Shuddhabrata Sengupta on Mon, 29 Apr 2002 10:31:02 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Arundhati Roy on Gujarat

Dear All at Nettime,

Here is the text of an essay by Arundhati Roy on the pogrom in Gujarat and 
Fascism in India, published this week in Outlook, a weekly newsmagazine from 
India. Please read and circulate. The article is available at the Outlook 
Magazine website -

Democracy : Who's she when she's at home?
Arundhati Roy

Last night a friend from Baroda called. Weeping. It took her fifteen
minutes to tell me what the matter was. It wasn't very complicated. Only
that Sayeeda, a friend of hers, had been caught by a mob. Only that her
stomach had been ripped open and stuffed with burning rags. Only that
after she died, someone carved 'OM' on her forehead.

Precisely which Hindu scripture preaches this?

Our Prime Minister justified this as part of the retaliation by outraged
Hindus against Muslim 'terrorists' who burned alive 58 Hindu passengers
on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra. Each of those who died that hideous
death was someone's brother, someone's mother, someone's child. Of
course they were.

Which particular verse in the Quran required that they be roasted alive?

The more the two sides try and call attention to their religious
differences by slaughtering each other, the less there is to distinguish
them from one another. They worship at the same altar. They're both
apostles of the same murderous god, whoever he is. In an atmosphere so
vitiated, for anybody, and in particular the Prime Minister, to
arbitrarily decree exactly where the cycle started is malevolent and

Right now we're sipping from a poisoned chalice—a flawed democracy laced
with religious fascism. Pure arsenic.

What shall we do? What can we do?

We have a ruling party that's haemorrhaging. Its rhetoric against
Terrorism, the passing of pota, the sabre-rattling against Pakistan
(with the underlying nuclear threat), the massing of almost a million
soldiers on the border on hair-trigger alert, and most dangerous of all,
the attempt to communalise and falsify school history text-books—none of
this has prevented it from being humiliated in election after election.
Even its old party trick—the revival of the Ram mandir plans in
Ayodhya—didn't quite work out. Desperate now, it has turned for succour
to the state of Gujarat.

Gujarat, the only major state in India to have a bjp government has, for
some years, been the petri dish in which Hindu fascism has been
fomenting an elaborate political experiment. Last month, the initial
results were put on public display.

Within hours of the Godhra outrage, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (vhp) and
the Bajrang Dal put into motion a meticulously planned pogrom against
the Muslim community. Officially the number of dead is 800. Independent
reports put the figure at well over 2,000. More than a hundred and fifty
thousand people, driven from their homes, now live in refugee camps.
Women were stripped, gang-raped, parents were bludgeoned to death in
front of their children. Two hundred and forty dargahs and 180 masjids
were destroyed—in Ahmedabad the tomb of Wali Gujarati, the founder of
the modern Urdu poem, was demolished and paved over in the course of a
night. The tomb of the musician Ustad Faiyaz Ali Khan was desecrated and
wreathed in burning tyres. Arsonists burned and looted shops, homes,
hotels, textiles mills, buses and private cars. Hundreds of thousands
have lost their jobs.

A mob surrounded the house of former Congress MP Iqbal Ehsan Jaffri. His
phone calls to the Director-General of Police, the Police Commissioner,
the Chief Secretary, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) were ignored.
The mobile police vans around his house did not intervene. The mob broke
into the house. They stripped his daughters and burned them alive. Then
they beheaded Ehsan Jaffri and dismembered him. Of course it's only a
coincidence that Jaffri was a trenchant critic of Gujarat Chief
Minister, Narendra Modi, during his campaign for the Rajkot Assembly
by-election in February.

Across Gujarat, thousands of people made up the mobs. They were armed
with petrol bombs, guns, knives, swords and tridents.Apart from the vhp
and Bajrang Dal's usual lumpen constituency, Dalits and Adivasis took
part in the orgy. Middle-class people participated in the looting. (On
one memorable occasion a family arrived in a Mitsubishi Lancer.) The
leaders of the mob had computer-generated cadastral lists marking out
Muslim homes, shops, businesses and even partnerships. They had mobile
phones to coordinate the action. They had trucks loaded with thousands
of gas cylinders, hoarded weeks in advance, which they used to blow up
Muslim commercial establishments. They had not just police protection
and police connivance, but also covering fire.

