Donald Trump and the ritual of shock and awe in American duopoly

(Written for Kindle Magazine)

By Saswat Pattanayak

The shock and clamor surrounding Donald Trump’s ascension to power is entirely unwarranted. The sentimental protests, tearful mournings and fearful disbelief about how to make sense of Trump are self-serving exaggerations. Self-serving, because taking such positions merely distinguishes us from the nastiness that defines Trump. To the mortified, he is the indecency that is impossible to explain and he is the vice we have apparently fought all along. Trump is the worst of humanity, the enemy of the marginalized, the maniac who cannot be trusted with a nuclear button, the groper-in-chief who must not have become the commander-in-chief of the most consequential country in this planet. There is an inversely proportional relationship we share with his moralism. He is the anti-mirror, he is the nightmare personified, he is the friend of Putin, he is the American Modi. He is the enemy of the Muslims. He is the enemy of the women. He is the enemy of the poor. And no wonder, he even dashed our hope of having the first female president in American history. Where do we go from here now? Will our world not end now?

More ridiculous than Trump’s victory is the collective grief prevailing in its aftermath. More irksome than the erratic ignorance of Trump is the irresponsibility of our political memories. More culminating blow is landed to us from our hunky-dory imaginings of the American states of affairs preceding this poll than from the Canadian immigration website crash. It is our luxuriously privileged indulgence in our botoxed worldviews that allows our imagined future tragedies to surpass the reality of our past indifference. We are eager to lament an unseen tomorrow while justifying the legacies that have been harrowing for decades. In fact, keeping with that adulation of our rectitude, we are hoping for our noble old behaviors to be emulated in coming years. Have no fear, Obama assures us, we are all now the cheerleaders for Trump. No matter how disqualified he was, no matter the sexual predator that he was, no matter the tax evader that he was, no matter the racist, Islamophobe, misogynist untrustworthy xenophobe that he was, long live our democracy, which we shall continue to introduce in every land of this world under his leadership.

Lest the energy of dissonance and dissent is channelized differently, Hillary Clinton reminds us that peaceful transition of power is what we not only believe in, but cherish. All our banking institutions and corporations and bosses of both the big parties are not going to be overthrown. We are going to accept the results gracefully like we always have because we have unequivocal faith in the system they own. We must continue to work together with them to relish the American greatness that we have defined in all its past, present and future tense. Hallelujah!

Trump is not a miracle. Trump is culmination of American exceptionalism which has been preached by every president preceding him. Trump is the logical apotheosis of humanized capitalism, where the winners take all, where executive decisions are sacrosanct, where we feel it right to sponsor deaths and tortures and waterboarding and drones and assassinations and weaponization of regions that we consider inferior.

Today liberal America is shaking with moralist rage, in fear and anger. There are protests outside the Trump Tower. There are letters school children are writing to Trump. There are celebrities urging their fans to continue the fight. An unprecedented climate of uncertainty hovers over America. Apprehensive of what the first 100 days of Trump can result in. Will illegals be deported? Will there be wars? Will other countries now be scared of our hooliganism? Will there be visa restrictions on people? Will there now be assaults on women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights? Will black people be safe any longer? Will hardworking people flourish anymore? Will a few elites enjoy concentrated wealth? Will our healthcare industry fail? Will our education become unaffordable? Will there be public protests and police atrocities? Will the rich now manipulate taxation system? Will we ever have a female president? Will we be able to explain our children about what our president should do and what he actually does?

All these and many more questions plague the well-meaning liberals. They are finding everything surreal with Trump’s triumph. The world is no longer the same. The good old days of freedom, respect, dignity, decency, morality, virtues and values are past us. Trump has forced us to wake up from our American dreams.

