Brahminism, Patriarchy, Supreme Court And The Justice

By Saswat Pattanayak

(Published in CounterCurrents)

It is the patriarchal fixation with fathers and husbands as feudal heads of indian households where sanctities are attached to family units, that leads to normalization of corruption in a judicial system that is unsurprisingly spearheaded by the brahminical chiefs. No matter what the chief of the family does, it has to be a hush-hush affair and not be made public. Family becomes sacrosanct and the head of family remains above reproach. Brahminism which governs Indian society is founded upon the philosophy of unquestioned belief in the supreme authority, the highest caste, the sacred book. No one messes with the head of the family. If there is child sexual abuse, the child must have provoked it. If there is a marital rape, it is the fault of the wife. Under no circumstances are the patriarchs responsible for anything wrong. They simply need the credits for the (inevitably evolutionary) progresses that are made.

Indian judiciary is not outside Brahminism’s sphere of influence. On the contrary, it is a byproduct of that. The court system is oppressively hierarchical. It is infused with archaic and feudal laws that routinely punishes dissenters and serves the ruling classes. It is a system that awards nepotism (the longest serving Supreme Court Chief Justice’s son will become the CJI in a few years), and instead sentences Dr. Binayak Sen for his association with “banned activities”, and sends a paraplegic Prof. Saibaba to life imprisonment on grounds of “waging war against India.”

This is the same feudal patriarchal court system which does not consider marital rape a cognizable offense so long as the wife is above 18 years of age. This is the same court system which spends time and resources to prohibit reservations/affirmative action for oppressed social classes in the private sector. This is the same court system which allows gay marriage to remain illegal. This is the same court system which upholds death penalty verdicts as acceptable form of punishment. This is the same court system which rejects a plea that questions clean chits given to communal and criminal politicians like Modi and Shah. This is the same court system which permits judicial killing of Afzal Guru without the due process in the middle of the night, without informing his families. This is the same judiciary which is more concerned about its own sacrosanct nature than the rights of farmers, dalits, muslims, women to seek justice in a country where 27 million court cases are still awaiting verdicts.

Chief Justice Misra as the patriarch of this same judicial system predictably had in the past sentenced Yakub Memon to death in an unprecedented middle-of-night hearing. The move was very similar to Afzal Guru killing which was critiqued by AG Noorani who invoked the words of Judge Tendulkar (referring to Morarji Desai misrule), “One would have thought that the dark hours of the night are reserved for the perpetration of dark deeds, not for the execution of lawful orders.” Noorani rightfully remarked “Secrecy is antithetical to the rule of law as it is to decency.” And Justice Misra has been an epitome of secrecy, unsurprisingly, considering his rulings have consistently claimed to have protected “reputation” more than “freedom”. In Indian context, reputation is synonymous with wealthy people, and freedom is the cry of the oppressed.

It was Justice Misra who delivered the judgment in Devkidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar vs State of Maharashtra case where he outlawed and criminalized the freedom of speech of citizens, whereby “historically respected personalities” could not be written about in a way that may offend their followers.

Similarly he upheld the archaic 499 to 502 of IPC whereby “criminal defamation” would ensure that freedom of speech could not be extended to cause disrepute of anyone. Such emphasis of “reputation” and “respect” are cornerstone of conservative figureheads of any society. In his words that are strikingly similar to actions of Pahalaj Nihalani’s: “Reputations cannot be allowed to be sullied on the anvils of free speech as free speech is not absolute.”

This is the same man who decided for the entire country what constituted patriotism. In a bizarre ruling (which is now under scrutiny) Misra and Roy bench decided “to instill committed patriotism and nationalism” by mandating that “all the cinema halls in India shall play the national anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the national anthem (as a part of their) sacred obligation.” While dismissing “any different notion or the perception of individual rights”, the bench of Misra and Roy declared that the movie screens shall have the image of the national flag when the anthem is being played and that doors of the halls will remain shut during the anthem so that no disturbance is caused.

Not only is enforcement of such mindless patriotism strictures against the spirit of Indian Constitution, even the brazen manner in which Justice Misra has in the past ruled against reservations in employment (across private and public sectors alike), is. Misra contends that there should not be reservations in promotions, and not even in jobs when there is a single vacancy. In fact, Misra and Pant went on to call affirmative action itself a privilege and almost mocked the spirit of the constitution which included reservations for the oppressed, with the following words, “The fond hope has remained in the sphere of hope… The said privilege remains unchanged, as if (it is) to compete with eternity.” So that the “national interest can become paramount”, they said “there should really be no reservation” in higher education.

Such judgements that dismiss the social realities in the name of so-called “national interest”, where people are oppressed precisely because they belong to certain caste/religions/communities, should be the reasons not for immediate removal of reservations from society (ironically following the observations of a person who is brahmin himself), but it calls for immediate and elaborate judicial reforms, so the judges are constantly exposed to troubling realities of a caste society and learn from anti-caste activists.

The case of corruption against Justice Misra in the land allotment matter in Odisha should have been reason enough for condemnation. His brother demanding huge amount money from Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Kalikho Pul whose suicide note mentions of the fact, should have resulted in further action against the judge. And yet in the name of protecting the “honor” and “respect” and “repute” of national flag, anthem, and of chief justice himself – our Indian patriarchy continues protecting the male figureheads without a pause. And instead of treating the dissenters and activists and whistleblowers as heroes, many of us now attack the four judges as antinationals.

