As the cow-gangs of Hindutva go on a rampage and the the prime minister, Narendra Modi, adopts a posture of strategic silence, the country is rapidly being pushed to the brink of a civil war. This might sound a trifle far-fetched but classically, when large numbers of people begin to believe that there is no government for them, the time is not far when they will start making preparations for defending themselves. It started with the attacks on Muslims but soon enveloped the Dalits as it was bound to. The Una incident, which sparked off a veritable revolt, was followed up by subsequent attacks in Lucknow. The Progressive Dairy Farmers’ Association in Punjab, involving large number of Sikh farmers, has also been fighting continuing harassment and violence by cow-gangs of Hindutva in Punjab for some time now. The PDFA president has also stated that they might be forced to act in self-defense. The president Daljit Singh Gill, in fact, reportedly told mediapersons that “(I)f someone attacks the farmers, we will stop them now,” and “(I)f something goes wrong, it is the government’s responsibility.”
Even as the cow-gangs continue with their vigilantism unrestrained and unchecked, a large demonstration yesterday at Jantar Mantar by Samta Sainik Dal, actually sent out yet another signal. It spokespersons said in so many words that they were now prepared to take on the cow-gangs physically, if and where necessary.
Tracing SSD’s lineage back to Dr Ambedkar’s initiative in the 1924, the President of the organization openly blamed the ‘Manuvadi’ forces, in cahoots with the police and bureaucracy, backed by the government. He was candid that it is not the Sikhs or Muslims or Christians who are attacking the Dalits today but the Hindus who are doing it in the name of nationalism and that people were now in a mood to fight back unitedly together.
Not only is Modi’s deafening silence now coming to be seen as a sign of encouragement and complicity, with BJP leaders like Hyderabad MLA Raja Singh openly justifying the Una attack, and no action being taken against him by the party yet, it is clear that this vigilantism is endorsed by the highest quarters in the party. For those who may have missed seeing Raja Singh’s video, this is what he said:
“Jo Dalit gaye ke maas ko le ja raha tha, jo uski pitai hui hai, woh bohut hi achhi hui hai (Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen).
Even though top BJP leader and minister in Modi government’s cabinet, Venkaiah Naidu started once again on the by-now stale and predictable rant about “Dalit atrocities being a carry over from the [Congress] past”, there is little doubt in people’s mind that the Modi government by its encouragement to the cow-gangs has taken these to an altogether new level. It may be worth recalling that the other big incident of this kind – the actual lynching of Dalits carrying carcasses of cows in Jhajjar, too took place during the last NDA regime, in November 2002. The fact-finding report by some academics in Haryana (linked above) had observed even at that time, that
A very disturbing aspect is the involvement of communal forces like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, etc., who have been continuously active in spreading the virus of communal hatred in the area. They often spread the false rumour of cow slaughter in order to inflame the sentiments of the people against Muslims of the adjoining area of Mewat. Even in this incident a rumour of cow slaughter was used to inflame the crowd. The crime was perpetrated by the frenzied mob armed with irons, rods, spears etc led by these communal forces who controlled the mob and directed their ire against the dalits. The intensity of the communal frenzy can be gauged by an attempt to erase the name of the SSP Jhajjar from the board at chowkie because the concerned officer happens to be a Muslim.
This being the case, Mr Naidu cannot really hide behind the Congress fig-leaf any longer. Even though some opinion-makers, intellectuals and media houses have made it their vocation to protect Modi from any culpability in this regard, the fact of the matter is that his role in all this is now increasingly becoming apparent to most people.
The ongoing revolt of the Dalit masses actually heralds the beginning of an entirely new situation in Indian politics, one whose implications are likely to go far beyond the UP elections next year or even the next general elections. For in its most fundamental sense, the virtual civil war, initiated by the cow-gangs of the Hindu Right (RSS/BJP being only one part of the larger constellation) represents an unprecedented rupture in the over-a-century old project of forging a Hindu Nation. At a very fundamental level, the project of Hindu Rashtra falls flat if the Dalits turn against it. This project was based not only on a proto-fascist desire to create a Nation that would be based on a reconstructed Hindu culture, it also rested on a fundamental cultural illiteracy of a revanchist Manuvadi Hindu elite about what constituted the large landmass that came to be called ‘India’. If Hindutva’s most megalomaniac desire was to recreate what it thought was a once united India (Akhand Bharat) stretching from Afghanistan at one end and Burma/ Myanmar at the other – its cultural imagination about what constitutes this entity was utterly impoverished. So much so that it could never see that different populations that inhabited the landmass that constituted colonial and even post-partition India, ranging from Kashmir to the North East on the one hand, and the very different cultural practices of even the supposedly Hindu southern India, with its highly sophisticated linguistic, cultural and philosophical heritage, on the other. All it cared for was the fascist ideal of welding this landmass and its population into one, single nation with a single culture.
