April 26, 2017

India: Ethics is the answer (Anand Patwardhan)

The Indian Express - April 25, 2017

Ethics is the answer
We need liberation theologists, like Ambedkar and Gandhi, who can help people discard the worst features of their inherited religious culture and replace them with ethical interpretations

Written by Anand Patwardhan

With fiery orange hidden under a newfound tricolour, Narendra Modi’s rise to power saw a mushrooming of the RSS and affiliates like the ABVP. Pseudo “nationalism” invaded every campus. The state-induced suicide of Rohith Vemula triggered a broad Dalit-Left unity against the hegemonic designs of the RSS/ABVP. But despite initial success, the unity was short-lived. The fault lay as much with the Left (of all shades) for being unable to overhaul its internal dynamics, as with Dalit groups that fell prey to red-baiting and exclusivist identity politics.

On one side were traditional Marxists, brought up to believe that caste would automatically wither away once the economic base became socialist. On the other were Dalits who understandably did not trust largely upper caste-led formations. Sadly, the idea that individuals are indelibly marked by birth gained currency.

Identity politics is a double-edged weapon. As long as identifiable groups are oppressed, the oppressed unite according to identity. “Black is beautiful” was a necessary movement for Afro-Americans in the US, just as pride in Dalit or Buddhist identity is necessary in India. The trouble begins when this turns into an exclusivist movement. Malcolm X went through a black Muslim phase when he described all white people as “devils”. But in his later years, he completely rejected this for a much more inclusive critique of injustice and inequality. That is when the American “deep state” killed him. Similarly, while a broad section of Dalits are inclusive and understand the distinction Ambedkar made between the ideology of Brahminism and individuals who happen to be born “upper” caste, there is a tiny section that sees birth as all-defining. The fact that Western post-modernists encourage identity politics in preference to class analysis has given separatist politics international acceptance.

The Left and Dalits should have been natural allies. People like Comrade Govind Pansare, Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani have represented this unity and HCU, JNU and many Indian campuses saw its amazing potential. Into this mix, I would add progressive Gandhians — a Narendra Dabholkar, a Medha Patkar, who adhere to non-violence but always fight for the oppressed.

Both Gandhi and Ambedkar recognised that this country was so steeped in religion that atheism or pure rationality would not reach the masses. Each in his own way became a liberation theologist. Unlike Ambedkar, Gandhi did not choose his religion but inherited it. But to this, he applied post-Enlightenment ethical values that were essentially modern. When he began manual scavenging, he destroyed the very basis of the pollution/purity dichotomy at the heart of the caste system. Theoretically, for a long time, he infamously clung to the concept of Varnashrama Dharma, but in actual deed, he destroyed it the day he took up manual scavenging, a job reserved for so-called “untouchables”.

As time went on, Gandhi became ever more radical. He clearly learned from Ambedkar as well as from his own intuition. Later in life, he refused to attend any marriage that was not an inter-caste marriage. He fashioned out of his inherited Hinduism something entirely new. Only the idiom remained, not the original Sanatan Dharma. Whether his reluctance to discard the idiom stemmed from a desire to speak to the Indian masses in a language they could easily follow, or from his own belief system, is debatable. What is unmistakable is that Gandhi’s ethical code bears little resemblance to the hierarchical, vengeful structure of traditional Hinduism.

Unlike Gandhi, Ambedkar clearly saw how oppressive the religion of his birth was, being a direct victim. So, he searched for its best alternative. After examining many religions, he finally chose the one closest to Reason. Buddhism is one world religion that does not posit an external, all-knowing God. While retaining Buddhism’s strong ethical core, Ambedkar discarded irrational tenets like reincarnation that traditional Buddhists follow. So I see Ambedkar and Gandhi as liberation theologists. In the same way that radical Left priests like Ernesto Cardenal in Latin America re-interpreted Jesus Christ as a revolutionary who fought and died for justice to the poor, Gandhi and Ambedkar gave new ethical meaning to the religions they adapted or adopted.

I am not equating the two. Their differences are obvious. One came from a privileged caste, the other from the most oppressed. One was steeped in traditional religion in his formative years, while the other came from a caste denied the right to education but rose to become the best-read, greatest intellectual of modern India.

Neither am I blind to Gandhi’s paradoxes, like his life-long demonisation of sexuality. His insistence on chastity puts him in the same irrational, patriarchal boat as the priests, monks and nuns of many world religions. And yet, by introducing the charkha as a weapon of non-violent resistance, Gandhi brought thousands of women into the mainstream of the Indian freedom movement.