Maybe it is high time that we did and maybe we owe that to Donald Trump. After all, it is not Trump who stands exposed today. It is the sheer hypocrisy of American liberals that stands exposed. Liberals conveniently forget that it is not Trump who had deported the largest number of people and separated family members in millions within past eight years. It is not Trump that built secret chambers of tortures to round up human beings that have been called “illegals”. It is not Trump that ordered the wars and interventions all around the world that resulted in assassinations of world leaders. It is not Trump who won the Nobel Peace Prize and launched the industry of drones resulting in deaths of thousands of innocent civilians – women and children – in faraway lands. It is not Trump that has made America the biggest rogue nation in history. It is not Trump who privatized healthcare and education and forced people to debt. It is not Trump who bailed out the Wall Street or launched attacks on protesters at Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter. It is not Trump who caused the new Jim Crow and massive incarceration of Blacks and Latinos. It is not Trump who refused to recognize same-sex marriage for decades, or who prevented women candidates from becoming nominees of major political parties. It is not Trump who prevented Shirley Chisholm a nomination, it is not he who stopped Cynthia McKinney’s dream, it is not he who halted Hillary Clinton’s journey to White House when she aimed at it for the first time.

Indeed, Trump shall also be held accountable in coming days. But unlike Modi who had bossed over riots and massacres before being elected head of India, Trump has had no impacts on political landscape of the United States. He is no American Modi. Unlike Putin of Russia, Trump did not have any bureaucratic experience or political support for him to rise to unchecked power. He is no American Putin. Unlike any other president in American history, Trump had no sway over politics or military prior to this. He is no typical American president either.

He is a result of a democracy that the United States takes pride in. It is existential to American identity. This is the democracy that understands only one language – a language of money and competition. And both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump used this language to their best abilities and only one of them won by a slight margin. To be especially afraid of the newest master of this language is to be afraid of this system itself.

The values that have emboldened this system lie at the foundation of this country. From celebration of Columbus and observation of Thanksgiving to colonization of numerous lands – whether Puerto Rico or Hawaii or dozens more such annexations; from erasure of the indigenous Americans from every stream of public life to judicial killings and systematic disfranchisement of black people, America’s strength has always been its excesses. And this might of American state has constantly been met with resistance of freedom fighters throughout – from Frederick Douglass to Oscar Lopez Rivera, from Paul Robeson to the Black Panthers.

To suddenly lose the good old days flavor, now that a certain Donald Trump has risen to power is to insult the rich histories of struggles that have duly acknowledged and battled against American excesses, one president at a time. This placement of anger on Trump is at the same time an undermining of decades-long organizing efforts by the working class against the ruling elites. United States has never been great, and as long as its plutocracy exists – with support of both the major parties, probably never will become great. Indeed, no country is great because of its ruling class; its greatness is measured by the dignity it amasses despite its ruling class. Whether it be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, their taste of success is not a yardstick to evaluate how much Americans have been liberated. In fact, the ceremony of voting and electoral theatrics are necessary exercises to keep the power-hungry relevant, and more importantly acceptable.

The filthy rich Clintons who run dubious charitable organizations and charge millions of dollars via their political double-speak should ideally be despised. Bill “I-don’t-know-that-woman” Clinton’s assaults on women and his wife’s steadfast support for his misogyny should ideally be abhorred. Hillary Clinton’s views on black youths and gay marriage that took opportunist turns for political gains should have been grounds enough for her disqualification. As the biggest receiver of Big Pharma concerns and Wall Street interests, Hillary Clinton should ideally have been rejected by liberals who espouse progressive values. The manner in which Democratic Party bosses manipulated Bernie Sanders campaign should have distanced every conscientious liberal from her. And yet, under this obligation to hold voting as a sacrosanct exercise, and to elect that candidate who has more probability of winning, regardless of the content of character (which ensured the silencing of Jill Stein from the discourse), the liberals find a pressing need to forgive everything that is wrong about Hillary Clinton. And yet magically, they reserve the same yardstick exclusively for assessment of the Republican candidate. Likewise, Donald Trump should ideally have been disqualified from addressing any nation, considering his history of hate speeches, his admittance of being an assaulter, his tax evasions, and his fear-mongering pleas. And yet, the Republican voters feel compelled to make their candidate win at all cost and pass the yardstick unto Hillary’s.