While Gujarat burned, our Prime Minister was on mtv promoting his new
poems. (Reports say cassettes have sold a hundred thousand copies.) It
took him more than a month—and two vacations in the hills—to make it to
Gujarat. When he did, shadowed by the chilling Mr Modi, he gave a speech
at the Shah Alam refugee camp. His mouth moved, he tried to express
concern, but no real sound emerged except the mocking of the wind
whistling through a burned, bloodied, broken world. Next we knew, he was
bobbing around in a golf-cart, striking business deals in Singapore.

The killers still stalk Gujarat's streets. The lynch mob continues to be
the arbiter of the routine affairs of daily life: who can live where,
who can say what, who can meet who, and where and when. Its mandate is
expanding quickly. From religious affairs, it now extends to property
disputes, family altercations, the planning and allocation of water
resources... (which is why Medha Patkar of the nba was assaulted).
Muslim businesses have been shut down. Muslim people are not served in
restaurants. Muslim children are not welcome in schools. Muslim students
are too terrified to sit for their exams. Muslim parents live in dread
that their infants might forget what they've been told and give
themselves away by saying 'Ammi!' or 'Abba!' in public and invite sudden
and violent death.

Notice has been given: this is just the beginning.

Is this the Hindu rashtra that we've all been asked to look forward to?
Once the Muslims have been "shown their place", will milk and Coca-Cola
flow across the land? Once the Ram mandir is built, will there be a
shirt on every back and a roti in every belly? Will every tear be wiped
from every eye? Can we expect an anniversary celebration next year? Or
will there be someone else to hate by then? Alphabetically—Adivasis,
Buddhists, Christians, Dalits, Parsis, Sikhs? Those who wear jeans, or
speak English, or those who have thick lips, or curly hair? We won't
have to wait long. It's started already. Will the established rituals
continue? Will people be beheaded, dismembered and urinated upon? Will
foetuses be ripped from their mothers' wombs and slaughtered? (What kind
of depraved vision can even imagine India without the range and beauty
and spectacular anarchy of all these cultures? India would become a tomb
and smell like a crematorium.)

No matter who they were, or how they were killed, each person who died
in Gujarat in the weeks gone by deserves to be mourned.

There have been hundreds of outraged letters to journals and newspapers
asking why the "pseudo-secularists" do not condemn the burning of the
Sabarmati Express in Godhra with the same degree of outrage with which
they condemn the killings in the rest of Gujarat.What they don't seem to
understand is that there is a fundamental difference between a pogrom
such as the one taking place in Gujarat now, and the burning of the
Sabarmati Express in Godhra. We still don't know who exactly was
responsible for the carnage in Godhra. The government says (without a
shred of evidence) it was an isi plot. Independent reports say the train
was set on fire by an enraged mob.Either way, it was a criminal act. But
every independent report says the pogrom against the Muslim community in
Gujarat—billed by the government as spontaneous 'retaliation'—has at
best been conducted under the benign gaze of the State and, at worst,
with active State collusion. Either way the State is criminally
culpable. And the State acts in the name of its citizens. So as a
citizen, I am forced to acknowledge that I am somehow made complicit in
the Gujarat pogrom. It is this that outrages me. And it is this that
puts a completely different complexion on the two massacres.

After the Gujarat Massacres, at its convention in Bangalore, the rss,
the moral and cultural guild of the bjp, of which the Prime Minister,
the Home Minister and Chief Minister Modi himself are all members,
called upon Muslims to earn the 'goodwill' of the majority community. At
the meeting of the national executive of the bjp in Goa, Narendra Modi
was greeted as a hero. His smirking offer to resign from the chief
minister's post was unanimously turned down. In a recent public speech
he compared the events of the last few weeks in Gujarat to Gandhi's
Dandi March—both, according to him, significant moments in the Struggle
for Freedom.

