After the Modi government came to power, citizens of this country have seen gate after gate of Hell — the Narakas — open relentlessly to suck them in mercilessly or condemn them to be helpless spectators to unspeakable acts of injustice and violence. We have by now crossed the Arbudanaraka and the Nirarbudanaraka many times; the ordeal of having to watch evil unfold in the attacks on people in the name of what they eat, how they love, what they speak, who they pray to, which caste they were born into, what gender was assigned to them at birth — the list is growing day by day. We seem to be reduced to waiting endlessly at the doorsteps of police stations, courts, morgues, nearly overpowered by the stench of power and majoritarian hubris, fighting to stay conscious, waiting for the dead, broken, defiled, or dismembered bodies of our kin, our friends, neighbours, people. For instance, can one ever forget how we stood in sheer anxiety outside the Supreme Court, truly like souls awaiting judgment at the gates of Vaikuntam, reduced to droplets of pure worry? Those of us who fought for Hadiya’s rights can hardly forget.
And now this unspeakable murder. It comes in the wake of the Sangh Parivar’s push to stomp out whatever gains women have made in this country through decades of struggle and consecrate in its place, Brahmanical dandaneethi, to discipline women. Hadiya’s case demonstrated how the Brahmanical idea of daughters being subject to fathers, and by extension, male members of their communities, is being pushed heavily by the Sangh. Yet another tragic case, that of Athira, who was butchered in cold blood by her father to prevent her from marrying her chosen partner, a dalit man – and more importantly, the fact that these two vile men have received much support on and outside social media – warn us of how normalized this idea may have become. We have also seen the rising tide of violence against women of marginalized communities of all sorts, and the lesser value attributed to those bodies and selves is all the more apparent today. In an unprecedented way, women are being made to bear the burdens of the faith, the community, as objects to establish their honour and dishonour. In the present crime, this appears to be all the more present — settlers against nomads, and it is a little girl who is made to pay, drowned in infinite pain.
Let us remain vigilant about the lies of power. There are whatsapp messages going around claiming that all Hindus have been insulted, when clearly, most critics have pointed fingers at Hindutva. Yesterday, I was in a TV show with a senior BJP leader from Kerala who reeled out lie after lie — he looked as though he was drugged with fake news. While he accused us of communalizing the issue –it is his party which took to the streets first for ‘Hindus’, in order to defend the accused – he did not have the slightest compunction to communalize the murder of a young woman, a Dalit law student in Kerala, making it into a murder by a Muslim man! But most terrifying of all was his readiness to sacrifice the 15-year-old boy accused, so that the adults may be saved, just what the conspirators allegedly wished! He took pains to establish this teenager’s depravity — he failed in Class VIII, he troubled girls, and the school threw him out, and further, he was a vattan, so his family sent him away to his uncle’s. Now, in Malayalam, vattan means ‘crazed’ or ‘loony’ — it is a very derogatory way to refer to a mentally-challenged person. In this case, a 15-year-old child. Failing in Class 8 and ‘troubling; girls at the age of 13, were presented as though they were shocking crimes, and the school’s (completely unacceptable) decision, as well as the family’s decision to banish their son who they claim, was unwell were presented as entirely acceptable!
My head spins when I think this: here is a bunch of people who can shameless weaponize their own faith so that local elites all over the country — UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Rajasthan, Kerala , for starters — can deploy it against those who defy their will or stand in their way, or irritate them in whatever way, and these people are most often Dalits and Muslim. Here is a beastly horde which would not hesitate to defend members of their community accused of using an eight-year-old girl heinously, turning her into an object to be violated so that her community could be taught a ‘lesson’. Here is a ghastly pack that would use and then sacrifice their underage boys to secure their vile ends. In these three ways, the purveyors of Hindutva stand stripped naked, displaying their ugly power unabashedly. Some have described this, rightly, as India’s darkest hour.
In a recent discussion on television, I declared that I will do my utmost to stem the spread of hate through Hindutva around me. I referred to how the so-called Angry Hanuman stickers are finding space in hired vehicles around me and said that I will not use these vehicles which project this symbol of hate. Charmy Harikrishnan, a journalist, and a certain Padma Pillai, clearly a Sangh supporter, took umbrage. The journalist seems to be living in her own little fairyland of free speech and has probably never heard of hate speech. Since the sun that shines down in this enchanted world is a certain vapid secularism, I am not all surprised that she remains oblivious to the difference between benign religious symbols and aggressive ones, and of course, the fairy couch does not allow anyone to even dream of the possibility that there may indeed be a politics of cultural symbols. Yes, slumbering in the green woods also wouldn’t let anyone notice that this is already by now taken over by the most bellicose of Sanghi groups. But we Malayalis have known the Hanuman in other forms, and not just as Bhaktha, but also as a grand old ape, taming the noxious ego of the fully-armed Bheema with the flick of a tail — the wonderful meeting of the two in the Mahabharatha, retold by Kunjan Nambiar is known to most of us, at least in my generation.
That is really the Hanuman the BJP needs, to tame its endless hubris. The Roudra Hanuman is a favourite of the horribly aggressive gangs that roam the streets of North Indian cities armed with all kinds of truculent symbols and weapons, aimed quite openly and directly at Muslims and Dalits. And of course, he appeared in a city meant to be burned and desecrated, taken by force, Lanka. Kerala is NOT Lanka, Madam. We are not letting anyone burn it. Padma Pillai said that she will pay an extra tip of Rs 50 to drivers who had the menacing image on their vehicles. Ah, how nicely her mind matches that of the BJP leader! This is how perhaps all the contributions that party receives are spent — to bribe people to be supporters and brag about it too? There is a saying in Malayalam that if a banyan tree grows out of a shameless fellow, he will take it to be a shade. Ms Pillai feels proud to hint that she would not hesitate to bribe!!
Padma Pillai and Charmy Harikrishnan are two different ways in which Kerala would close its eyes to the rising tide of communal hate rising from the weaponising of faith. My own socialization as a Hindu was very different. It had to do with reading the Halasya Mahatmyam, the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha, and the idea that God is everywhere and could take any form and at any time. The good believer, according to my grandmother, waited for God’s test — by appearing before you in human or animal form. And therefore one could not treat the other disrespectfully in any way, under any circumstance. This faith was surely naive, and definitely, and much deeper and profound interventions as those of Sree Narayana Guru’s were a stronger presence then, besides other ways of doing the faith. The plurality of faith is what the Hindutva brigade wishes to exterminate. I am also told by yet another group that one should just look away from these violent, aggressive symbols of Hindutva in public space, and join more worthwhile struggles, especially the Dalit uprising in India. I couldn’t agree more with the latter part of the suggestion, but do not think that the former is contrary to the latter.
On April 23, women are gathering in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram for a day-long fast from 10 to 5 to protest against the tsunami of hatred submerging the country and to beg forgiveness of the community wronged so grievously, and from the little one tortured and killed by vile men for their petty ends. I am going too. Please do join us if you are in the city.