This is the sort of democracy that Fidel Castro had long ago dismissed as phony. A system which justifies a status quo by means of validation from those it aims to oppress. It nullifies all possibilities of revolutions by using a mandate to justify continuation of a duopoly. The domination of two wealthiest parties is such that not only the presidential debates do not have provisions for third parties, but even the media at large ignore the views of political leaders that challenge both parties at the same time. People who vote for third parties are ridiculed for being spoilsports, and even blamed for all the political mishaps. This year too, it was no different – the Democrats blamed third party voters for the victory of Trump, while over 10% of Obama voters and 9% of registered Democrats did end up voting for Trump this poll – which is way more significant a number than the entire voter population that supported third parties.

The capacity to imagine beyond duopoly is systematically discouraged. In effect, every couple of terms, each party gets a chance to enjoy power with tacit understanding. The outgoing president graciously makes space for the incoming one. The same rogue policies continue to appease big businesses, they further prison-industrial complex, and the presidents outdo each other in aggressions abroad. Whether it be Kennedy or Reagan, Clinton or Bush, Obama or Trump, foreign policies of this hawkish nation rests on the idea of a few enemy states to engage with militarily. Hillary Clinton’s win wouldn’t have changed the course in any way whatsoever. Russia, Iran, Syria, Libya, Pakistan and North Korea were among many enemy states directly envisaged by her. Trump will end up substituting a couple at best. But the same game shall go on without interruptions.

The illusion of freedom to choose a candidate, the desire to elect a winner, the urge to submit to ruling class whims – elections are festivals to celebrate our collective surrender to our exploiters. And in these times of intense inequality, poverty, homelessness, wars and displacements, euphoria surrounding Trump’s victory is an act of political masochism. And more crucially, getting all depressed owing to Clinton’s defeat amounts to political complacency. This was indeed the nastiest battle in recent history – but only a battle between two power-hungry, egotist rich individuals. Both had irreparable flaws and neither exhibited leadership traits that could provide a vision for a better world. If Trump’s pet peeve was China, Clinton’s was Russia. If Trump did not disclose tax returns, Clinton hid her transcripts on corporations. If Trump had a history of assaulting women, Clinton had a history of standing by an assaulter. If Trump was threatening to make America “great” again, Clinton had already aided in making America “great” many times in the past. No matter who among them would have won, the world would still be dreading American intervention and drone strikes and unilateral declarations against regions it deemed helpless.

That said, there are a few critical lessons from this election. Especially for the young people and children who are failing to understand how to look upto a sexual assaulter and a bully as their role model. The answer is, it is not possible to treat Trump as a role model. But it so happens that our children are not told the whole story by the liberals. In the entire history of the United States, there was hardly a single President who had the accomplishments to be a role model. The lesson number one is that winning is not everything and often times, people do not win because they are correct. A president is basically a winner in a race to power, just as there are winners in various other fields. Simply because most people believe in a faith, a party, a person does not mean that makes it alright to unquestioningly adopt the same. Simply because there are authorities in law, politics, academics, religions does not mean the authorities are to be held inviolable. Just because plutocratic systems have been shoved down to us disguised as democracy does not mean this is the system we must protect at all costs even if the victors are assaulters. Secondly, there is no such thing as Karma. Feel-good liberals and conservatives alike tend to believe in such fatalistic theories and pass them on to next generations. If Trump/Clinton are the type of people who dominate the political stage while Stein/Baraka kind of candidates receive less than 2% of votes, it is not because of good/bad karma, but because of our comfortable indifference towards capitalism and willful ignorance of ongoing movements against it.

Finally, the lesson is not in expecting hope to be trickled down from politicians whose source of power is private capital interests, rather to painstakingly gather all the hope that we can, trace its foundations in centuries old aspirations to free the lands and people of greed and monopolies; in not allowing these corporate czars from defining what is a people’s revolution, rather to collect the scattered leaves on the paths of revolutions scarred by the martyrs bloods. The lesson is to use Trump’s rise as an opportunity to look beyond the hype of the two-party system and to reimagine the political landscape. Instead of waiting for any messiah who will “fix” everything for the working class, it is the working poor themselves whose organized efforts need to bring down the power corridors.