While the parallels between contemporary India and pre-war Germany are
chilling, they're not surprising. (The founders of the rss have, in
their writings, been frank in their admiration for Hitler and his
methods.) One difference is that here in India we don't have a Hitler.
We have instead, a travelling extravaganza, a mobile symphonic
orchestra. The hydra-headed, many-armed Sangh Parivar—with the bjp, the
rss, the vhp and the Bajrang Dal, each playing a different instrument.
Its utter genius lies in its apparent ability to be all things to all
people at all times.

The Parivar has an appropriate head for every occasion. An old versifier
with rhetoric for every season. A rabble-rousing hardliner for Home
Affairs, a suave one for Foreign Affairs, a smooth, English-speaking
lawyer to handle TV debates, a cold-blooded creature for a Chief
Minister and the Bajrang Dal and the vhp, grassroots workers in charge
of the physical labour that goes into the business of genocide. Finally,
this many-headed extravaganza has a lizard's tail which drops off when
it's in trouble, and grows back again: a specious socialist dressed up
as Defence Minister, who it sends on its damage-limitation
missions—wars, cyclones, genocides. They trust him to press the right
buttons, hit the right note.

The Sangh Parivar speaks in as many tongues as a whole corsage of

It can say several contradictory things simultaneously.While one of its
heads (the vhp) exhorts millions of its cadres to prepare for the Final
Solution, its titular head (the Prime Minister) assures the nation that
all citizens, regardless of their religion, will be treated equally. It
can ban books and films and burn paintings for 'insulting Indian
culture'. Simultaneously, it can mortgage the equivalent of 60 per cent
of the entire country's rural development budget as profit to Enron. It
contains within itself the full spectrum of political opinion, so what
would normally be a public fight between two adversarial political
parties, is now just a Family Matter. However acrimonious the quarrel,
it's always conducted in public, always resolved amicably, and the
audience always goes away satisfied it's got value for money—anger,
action, revenge, intrigue, remorse, poetry and plenty of gore. It's our
own vernacular version of Full Spectrum Dominance.

But when the chips are down, really down, the squabbling heads quieten,
and it becomes chillingly apparent that underneath all the clamour and
the noise, a single heart beats. And an unforgiving mind with
saffron-saturated tunnel vision works overtime.

There have been pogroms in India before, every kind of pogrom—directed
at particular castes, tribes, religious faiths. In 1984, following the
assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Congress Party presided over the
massacre of three thousand Sikhs in Delhi, every bit as macabre as the
one in Gujarat. At the time, Rajiv Gandhi, never known for an elegant
turn of phrase, said, "When a big tree falls, the ground shakes". In
1985 the Congress swept the polls. On a sympathy wave! Eighteen years
have gone by. Nobody has been punished.

Take any politically volatile issue—the nuclear tests, the Babri Masjid,
the Tehelka scam, the stirring of the communal cauldron for electoral
advantage—and you'll see the Congress Party has been there before. In
every case, the Congress sowed the seed and the bjp has swept in to reap
the hideous harvest. So in the event that we're called upon to vote, is
there a difference between the two? The answer is a faltering but
distinct 'yes'. Here's why: It's true that the Congress Party has
sinned, and grievously, and for decades together. But it has done by
night what the bjp does by day. It has done covertly, stealthily,
hypocritically, shamefacedly, what the bjp does with pride. And this is
an important difference.

Whipping up communal hatred is part of the mandate of the Sangh Parivar.
It has been planned for years. It has been injecting a slow-release
poison directly into civil society's bloodstream. Hundreds of rss
shakhas and Saraswati shishu mandirs across the country have been
indoctrinating thousands of children and young people, stunting their
minds with religious hatred and falsified history. They're no different
from, and no less dangerous than, the madrassas all over Pakistan and
Afghanistan which spawned the Taliban. In states like Gujarat, the
police, the administration, and the political cadres at every level have
been systematically penetrated. It has huge popular appeal, which it
would be foolish to underestimate or misunderstand. The whole enterprise
has a formidable religious, ideological, political, and administrative
underpinning. This kind of power, this kind of reach, can only be
achieved with State backing.

