suspicion towards the world outside.

BJP’s own election manifestos are constantly updated to reflect the party’s aggressive posturing in as many words. In 2009 edition, the manifesto was less vehement in asserting the myth by stating “Indian civilisation is perhaps the most ancient and continuing civilisation of the world. India has a long history and has been recognised by others as a land of great wealth and even greater wisdom.” In 2014, it dropped the word “perhaps” and emphasized on “always” by beginning the manifesto with these words: “India is the most ancient civilization of the world and has always been looked upon by the world as a land of wealth and wisdom.”

Electoral appeals based on nationalistic outbursts are innately divisive – they require enemies before looking for allies, they condemn diversities before celebrating unity, they overlook special needs before harping on equality rights. In India’s context, they shape nationalism as uniquely Hindu. They also sacrifice dignity in the name of development, undermine humanity in the name of religion, revoke “inner vitality” in the name of civilizational march. Modi’s agenda for “Ek Bharat – Shreshtha Bharat” must also resort to depicting rival parties as “foreigners’ parties”. The seduction of patriotism must encompass rejection of entities who cannot impressively elevate their own jingoism. This year the expectations were so high that despite her foreign origin issue apparently laid to rest, Sonia Gandhi still had to make a televised appearance specifically to reassert her patriotism.

To absolve Congress/UPA of its role in resulting political miseries today would be dishonest. Several of its neoliberal policies have indeed landed India in an economic mess which will require nothing short of a fundamental restructuring – which neither the Congress nor the BJP are prepared or willing to undertake. If the Congress has introduced policies of economic liberalization, it is the BJP which has worked towards its greater implementation – rhetorically, both the parties may indulge in patriotic duels, but in reality, they have never been shy of auctioning off the public lands for private interests. Contrary to popular circulations by the nationalist Right, it is not the “inner vitality” of Indian nation that will be rejuvenated following the new electoral results, but perhaps, quite the contrary.

It is only appropriate to recall in these times the words of Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci, who had further theorized Lenin’s use of the term hegemony, while courageously battling the fascists almost a century ago: “The more the immediate economic life of a nation is subordinated to international relations, the more a particular party will come to represent this situation and to exploit it, with the aim of preventing rival parties gaining the upper hand. Often the so-called ‘foreigner’s party’ is not really the one which is commonly so termed, but precisely the most nationalistic party – which, in reality, represents not so much the vital forces of its own country, as that country’s subordination and economic enslavement to the hegemonic nation or to certain of their number.” In Gramscian times, “foreigner’s party” was a term used by the nationalist Right to depict the communist parties in Italy. Prior to that, Mazzini’s Action Party used to be vilified similarly since it was influenced by the idea of the French Revolution. In our times, while BJP tends to be nationalistic party, the Congress Party resembling Action Party of the center-left ideology remains the “foreigner’s party” along with the various communist parties.

What Then?
“Hurricane Modi swept through the heartland and beyond…The Modi typhoon that swept away BJP’s rivals in the Hindi heartland…Modi, who mauled powerful regional satraps in states where the caste narrative marginalised national parties, showed that he has the wherewithal to beat them at their own game…The new social umbrella that Modi has forged—‘upper’ castes, OBCs, MBCs and a sizeable section of Dalits— would give the BJP a lethal support base in any electoral combat. “Modi’s ‘backward caste’ image will not put off the ‘upper caste’ voter. The Modi brand has something for everyone.” (Open Magazine, 16 May, 2014)

It is said that during the period of National Emergency when journalists were asked to bend, they crawled. Under Modi, it appears as though we are doing as much, even without being asked. As if the uncritical adulation and the unabashed defense of a communal politician is not shocking enough, there are terms like “Hinduphobia” floating around these days to portray the new ruling class as a potential victim of an imaginary witch-hunt. One commentator in Huffington Post alludes to “civilizational Hindu point of view” in his depiction of a fictitious battle between India and Hinduphobia – and he surmises that India has voted in favor of India (much as a journalist should, while acting as a “stenographer for the government” to quote I.F. Stone).

For, “India has won” was also the tweet by Modi himself to describe the results. And Modi could be right. This is the India we knew always existed amidst us and thrived over the decades. This India was socio-culturally undeniable a construct, despite occasional rise to influence by a few reformers and revolutionaries who challenged it from time to time. Religious beliefs, superstitions, casteism, nepotism, misogyny, greed, and bullying as core features of this India always preceded our keenness to pursue ideological understanding of political economy.