Capitalism is inherently ableist, sexist, racist and individualist. Trump is its outcome and White House is its upholder. The eyes need not be set on the prize that devours us all, but on the one that liberates us all. Communism alone can offer that alternative. If we can imagine. As the capitalistic contradictions reach zenith in the citadel following Trump’s rise, the good news is, it is not going to be as difficult to reimagine. It is only inevitable.

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Eurocentrism as Terrorism

The War on Terror has been raging since the hegemony of the West was first challenged, says Saswat Pattanayak.

By Saswat Pattanayak

Let’s not romanticize terrorism. Terrorists blew up Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Terrorists organized the White Army to kill over 3 million Russians. Terrorists funded the Nazis and the Fascists, killing nearly 12 million Jews and Communists. Terrorists killed nearly 3 million Koreans in an anticommunist war. Terrorists killed 2 million Vietnamese, half a million Cambodians and Laotians in the name of Cold War. Terrorists killed nearly 200,000 Algerians whom the French colonized. Terrorists infiltrated into Greece and colonized Philippines. Terrorists disrupted lives in Albania and Iran. Terrorists flew into Guatemala and killed Syrians and Costa Ricans. Terrorists targeted Indonesia and Haiti and Ecuador. Terrorists colonized and killed over 8 million people of Congo under Belgian kings. Terrorists introduced death squads in Brazil and went on a rampage in Peru and Dominican Republic. Terrorists threatened Ghana and tortured working poor of Uruguay and killed Che Guevara in Bolivia. Terrorists funded Pinochet in Chile and invaded Grenada. Angola, Zaire, Jamaica, Seychelles, Morocco, Suriname, Nicaragua, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador – terrorists imported their dreaded forms of democracy through murders, rapes and territorial invasions.

All these terrorists have had one religion – Christianity. All of them have had one civilization – Western. All of these terrorists have been upholders of one ideology – Eurocentric colonialism. And they have one common claim – that, they have been fighting terrorism and civilizing the savages, one Thanksgiving at a time.

The so-called “War on Terror” has been going on ever since slavery was challenged by African freedom fighters, feudalism was challenged by the Russian communists, and colonialism was challenged by the nationalists of the Global South. In the latest instance, the War on Terror is a series of targeted attacks on the Arab countries and allies that currently challenge the unipolarity of NATO powers.

Žižek and the spectre of Western Values:

The renewed “war on terror” in the wake of Paris attacks is merely a continuation of the moral argument that the Eurocentric colonialists need to protect the cultural purity of western civilization. Slavoj Žižek’s latest argument decrying the refugees that are threatening the fabrics of “radical western roots” through attacks on the soil of western lands is an intelligent summation of racist justification for colonialism; a nostalgic tribute to the “good old days” when France used to be an apostle of “liberty, equality, fraternity” while it enjoyed brutalizing its colonies (Algeria, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Tahiti, China, Lebanon, Syria).

Advocates of Eurocentrism have not only deemed themselves superior on basis of “Western values” which Žižek pays rich tributes to in his latest essay, they also preempt the possible conjecture, if not an informed critique, that a response/retaliation may be warranted. Take the case of “pitiless” actions of France in Syria, the day after Paris attacks – 10 aircraft dropped 30 bombs hitting among other things, a soccer stadium, a museum and medical facilities and destroying electricity facilities affecting 200,000 people. Most likely, the human casualties in Syria in coming months will not even be counted, let alone mourned.

Just as there were no European tears shed following deaths of 26 in Iraq the very day Paris was attacked. Or, over the killing of 43 in Lebanon the day before, over the deaths of 66 in Pakistan, and of 56 Palestinians, last month. 300,000 have died following the NATO’s “War on Terror” in Syria. Over 4 million Muslims have died world over in the process of reclaiming Western values of liberty and democracy. And there have been no civilized grief over these.

