Faith and fear

Sangh Parivar’s view of nationhood, citizenship and entitlements is based on narrow definitions of faith, and the purveying of fear.

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published: October 4, 2017 12:05 am
Mohan Bhagwat, RSS, Rohingya, Rohingya muslims, Hindus from Myanmar, Rohingya muslims in india, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, VHP, RSS, RSS chief Golwalkar, Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim League, Narendra Dabholkar, Narendra Dabholkar murder, Govind Pansare, Govind Pansare murder, MM Kalburgi, Kalburgi murder, Gauri Lankesh, Gauri Lankesh murder, mohan bhagwat, indian nationalism, nationalism, indian express, express column RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (Source: Express Photo/Monica Chaturvedi)

It’s a worldview that is at odds with the modernity and republicanism crafted in the Constitution. A fundamental belief, indoctrinated through skewed “history” lessons in the shakha, that religion and faith systems draw the faultlines of entitlement, rights and citizenship. It governs the officialdom today, and tells us, quite unashamedly, that the Rohingya (never mind that they are poor and distraught) are a security threat simply because they are Muslim. The Chakmas are not, the Hindus from Myanmar are not, but the Rohingya are a threat because of their faith.

Who is Indian? A draft legislation proposed by this regime says that only non-Muslims — Hindus, of course, and “Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants”. The proposed law signals the institutionalisation of discriminatory citizenship. Back in 1991, this writer, then with Business India, was gifted a “map of Ahmedabad” by a then far more tentative Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The VHP was born in 1964 when the then RSS chief, M.S. Golwalkar, met a select group of sanyasi heads of religious organisations in Mumbai with the aim of launching a new organisation to unite all Hindu religious sects and tribals under a single umbrella and a homogenised version of religion.

The VHP’s map of Ahmedabad had clearly defined zones — the green and the bhagwa/saffron. The old city was coded green (read Muslims). The message to its cadres was clear. Use any means, fair or foul, to limit the “Muslim” spread to the rest of Ahmedabad. One particularly bloody incident during the Rath Yatra violence in 1991, which I reported, haunts me. Two Gujarati woman shoved off a middle-aged Muslim professional from his second-floor home in Narangpura, seen as a posh “ours, not theirs”part of the go-getter city. He fell to a bloody death. This was only one among increasing instances of women engaging physically in acts of neighbourhood terror. The messaging was against integration, and for confining and segregating Muslims to ghettos. This pair of Gujarati behens were felicitated during the Navrati of 1991, revealing more about the militarised, exclusivist “Hinduism” of the RSS and the VHP.

B.S. Moonje’s Diary No 6-17, 1946, written en route to Islampur in Bihar, makes for fascinating, if chilling reading. This RSS ideologue, who after a visit to Benito Mussolini’s camps in 1931 started first the Rifle Association in Nagpur and then established Bhonsala Military Academy in Nashik and then Dehradun in 1936, was touring districts affected by pre-Partition riots. Sixty Muslims of Junair, Patna, had been converted to Hinduism “of their own accord” by some Arya Samajists. Moonje recounts, in almost gloating terms, the “power of the fear of death” among battered Muslims, signalling that — ideologically and organisationally — this was the way to go.

Addressing a meeting in Delhi, Moonje said: “I found the Moslems were so frightened from their experience in the Bihar disturbances that they came to me and said with folded hands, ