What is happening in the country today, is one question that goes back to the creation of a strong, Hindu Rashtra post the 1947 moment of violence, bursting open on the border between India and Pakistan.
Evidently, the ‘pain and struggle’ for carving a monolithic Brahmanical, pure entity out of a large, pluralistic State has had psychological meshing. The sacrifices we’ve made in order to attain a normative subjecthood as an exclusive Hindu Nation State (demonetisation in the name of God, Army occupations on Tribal homelands in the name of the greater good) have trickled down our anger to the lowest rungs – places and bodies we deem are ‘external threats’ to the dream of polarisation (purity) we’re seeking. Anybody that is not an Upper Caste Hindu man is deemed an easy target by virtue of their existence. Women, Dalits, Muslims – we’re all accomplices. It is no coincidence that these groups are coming to the surface with dissent. The anger against them, that stemmed out of a yearning for religious sacrosanctity and massive bigotry is what manifests today as violence. And with the emboldening of the State’s unwarranted regard for the ideology of purity, mob terror (justice?) is taking to the streets.
To understand the larger process at work, we need to carefully examine the spatial stratagems used in creating a solidified Hindu nation out of an imagined community. For any nation to come into being, you need an identifiable territory that belongs to the concrete realm. What you also need for reshaping its narrative is also for the nationhood to exist in the metaphysical state, merging the material and the mental.
Edward Soja, in “Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion Of Space In Social Theory” claims, “Nations are emergent phenomena: they become visible only when the ideological terrain and an identifiable territory can be crossed mapped to each other.”
The phenomena of Hindutva as closely associated with Punyabhoomi (if you’re born within Hindustan, you have a legit claim to the fatherland), Jati (caste) & Sanskriti (culture and tradition) can be traced back to Sarvarkar, even though he dismissed cow worship. The late 19th-century revivalism of Hindutva understood that for the ideological rule to preside over the territory, history had to be linked to geography and that history was one inflicted with religion. The identification of the Hindu State with Bharat Mata, and eventually the cow, arming it with a National Anthem (which today one is forced to recite) were key tools in creating deeply penetrative ideology.
This ideology reached its acme with the Ayodhya clash over the Babri Masjid where a rural town was transformed unquestioningly into a potent heterotopia or a “real” space which paved the way for the realisation of a Hindu Utopia (Ram Rajya). The myth followed that the janmabhoomi (birthplace) of Lord Rama had a temple built, which was destroyed by a Muslim conquistador. Laying the mortar for communalism to build its houses on, the confrontation was between faith and faith, following a systemic othering of the Muslim. The eponymous “Mandir Wahin Banayenge” had an unreasonable insistence on a plot of land being Ram’s birthplace, but the language used was one of extreme harmlessness – it only sought to create and construct markers of cultural heritage. Nobody spoke of demolition as the necessary conduit. The same language was used once again in “reclaiming” mosques in Kashi, hiding implicit violence.
The Dadri lynching that happened years after was couched in the same narrative, a typical “taking back” and restoration of the lost values of the Hindu hegemony on grounds of eating beef, considered a cardinal sin. In Alwar, one man was beaten to death by five vigilantes for transporting cows. Papers produced clarified his legal right to do so, and on questioning, he even claimed to carry the transportation for milking. A system of justice would have condemned the violent murder, but the fetters of victim shaming (with a strong parallel to what happens in sexual crimes) had taken the base. The perpetrators were not questioned for the murder, the victim was investigated for cow smuggling. A 15-year-old Junaid Khan recently met with the same fate, stabbed on a train only because he was a Muslim.
“Men think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one,” Charles Mackay once remarked. In the absence of a historiography that is inclusive, in the sheer loss of democratic freedoms to capitalistic gains, violence often paves the way for laws of the land to be administered with death sentences on the streets.
“Once leprosy had gone, and the figure of the leper was no more than a distant memory, these structures still remained. The game of exclusion would be played again, often in these same places, in an oddly similar fashion two or three centuries later. The role of the leper was to be played by the poor and by the vagrant, by prisoners and by the ‘alienated’, and the sort of salvation at stake for both parties in this game of exclusion is the matter of this study.”
—Michel Foucault, History of Madness
It is no hidden fact that the construction of the ‘Other’ is a conscious act to define the “normative”. And our history has been longstanding on the side of the Hindu Brahmin, making any aberration — women, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims easy baits for injustice. Let’s hark back to one of the key movements that shaped the future of Indian history.
The Mahad Satyagraha in 1927 led by Dr. BR Ambedkar happened three years before Gandhi’s imaginative political movement to break the Salt Law. The former was a movement wherein tens of thousands of Dalits marched towards an Upper Caste well to drink water from it (the right to which had been guaranteed by the colonial government, but casteist inhibitions would see this as sacrilege), which was then ‘cleansed’ by the Upper Castes with cow dung. The latter was a movement against the Imperial forces taxing salt, a basic necessity. Gandhi called the demonstration by the Dalits as “duragraha” — a devilish act.
Between water and salt, lay a vast universe of Indian politics. Needless to say, we only hear of one of these movements, and always will.
It was in 1925 that the wind of pluralism was first attacked with the formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the dream of the Akhand Hindu Rajya was seen with open eyes. Today, Modi overtakes RSS as a one man masquerade, a lacerating jibe in the face of collectivism and democracy, as the zealous RSS readies his heir in the streets of U.P. What the RSS has also had immense success with, is installing hate machines on every street, fuelling propaganda, fake news and completely inane logic riddled with myth.
Cow worship in India is not new, but when the life of man is put to the thumbscrew for “staring at cows”, we know we’ve lost logic.
Our moment of slaughter is here. And, we brought it upon ourselves with a vast sheet of apathy and silence when every dissenting voice was crushed under the machinery of the violent State — the latest being the heavy trolling Gurmehar Kaur received for expressing herself on matters of war and the “enemy across the border”. Upholding Freedom of Speech in the highest regard, the U.S. (our Prime Minister’s recent heavy handshake) allows Neo-Nazis to march on with their agendas, and naturally, their agenda is met with widespread counter-protests, which amass a lot of logic and following. I think that is the beauty of a free society, where a remarkable number of people exercise their own judgement in condemning what’s hateful/xenophobic/casteist/sexist or racist and are given the space to do so.
But matters close home are not so bright. Merely staging protests which are “not in our name” would only rid us of any responsibility for our actions. Ignoring the conversation does not deem it settled. If there is anything I can say, it is that the blood and oppression hundreds of thousands face in our motherland is in our name. It is because we have been quiet far too long, it is because we have refused to engage, it is because our safe house of silence was always the easier bet.
Note: A version of this piece was published here
Update: The featured image has been changed to better represent the sentiment of the post. Source – Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.