Gleeful celebrations of Modi over the past few months have merely brought it all to a full circle as it so happens that this robust, vibrant, shining India has now also found a complimenting political outlet. For those of us who desired for a different tally, it is not the victory of Narendra Modi. It is the victory of an India we have always cheered for, consciously or subconsciously; an India viciously right-wing in socio-cultural and, now, political character.

It is important to make distinctions between the socio-cultural and the political in understanding how a secular idea called India has ended up in the hands of the communal voters masquerading as Indians. How does a country that had its Prime Ministers celebrate norms of secularism by invariably recalling Mahatma Gandhi in their first address to the nation end up with Modi, who reminds the nation of the centenary celebrations of rightwing Hindu ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya instead? How does a country prepare itself to be headed by an active member of the RSS – an organization banned thrice on the charges of being communal, then celebrate such an occasion with tearful joys? How do many of the country’s prominent intellectuals and cultural icons express jubilation at the victory of a political party that possibly has its origins through hate-mongering, and prosperity through orchestrated genocides?

Maybe because the trends were always showing culturally, although somewhat limited (or, disallowed) politically. Perhaps the private lives of Indian citizens were not in consonance with the state policies outlined in the constitution. As a reflection of clear dismissal of secular ethos, the National Executive member of BJP Sheshadri Chari recently remarked following his party’s victory: “The jury is out. The constitution does not defend the word secularism and it was added into the Preamble in 1975.” It is almost as though we privately abide by secularism only because it has juridical weight. To quote Gramsci who had proposed two superstructural levels: “the one that can be called ‘civil society’, that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called ‘private’, and that of ‘political society’ or ‘the State’. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of ‘hegemony’ which the dominant group exercises throughout the society and on the other hand to that of ‘direct domination’ or command exercise through the State and ‘juridical government.’”

Hypothetically speaking, if secularism were to be removed today from the Preamble, how would the private lives be for us Indians? We the people who have historically practiced untouchability as part of our Hindu “way of life”, and still very much do (even BJP in its latest manifesto is “committed to the eradication of untouchability at all levels”). We the people who gleefully demolish shrines and persecute minorities and overwhelmingly participate in communal riots. We the people who authorize the State in sending Kashmiri freedom fighters to gallows – from Maqbool Bhat to Afzal Guru, brushing aside legitimate concerns over prejudiced trials. From slapping sedition charges against students for cheering Pakistani cricket team to imprisoning professors and social workers on grounds of being Maoist sympathizers – considering innumerable such injustices have taken place regardless of who was at the helm of power, can we the people truly become secular, even if we tried?

As Dr. Ambedkar wrote once, “This country has seen the conflict between ecclesiastical law and secular law long before Europeans sought to challenge the authority of the Pope. Kautilya’s Arthshastra lays down the foundation of secular law. In India unfortunately ecclesiastical law triumphed over secular law. In my opinion this was the one of the greatest disasters in the country. The unprogressive nature of the Hindu society was due to the notion that the law cannot be changed.”

Since Hindu society has always remained the dominant group in India, Ambedkar was not averse to discarding the entire identification with Hinduism. He conceptualized an India where there would be no scope for “Hindu nationalists”, no possibility for anyone like Modi to proudly claim as he did in his interview to Reuters last year: “I am nationalist. I’m patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I am born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So I’m a Hindu nationalist. So yes, you can say I’m a Hindu nationalist because I’m a born Hindu.” Dr. Ambedkar had foreseen such an advent, which is precisely why he had warned the country in the following words, “Personally myself I say openly that I do not believe that there is any place in this country for any particular culture, whether it is Hindu culture, or a Muhammadan culture, or a Kanarese culture or a Gujarati culture. There are things we cannot deny, but they are not to be cultivated as advantages, they are to be treated as disadvantages as something which divides our loyalty and takes away from us our common goal. That common goal is the building up of a feeling that we are all Indians. I do not like what some people say, that we are Indians first and Hindus afterwards or Muslims afterwards. I am not satisfied with that, I frankly say that I am not satisfied with that. I do not want that our loyalty as Indians should be in the slightest way affected by any competitive loyalty whether that loyalty arises out of our religion, out of our culture or out of our language. I want all people to be Indian first, Indian last and nothing else but Indians.”