This is not just about Dipak Misra or Amit Shah or Narendra Modi. This fixation with complete submission to authority is a problem fostered within our places of worship where we are indoctrinated to believe that our gods can do no evil, within our own schools where our teachers can tell no lies, within our law and order system where our police and military and judges can do nothing wrong, and within own families where our elders cannot even be talked back to. This refusal to dissent and this inability to support those who do, constitute the terminal disease we are afflicted by, and the one we refuse to treat. It did not begin yesterday when the TV channels went berserk with breaking news over how many experts are now so sad that a press conference had made our supreme court so vulnerable. It is necessary, instead, to acknowledge the disease in order to cure it. Not to mention, the treatment is long overdue.

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Padmavati, Karni Sena and the crisis of Hinduism

By Saswat Pattanayak

The outrage against Karni Sena is entirely misplaced. These hooligans will eventually be forgiven by their gods because they know not what they do. The real dangerous elements however are those who claim to know better, and yet fervently endorse Padmavati – whether as a fictional character, a historical figure, or as a movie script awaiting screening.

In all shape, way, and form, Rani Padmini legacy is a textbook instance of Islamophobia. If the practice of Sati was/is justified by the Hindus as the chaste wife syndrome, the practice of Jauhar which Padmini was said to have opted for (historical account of which is heavily disputed), was even one step further – such mass suicides by Hindu women had nothing to do with love (sic!) for their deceased husbands, rather they had to die so that Muslim men couldn’t touch them.

That Bhansali would actually make Padmini the glorified protagonist of this movie – and publicly assuage the fears of a casteist bunch in a regressive society, by comforting their so-called “Rajput Pride” – speaks volumes about the nostalgic fixation of feudal Indian society with remnants of their “royal families”. Instead of revisiting these occupiers of palaces as the parasites without any constitutional locus standi to claim honorifics, Hindus continue to glamorize these families who trace their family trees to this Padmini woman, who certainly was not the only one to have self-immolated herself anyway. In an era of democracy and purported egalitarianism, the Indian filmmakers and the public alike continue to stay obsessed with oppressive and entitled women as heroic figures.

In fact, the only bright side to the entire Padmavati movie saga has been the Karni Sena. The only reason so many liberal Hindus are so riled up against them is because they are failing to cover up the true colors of Hinduism which are on full public display, thanks to the hooligans of “Shri Rajput Karni Sena”. And in a bid to dissociate themselves from this Sena in order to save the “image” of their country, they are either discrediting this Sena as a “fringe group”, or they are outrightly rejecting Padmavati as a historical chapter.
However, just as Karni Sena is an offshoot of BJP, Hindu terrorism is an offshoot of the Hindus. None of these are “fringe” elements. There is a direct causal relationship between a majoritarian religion and its manifestations just as there is one between a political line and its deviations.

Just as sexism is inherent to patriarchy even as sexist behavior is not apparent in every action of a patriarch; just as xenophobia is immanent in nationalism even as irrational hatred is not always discernible in the patriot; just as conservatism is integral to the fascists even as all their political positions are not necessarily reactionary – so also, intolerance, vandalism and terrorism are permanent features of Hindusim, even as occasionally the devout Hindu appears to be preaching “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”.

Padmavati debate is not about free speech and artistic freedom. It is certainly not about historical fact-checks. Majority of decent people in India are not angered by Karni Sena because they believe in peace and non-violence. The good Hindus are angry at the bad Hindus (depending on which side one identifies with) because of the embarrassment such vandalisms are causing the religion itself. The sanctity of the great religion needs to be protected at all costs, after all. The problem however is, neither the Bhansali fans nor the Karni Sainiks think of themselves as the Bad Hindus. The question then is, does a Bad Hindu even exist? It is as obvious as the question: does Hindu terrorism exist?

The denial is legendary and it did not start with a right-wing party that is currently enjoying political power. The externalization of the bad guys from Hinduism by calling them fringe or corrupt or evil is a deliberate ploy to sanitize the religion of the possibility that it could be intrinsically capable of producing not just the good guys but also the bad ones. Hindus simply have been failing to grasp that the same religion which produces saints/babas/gurus/swamis/maatas also is capable of producing terrorists and vandals. Even more so, that, most, if not all of these godmen and saints are themselves terrorists and vandals. And when they are not exposed to be thus, they are busy inspiring their followers to attain that ideal.

Padmavati is not just another movie. It is potentially posing a challenge to the long-held beliefs of the religious. Hindus hold such beliefs sacrosanct and so quite naturally they are peeved at the trailers (if anyone is still attacking these people as folks who are yet to see the movie, as though to imply that vandalism should be tolerated after a week of the movie’s release, unless someone exclusively wants to ensure that Bollywood makes its week’s big earnings first…).

Angry Hindus have always beaten the heck out of those who oppose their beliefs. They kill atheists every now and then on the streets. They shoot to death progressive journalists when they express fearless opinions. They beat up Dalits for asserting themselves and even for skinning dead cows. They murder Muslims who are rumored to be eating beef. They thrash university students who express dissent. They slap and kick anyone who doesn’t stand up when the national anthem plays. They assault and attack whenever they feel like their sentiments are hurt. Goes without saying, that not every Hindu kills Gauri Lankesh. Not every Hindu kills Mohammad Akhlaq. And not every Hindu destroys cinema theaters following movies like Padmavati. But that does not mean that Hindu terrorism does not exist. Quite the contrary – those who deny Hindu terrorism are the ones who abet it.

So far as the Hindus go, there is nothing wrong or extraordinary in their reactions to Padmavati. They are so addicted to their religion, that when they are drunk in it, terrorism is all the truth that eventually surfaces, in all its honesty.

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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!