The politics of Hindutva and its erotic charge: Jaya Sharma

Guest post by JAYA SHARMA

In the post election bewilderment that continues to grip us, might it be that we are asking the wrong questions?

The questions are by now familiar. How can it be that a Pragya Thakur wins and an Atishi loses? How can it be that demonetization doesn’t translate into loss of votes? How can it be that the party under whom lynching of Dalits and Muslims becomes a norm gets re-elected? How can it be that hatred for the other wins over humanity?

In response, journalists, political scientists and writers have pointed out that our assumptions related to the significance of macro economic indicators, caste-based voting patterns, among other things, were faulty. But the questions still remain,  including the big one: why did facts and logic lose so dramatically?

Might it be that the bewilderment continues because there is a glaring blind spot in the way in which we understand politics? Might it be that facts and logic were never the only driving force? I will argue here that in order to understand the recent election results and the power of Hindu Nationalism more broadly, we need the lens of the psyche. The play of desire and the erotic is key to understanding politics and dipping into our own sex and love lives can help us see this.  ‘The personal is political’ mantra can come to the rescue in the bewilderment that we feel today.  In making this argument I will draw upon research that I have undertaken for a book that I am in the process of writing called Fantasy Frames: Sex, Love and Indian Politics, to be published later this year. Continue reading The politics of Hindutva and its erotic charge: Jaya Sharma

Caste and other demons

Can Dalits rightfully claim that they have a ‘homeland’?

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar

( Review of The Doctor and the Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate — Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste; By Arundhati Roy, Penguin, Rs 299)

“Gandhiji, I have no homeland.” The first meeting between Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, who later became chairman of the drafting committee of independent India’s Constitution and its first law minister, is memorialized in this sentence. It expresses the centuries-old plight of those most oppressed in the varna hierarchy under the “institutionalised social injustice at the heart of the country”.

Has there been a qualitative change in the situation of the ‘ex-untouchables’ since this meeting some 90 years back? Can Dalits rightfully claim that they have a ‘homeland’? Figures collated by National Crime Records Bureau show that “a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every sixteen minutes”, including four rapes a day and murders of 13 Dalits every week. And these figures do not include “the stripping and parading naked, the forced shit eating, the seizing of land and the social boycotts…” This is the backdrop of the book, The Doctor and The Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate — Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste by Arundhati Roy. It earlier formed part of an introduction to an annotated 2014 edition of Annihilation of Caste — the historic pamphlet Ambedkar wrote when invited by the ‘Jat Paat Todak Mandal’ in Lahore. The invitation was withdrawn after the hosts read the lecture draft. Continue reading Caste and other demons

How Many More ‘Halal’ Ponzi Schemes?

It is important to note that the very idea of Islamic banking and promoting it as a parallel to conventional banking – which is being portrayed as un-Islamic – and which has caught the imagination of a section of god-fearing Muslims, is a clear manifestation of shifts in Muslim politics over the world.

'Halal' Ponzi Schemes

Image for representational use only.Image Courtesy : Business Today

Afzal Pasha, a 55-year-old labourer, is dead. He died of a heart attack a few days back.

The news that the attractive scheme in which he had invested his life’s savings worth Rs 8 lakh went bust proved unbearable for him.

While Afzal’s tragic death could catch headlines, we will never know the plight of the thousands of investors – all of them belonging to the Muslim community – who had similarly invested their hard-earned savings in the said investment scheme launched by Mohammed Mansoor Khan in 2006 through his firm I Monetary Advisory (IMA).

The scheme was declared ‘Shariah-compliant’ and worked on ‘“no interest” policy of Islamic banking. A section of the clergy had even certified this scheme as “halal”, which means “lawful” or “permitted” in Arabic, which helped it easily earn the trust of the Muslim community. Small investors from across the state of Karnataka had flocked to it with their investments ranging from a few thousand rupees to a few lakhs.

A few days back, the promoter of IMA just disappeared from Bengaluru and is supposed to have fled to Dubai.

According to rough estimates, the size of the fraud is of more than Rs 2,000 crore and a special investigation team (SIT) has been constituted to look into the scam and punish the fraudsters. Apart from the fact that people invest in such schemes because of the promise of incredible returns, what is so particular about these schemes which lure Muslims from various strata to go for it?

One, as ‘Shariat’ compliant fund, they formally claim that they do not invest in companies that deal in alcohol, tobacco, weapons, pornography or gambling, among others.