In fact, quite the contrary. Defense expenditures among NATO nations are on an increase. If the United States as leader of the rogue nations spends $1,891 per capita on defence, the allegedly peacenik Norway is not far behind with $1,328 per capita in funding the war on terror. They are able to persist with such military spendings against the interest of working class in those countries, precisely by employing a moral parameter that defines terrorism as the act conducted by the people of Global South, by people not practicing Judeo-Christian faiths.

Scholars like Žižek and Richard Dawkins take pride in rational views, as enlightened Europeans who are clearly not conservative rightwingers. But while at it, they consistently depict the roots of Western civilization to be categorically progressive and advanced. In many ways, they conveniently overlook the subtle contradictions in their preferred narrative by overtly attacking the regressive elements, that are more obvious. A case in point is the way Dawkins refused to acknowledge the slave-owning heritage of his family estate, while attacking Islam as a religion that has produced no Nobel laureates. Likewise, Žižek refuses to attribute centuries of racist wars and genocides to European onslaughts, while riding high on the allegedly “Western legacy” of “egalitarianism and personal freedoms”.

Fanon and the Wretched:

What is the Western legacy that Žižek and Dawkins take pride in? What is this Europe if not a region built upon the sweat and blood of the Third World? As Frantz Fanon wrote on the Violence in the International Context, “Moral reparation for national independence does not fool us and it doesn’t feed us. The wealth of the imperialist nations is also our wealth…Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The riches which are choking it are those plundered from the underdeveloped peoples. The ports of Holland, the docks in Bordeaux and Liverpool owe their importance to the trade and deportation of millions of slaves…..Colonialism and imperialism have not settled their debt to us once they have withdrawn their flag and their police force from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved like real war criminals in the underdeveloped world. Deportation, massacres, forced labor, and slavery were the primary methods used by capitalism to increase its gold and diamond reserves, and establish its wealth and power.”

Fanon is right. Contrary to what Žižek claims, egalitarianism and personal freedoms do not comprise western legacy – their suppression in the name of colonialism is. One cannot rule over and plunder another country for decades if not centuries, and then blame the “backwardness” on the ruled subjects. Has Žižek analyzed the role of French colonialism in treating Algerians and Syrians as little more than animals and forcing them to be refugees in their own lands before equating the issue of terrorism with the issue of “refugee crisis”?

Žižek squarely blames the victims while ridiculing the “anti-Islamophobia” in the following words, “Multiculturalist or anti-colonialist’s defense of different “ways of life” is false. Such defenses cover up the antagonisms within each of these particular ways of life by justifying acts of brutality, sexism and racism as expressions of a particular way of life that we have no right to measure with foreign, i.e. Western values.”

A scholar of Žižek’s repute can indulge in some more word games to create a dialectic therein, but the above postulation as a normative already exists in the mainstream. He merely fuels it by using it as a proposition, no matter what conclusion he derives at the end. For instance, it is already a widespread belief, thanks to the new-age atheists, that Islamic believers are intolerant brutes. This analysis based on Charlie Hebdo shooting is Islamophobic precisely because it does not take into account the hostile pattern in France towards Muslims as a historically gruesome reality. Hebdo incident was a reaction, not an initiation. The denial of Paris massacre of 1961 was for decades not considered an act of Christian terrorism. But come Hebdo, and it was suddenly Islamic terrorism. So much so that 54 people who exercised their free speech rights to defend the attack on Charlie Hebdo were arrested as “apologists for terrorism”.

In India too, we now witness branding of Mani Shankar Iyer, Salman Khurshid, Azam Khan and Shakeel Ahmad as apologists for terrorism, simply for failing to parrot the grand Eurocentric narrative that demands unconditional regrets over acts of terrorists of a specific faith – Islam. Not only one needs to condemn “Islamic terrorism” (Iyer has been criticized for being anti-Islamophobia instead of simply calling Paris attacks as terrorism), but in case of Ahmad’s tweet, one cannot bring in religion into picture to depict a terrorist who is a non-Muslim (Chhota Rajan as a Hindu terrorist is inadmissible because the “Hindu terrorism” is still a misnomer in India, just as “Christian terrorism” finds no usage in Europe/US).