Can Gandhi’s Sarva Dharma Samabhava (all religions are equal) take the place of Ambedkar’s constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights? I think not. We need the Constitution much more than we need holy books. And yet, as many in our country are still hooked to holy books and unholy pretenders, we need liberation theologists who can help people discard the worst features of their inherited religious culture and replace them with ethical, non-exclusivist interpretations. Waiting for everyone to become rationalists may take centuries. Ethics is the answer. Small wonder that Ambedkar and Gandhi, each in turn arrived at individual definitions of ahimsa.

Egalitarian humanists at heart, their affinities are greater than their differences. Take the act of “satyagraha”, a term coined by Gandhi. Ambedkar used this very term and form of struggle to launch his Mahad Satyagraha to claim drinking water rights. There are many other examples of common ideas and action. I was pleasantly shocked to read what Ambedkar had to say in 1932 immediately after concluding the now-infamous Poona Pact (where the idea of separate electorates for Dalits was abandoned in favour of reserved seats for Dalits). The popular theory is that Ambedkar was blackmailed by Gandhi’s fast-unto-death into accepting a bitter compromise. But Ambedkar’s tone in 1932 after signing the pact was totally different. He had high praise for Gandhi and stated that the “Mahatma” (yes, contrary to popular belief, Ambedkar used the term “Mahatma” at this point) offered a much better deal for Dalits in terms of reserved seats than Ambedkar himself had asked or hoped for. There is no denying that Ambedkar did get disgusted with the Congress in later years. How much of the blame for the failures of the Congress is attributable to Gandhi is questionable. We know that Gandhi’s writ did not work in

preventing Partition or the bloodshed that preceded and followed it, and that Gandhi did not attend the flag hoisting on Independence Day. He was busy fighting the communal inferno in the countryside.

Gandhi had a lot of obscurantist ideas to start with, but, as time went by, he kept evolving. In the end, I see him as a great humanist who died for his belief in non-violence and universality. He was also an inventive anti-imperialist (though much earlier, he had supported the British Empire) and an organic naturalist that today’s consumerist, globally warmed world desperately needs.

Throughout his life, Ambedkar fought for reason and justice without resorting to violence. Today, his followers, like the Ambedkar Students Association, are leading the resistance against religious and caste hatred. Against all odds, Radhika and Raja Vemula (Rohith Vemula’s mother and brother) are continuing the fight for justice. With the rising spectre of intolerant authoritarianism, is it not time for all humanists, rationalists and fighters for social and economic justice to unite against the usurpers of our democracy and our history?
The writer has been making documentary films on India’s political reality for over four decades

