What happened in Gujarat has been chronicled by many and has understandably aroused national and international indignation. Never before have the dreadful possibilities of communal hatred so brutally come to the fore. Notwithstanding the attempts to push them under the carpet and to seek an alibi for the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion, it is unlikely to be so easily erased from public memory. Yet, it is necessary to outlive the inhuman experience of this attempt at genocide with the collaboration and connivance of the state and come to grips with its implications for the future of the Republic. For what is at stake are the fundamental principles on which rest the well-being of the society.
There is no simple answer to why Gujarat happened. The how is often a reflection of why. Even a preliminary reading of the data collected by several organisations and individuals reveal its fairly long period of gestation, ideologically and organisationally. The theories of retaliation and spontaneity have by now been laid to rest. The evidence about planning and organisation is so overwhelming that the extent, the intensity and the continuity of violence are not the least surprising. Communalism, by general scholarly consensus, is an urban phenomenon, with the middle class as its social base and the poor and the marginalised as its fodder. But the recent events in Gujarat indicate a change: the conflict has spilled over from the urban to the rural sector. Not only the geographical but also the social reach has undergone visible change. Unlike on previous occasions, this time around the number of people involved in violence - arson, looting, murder and rape - is very large, in some areas numbering 10,000 to 15,000. And they were drawn from all sections of society - the Adivasis, the Dalits, OBCs and upper castes. The reach of communal consciousness in Gujarat society has expanded in recent times, both vertically and horizontally.
No single cause would explain the massive mobilisation of communal sentiment witnessed in Gujarat. Several interests - economic, political, cultural and ideological - have converged to create a social situation in which the irrational and the coercive gained dominance. The social disruption it brought about inhered in it several characteristics of fascism - intolerance, hatred, brutality and urge for ethnic cleansing. And the triumph of fascism, as Peter Fritzsche has observed, "has to be sought as much in the realm of ideas and loyalties as in the convergence of economic and military crisis". It is in this context the sustained ideological work by the members of the Sangh Parivar, particularly during the last 20 years, which has induced a social consciousness informed by communal solidarity and religious antagonism, becomes meaningful.
The ideas and loyalties which communalism represent have percolated into both civil and political society in Gujarat. In creating such a situation, the cultural and social intervention by the volunteers of the Parivar has indeed played a crucial role. More important, however, is the contribution of agencies such as the media, education and culture. They have grievously misrepresented both the past and the present. The past is so constructed in innumerable pamphlets circulated all over Gujarat, invoking history from the time of the attack on the Somnath temple by Muhammad Ghori to events leading to the partition of India, in order to demonise the Muslims and thus to ostracise them. The Christians were similarly portrayed in the context of conversion. The present, on the other hand, is vitiated by the circulation of rumours like the possible attack of Hindus by the Haj pilgrims, returning with lethal weapons and explosives. The notion that non-Hindu is an enemy has been widely popularised and has unfortunately gained acceptance in the minds of many. The unprecedented participation of people drawn from different social strata was partly the result of the shared feeling of common community interest and antagonism to others thus created in society.
Gujarat society is undergoing an almost complete religious demarcation. Ghettoisation, though a defensive mechanism, promotes aggression and is likely to enhance the possibilities of violence. A major casualty in Gujarat the right of the citizen to the protection of his life and property by the state. Acting in a partisan manner the institutions of the state discriminated the citizens on the basis of their religious denomination. If a former Member of Parliament failed to get help from the Government, the plight of ordinary people is better imagined. A large number of people suddenly realised that they had no citizenship rights or they had become second-class citizens because of their religious belonging. This was not accidental but wilful negligence by the state. M. S. Golwalkar had advocated that non-Hindus had no right to equal citizenship unless they subject themselves culturally and politically to the dominance of the Hindus. The Government in Gujarat was implementing this dictum, both in letter and spirit. As a result the non-discriminatory citizenship, which is the essence of democracy, ceased to exist in Gujarat. The state institutions, which were slowly but surely communalised over the last few years, were privy to this partisan attitude. Thus the protectors themselves turned into persecutors. The Gujarat pogrom was the result of the convergence of purpose of a communalised state and a part of civil society.
Those who claim to represent the `majority' are now imposing conditions for the return of those displaced. These unfortunate victims are forced to renounce their citizenship rights as a precondition for their right to live on their own property. The Government does not seem to have intervened to restore their rights. This has serious implications for democracy as no nation with a demographic composition drawn from different religious communities can claim to be democratic if discrimination, either social or political, based on religious identity is practiced. Majoritarianism is essentially anti-democratic as it denies the principle of equality in social and political life. Both the state and society appear to have come under the influence of majoritarianism, as interpreted not only in terms of the rights of the religious majority but also antagonistic to the rights of the minority. The Gujarat events are attempts to enforce this divided and discriminative citizenship based on religious differences. Indian democracy hasn't had such a body blow in its history.
Gujarat is therefore a political marker, heralding a new stage in the advance of Hindutva to the realization of its fascist potential. The forebodings of fascism have been in the air for quite some time. Its ideological origins are rooted in the Hindu revivalism in the 19th century and further articulated in the early part of the 20th by communal ideologues such as V. D. Savarkar and M. S. Golwalkar. The praxis of Hindu communalism in recent years has foregrounded its fascist possibilities, more clearly in the events of Gujarat. Those who believe that fascism has arrived may not be very much off the mark, as it is only waiting to cross the doorsteps when the state and society finally succumb to Hindutva. The question then is whether the secular forces, scattered in a variety of social and political formations, are ready and willing to take cognisance of the war cry fascism raised in Gujarat. That is before the night falls.
The writer is a historian and filmmaker.
Courtesy: The Hindustan Times
25-26 July 2002
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