It is raining as usual in Kolkata. Quite a respite from the hot dryness of the capital, where I have been living for the last three years, juggling between my research work and teaching commitments. Cousins and their partners arrive one by one settling in my room that has recently been painted orange – suggestive only of my beloved fruit. One cousin who is also a Trinamool Congress party worker casually asks me – “What are these anti-national things that you have got yourself into in Delhi?” What ensued was a fiery dialogue over the current state of affairs, that somewhat culminated in admissions like these:
Male cousin: I am a Hindu first.
Me: Haha. Much nationalism. Not even Indian?
Male cousin: Being Hindu is the same as being Indian.
Me: And Bengali?
Husband of another cousin: All Bengalis are Hindus.
I wasn’t surprised by the flow of this conversation, having long guessed that the celebrated liberal ethos of the Bengali bhadralok is a myth propagated by many Bengalis, particularly in academic circles. This family gathering was taking place few days after the murder of a 16-year-old Junaid Khan by a mob in a train at Ballabgarh, who called him a ‘beef-eater’ and also seriously injured his brothers.
Attacks on Muslims and Dalits over alleged consumption of beef or cow smuggling have become commonplace in the last two years in India. While this can be traced back to the majoritarian Indian national movement, encouraged by the caste system and the Hindus’ eternal fear of ‘pollution’. The cow, from being a totem has now been promoted to the status of the nation-state that has to be protected from those who dare to hurt the sentiments of the majority. The anxiety over beef consumption is, therefore, a threat to the Hindu family which sees it as a violation of the national/Hindu body, not unlike the Indian Partition that is still blamed on Jinnah in popular Hindu imagination.
Beef consumers, therefore, become ‘anti-nationals’ since they challenge the idea of a Hindu India. Going back to what my cousin said (and Savarkar has been reiterated since the 1920s, when he coined the term ‘Hindutva’), Hinduism is not a religion but a race that also encompasses Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. Christians and particularly Muslims, by contrast, are seen are perpetual ‘étranger’ (to use the French word that conflates the ‘stranger’ and the ‘foreigner’) whose “moment of entry can be determined or pinpointed (Kumar 86).” The category of the ‘stranger’ and the ‘outsider’ are precursors to that of the foreigner. As Ghanashyam Joshi, a VHP leader remarks in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots, “We don’t want the Muslims to shift to Pakistan. They can live here like our brothers, but like younger brothers. They must learn to respect us, as there are 800 million of us and only 150 million of them.”
So, when does this Nehruvian, tolerant Hindu become a part of the lynch mob or the absent-present Ballabgarh station master whose vision fails him precisely at the moment of the spectacle staged for majority appeasement (the key to Hindutva politics)? The line between a tolerant Hindu culture and the lynch mob is, in fact, a thin one. Both presume the privileged position of the majority in the centre that has the authority or the responsibility to be tolerant. In other words, this is precisely the host status that Joshi cannot allow religious minorities to claim.
The margin can only allow permanent guests. The state is, therefore, not just content to push certain citizens into the periphery but also monitors what kind of citizens can be allowed within that periphery. This tolerance is also the basis of protests like #NotInMyName which took place across cities in India and abroad. Who is this ‘my’ who refuses to take responsibility for these networks of violence? The answer is pretty obvious – the liberals who use intersectionality to erase their guilt. It won’t be so easy though. If this is an apology, forgiveness shall be a Derridean impossibility.
The observation of the husband of my second cousin is more significant as it indicates the growing discomfort of the Hindus in Kolkata with CM Mamata Banerjee’s minority appeasement programs. What complicates his understanding is that his mother tongue is Hindi and the Calcuttan-Bengali would instantly categorise him as a Marwari – another ‘outsider’ to the state. However, by virtue of his religion, he becomes an ally opposed to the Bengali Muslims, who are now accused of being infiltrators from Bangladesh.
The narrative of the infiltrator can perhaps be traced back to the Assam Movement (though, these anxieties in Bengal seem more recent), a constant urge to consolidate the ‘host’ status by creating imaginary crimes to be attributed to the ‘outsider’. The ‘outsider’ is, of course, a slippery category created on the basis of a familiar ‘otherness’. Take, for example, the lynching of Otera Bibi in Murshidabad district, recently. Bibi, who was undergoing psychiatric treatment, was accused of being a child trafficker from Bangladesh. Bengali liberals, of course, will tell you that we are quite tolerant towards the idea of beef (whatever that means). We are not very tolerant to human lives though and we will find other reasons to deport people to Pakistan or Bangladesh. Basically, any country that we can think of as a hub of lesser mortals who dared to find nationhood in complete defiance of the idea of India (again, whatever that means).
As mutton curry and peas pulao were being served for lunch, another (male) cousin suggested – “We need benevolent dictators like Modi.” This was a stunning admission of Modi’s overall public image as an able-bodied warrior of Hindutva, a complete turnaround from the diminutive presence (or rather absence) of his ‘weak’ predecessor, Manmohan Singh. The aspiring middle class is more than happy to embrace the brahmachari who tickles their nationalism every time he visits a foreign land. Just open any news channel and take a look at the headlines on Trump and Modi’s social ‘bonding’. Benevolence is of course not a word many would associate with Modi. Or maybe one would? It is precisely sanity that allows for a systematic annihilation of a certain caste or community.
Modi is benevolent enough to maintain his silence and not open concentration camps to fulfil the dream of a Hindu Rashtra. My cousins are likely to share and retweet the pictures, perhaps waiting for the next lynching (in Kolkata?) to keep a trophy of their own. Some of us will continue to plead for justice or scream ‘take action’, well aware of the irony that this appeal is directed towards an authority constructively producing this very violence that the majority shall continue to dismiss as ‘stray’ and ‘fringe’ activities. The more these images go viral, the more they are desired by ‘mother’ cow. Indian cows have been known to eat meat, in case you didn’t know already. Lynching is the new normal. Lynching is a step forward into a Hindu rashtra where nobody will frown at you when you say – “Being Hindu is being Indian.”
Kumar, Priya. “Beyond Tolerance and Hospitality: Muslims as Strangers and Minor Subjects in Hindu Nationalist and Indian Nationalist Discourse.”
Living Together: Jacques Derrida’s Communities of Violence and Peace.Ed. Elisabeth Weber. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013. 80-103.PDF File.
“Would Mahatma Gandhi Have Been Safe in His Own State?” IndiaToday. 26 Dec 2005. Web. 27 July 2017