Nothing else but Indians has been predictably compromised during BJP’s campaigns in various states this season. Amit Shah’s call for “revenge for the insult” in Uttar Pradesh should have resulted in a boycott of the BJP in the state, and yet it landed up with overwhelmingly majority seats. What became worse was how in a unique backlash against minority assertions, Islamic leaders were compared with Hindu supremacists by media and election commission alike. Once the minorities were brought to the level of the Hindu majority in receiving the equal flak, it was just a matter of competitive loyalty then on, in which the majority, quite naturally, had a comfortable victory.

Oppressed minorities in any society are not equal to the oppressive majority. This is a simple proposition which often gets lost amidst modern criticisms of secularism. Whereas it is perfectly alright for various minority groups to organize themselves for cultural promotion, linguistic preservation or even political self-defense to a certain degree, it is absolutely unacceptable for members of the dominant group of a given society to organize themselves accordingly. Whereas what results from minority organizations is a celebration/possibility of diversity and pluralism, what results from majority organizations is blatant display of fascist politics. In other words, whereas it is not hate speech to claim that Muslims have sacrificed themselves in wars against Pakistan, it is clearly hate speech to assume that Muslims are unpatriotic Indians; because in the former instance, minorities speak in their defense in order to doubly attempt to prove their loyalty to the nation, whereas the latter instance would be one where even an irresponsible remark by a member of the majority can further isolate and jeopardize the interests of minorities.

Indian nationalism of Ambedkar, Gandhi and Nehru therefore fundamentally differs from the Hindu nationalism. Rajnath Singh rightly said recently that the dream of Deendayal Upadhyaya was pursued by Advani and Vajpayee, and finally has been fulfilled by Modi. He is right because Indian nationalism has resoundingly departed from Gandhi’s path, and has been replaced by Hindu nationalism – a philosophy that had once succeeded in assassinating Gandhi.

Even as the focus has been identified, the fight for social justice must go beyond Modi government and one’s imaginations for political possibilities must not be surrendered only within the confines of democratic elections. For, this replacement of values did not take place overnight. It did not start with Narendra Modi. It began with the regular Hindu families – of yours, and of mine. It started over the dining table discussions over the evils of reservations. It started with great expectations from our meritorious children to leave others behind in the race for excellence. It started with our charitable cooperation towards the status quo, where giving alms to the beggars took precedence over translating empowering literatures. It started with our collective jubilation at defeating neighboring nations in sports, in distributing ladoos at hanging of “terrorists”, and in remaining ever prepared to lay down our lives in the name of territorial sanctities. It started with our pious denunciation of meat-eaters and needless reverence towards vegetarians – privileged enough to be selective about their diets. Narendra Modi merely provided for a punching bag. For us Indian liberals so committed to thwart Modi’s designs, the real battle must take place inside our own homes, around the textbooks our children unquestionably consume, with our family values that continue to be shaped by Brahminical scriptures, calendars and wisdom. And just because some caste folks eat meat or vote against BJP or unfriend bigots on social media, it has no bearing upon the amount of sustained efforts required to challenge the Hindu supremacist system that has been glorified in India, since well before any modern political party came into existence. Dictatorial Modi may be running a vicious one-man show for BJP. But the well-meaning liberals in India have been running the Hindutva show for several generations now.

BJP’s stellar performance is not the contribution of a failed Rahul Gandhi. It is a mandate by the country ever so in denial of its supremacist potentials. Even in the mammoth defeat of the liberals, we scrounge for figures that would suggest that BJP has received merely one-third vote share. Apparently, that provides us the solace. Before Modi came to power, we continued to reject any Modi-wave whatsoever. And even after he bosses over the parliament, the educated liberal Hindu folks are looking for convenient numbers to absolve ourselves off our responsibilities, if not complicity. Intellectuals not only are able to articulate the direction a country takes, they also lend credence to that. Gramsci said as much about their roles in furthering the prestige of the dominant group in any society, until the group emerges too dangerous to be tackled anymore – “The intellectuals are the dominant group’s ‘deputies’ exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government. These comprise: 1) The ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production. 2) The apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed.”