Two, they do not take “deposits” or pay “interest”, rather convert the investors into limited liability partners and pay the investors dividends.

What is notable is that it is not for the first time that one witnessed a firm being run on purely ‘Islamic principles’ has similarly gone bankrupt. ‘The Milli Gazette’ had time and again reportedactivities of similar fraudsters who had robbed ordinary Muslims of their precious savings under the name of ‘Islamic investment’.

Al-Fahad goes Al-Falah way

… Another fraud in the name of ‘Islamic investment.’ Delhi-based Al-Fahad investment group downed its shutters in the densely Muslim populated area of Okhla and left investors high and dry. It is not the first instance when a non-banking investment company collecting millions of rupees in the name of Islamic and halal investment schemes has bolted with no trace. (…) According to a brochure of the company, Al-Fahad worked on the principle of participation in profits. The amount invested by people, a group or trust in different schemes was to be utilized to finance various profitable ventures. The profit so earned was to be shared among investors and the company (in the ratio of 80:20).

Four years later, it had reported about another such scam by ‘Al-Barr Finance House’ –headquartered in Mumbai with branches in different parts of India – which had adopted a little different method to defraud the gullible Muslims:

Islamic” fraud is back, New “al-Falah” on the prowl

While a sizable number of Muslim investors are still recuperating from the scars inflicted by Al-Falah brand of “Islamic” financial sharks, we now have another “al-” brand of companies claiming to be an associate of a multinational Islamic finance group. Unlike Al-Falah, this group has adopted another route for harassing poor Muslims.

Coming back to the busting of the IMA Ponzi scheme, one can also witness a palpable sense of anger among a section of Muslims who are venting against the Maulanas exemplified by what a young Asif told a reporter:

Hunt down the maulanas and ulemas who went about asking people to invest only in halal schemes. What makes anyone think this kind of scheme is halal?”

This techie had also a word of advice for Muslims:

Your earnings are halal only when you work hard for it. Otherwise it is haram (forbidden under Islamic law). At least now Muslims should realise this.” (-do-)

It is different matter that this advice is going to fall on deaf ears.

It is important to note that the very idea of Islamic banking and promoting it as a parallel to conventional banking – which is being portrayed as un-Islamic – and which has caught the imagination of a section of god-fearing Muslims, is a clear manifestation of shifts in Muslim politics over the world.

Growing acceptability of halal investment groups among large sections of Muslims is also a reflection of a significant sections remaining aloof from conventional banking systems for various reasons. Sachar Commission had rightly noted:

The access of Muslims to bank credit, including priority sector advances, is low and inadequate. The average size of credit is also meagre and low compared with other socio-religious communities both in public sector and private sector banks. The position is similar with respect to finances from specialised institutions like the SIDBI and NABARD. Census 2001 data show that the percentage of households availing themselves of banking facilities is much lower in villages where the share of Muslim population is high…. The financial exclusion of Muslims has far-reaching implications for their socio-economic and educational uplift.”

This financial exclusion could be a considered a culmination of various factors. It has also to do with the fact that majority of the population is poor and engaged in informal sector; it is also because of a certain mindset prevailing in the banking sector, which has categorised Muslims and Muslim-dominated areas as “negative zones” (which is documented in the Sachar report), and also for reasons of faith. (Purnima S. Tripathi, “Inclusive Banking”, Frontline, vol. 26, no. 21, October 10-23, 2009)

Any neutral observer can see that these twin factors – shifts in Muslim politics over the world and financial exclusion of Muslims here in India – has led us to a situation where one witnesses proliferation of such schemes when “[o]ne can find these banks in almost every locality where a substantive Muslim population exists”.

As a caveat, one needs to admit that all such ventures cannot be painted with the same brush and there could be quite a few genuine people among them who, as pious Muslims, could be running these ventures with utmost transparency.

Question arises what needs to be done so that separating the genuine efforts one is able to curb proliferation of such schemes among minorities which have effectively turned into ventures where “[u]nscrupulous Muslim shylocks, supported by a section of the Muslim clergy, continue to operate in India and are able to hoodwink Muslims in the name of Islamic or non-interest banking”.

First of all, it is important that government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) come forward to take stern action against this kind of scandalous banking. A necessary first step in this direction could be guidelines issued by the RBI are strictly enforced in all such cases which pursue financial activities of the banking/non-banking kind under the banner of ‘Islamic Banking’ or Sharia Compliant Funds etc.

Secondly, it is equally important that special attempts are made to end the financial exclusion of Muslims – evident at very many levels – by adopting special measures to accomplish it.