Violence: Whose Prerogative?

As a lazy researcher, Žižek repeats the charges of “brutality, sexism and racism” against the anti-Islamophobes. A closer look at the global situation would reveal that these very features are tools of oppression for the ruling elites precisely everywhere in the world. Žižek does admit to the anti-immigrant racists in power while conceding slightly – but where he fails to discern the all-important distinction is the necessary Marxist critique that is completely absent in his analysis. Who gains from these weapons and who suffers? Islamophobia has been claiming lives world over, just as Eurocentric colonialism had been. Racism/sexism/brutality as state policies are radically different consequential tools compared to those as reactionary mechanisms with the subjects. Anti-colonialism which Žižek mocks, is not an ideology created to profit those who are suffering due to NATO’s Eurocentrism. It is a necessary tool to oppose all too-familiar colonial aggression about which both Fanon and Sarte have extensively written. But it is in no way a shield to protect values of brutality, sexism and racism – whose primary manufacturers and sustainers as such happen to be the former colonial masters.

What are the wars, whether “world war”, “cold war”, or “war on terror” – if not a front to prove who is the bigger champion of brutality, sexism and racism? Imperialist wars in the name of “war on terror” have been notorious in usage of tortures and brutality – sleep deprivation and waterboarding of prisoners; they have wrought nothing if not rapes of women as prized captures, and have achieved nothing if not ethnic cleansing. The “Torture Memos” advising the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques that are otherwise illegal, but are permissible under the pretext of “War on Terror” are revealing in this regard. Let alone, “Western values”, where is humanity in all of this?

Selective Humanity

Was any humanity there when Paris attacks happened? This has an expected answer: of course not, because no matter how ghastly the past maybe, nothing can justify the killing of innocent people who are watching a rock concert. However, this type of feel-good assertions are deeply problematic, in that they assume that violence of any sort is just immoral – when it occurs in France or in the United States. When Facebook activated a “Safety Check” button for folks who have relatives in France, to the exclusion of similar buttons for relatives of victims of terrorist attacks in Palestine, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq or Yemen, then there is something else to the “humanity” question that we subconsciously overlook.

It points directly to the dehumanization of black and brown people. While flags of many countries went half-mast in many countries to honor those who lost lives in France, and many monuments lit up with colors of French flags, there was no such display of official mournings by these countries when terrorist attacks were occurring in countries like Pakistan and Palestine and Lebanon. What explains this is a climate of extreme racism amidst media and their consumers in the world today, which in turn remains entirely Eurocentric. And this invalidates Žižek’s longing for the missing Eurocentric values. Indeed, the Eurocentric values themselves are central to this crisis, not alien.

The Eurocentric tears are in the backdrop of a denial that the countries worst affected by terror attacks are indeed Muslim countries themselves. According to Global Terrorism Index (GTI), in 2014, 82% of those killed in terror attacks were in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. And ever since the “War on Terror” has been launched, the number of deaths from terrorism has in fact increased five-fold: from 3,361 deaths in 2000 to 17,958 in 2013.

Not only NATO member-states have suffered the least from terror attacks so far, more importantly, they have enabled terror organizations through direct funding and military assistance to “rebels” who have subsequently grown beyond their intended purpose (if at all). If Taliban was enabled by Reagan administration to destabilize the secular fabric of Afghanistan in an effort to contain the Soviets, and Al-Qaeda was funded to destroy Libya’s stability under Obama, it was Bush and subsequently Obama administration which were also responsible for funding the hate that produced ISIS at the first place. Thus far, these outfits have been causing significantly more havoc among the Islamic societies than in the NATO countries. It is to the credit of the Islamic countries that they are not only bravely fighting these terrorists who have been emboldened via foreign fundings, but these societies are also retaining a calm that is infinitely more surprising than it is praiseworthy.