Madrassas, the Muslim equivalent of hothouses cultivating religious
hatred, try and make up in frenzy and foreign funding, what they lack in
State support. They provide the perfect foil for Hindu communalists to
dance their dance of mass paranoia and hatred. (In fact they serve that
purpose so perfectly, they might just as well be working as a team.)

 Under this relentless pressure, what will most likely happen is that
the majority of the Muslim community will resign itself to living in
ghettos as second-class citizens, in constant fear, with no civil rights
and no recourse to justice. What will daily life be like for them? Any
little thing, an altercation in a cinema queue or a fracas at a traffic
light, could turn lethal. So they will learn to keep very quiet, to
accept their lot, to creep around the edges of the society in which they
live. Their fear will transmit itself to other minorities. Many,
particularly the young, will probably turn to militancy. They will do
terrible things. Civil society will be called upon to condemn them. Then
President Bush's canon will come back to us: "Either you're with us or
with the terrorists."

Those words hang frozen in time like icicles. For years to come,
butchers and genocidists will fit their grisly mouths around them
('lip-synch', filmmakers call it) in order to justify their butchery. 

Mr Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena, who has lately been feeling a little
upstaged by Mr Modi, has the lasting solution. He's called for civil
war. Isn't that just perfect? Then Pakistan won't need to bomb us, we
can bomb ourselves.Let's turn all of India into Kashmir. Or Bosnia. Or
Palestine. Or Rwanda. Let's all suffer forever. Let's buy expensive guns
and explosives to kill each other with. Let the British arms dealers and
the American weapons manufacturers grow fat on our spilled blood. We
could ask the Carlyle group—of which the Bush and Bin Laden families are
both shareholders—for a bulk discount. Maybe if things go really well,
we'll become like Afghanistan. (And look at the publicity they've gone
and got themselves.) When all our farm lands are mined, our buildings
destroyed, our infrastructure reduced to rubble, our children physically
maimed and mentally wrecked, when we've nearly wiped ourselves out with
self-manufactured hatred, maybe we can appeal to the Americans to help
us out. Airdropped airline meals, anyone?

How close we have come to self-destruction. Another step and we'll be in
free-fall. And yet the government presses on. At the Goa meeting of the
bjp's national executive, the Prime Minister of Secular, Democratic
India, Mr A.B. Vajpayee, made history. He became the first Indian Prime
Minister to cross the threshold and publicly unveil an unconscionable
bigotry against Muslims, which even George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld
would be embarrassed to own up to. "Wherever Muslims are," he said,
"they do not want to live peacefully."

Shame on him. But if only it were just him: in the immediate aftermath
of the Gujarat holocaust, confident of the success of its 'experiment',
the bjp wants a snap poll. "The gentlest of people," my friend from
Baroda said to me, "the gentlest of people, in the gentlest of voices,
says 'Modi is our hero.'"

Some of us nurtured the naive hope that the magnitude of the horror of
the last few weeks would make the Secular Parties, however self-serving,
unite in sheer outrage. On its own, the bjp does not have the mandate of
the people of India. It does not have the mandate to push through the
Hindutva project. We hoped that the 27 allies that make up the bjp-led
coalition at the Centre would withdraw their support. We thought, quite
stupidly, that they would see that there could be no bigger test of
their moral fibre, of their commitment to their avowed principles of

It's a sign of the times that not a single one of the bjp's allies has
withdrawn support. In every shifty eye you see that faraway look of
someone doing mental maths to calculate which constituencies and
portfolios they'll retain and which ones they'll lose if they pull out.
Except for Deepak Parekh of hdfc, not a single ceo of India's Corporate
Community has condemned what happened. Farooq Abdullah, Chief Minister
of Kashmir and the only prominent Muslim politician left in India, is
currying favour with the government by supporting Modi because he's
nursing the dim hope that he may become Vice-President of India very
soon.And worst of all—Mayawati, leader of the bsp—the great hope of the
lower castes, is on the verge of forging an alliance with the bjp in UP.