Thirdly, it is also important to raise broadly two categories of questions:

– How did Ulemas or Islamic scholars of yore looked at introduction of modern banking?

– How countries which call themselves Islamic look at this proposition; are they ready to convert their modern banking system into Islamic Banking or have kept their efforts at a symbolic level only?

It is instructive to look at the debates in colonial India between Muslim scholars when modern banking was being introduced and a section of the Ulemas who objected to it on the basis of their understanding of Islamic principles. In his important intervention on the subject, Ather Farouqui tells us:

According to eminent Muslim thinkers of the twentieth century including Maulana Shibli Nomani and Allama Iqbal, bank ‘interest’ is a profit on investment or charge on capital and when it is not exploitative, it is not riba.

(Islamic Banking in India at the Service of Pan-Islamists, MAINSTREAM, VOL L, NO 11, MARCH 3, 2012)

He also quotes a

…a letter dated January 17, 1932 to Khwaja Abdur Raheem, Allama Iqbal writes, “Interest in every form is prohibited. But this is so in an ideal society. Fatwa of Shah Abdul Azeez is that to draw bank interest is permissible.” [B.A. Dar (ed.), Anwaare-Iqbal (Karachi: 1967), p. 245 (publication house not known)]

What does the experience of Islamic countries tells us on this matter. One can refer to Farouqui’s observations once again:

In Saudi Arabia, banks, are involved in charging and paying interest. The only difference from other modern/conventional banking is that they ’employ semantics’ and instead of using the term interest use the terms profit-loss sharing. Looking at the fact that it is an oil-rich economy, banks there rarely face losses and the depositors ‘share the profits’ which is not considered ‘riba’ (usury)

The most interesting case vis-a-vis Islamic banking pertains to Pakistan. Here few years back Islamists demanded to overhaul the conventional/modern banking system for an end to the interest paying system. The Federal Shariat Court also ruled in their favour but the government did not take it up in the legislature. When the matter went to Supreme Court, it has set aside the judgement and the matter is still pending.

He adds:

Even in an Islamic state such as Pakistan, therefore, interest-free banking has till date been unsuccessful largely due to the lacunae in the existing system but also as a result of the dichotomy between overemphasis on religious principles while trying to find one’s place in a globalised market economy.

(Islamic Banking in India at the Service of Pan-Islamists, MAINSTREAM, VOL L, NO 11, MARCH 3, 2012)

Last but not the least, one also needs to brood over the fact that in a polarised ambience whether such a move would prove really beneficial for those Muslims who are financially excluded or would it pave the way for their further pauperisation?





रामचरण मुंडा की मौत पर दो मिनट का मौन!

सोचने का सवाल है कि क्या इन मौतों को महज तकनीकी गड़बड़ियों तक न्यूनीकृत किया जा सकता है? क्या इसके कोई संरचनागत कारण नहीं हैं? ‘आखिर अधिक अनाज पैदा करने के बावजूद हम भूख की समस्या को मिटा क्यों नहीं पा रहे हैं।

‘‘रामचरण मुंडाउम्र 65 साल को विगत दो माह से सार्वजनिक वितरण प्रणाली के तहत राशन नहीं दिया गया था। हमारे अधिकारियों ने इसकी सत्यता की पड़ताल की है।’’

लातेहारझारखण्ड के डिप्टी कमीशनर जनाब राजीव कुमार द्वारा लातेहार के दुरूप गांव के रहने वाले उपरोक्त आदिवासी की मौत पर की ऐसी स्वीकारोक्ति बहुत कम देखने में आती है।

अपनी पत्नी चमरी देवी और बेटी सुनिला कुमारी के साथ रामचरण गांव में ही रहते थे उनके बेटे की मौत दो साल पहले टीबी के चलते हुई थी। राशन डीलर की बात मानें तो चूंकि इलाके में इंटरनेट की सेवा में दिक्कते हैंऔर राशन वितरण के लिए ऑनलाइन बायोमेट्रिक सिस्टम कायम किया गया हैइसलिए रामचरण को अनाज नहीं दिया जा सका था।

इस मामले की असलियत कभी सामने आएगी इस पर संदेह है।

वैसे भूख से होने वाली मौतें अब देश में अजूबा चीज़ नहीं रही।

दो साल पहले झारखण्ड के ही सिमडेगा जिले के कारीमाटी गांव की 11 वर्षीय हुई संतोषी की मौत के बाद ऐसी मौतों पर लोगों एवं समाज की अधिक निगाह गयी थी। पता चला था कि पूरा परिवार कई दिनों से भूखा था और राशन मिलने के भी कोई आसार नहीं थे क्योंकि राशन कार्ड के साथ आधार लिंक न होने के चलते उनका नाम लिस्ट से हटा दिया गया था। अपनी मां के गोद में ‘भात भात कहते हुए दम तोड़ी संतोषी की दास्तां ने लोगों को विचलित किया था।

( Read the full article here :

Who cares for bengal?