The spontaneous consent to BJP is in fact caused by India’s historical propensity for Hindu dominance. Until now, barring intermittent sessions, Hindu nationalism was part of the civil society (the private) in India, but now they are dominating the political society (the State) with unprecedented success. Reversal in sight through electoral reconfigurations is merely hogwash, since it changes very little. Let’s take Odisha as an instance, where there has been no Modi wave, and yet Christians are routinely harassed and the Hindu way of life prevents Dalits, Muslims and foreigners from sharing Lord Jagannath’s blessings in the same way the caste Hindus do. “Modi wave” may only legitimize the coercive power of state apparatus, but the privileges of the dominant group that gave rise to Modi, has remained a constant due to our refusal to take a stand on religious absurdities. What Gopalkrishna Gandhi recently hoped for in his open letter to Narendra Modi reinforces once again the hegemonist notion that it is indeed possible for someone “to be Savarkar in the heart and yet Ambedkar in the mind”. The truth is there is no reconciliation among the two. There is no reconciliation between Savarkar’s Hindu and Ambedkar’s India – they stand diametrically opposed. India can never be a Hindu nation and a Hindu nation can never be India.

What Now?

Contradictions abound in the new political landscape. Like Savarkar’s divisive Hindutva excluded other religions, so does Modi’s prescriptions of Hinduism as the way of life for Indians. To reemphasize, Modi did not win the mandate because he opposed divisive politics, but because he profited from it. Not because he spoke against identity politics but because it is the victory of the identity politics – that of the Hindu identity. That of a Hindu nation. A supremacist majoritarian identity has merely triumphed over the stifled oppressed identities. It is not the unity of Indians across caste/religion lines that gave rise to Modi. It is the disunity of people who are divided along various social divisions – thanks to the all pervading Hindu ethos – to distrust each other, rather than to unite as a politically empowered working class to thwart domestic and global capitalists, which has empowered the fascists. BJP is a political vulture (with due apologies to the bird) that aimed to gain the most from a divided working class. And it has amply succeeded, thanks to the virulently anticommunist Indian society.

At the cost of incurring the wrath of the politically correct who must treat the act of voting as sacrosanct, we should be able to denounce a backward society that thrives off feudal values, a nation whose literacy quest remains abysmally apolitical, a country whose ruling class remains emphatically anti-intellectual, a people that remain conflicted based on fictitious religious romanticisms rather than expressing solidarities to foster class interests among the oppressed. If religion is the opium of the masses, the communal politicians remain the drug dealers. In allowing for them to legally operate as cultural peddlers and in ennobling them to take the political centerstage, it is we the people who must bear responsibility and solemnly resolve once again – this time to reconstitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.

Our resolve must be strong enough to prevent encounters of Ishrat Jahans, jail terms for Binayak Sens, sedition charges against Arundhati Roys; our resolve must become strong enough to prevent arrests of G.N. Saibabas, Hem Mishras, Prashant Rahis; our resolve must emerge strong enough to let no politician call Kerala a nursery for terrorism, or to demand Hindu ancestry of religious minorities. Finally, our resolve must be relentless in not forgetting amidst all electoral festivities, that elections are not about personalities or parties – they are about ideas. Idea of India as a sovereign democratic republic needs to be contested on the basis of whether the country surrenders to imperialistic designs – threats from foreign powers or through its own military – or chooses to remain sovereign and therefore respects struggles for sovereignty by lands oppressed by it. Idea of India needs to be contested on the basis of whether it allows capitalistic expansions by private capital, regardless of whether it is global or domestic, or it chooses to pursue socialist economy. Idea of India needs to be contested on the basis of whether the country remains at the disposal of Hindu supremacists or it celebrates secularism by allowing for sufficient reflections and correctional measures to check the growth of majoritarian militancy.

And if we fail at our renewed resolve in safeguarding even the Constitution we once dedicated to ourselves, now that we discover the political crossroads – contrary to what the champions of resurgent nationalism claim, India might even have won, but Indians would eventually lose.

Reflections for 15th August…

We started off with an exalted note, a thundering applause, and an optimistic tryst with destiny. Despite obnoxious Churchill laughing away sardonically. We installed the most erudite of scholars at the highest echelons of power. Even as that could not deprive us of our web of superstitious ignorance. We strived to help Indira’s India turn duplicitously socialist carving out a veritably stimulating mixed economy. That did not prevent us from cementing the biggest feudal setup in modern times. Now a full circle; we are a capitalistic mega success, a military super power in the making, an economic giant, and foremost of all, a proud nation zealously loved, fervently guarded and sacredly held in esteem. And our lofty, unwavering proclamations of nationalism have decisively helped us masquerade our sickening class society as a vibrant and robust democracy.