April 24, 2017

Conspiracy behind Babri demolition

The Conspiracy behind Babri Demolition Ram Puniyani After the long wait, the Supreme Court Chief Justice J.S. Khehar opined that long pending dispute of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid should be settled out of court. (March 2017) He even offered to mediate himself in the matter. Uniformly most of the spokesperson from RSS Combine welcomed the move, while large number of Muslims and other elements have been surprised as the Court was approached for justice and not or compromise formula. This is in the backdrop of the judgment of Lukhnow branch of Allahabad Court (2010). As per this, the three judge bench had said that the land should be divided into three parts. As such the judgment was an exercise of sorts trying to do a balancing act between all the parties involved, Ram Lalla Virajman, Nirmohi Akhada and Sunni wakf board. The title of the land has been divided into three; each sharing one part. Also court had declared since Hindus believe that the ‘birth place’ of Lord Ram to be below the place where the central dome of the mosque stood, that place should be allotted to Hindus. In response RSS chief in a jubilant mood had proclaimed that now the path for a grand Ram temple has been opened at the site and all the parties should cooperate in this “national” work. For larger sections this judgment came as a matter of dismay. The Babri Mosque has been there from last nearly five hundred years and it was in possession of Sunni Waqf Board. The dispute was created in nineteen century. In 1885 even the court denied Hindus to build shed on the platform outside the mosque. It is after the forcible installation of Ram Lalla idols (1949) that the matters went in an adverse way. Through a conspiracy; the idols were installed and despite the insistence of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, the UP administration did not comply. The gates of the masjid were sealed. It was in 1986 that Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, got the doors of the Masjid opened under the intense pressure of Hindu Right wing forces. Lal Krishna Advani took up the issue from VHP, which was agitating for Ram Temple so far. With Advani, the President of BJP, taking up the issue its political impact started deepening and widening at the same time. It was made the major polarizing issue around which consolidation of Hindu vote bank began. The mobilization for Rath yatra planned for the temple movement became much more in the aftermath of Mandal Commission implementation. Those who opposed reservation for OBCs came forward in large numbers in the mobilization for Ram Temple. While BJP did not show direct opposition to Mandal commission, it converted the opposition in to the Ram Temple issue. Mandal versus Kamandal (Holy water pot, Religiosity), is how some framed it. This issue came up to torment the delicate thread of peace prevailing in the society. The culmination this campaign was in the form of demolition of the Babri Masjid. In the demolition RSS combine mobilized large section of people and Narsimha Rao colluded. While local administration collapsed, Kalyan Singh of BJP, who was then Chief Minister of UP, facilitated the assembly of kar sevaks, which was to demolish the mosque. He did this despite his promise to Supreme Court that he will protect the mosque. Narsimha Rao who locked himself in his Puja room as the mosque was being demolished later promised that it will be built precisely at the same spot. The matters took the turn for the worse as BJP led team of ‘archeologists-Kar Sevaks’ tried to prove that there are remnants of Ram Temple below the mosque. Archeologically this is not tenable. That there was no convincing proof of Ram Temple underneath becomes clear from the fact the High Court Bench had to resort to ‘faith of Hindus’ to allot 2/3 of the land to Hindu groups. The demolition of Mosque might have been the biggest crime in India and that was well planned. Despite that the leaders of demolition squad have not been punished so far. Liberhan Commission did point out the nature of underlying conspiracy but unfortunately the Commission took long to submit its report. To add salt to the injury Advani and company became stronger after this crime against the nation. The demolition also unleashed massive violence against Muslims, particularly in Mumbai, Bhopal and Surat along with other places. The guilty of this violence have also been let off totally or with minor reprimand. In the matter of this dispute the ownership of the title has been the real issue. The High Court based itself more on ‘Faith’ than the records of ownership of the land. The Supreme Court as the highest legal body needs to see the total issue from legal angle and needs to set right the wrongs done so far. Only concrete legal aspects should determine the outcome of the case. Instead to call for compromise out of Court in present circumstances is overlooking the aspect of justice. In out of Court settlement already the Hindu groups have said that Muslims should leave the place for Ram Temple and another suitable land will be given to them for mosque. The two sides are not evenly balanced as far as their strength on negotiating table is concerned. There are threats from the likes of Subramanian Swami, BJP MP, and others that if Muslims don’t give up their claim, the bill will be brought through Parliament once BJP has bigger strength. The threats of this type are immoral. Already there are claims on so many Mosques to convert them into temples! In the out of Court settlement, the Hindu nationalists are more assertive and dominant while the representatives of Muslims are being pushed into a corner that does not augur well for the health of our democracy. Effort to revive issue of other mosques is unwarranted and intimidating to minorities. That needs to be stopped. --

India: The chronicle of a visit to cow vigilante victim Pehlu Khan’s village (Harsh Mander)

scroll.in - 24 April 2017

A country for the cow: The chronicle of a visit to cow vigilante victim Pehlu Khan’s village

The Mewat farmer lynched by cow vigilantes in Alwar has left behind a broken family, and a fearful community questioning its place in the Indian republic. 