The video clips of women and children on the streets of Baghdad beating their chests and cursing the aerial bombardments in search of the mysterious WMDs are not isolated ones. The Abu Gharib torture and Guantanamo Bay abuses are part and parcel of inhuman foreign policies instituted and indeed continued to this day by the NATO member states, principally led by the United States. To assume that there will be retaliations on part of those we have “othered”, is infinitely more prophetic, than it can ever be justified.

Glorification: Gun, bombs and violence

Gandhi did remind us once: “an eye for an eye only ends up making the world world blind”. And he was right. We are headed that way. But if we must take shelter in Gandhian ideals, then we should be in a position to condemn violence in all its manifestations. It is wrong when people take up arms and aimlessly shoot others. And it is all the more evil when the state uses military force to strategically eliminate innocent people of foreign lands under the pretext of killing a select few terrorists. Violence needs to be treated as bad each time one violates the principle of non-violence. One cannot endorse political parties that retaliate swiftly with drones and indiscriminate shootings and then blame a handful of terrorists for what was coming. One cannot remain indifferent when people are bombed to deaths in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Libya and then get all teary-eyed at Paris shootings.

ISIS has spared none and has been criticized by all sections and people across all religions. Precisely due to this then it is like the inspector who called in; the conscience gone wrong, horribly wrong. ISIS aside, the deaths of innocent beings in Paris still must be looked within the prism of manifestation of reactions. Waterboarding and torture tactics done by NATO folks are equally evil, more so, because they are carried out in the name of taxpayers. As citizens, we partake in the glorification of militarist exhibitionisms. Our violent-prone culture is such that the decorated war hero of Indian origin in Canada is actually being applauded for being a “badass” defence minister because some reports suggest he is expert at torturing enemies. One Putin meme is circulated widely because it shows Putin saying he can send the terrorists to the God. Killing of human lives whether through capital punishment or via cop “encounters” are cheered by enthused citizenry. Indeed, the foremost patriotic song of India that make us emotional has these lines, “Thi khun se lath path kaaya, phir bhee banduk uthaake // Das das ko ek ne maara, phir gir gaye hosh ganvaake”.

Gandhian/Buddhist/Christian values do not distinguish between people as they do between values. What sort of violent world we are building up for the future generations depend on our endorsements of terror tactics or opposition to them, regardless of who is the perpetrator. As long as we use guns and bombs and drones as tools to resolve crisis, both the state and non-state agencies will take the cues and up their games in the contests within the ambit of conventional warfare/terrorism. When police officers can be awarded in India with medals who torture and sexually abuse women prisoners like Soni Sori, then we have a real lack of humane values. Against the backdrop of violence and flaunting of “license to kill”, from Singham to James Bond, our popular culture overflows with justifications for gory violence to end all ills.

A few months ago, one of my articles opposing death penalty for Yakub Memon had invited the wrath of the lynch mob, one member of whom publicly stated on a Facebook page that I should be handed over to the RAW for torturous interrogation so that I can confess to my ties with terrorist groups of Pakistan. The audacity to make such serious remarks in such casual fashion points to the level of normalization in ourselves regarding the acceptance of terror tactics, and any tool of violence as a legitimate measure to win even an argument.

Unsurprisingly and not entirely unrelated to the issue of terrorism in civilized lands, the gun violence in United States does demand special attention. In this year alone, from gun violence, 11,696 have dies so far, and 23,787 have suffered injuries. There have been 293 incidents of mass shootings within last ten months. 627 children (age 0-11) and 2,329 teenagers (age 12-17) have lost their lives so far. Violence has become not just commonplace, but also the preferred method to reach a resolution.

However, not all violences are condemned and therefore gun violence is not taken as seriously within the United States. That is because, unfortunately in the current world, which of the mass shootings are acts of terrorism indeed depends on the religion of the perpetrator than on the nature of shooting. And the spiraling silence around this prejudice, while pitiless responses await innocent civilians outside the zone of NATO member states, should have been disturbing us even all the more. Alas, thanks to an Eurocentric world, we still need an imperialist narrative to define what should be considered to be terrorizing us today.

(Written for Kindle Magazine)

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!)