( First published in a different form in the Wire on 14 June, 2018. This article is its revised and updated version.)

Do all of us, those who love Rabindra Sangeet, those who wistfully talk about Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mirnal Sen, Aparna Sen, those who cannot live without Nazrul Islam, those whose first love across generations remains Sukanto Bhattacharji, women and men, ever thankful to Raja Ram Mohan Roy for his relentless struggle against his own people for abolishing the practice of Sati ,and this list is long, just sit and wring our hands and let Bengal bleed to death?  

Bengal is being ravaged by a cynical game between political parties. It is up for grabs. The Bhartiya Janata Party is relishing the moment and the Trinamul Congress, by its foolishness and hotheadedness is driving the state into the hands of the BJP. Mamata Banerjee needs to realise that she is the Chief Minister of the state and not merely the head of her party. It is unbecoming of her when she says that among the people killed after elections, the number of her people is higher than their( BJP’s) number. All suffering violence are the citizens of Bengal and therefore it is her responsibility, as the CM of the state  to give them a sense of security. It is not for her to only speak for her party members. But we can see that she is doing exactly this. She has started looking partisan and her appeal to save the Bangla culture sounds hollow and unconvincing to the people. Cannot she see that her own party people are now joining the BJP in large numbers?

One knows that the BJP is hell bent on creating and sustaining violence in Bengal. It knows that this is the route to power in the state. When it demanded its dead to be taken to Kolkata and paraded there it was merely reading from the script written by the Trinamul Congress in 2009. Then the ruling left front was clueless.

Mamata Banerjee should rise above her party and start acting like a leader of the people. One knows that it is difficult for her to shed her excitement and act calmly. But this is the need of the hour. Her response to attack on the doctors by the relatives and friends of a patient in the NRS hospital is callous and uncharacteristic of her. She deputed her nephew to issue an officious statement asking the hurt and agitated doctors to resume duty has only made them angrier towards her. After all, here is a leader who can rush to the Vidyasagar College after the bust of Vidyasagar was broken but she remains in her office when human beings are violated! It was too late when she decided finally to visit the striking doctors. And when she went to them, instead of adopting a reconciliatory and persuasive role, she started threatening them. 

It did not help that the attackers bore a wrong religious identity. The burden of the particular violence is now on the whole community. The leaders of the BJP did not lose a moment to say that it were the Muslims who habitually indulged in violence and were protected by the CM and her party. Her silence and coldness towards the agitation of the doctors is only giving credence to the charge of the BJP. Muslims of the state are paying for her churlish behaviour.

A patient dies in a public hospital. Over burdened doctors face the wrath of the alleged relatives and friends of the patient (it is no secret that owing to their precarious functioning Calcutta hospitals have become dens of antisocial elements who operate in the guise of “patient party”). In frustration and retaliation, they strike work. It is a familiar story, repeated time and again, state after state. Have we ever heard that the attackers did what they did because they belonged to their religion? We can say that in almost all the cases, the violaters are not punished. The demand of the doctors for security also remains where it belongs to. Nowhere have the governments been able to provide a foolproof secure atmosphere to the doctors. They remain vulnerable everywhere.

But when you have a party like the BJP, it makes it sure to underline the religion of the attackers to imply that it is this identity that turned them into attackers. When the CM refuses to open her mouth even to sympathise with the victim doctors , the BJP leaps in joy to say that she is silent because the attackers are Muslims!Sources say that owing to work load and other reasons that hinder their services the doctors could not show the kindness and sympathy that is generally demanded and expected of a doctor. Then, will the sufferers say that because they were Musalmans they were not treated well? Also, should the Musalmans say that since it is they , being mostly poor, who visit government hospitals ,the government  hospitals have been made deliberately dysfunctional, to discriminate against them? Should we allow a medical issue to be overshadowed by a communal agenda ?