An impoverished dairy farmer, white-bearded, visibly Muslim, only a few years younger than me, was lynched on a national highway by a mob of young men with stones and sticks who claimed that he was a cattle smuggler. He died later in a private hospital. Compelled and haunted by images of his attack – captured for history on a couple of mobile phone cameras – a few colleagues and I went to meet his bereaved family in their village Jaisinghpur in Mewat, Haryana. When we sat with them, our eyes lowered, we found it hard to find the words to convey to the bereaved, distraught and terrified family our sadness, our shame, and our rage.
And yet before I proceed to tell you their story, in the strange, fraught times we live in, even I feel obliged to start by underlining that the murdered man and his sons were innocent, that they were not cattle-smugglers but legitimate dairy farmers. As though the crime of their brutal mob killing would be any less monstrous if they had in some way broken the law. Rajasthan’s Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, while criticising the attack, blamed the victims saying, “The problem is from both the sides. People know cow trafficking is illegal but they do it. Gau Bhakts try to stop those who indulge in such crimes.”
His description of the marauders as Gau Bhakts, or worshippers of the cow, brought back memories from my years as a district collector in Madhya Pradesh during the Ayodhya Ramjanam Bhoomi movement, when rioters who terrorised, burnt and murdered their Muslim neighbours in town after town of communal frenzy were described benignly in the press and political speeches as Ram Bhakts, or worshippers of Ram. The felling of Pehlu Khan on April 1, 2017 on NH8 near Behror, Alwar, by self-styled cow vigilantes, had as little to do with the love of the cow as the annihilation of the Babri Masjid had to do with the love of Ram.
This rationalisation for the hate crime echoed in many television debates. The studied refusal of the chief ministers of Rajasthan, where the crime occurred, and Haryana, which is home to the dead man, as well as the otherwise voluble prime minister to express any outrage or public regret for the killing reflects the same implied validation. No one from the Haryana state administration has visited Pehlu Khan’s home. Alwar’s Superintendent of Police Rahul Prakash categorically told Rediff.com’s Prasanna D Zore that the 15 men from Mewat, including Pehlu Khan, who were beaten up by a mob in Alwar on suspicion of smuggling cows had no verified documents to prove they were in the dairy business and not cow smugglers, and therefore, “hundred per cent they were cow smugglers; there is no doubt about that”. But he was reluctantly prepared to admit: “I don’t know if they [the attackers] knew for sure if they [the victims] were cow smugglers or not, but according to the police version they were cow smugglers.”
Before any criminal cases were filed against the lynch mob, the Rajasthan police first registered a First Information Report against Pehlu Khan and the young men with him under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995. I have a copy of the FIR. It mentions that they are charged under Section 5 of the Act. According to this section, “No person shall export and cause to be exported any bovine animal himself or through his agent, servant or other person acting in his behalf from any place within the State to any place outside the State for the purposes of slaughter or with the knowledge that it may be or is likely to be slaughtered.” The men were transporting five milch cows that had only recently delivered and carried papers to prove their purchase from the cattle market on Ramgarh Road in Jaipur. The only cattle that are taken to slaughter are too old or diseased to yield milk. Why would any person transport expensive high-milk yielding cows for a slaughterhouse that would pay them a small fraction of what they would earn if they were sold as productive milch cows? And to transport milch cows for dairying no papers or permission are required by the law.

A videograb of the attack on Pehlu Khan and others in Alwar.
A videograb of the attack on Pehlu Khan and others in Alwar.
Therefore, there was no ground for any presumption by the police (nor by the vigilante mob) that the men were cattle smugglers. Even so, criminal cases were registered against them for crimes that could confine them behind prison walls for 10 years. They were also charged under Section 9 of the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995, which makes it illegal to cause bodily pain, disease or infirmity to a bovine animal. The claim was that the cows were being treated cruelly because two or three were packed with their claves in the back of a pick-up van. I wondered if the policepersons had ever travelled in an unreserved train compartment, a state transport bus, or seen casual workers transported in the back of trucks.
By contrast, the police registered cases against the six men named in the FIR, and 200 others, only after the men who had been assaulted were charged. Their attackers were charged under relatively mild sections of the Indian Penal Code – Sections 147 (rioting), 143 (unlawful assembly), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 341 (wrongful restraint), 308 (culpable homicide), and 379 (theft). On April 3, Section 308 was changed to that of murder (Section 302) after Pehlu Khan died in hospital around 7.30 pm. Until the time of writing, none of the men mentioned in the FIR and in Pehlu Khan’s dying declaration have been arrested. Saddam Hussain, president of Mewat Yuva Sanghtan, alleged to the Hindustan Times that the police were unwilling to arrest the named accused because of their affiliation with right-wing Hindu organisations, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu Dharma Jagran and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. “Either there is pressure from the government to not arrest them or police are not trying hard enough,” he said.
There are echoes here from the earlier case of lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri by his neighbours over the rumour that he stored beef in his refrigerator, which also stirred public conscience. Despite country-wide outrage, criminal cases were registered against Akhlaq’s family whereas a man charged with his murder who died of an illness in prison was cremated with his body wrapped in the national flag, in the presence of a Union minister. Any Muslim or Dalit victim of mob lynching is somehow criminally guilty, and the killers are nationalist Hindus understandably outraged because the sacred cow has been threatened or killed.

The lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in 2015 triggered country-wide outrage. Image credit: AFP
The lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in 2015 triggered country-wide outrage. Image credit: AFP
I return to our visit to Pehlu Khan’s village Jaisinghpur, with my friends Farah Naqvi, Mohsin Khan, Zafar Eqbal and Rubina Akhtar, on April 18, 2017. The village is indistinguishable from many others in the district Nuh, earlier known as Mewat or the home of the Meo Muslim, who constitute 80% of this arid and water-scarce, impoverished district. We approached their home with trepidation. We had made the journey because we felt compelled to offer solidarity in a small personal way, in the times that we live in, which I can only describe as times of command bigotry, hate led and spurred from the top.
But we did not want to intrude in their time of grief, which was already far too public. However Ramzan Chaudhary, the large-hearted and courageous lawyer (and a self-appointed spokesperson of the Meo people) who accompanied us, assured us that our visit would be welcomed by Pehlu Khan’s family because he felt we were “not the same” as many of those who had descended on their home in the past two weeks. But we still arrived there with unease.
Theirs was a small modest village brick home. A green cloth canopy had been erected outside the house as the family could not accommodate the visitors who streamed into their nondescript village every day after Pehlu Khan’s lynching hit the headlines. There had been before us some journalists, many local politicians, some religious leaders, and members of the Kisaan Sabha affiliated with the communist parties. Farah and Rubina were led into the inner rooms and came back to us an hour later, harrowed. Pehlu Khan’s mother, a wizened old woman now completely blind, and his widow and daughters were inconsolable. Pehlu Khan was an only son. He in turn had eight children. Some were married, including Irshad, who is in his twenties. The teenaged Arif was also beaten up with him at Alwar. His daughters and daughters-in-law cannot make sense of why he was killed. His other sons and grandchildren are too young to understand what has happened.
Outside, where I sat with the men, the mood was sombre. More and more men gathered in the hours that we spent there. The elders sat on benches, the young men squatted on the ground, deferential to age. I opened the discussion by saying, “We hesitated to come but at the same time we could not stay away. Because we want you to know that we share in your grief and in your anger against the injustice that has been done to you.” They accepted our awkward words with grace, and insisted that we must first accept their hospitality and only then talk further. We protested but to no avail. “We have been taught by our ancestors about how we should treat our guests, even at times like this.” After much persuasion, we still had to accept some sweetened soda before we began to talk.
The story of what transpired with them is well known but as Pehlu Khan’s older son Irshad and others who were part of this traumatic journey – nephews, neighbours – spoke, the horror for us became even more palpable. The family owns barely an acre of land, which yields little for the family. So, they have always raised milch cattle – cows or buffaloes – and they sell the milk in the village or to richer landowners in the surrounding villages. They also buy milch cows from the cattle markets of Rajasthan, sell their milk for a while and resell them at a slight profit of a couple of thousand rupees. This helps feed the family. The sons helped out the father and when they could, drive a pick-up van or a jeep taxi. Pehlu Khan took even his younger son Arif with him because he wanted him to learn the cattle trade early.