It is imperative not to discount the significance of political democracy, or the labeling of it. After all, electoral voting is deeply crucial in sustaining a system that can be controlled by those exuding self-perpetuating power attained via means legitimized as desired. Democracy has become the horse for our moral rides, the unquestioned credo that stirs us to inaction, the mystical justification for the status quo. Holiest of scriptures is our Preamble which bestows upon us our long cherished national identities we refuse to critically interrogate and through those, we the people of India have given to ourselves unfathomable hyperboles.

A deeply religious society fractured with majoritarian fanaticism and yet we are the proclaimed seculars; distinctly divisive run our regional tendencies and yet we are constitutionally united; magnitudes in riches determine the electoral reach of candidates and yet we bask in largest democratic glories; unashamed playground for the capitalists of the world and yet documented we are as a socialist nation. We like to be observed as romanticized studies in great contrasts, of the slumdogs and millionaires; yet we are in reality a sustained plethora of unfortunate contradictions refusing to resolve.

Six decades ago, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar put it rather mildly, “On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one-person-one-vote and one-vote-one-value. In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one-person-one-value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?”

We have not only embraced the contradictions, we revel in them. One of the vicious outfits we entertain these days is ironically called Youth for Equality which has started appropriating none other than Dr. Ambedkar himself to further its agendas of privileged caste-blindness. Whereas Dr. Ambedkar aimed for a casteless society, he did so by recognizing the root and demanding its elimination. Before dreaming of a casteless India, he made it very clear that it is Hinduism whose scriptures be burnt down, for “inequality is the soul of Hinduism.” He wrote, “Caste is a disease of mind. The teachings of the Hindu religion are the root cause of this disease. We practice casteism and we observe untouchability because we are enjoined to do so by the Hindu religion. A bitter thing cannot be made sweet. The taste of anything can be changed. But poison cannot be changed into nectar.”

Republic of India has failed to change the poison into nectar because it is the poison we the apparently innocent, well-meaning, decent folks have voluntarily been administering within our families and schools. As a result, we not only now have major political parties unabashedly displaying Hindu affections through systematic violence against religious minorities, what is worse is we blame no longer Hinduism proponents, but their victims as the casteists: the untouchables, the Dalits, the indigenous peoples discarded by our majoritarian religious identity. The public perception that Dalit activists are the ones practicing casteism has gained unprecedented mileage in recent times, and the upper caste elitists who refuse to give up an ounce of their privileges are the ones christened as equal rights champions.

Not very dissimilar is our collective attitude towards the poor working class being the cause of embarrassment in face of our superpower aspirations. It is not the poverty that a bunch of us in power corridors – of justice, education, technology and legislation – have institutionalized to our benefit, which needs to be felt ashamed of. In fact, we gloat over the emerging India’s list of billionaires and star cricketers driving Ferraris and celebrities getting paid tens of crores per movie appearance. What we are ashamed of are our poor working class folks who get regularly evicted out of the rising cities we showcase for potential foreign investments.

The shining India up for sale comes tagged with a befitting disclaimer: “There is nothing wrong in being rich if it is hard-earned money.” No questions asked as to whose hard-work enables accumulations for the rich. Questions about capitalistic contradictions no longer require any answers. Capitalism is here to stay and flourish. After all, we have voted our parliamentarians to power and they have welcomed imperialistic trade to enslave us once again. The question that needs to be answered and addressed is that of the undesirable elements that weaken the otherwise radiating image of our beloved country – the question of the Maoists, of the disfranchised, of the destitute, of the refugees.

So embarrassed we are of our own victims that recently a deputy executive editor of Hindustan Times wrote about Orissa: “Twenty-seven years ago, when I migrated to Delhi, mine was a state whose chief minister would make headlines for his alleged homosexual escapades. Then there were starvation deaths that made news in the late 80s. Spotlight fell on it again when a devastating cyclone struck in 1999, killing tens of thousands. The festering image of a poverty-ridden, backward state still did not leave a native like me as despondent as it does today with the spurt in Maoist violence in what was once seen as a state endowed enough to lead the journey of modern India. What was once considered a state where one would rarely see radical politics is now heading to the top of the list of India’s worst Maoist-affected states.”

The dichotomy between the journey of modern macho resurgent India and the poverty-ridden, starving, dying or worse, that of the resisting insurgent Indians is what most glaringly characterizes the past six and a half decades. And the need for most of us to informedly choose one over the other while recognizing the class conflict as a historical necessity is what most strikingly has gone amiss this entire period.