To understand the wickedness of its politics you have to read the statement of the state president of the BJP who claims that 47% of the Muslims are criminals.In the same breath, he requests them not to fall in the trap of the CM who is using them to do violence against her opponents!This statistical confidence is fantastic. To reach this exact figure of 47% , you have to be a data- wizard. But we all know that it is a tested technique of magic realism. To make your claim credible you employ statistics. People would dismiss you if you say you have seen elephants flying but they ll pause and think when you claim that you have seen exactly 7 elephants flying! It creates an illusion of exactness and truth. The RSS has used this technique and seen that Hindus tend to believe its claim of “We 5, our 25”, that by a particular year the number of Muslims would cross the number of Hindus in India. This “exactitude” lends credence to their claims about Muslims. They would give you the exact number of Hindu women kidnapped and converted by the Muslims.

The BJP would do everything. It believes in SAMA, DAMA, DANDA, BHEDA. Its followers donot mind it. But what about the rest?

Is it not the time for the political class to go to the people and speak against violence? Or, do they also believe that the violence is in the political culture of Bengal and nothing can be done about it? Prakash Karat, when asked about the violence of his party had expressed helplessness claiming that it was the political culture of the state. The Trinamul has been using violence to deal with its rivals. That becomes the justification for the violence now being employed by the BJP.

Violence begets violence.  Each act of violence becomes a justification for the next act of violence. Communal violence then does not look worse than the left violence and “democratic” violence. We know that communal violence is particularly bad because it creates a permanent divide in the society and makes the members of a community suspect in the eyes of another community. It creates violent competitive communitarian politics. All that is right but it gets justification from other kinds of violence.

Just after the Trinamul party assumed power after dislodging the left, it started attacking and burning the party offices of the CPM. Some of us, who had opposed the violence of the left earlier got worried and prepared a statement criticising the violence on the CPM. While collecting signatures for it, I called a senior cultural figure of Bengal, a revered name who was on the forefront of the opposition to the violence of the CPM. She refused to condemn this reverse violence. It was slightly shocking but not entirely unpredictable.

To say and believe that you cannot do politics in Bengal without violence is an insult to the people of Bengal. But their goodness needs to be organised. Would Rahul Gandhi who keeps talking about the power of love, Sita Ram Yechuri , who swears in the name of the people and Mamata Banerjee who wants a second renaissance in Bengal rise to the occasion and lead the people and the state towards peace? Or, would the rest of the civilised society, poets,writers, journalists, actors, cinema people, students and teachers watch from the margins while their dear Bengal gets dismantled before their eyes?

Update on “tally mismatch” in 2019 Lok Sabha Elections: Ravi Nair

In an earlier post  we made note of the serious matter of unaccounted movement of EVMs in private vehicles in different parts of the country and the mismatch between the ECI figures for voter turnout and EVM votes cast, neither of which the EC has satisfactorily explained until today.

Now in a detailed analysis in NewsClick, Ravi Nair points out that even three weeks after the last phase of the election, ECI is yet to publish the “final data”, and whatever it has put out till now is “provisional numbers”.  More worryingly, Nair points out that when glaring anomalies came into the public domain, ECI not only deleted the uploaded data from both Suvidha Portal and its main website, but also issued a release to say that whatever was published was “the provisional voter turnout data”, which was “tentative”.

However, the ECI never bothered to answer the fundamental questions: How did it announce winners based on these “provisional” and “tentative” data? How did the automated counting of votes polled in EVMs become “tentative”?

Read Ravi Nair’s article “ECI’s stance on data discrepancies: No right to question?” on NewsClick here.

God in the Classroom!

Unfolding Debate about Secularising Education

( To be published in ‘Indian Journal of Secularism)

“There is in every village a torch – the teacher; and an extinguisher – the priest.”
-Victor Hugo

“Keep the words God, Jesus and the devil out of the classroom.”

A school teacher’s message on the first day of the school for first-grade students had caused tremendous consternation among a section of the parents.

She had a simple rationale to present her proposal. With their being a public school with children coming from different religions and beliefs joining it, she did not “[w]ant to upset a child/parent because of these words being used,” In her letter she had also advised them to talk to the children when they go to the church/temple/synagogue – whatever might be the case – or discuss the issue at home at an appropriate time and place of talking about it.” (

Well, instead of the discussion getting fixed on the slow imposition of the concept of God or closing of child’s minds it turned into a debate on students’ free speech rights. It did not take much time for the management of the school to rescind this proposal.

There is nothing new about this dilemma faced by a teacher who has welfare of students at the center of her/his concerns. Continue reading God in the Classroom!