Members of Mewat Yuva Sangthan take out a silent march in Alwar to demand the arrest of Pehlu Khan's killers. Credit: HT Photo
Members of Mewat Yuva Sangthan take out a silent march in Alwar to demand the arrest of Pehlu Khan's killers. Credit: HT Photo
The month of Ramzan is a good one for milk sales, the best time of the year. People buy milk and curds for the pre-dawn Sehri or the evening Iftar. Pehlu Khan took a loan as he always did from richer neighbours, many of them Hindu Thakurs, at an interest rate of 5% per month. They hired a pick-up van from a neighbour, loaded on it their buffalo that had stop giving milk to sell, and with Irshad at the wheel, and Arif, a nephew and some neighbours in the back, they set off for the weekly cattle market on Ramgarh Road near Jaipur.
This was a market they visited frequently. The cattle traders knew Pehlu Khan well. He had initially set his heart on buying a buffalo to replace the one that he sold. But he was offered a cow that had recently delivered a calf at a lower price. The cattle seller milked her in his presence and she gave 12 litres of milk. It was a deal. Other villagers also made their purchases. Together, they hired one more pick-up truck from the market. Pehlu Khan sat in the hired truck, with two cows and two calves. Irshad carried three cows in his pick-up van and drove with his neighbour and friend Asmat. All the cows were beautiful, healthy, with young calves and bountiful milk yields. In their villages, they describe pregnant and milk-giving cows as biyahi, or married.
At the Jaguwas crossing in Behror, Alwar, the pick-up trucks were stopped by an ugly crowd of about 50 men. They dragged them out, slapped and heckled them, claiming they were cow smugglers. Irshad says he showed them the receipts of the cows from the cattle market but they tore those up. (Fortunately, he was able to get copies from the cattle market later. He showed us these copies.) They asked the driver of the truck Pehlu Khan had hired from the cattle market his name. It was a Hindu name. They slapped him and told him to run away. The other terrified men tried to run away as well but the crowd caught them easily. Pehlu Khan was the oldest among them and received the harshest blows. He tried to pick himself up weakly but the men rained blows on him again. Asmat was beaten on his back and spine, Arif was injured in his eye. The mob vandalised the trucks, twisted the bonnet, and threw rocks on the windscreen and the engine. They snatched their wallets, watches, mobile phones and all their money. Irshad had Rs 75,000 left from the loan. They snatched this as well.
The crowd swelled. More men joined in the lynching; some vandalised the trucks as though for sport, some watched, a few took videos on their mobile phone cameras, some walked past looking at the screens of their mobile phones as though nothing was amiss around them. No one came to their aid.
They lost track of time as the beating continued – with sticks, stones and belts – and one by one all the men fell, lying on the road or pavements in twisted inert heaps, almost unconscious. They guess some 20 minutes had passed when the police arrived. “They would have set us all on fire had the police not come.”
The police confiscated their cows and had sent them to a private gaushala. They took Phelu Khan and orders to a nearby private hospital, Kailash Hospital, in Behror. It is there that Pehlu Khan died on April 3. The doctor who did the post-mortem on him told The Indian Express, “Injuries were the main cause of death. As said in our post-mortem report, the (thoracoabdominal) injuries were ‘sufficient cause of death’. The heart attack was secondary.”
Irshad spoke to us haltingly, in a low monotone. He was still visibly traumatised, and in mourning. Besides, young people do not talk loudly in the presence of their elders. The older men spoke of how the families were ruined. How will they repay their loans? Will they ever get back the cows they had bought? Even if they ultimately did, would they still be the beautiful milch cows that they had bought? They would get back some useless scrub cattle, if any at all. The remaining cash they had taken on loan at 5% interest, compound per month, had been stolen from them. They would also have to pay for the vandalised pick-up truck they had borrowed. Their father had taken all the decisions but he is not there to guide them anymore.
We also visited Pehlu Khan’s neighbour Azmat Khan. The young man, father of an infant girl, lay on a cot, wrapped in an old nylon sari converted into a sheet. He was still in pain, not yet recovered from his spine injury. He held my hand for a long time as I sat by his bedside. We looked at his medical papers from the private hospital where he was being treated. They did not look good. “I hope he will be able to walk again,” I whispered in English to my colleagues. He too had taken a loan to buy a cow for selling milk in the Ramzan month of fasting and prayers.
Outside virtually every house in the village is tied a cow or two, or a buffalo. “Our children rarely drink milk. We have to sell every drop to repay our loans and bring home food. But now they are terrified about what the future would hold for them. Anyone can come into our houses and claim that we are raising the cows for slaughter.” They have few other options. The land is dry and infertile, and the rains fickle. Education levels are low. Thousands of young men are drivers but getting a driving licence for heavy vehicles from the notoriously corrupt district transport office is difficult. Young men over the years got licences from far corners of the country, probably because they had to pay smaller bribes. But over the last two years, these licences have been suddenly derecognised by the district transport authorities. Ramzan Chaudhary alleges this was done out of spite in this overwhelmingly Muslim district, rendering an estimated 75,000 drivers out of work.

Gau Raksha Dal members out to inspect trucks on a highway in Taranagar, Rajasthan. Image credit: AFP
Gau Raksha Dal members out to inspect trucks on a highway in Taranagar, Rajasthan. Image credit: AFP
A few thousand men opened biryani stalls on the highways but in 2016 raids by police checking if the meat they used was of cows or buffaloes caused them to shut shop. Today, you see a small number of such shops, and they hasten to tell you that their biryani has chicken and not beef.
And now even dairy farming has become a dangerous vocation. They do not know what the future holds, how they will feed their children. We asked how they will manage. “Bardashth karenge, aur kya?” some of them replied, dully. “We will bear it, what else?” “Bhuke marenge”, said a few others even more dismally. We will die of hunger.”
Some of them, though, are planning an unusual if heart-breaking act of civic resistance. They plan to take their cows to the district collector’s office and tie them to the gate, leaving it to the government to do what it will with them. “You do not trust us with the cow, and we are no longer safe in tending them. Let the government then take them over!”
As we sat with a large group of men under the makeshift canopy outside Pehlu Khan’s house, the talk returned over and over to their anguish about the new climate of hate and suspicion against Muslims that they found surrounded them. It was never like this, they said. Hindus and Muslims have always lived together like brothers and sisters. But in the last two or three years, everything has changed. “We are watanparasth, true nationalists. Our ancestors made so many sacrifices for our country. They fought against Babur’s army on the side of Rana Sangha.” We wanted to stop them: please, you don’t have to do this. Why must you feel you have to prove your love for your country? But the words got stuck in our throats as they went on insistently. And they would also ask, “Who loves the cow more than us Meo Muslims?” Go to any Meo village home and see how much they love their cows, like they are members of the family. Any evening, see how lovingly they bathe their cows. And yet we are being called cow-killers”.
By strange coincidence, the driver of the taxi we had hired from Delhi to travel to Nuh, a young Dalit Sikh, turned out to be a man who loved cows. He stopped the taxi on the way and took out rotis from the car and fed them to stray cows. He said he had worked as a driver for the owner of a gaushala, and in that time had come to adore cows. When he is off duty even today, he volunteers to tend stray cows in a gaushala. Returning from Jaisinghpur, our souls weighed down by all we had seen and heard, we gave him our leftover sandwiches to feed the cows. I joined him in feeding them, and as the cows nuzzled on my fingers, I realised afresh that what had transpired on the highway at Behror had nothing at all to do with the love of this gentle animal. Nothing at all.
The words of the villagers in Nuh echoed in our ears. What is our place in this country, they asked us over and over again. A country where our life values less than a cow’s?