No wonder, in the latest incident of security forces murdering 19 villagers of Sarkelguda in Chhatisgarh, we could not choose the side. On one hand we would not support police brutality on principle, and on the other, we would unflinchingly believe in the official narratives that claim law and order requirement in killing five children among the dead, and sexually assaulting four more teenage girls. When our Union Home Minister discovers three “hardcore Naxalites” in a class 10 student, a dholak player and a marginal farmer, we instantly choose silence as a reaction. Or worse, sadness, for we are forever comforted by our unassailable faith in judiciary system and the unbelievable isolation of those who protest. Even as a national awakening was registered to declaration of the mosquitos in Maoist belts as the public enemy following unfortunate demise of a photojournalist recently, we prefer to maintain steadfast silence over continued police brutality upon independent journalists covering those “affected” areas.

It is as though there is a localized cancer, and the affected area needs urgent dissection. And the social doctors tell us, once we are rid of the mosquitos (and/or the Maoists), the golden bird will sing again, with the mind sans fear with head held high, India will be leaps and bounds ahead of others. Our identities as proud Indians will be reasserted, our civilizational heritages shall be reclaimed in their undiluted forms. All we need are the officially approved militant Operations.

Once we rid our societies of the undesirable Maoists and the wretched villagers who shelter them, the homosexuals and the sluts who arrogantly defy the overarching patriarchy, the Dalit casteists who demand reparation and the emancipated minorities who demand social justice, the suicidal farmers backlogged in interests and the suicidal students performing to societal expectations, once we rid our societies of the women who demand reproductive rights, the victims of abuse who refuse to forgive their perpetrators, and the atheists who crave for no inner peace, we shall have become truly sovereign a state, for now the more powerful we appear for our dispossessed, the more we continue to crave for colonial, imperial approvals. After we have successfully completed our Operations hunting down the dissenters, we shall no longer be forcing a ten year old girl to drink her urine as a corporal punishment measure. After the poor are eradicated from the mainstream, we would not be left with a Dalit woman who can be forced to clean human excrement with her bare hands as a manual scavenging labor.

In face of acute contradictions that have shattered every iota of revolutionary roles India adopted as torchbearer of freedom movements for the colonized peoples, what is the basis of our pride today? Failing to implement the internationalist role we once gave to ourselves of ensuring peace and nuclear disarmament, where suppressed is our courage today? Fast reversing the socialist path we once set out on with a patriotic intent to put people before profit, cooperation before competition and sharing before acquiring, where are those enlightened visions today?

Or, do we at all need those principles anymore? Should we ever go back in time to live the past dreams for social equality when we can make giant leaps into a concrete future of individual liberties? The challenge is not merely philosophical. Do we become the champions of the oppressed, or sycophants of the oppressors. In believing we are the next super power, we behave like one: we torment our poorest, worship our richest, aim for a seat in the Security Council, throttle oil dealings with Iran to appease the rogue powers. And in carrying out this role to perfection, we are emerging as a Fascist state which refuses to let go of its thinly veiled dosage of nationalism, religious chauvinism, and linguistic hegemonies.

The grandest irony is we have been reduced to an oxymoron: a nuclear power with a friendly smile. A smile that accompanied Mr Vajpayee as he signaled victory at Pokhran. Or one that appears fixed on Mr Manmohan Singh’s lips as he signs away the country in the guise of free market initiatives. Our global standing rests on a convincing power tactic that transcends international fraudulence; one which assuredly destroys the domestic dissenters whom the state apparatus declares as insurgents. It’s the poor who cause us the most damage. The oppressed that pose as obstacles. It’s the dejected that distress us, its the celebrities that inspire. The teeming millions whose shows of strengths to challenge the status quo escape our radars, while we continue to get impressed by a handfuls of accumulators whose charities sustain inequalities.

While we prepare to celebrate yet another Independence Day, are we merely to brace ourselves to cheer for the renewed promises delivered from the Red Fort? To witness awestruck the gallantry and the magnanimity of our increasingly powerful military? Or to celebrate the truly patriotic among us who although enslaved are confronting the owners, although relegated to statistical dustbins are growing progressive voices in the tradition of freedom struggles, and although termed socially backward are forming revolutionary fronts for universal progress?

If 15th August is a reminder of fights, struggles and sacrifices, this year we may need to pause awhile from our pompous ceremonies, boisterous democracy claims, privately held economic strides and racial pride narratives; and go back in time to acknowledge the roots of socio-economic inequalities. Each of us has a stake, for a few fulfilled individuals do not build a country; a shared struggling people do.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2012)