What is however, more significant, is that this cultural illiteracy of the Hindu Right (and its centrepiece, the RSS) extended equally to its knowledge and awareness of the cultural practices of the Hindus as well. So for instance, vegetarianism is not common even among the brahmans of say Bengal and Kashmir or of the hill regions of North India. All this was, in a way, already known to us. What the coming to power of the Modi regime to power has illuminated in a flash, thanks to the way RSS has gone about putting its nationalism into practice, is the fact that it has no understanding even of the religious beliefs and practices of many ‘lower caste’ groups and adivasi communities. This was dramatically illustrated by the way in which the issue of Mahishasur worship was dealt with during the Home Ministry’s RSS-inspired attack on ‘anti-national activities’ in JNU. The sequence in which this attack unfolded has now been recorded for us by Pramod Ranjan of Forward Press. It was first Panchjanya and Organiser, RSS mouthpieces, that listed Mahishasur worship as evidence of the antinational activities that go on in JNU. This was followed by the compilation of a dossier by some teachers close to the RSS (in JNU), who repeated this very fact (among others) as evidence of antinational activities. When Delhi Police made its case against the students, it repeated, almost verbatim, all these allegations of Mahishasur worship, once again, as evidence of antinational activities. And finally, to cap it all, the the HRD minister in her ‘sensational speech’ in parliament, in response to Mayawati, repeated the Mahishasur worship question, in exactly the same fashion. So, the dots are there, already joined for anyone who would care to see.
If we temporarily set aside the series of questions raised by the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula of Hyderabad University, especially with regard to how Dalits are treated even within our most modern institutions like universities and simply focus on the cultural and religious practices of different subaltern Hindu and adivasi communities, it will be clear for an organization largely dominated by chitpavan brahmans, these are anti-Hindu and therefore, anti-national practices. Fundamentally, the RSS idea of what a ‘Hindu’ is or should be derives from a very modernist North Indian upper caste rendering of ‘Hinduness’. Even though it swears by the ancient texts like the Vedas, their illiteracy extends to those texts as well. As scholars have often pointed out, beef-eating was pretty much evident in Vedic practices as well and Hindutva’s aversion to it comes out of very modern identity concerns.
Its mind-numbing illiteracy, woven into a modernist proto-fascist project and combined with supreme intolerance of difference, has led it into other confrontations well, in recent months. That the Mahishasura episode in JNU was not an aberration is further illustrated by the fact that it led the Hindu Right to hold a demonstration in Bastar in March this year, attacking the “offsprings of Mahishasur”. The rally was attended by BJP MP Abhishek Singh and his supporters, among others. An extract from a report in Forward Press:
12 मार्च की रैली में हिंदुत्ववादियों द्वारा ‘महिषासुर के औलादों को जूते मारो सालों को’ कहना मंहगा पड़ा। कारण कि बस्तर के इलाके में स्थाई निवासियों के घर-घर में के नाम से महिषासुर (स्थानीय नाम भैंसासुर) की पूजा की जाती है। स्थानीय लोगों ने इस नारे को अपने ऊपर सांस्कृतिक हमला माना, और वे हिंदुत्ववादियों के सांस्कृतिक एकरूपीकरण के खिलाफ खड़े हुए, 30 अप्रैल को मोर्चा निकला और 12 मार्च हुई रैली में नारा लगाने वालों के खिलाफ एफआईआर दर्ज करवाया। हालांकि पुलिस ने कथित ऊपरी दवाब के कारण किसी आरोपी को अभी तक गिरफ्तार नहीं किया है। विवेक कुमार [a local journalist whose facebook post led to the storm] कहते हैं, ‘हिंदुत्ववादी सबको राम और दुर्गाभक्त बना देना चाहते हैं, उन्हें किसी की संस्कृति की कोई परवाह नहीं। उन्हें यह भी बर्दाश्त नहीं है कि बस्तर के स्थानीय निवासी दुर्गापूजा या दशहरा नहीं मनाते- यहाँ रावण का दहन नहीं होता है।’
That cow-gangs have sprouted up all over India and have become more and more brazen and aggressive in the recent past is not an accident. It was after all, Modi himself who introduced the cow-question with high-pitched rhetoric in the 2015 Bihar elections – and it is his complicit silence as these gangs go on the rampage, that has emboldened them. The fact that a figure no less than the prime minister sought to make the cow and beef-eating emotionally charged political issues should leave no-one in any doubt that the current campaign has the backing of the highest levels of government. They had simply assumed that this would be an easy and emotive way of whipping up sentiments against Muslims but had not anticipated that the vigilantism of the cow-gangs would eventually lead to attacks on the Dalits and perhaps to the unravelling of the very project of Hindu Rashtra.
This is where they made their biggest mistake. For the Dalit question is not like any other – it is in fact the unresolved traumatic core of the modern Hindu self, and by extension, of the Nationalist self. For the traditional Hindu, the Dalit was the excluded other, but whose exclusion could never be complete, for it was on the Dalit’s being that the purity of the Hindu Self was predicated and the traditionalist made no bones about it.
However, for the nationalist Hindu on the other hand, the Dalit is the excess that he cannot deal with. But the promise of the Nation remains hollow as long as the Dalits continue to be in the state to which traditional Hindu society has relegated them.
This is what is now being militantly challenged.