The Congress and the Left parties have launched a public agitation
asking for Modi's resignation. Resignation? Have we lost all sense of
proportion? Criminals are not meant to resign. They're meant to be
charged, tried and convicted. As those who burned the train in Godhra
should be. As the mobs, and those members of the police force and the
administration who planned and participated in the pogrom in the rest of
Gujarat should be. As those responsible for raising the pitch of the
frenzy to boiling point must be. The Supreme Court has the option of
acting against Modi and the Bajrang Dal and the vhp suo motu (when the
Court itself files charges). There are hundreds of testimonies. There's
masses of evidence.

But in India if you are a butcher or a genocidist who happens to be a
politician, you have every reason to be optimistic.No one even expects
politicians to be prosecuted. To demand that Modi and his henchmen be
arraigned and put away, would make other politicians vulnerable to their
own unsavoury pasts—so instead they disrupt Parliament, shout a lot,
eventually those in power set up commissions of inquiry, ignore the
findings and between themselves make sure the juggernaut chugs on.

Already the issue has begun to morph. Should elections be allowed or
not? Should the Election Commission decide that? Or the Supreme Court?
Either way, whether elections are held or deferred, by allowing Modi to
walk free, by allowing him to continue with his career as a politician,
the fundamental, governing principles of democracy are not just being
subverted, but deliberately sabotaged. This kind of democracy is the
problem, not the solution. Our society's greatest strength is being
turned into her deadliest enemy. What's the point of us all going on
about 'deepening democracy', when it's being bent and twisted into
something unrecognisable?

What if the bjp does win the elections? (The buzz is that engineering a
war against Pakistan is going to be the bjp's strategy to swing the
vote.) After all, George Bush had an 80 per cent rating in his War
Against Terror, and Ariel Sharon has a similar mandate for his bestial
invasion of Palestine. Does that make everything all right? Why not
dispense with the legal system, the Constitution, the press—the whole
shebang—morality itself, why not chuck it and put everything up for a
vote? Genocides can become the subject of opinion polls and massacres
can have marketing campaigns.

Fascism's firm footprint has appeared in India. Let's mark the date:
Spring, 2002. While we can thank the American President and the
Coalition Against Terror for creating a congenial international
atmosphere for its ghastly debut, we cannot credit them for the years it
has been brewing in our public and private lives.

It breezed in in the wake of the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998. From
then onwards, the massed energy of bloodthirsty patriotism became openly
acceptable political currency. The 'weapons of peace' trapped India and
Pakistan in a spiral of brinkmanship—threat and counter-threat, taunt
and counter-taunt. And now, one war and hundreds of dead later, more
than a million soldiers from both armies are massed at the border,
eyeball to eyeball, locked in a pointless nuclear standoff.The
escalating belligerence against Pakistan has ricocheted off the border
and entered our own body politic, like a sharp blade slicing through the
vestiges of communal harmony and tolerance between the Hindu and Muslim
communities. In no time at all, the godsquadders from hell have
colonised the public imagination. And we allowed them in. Each time the
hostility between India and Pakistan is cranked up, within India there's
a corresponding increase in the hostility towards the Muslims. With each
battle cry against Pakistan, we inflict a wound on ourselves, on our way
of life, on our spectacularly diverse and ancient civilisation, on
everything that makes India different from Pakistan. Increasingly,
Indian Nationalism has come to mean Hindu Nationalism, which defines
itself not through a respect or regard for itself, but through a hatred
of the Other. And the Other, for the moment, is not just Pakistan, it's
Muslim. It's disturbing to see how neatly nationalism dovetails into
fascism. While we must not allow the fascists to define what the nation
is, or who it belongs to, it's worth keeping in mind that nationalism,
in all its many avatars—socialist, capitalist and fascist—has been at
the root of almost all the genocides of the twentieth century. On the
issue of nationalism, it's wise to proceed with caution.

Can we not find it in ourselves to belong to an ancient civilisation
instead of to just a recent nation? To love a land instead of just
patrolling a territory? The Sangh Parivar understands nothing of what
civilisation means.It seeks to limit, reduce, define, dismember and
desecrate the memory of what we were, our understanding of what we are,
and our dreams of who we want to be. What kind of India do they want? A
limbless, headless, soulless torso, left bleeding under the butchers'
cleaver with a flag driven deep into her mutilated heart? Can we let
that happen? Have we let it happen?