Excerpt from 2017 Madhu Dandavate Memorial Lecture 'UP verdict: It’s impact on Indian Polity' by Saba Naqvi

scroll.in - 24 April 2017 

Hindutva politics

Forget what a Hindu rashtra will mean for minorities. What will it mean for Hindus?

Delivering the Madhu Dandavate Memorial Lecture on Thursday, journalist Saba Naqvi spoke on the impact of the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh.
What is a Hindu rashtra? The February-March Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party scored a massive victory, is the point at which we became one, at least in spirit, said author and journalist Saba Naqvi while delivering the Madhu Dandavate Memorial Lecture in Mumbai on Thursday. The theme of the lecture, which is named after the former Union finance minister, was “UP verdict: It’s impact on Indian Polity”. An edited excerpt:
The secular model currently offers no counter-narrative to challenge Hindutva that claims to unite people above caste and region. Constitutionally and legally, we cannot be a Hindu rashtra but Uttar Pradesh 2017 is the point where I believe that in spirit we became one. I did not think so in (the general elections of) 2014, which I saw as an extraordinary mandate where a party (the Bharatiya Janata Party) won a simple majority with the lowest ever percentage of votes – 31%.
In 2017, after a magnificent victory (in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections), India’s ruling party has chosen a religious leader or monk (Adityanath) to lead the nation’s largest state. A few days after being chosen, he said there is nothing wrong in India being a Hindu rashtra.
So we must ask, what is a Hindu rashtra? We really do not have much experience of it in the world. Till 2008, Nepal was the only Hindu kingdom in the world and I remember my friends in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh being quite distressed when it ceased to be so.

In the words of Savarkar

Here I would like to quote from the most intellectually engaging ideologue of the Hindu Right, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. His speeches as president of the Hindu Mahasabha are published as Hindu Rashtra Darshan. In his 1937 presidential address, he began with what he called a Homage to the Independent Hindu Kingdom of Nepal and sent greetings to the king in holding out as a Hindu power. After more praise of Nepal, he proceeds to define Hindutva, explain what is a Hindu, and why people whose motherland and holy-lands are not the same cannot be part of the Hindu nation.
He describes the Mahasabha as a Hindu Rashtra Sabha and says the Hindus are a nation by themselves. He then asks, “How the Hindus who differ so much amongst themselves in every detail of life could at all be called a nation as such?” He replies: “To such questions, my reply is that no people on the earth are so homogenous as to present perfect uniformity in language, culture, race and religion. A people is marked out a nation by themselves not so much by the absence of any heterogeneous differences amongst themselves as by the fact of their differing from other peoples more markedly than they differ amongst themselves.”
Fellow Maharashtrian Dr Ambedkar looked at the same paradigm from an entirely different angle when he said that “Hindu society is a collection of castes. A caste has no feeling it is affiliated to another caste except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot.”
From what I can make out, reading the ideologues of the past and deciphering the actions of politicians of the ruling party, the first task of this Hindu rashtra is to create a particular identity by stressing the differences with others, who would be minorities. To create this imagined unity of Hindu society, they need symbols and motifs and today the cow is, I believe, the primary motif of the Hindu rashtra.
Surya namaskar, yoga, qabrstan (graveyard), cows, meat, slaughter houses, these are all code words. A sort of cultural fascism that is sought to be imposed since legally, the Hindu rasthra cannot exist.
There are some agitational templates of the Hindu rashtra, such as those who sing or do not sing Vande Mataram (never mind that it is AR Rahman, who converted to Islam in his life time, who has given India the most evocative modern rendition of Vande Mataram).
Conversion is another issue, on which Christians are attacked more than Muslims but in more remote parts of India, away from the spotlight. (As an aside, let me say that it’s always easy to annoy the Right wing by pointing out that Dr Ambedkar, the father of our Constitution, wilfully converted to Buddhism.)