The incipient, creeping fascism of the past few years has been groomed
by many of our 'democratic' institutions. Everyone has flirted with
it—Parliament, the press, the police, the administration, the public.
Even 'secularists' have been guilty of helping to create the right
climate. Each time you defend the right of an institution, any
institution (including the Supreme Court), to exercise unfettered,
unaccountable powers that must never be challenged, you move towards
fascism. To be fair, perhaps not everyone recognised the early signs for
what they were.

The national press has been startlingly courageous in its denunciation
of the events of the last few weeks. Many of the bjp's fellow travellers
who have journeyed with it to the brink are now looking down the abyss
into the hell that was once Gujarat, and turning away in genuine dismay.
But how hard and for how long will they fight? This is not going to be
like a publicity campaign for an upcoming cricket season.And there will
not always be spectacular carnage to report on. Fascism is also about
the slow, steady infiltration of all the instruments of State power.
It's about the slow erosion of civil liberties, about unspectacular
day-to-day injustices. Fighting it means fighting to win back the minds
and hearts of people. Fighting it does not mean asking for rss shakhas
and the madrassas to be banned, it means working towards the day when
they're voluntarily abandoned as bad ideas.It means keeping an eagle eye
on public institutions and demanding accountability. It means putting
your ear to the ground and listening to the whispering of the truly
powerless. It means giving a forum to the myriad voices from the
hundreds of resistance movements across the country who are speaking
about real things—about bonded labour, marital rape, sexual preferences,
women's wages, uranium dumping, unsustainable mining, weavers' woes,
farmers' worries. It means fighting displacement and dispossession and
the relentless, everyday violence of abject poverty. Fighting it also
means not allowing your newspaper columns and prime-time TV spots to be
hijacked by their spurious passions and their staged theatrics, which
are designed to divert attention from everything else.

While most people in India have been horrified by what happened in
Gujarat, many thousands of the indoctrinated are preparing to journey
deeper into the heart of the horror. Look around you and you'll see in
little parks, in big maidans, in empty lots, in village commons, the rss
is marching, hoisting its saffron flag. Suddenly they're everywhere,
grown men in khaki shorts marching, marching, marching. To where? For
what? Their disregard for history shields them from the knowledge that
fascism will thrive for a short while and then self-annihilate because
of its inherent stupidity. But unfortunately, like the radioactive
fallout of a nuclear strike, it has a half-life that will cripple
generations to come.

These levels of rage and hatred cannot be contained, cannot be expected
to subside, with public censure and denunciation. Hymns of brotherhood
and love are great, but not enough.

Historically, fascist movements have been fuelled by feelings of
national disillusionment. Fascism has come to India after the dreams
that fuelled the Freedom Struggle have been frittered away like so much
loose change.

Independence itself came to us as what Gandhi famously called a 'wooden
loaf'—a notional freedom tainted by the blood of the thousands who died
during Partition.For more than half a century now, the hatred and mutual
distrust has been exacerbated, toyed with and never allowed to heal by
politicians, led from the front by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Every political
party has tilled the marrow of our secular parliamentary democracy,
mining it for electoral advantage. Like termites excavating a mound,
they've made tunnels and underground passages, undermining the meaning
of 'secular', until it has just become an empty shell that's about to
implode. Their tilling has weakened the foundations of the structure
that connects the Constitution, Parliament and the courts of law—the
configuration of checks and balances that forms the backbone of a
parliamentary democracy. Under the circumstances, it's futile to go on
blaming politicians and demanding from them a morality they're incapable
of. There's something pitiable about a people that constantly bemoans
its leaders. If they've let us down, it's only because we've allowed
them to. It could be argued that civil society has failed its leaders as
much as leaders have failed civil society. We have to accept that there
is a dangerous, systemic flaw in our parliamentary democracy that
politicians will exploit. And that's what results in the kind of
conflagration that we have witnessed in Gujarat. There's fire in the
ducts. We have to address this issue and come up with a systemic

But politicians' exploitation of communal divides is by no means the
only reason that fascism has arrived on our shores.