Upholding two-nation theory?

So, can such a nation be created in spirit? Before we answer this, let us remember one thing very clearly: if we keep stating overtly and covertly that we are a Hindu rashtra, then our moral position on Kashmir is lost. We are then giving a great victory to Jinnah’s two-nation theory that holds Hindus and Muslims to be separate nations. (Recently, a BJP MP tweeted that the solution to Kashmir lies in depopulating the Valley).
But then the two-nation theory could not be made to work in Pakistan where religion was meant to be the unifying glue. But let’s see whom they have been able to accommodate in this imaginary Land of the Pure homeland of Muslims. First, they could not stomach the rule of Bengali Muslims, hence East and West were divided. Then, within the Home of Muslims, Punjabis dominated and competed with Sindhis. Within Karachi, the Mohajirs (those who immigrated post-Partition from India to the newly formed Pakistan) and run a reign of terror even as they claim discrimination. Shias, Ahmadiyas are all routinely targeted. Recently, we saw Mashal Khan, a young student, lynched in Pakistan because he was an Ahmadiya.
Around the same time, a few days here or there, Pehlu Khan, a cattle trader, was lynched in Alwar because he was transporting a milch cow.
Many of us do worry about what the Hindu rashtra has in store for minorities, but equally, I would ask, what does it subscribe for Hindus? The problem is that at an ideological level, it’s all very mean-spirited. Is there some grand humanist vision behind this Hindu rashtra? A moral centre? If so, I am willing to be a participant in it. I have one qualification. I do yoga every morning and that includes 24 surya namaskars. I suspect many of the BJP faithful who line up behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi on World Yoga Day (as if yoga were invented by the BJP) cannot match my facility with yogic postures. Adityanath, I am certain, can beat me to it.

India: Vigilantes Attack Cattle Transporters in South Delhi . . .

Vigilantes Attack Cattle Transporters in South Delhi, Police Blame ‘Animal Rights’ Activists

A senior journalist who encountered the victims at the metro station questioned why the policemen at the scene did not intervene on behalf of the victims.



April 21, 2017

India: Supreme Court imparts some momentum to interminable Babri Masjid trial (Editorial, The Times of India, 21 April 2017)

The Times of India

Booster shot: Supreme Court imparts some momentum to interminable Babri Masjid trial

April 21, 2017, 2:00 am IST in TOI Editorials 
The Supreme Court has restored charges of criminal conspiracy against top BJP leaders including former deputy prime minister LK Advani, cabinet minister Uma Bharti and veteran Murli Manohar Joshi in the 25-year-old Babri demolition case, even as it ordered proceedings to be wrapped up in two years through day-to-day hearings. This is a response to tardy progress in the case, even as adjournment after adjournment ruled the roost and authorities seemingly demonstrated no will to push it forward.
Tellingly, CBI had noted three years back “the delay has been occasioned because everyone associated with the matter was cautious, keeping in mind the sensitivity involved in the matter.” While delays in India’s justice system are notorious communal cases, in particular, can be kept pending for decades – a major part of the reason why communal riots keep happening in India. It’s in the interest of everybody, including the accused, that the law takes its own course and proceedings reach a swift conclusion instead of being interminably delayed. That is also why BJP must resist the temptation of politicising the case.
Following BJP’s sweeping victory in recent UP elections, there has been an attempt in some quarters to normalise the notion that the inevitable denouement of the demolition of the Babri Masjid ought to be construction of a Ram temple at the site. Such a move, however, is fraught with danger as it repudiates freedom of religion enjoined by the Constitution. It’s just as well, therefore, that the Supreme Court has noted that the demolition is indicative of “crimes which shake the secular fabric of the Constitution of India”. Against that backdrop, Union minister Uma Bharti seeing nothing wrong with the demolition sounds like open defiance of the law of the land. That is not what union ministers – or any minister for that matter – ought to be doing.