Over the past fifty years, ordinary citizens' modest hopes for lives of
dignity, security and relief from abject poverty have been
systematically snuffed out. Every 'democratic' institution in this
country has shown itself to be unaccountable, inaccessible to the
ordinary citizen, and either unwilling, or incapable of acting, in the
interests of genuine social justice. Every strategy for real social
change—land reform, education, public health, the equitable distribution
of natural resources, the implementation of positive discrimination—has
been cleverly, cunningly and consistently scuttled and rendered
ineffectual by those castes and that class of people who have a
stranglehold on the political process. And now corporate globalisation
is being relentlessly and arbitrarily imposed on an essentially feudal
society, tearing through its complex, tiered, social fabric, ripping it
apart culturally and economically.

There is very real grievance here. And the fascists didn't create it.
But they have seized upon it, upturned it and forged from it a hideous,
bogus sense of pride. They have mobilised human beings using the lowest
common denominator—religion. People who have lost control over their
lives, people who have been uprooted from their homes and communities
who have lost their culture and their language, are being made to feel
proud of something. Not something they have striven for and achieved,
not something they can count as a personal accomplishment, but something
they just happen to be. Or, more accurately, something they happen not
to be. And the falseness, the emptiness of that pride, is fuelling a
gladiatorial anger that is then directed towards a simulated target that
has been wheeled into the amphitheatre.

How else can you explain the project of trying to disenfranchise, drive
out or exterminate the second-poorest community in this country, using
as your footsoldiers the very poorest (Dalits and Adivasis)? How else
can you explain why Dalits in Gujarat, who have been despised, oppressed
and treated worse than refuse by the upper castes for thousands of
years, have joined hands with their oppressors to turn on those who are
only marginally less unfortunate than they themselves? Are they just
wage slaves, mercenaries for hire? Is it all right to patronise them and
absolve them of responsibility for their own actions? Or am I being
obtuse? Perhaps it's common practice for the unfortunate to vent their
rage and hatred on the next most unfortunate, because their real
adversaries are inaccessible, seemingly invincible and completely out of
range? Because their own leaders have cut loose and are feasting at the
high table, leaving them to wander rudderless in the wilderness,
spouting nonsense about returning to the Hindu fold. (The first step,
presumably, towards founding a Global Hindu Empire, as realistic a goal
as Fascism's previously failed projects—the restoration of Roman Glory,
the purification of the German race or the establishment of an Islamic

One hundred and thirty million Muslims live in India. Hindu fascists
regard them as legitimate prey. Do people like Modi and Bal Thackeray
think that the world will stand by and watch while they're liquidated in
a 'civil war?' Press reports say that the European Union and several
other countries have condemned what happened in Gujarat and likened it
to Nazi rule. The Indian government's portentous response is that
foreigners should not use the Indian media to comment on what is an
'internal matter' (like the chilling goings-on in Kashmir?). What next?
Censorship? Closing down the Internet? Blocking international calls?
Killing the wrong 'terrorists' and fudging the dna samples? There is no
terrorism like State terrorism.

But who will take them on? Their fascist cant can perhaps be dented by
some blood and thunder from the Opposition. So far only Laloo Yadav of
Bihar has shown himself to be truly passionate: "Kaun mai ka lal kehta
hai ki yeh Hindu rashtra hai? Usko yahan bhej do, chhati phad doonga!"
(Which mother's son says this is a Hindu Nation? Send him here, I'll
tear his chest open.)

Unfortunately there's no quick fix. Fascism itself can only be turned
away if all those who are outraged by it show a commitment to social
justice that equals the intensity of their indignation.

Are we ready to get off our starting blocks? Are we ready, many millions
of us, to rally not just on the streets, but at work and in schools and
in our homes, in every decision we take, and every choice we make?

Or not just yet...

If not, then years from now, when the rest of the world has shunned us
(as it should), like the ordinary citizens of Hitler's Germany, we too
will learn to recognise revulsion in the gaze of our fellow human
beings. We too will find ourselves unable to look our own children in
the eye, for the shame of what we did and did not do. For the shame of
what we allowed to happen.

This is us. In India. Heaven help us make it through the night. 

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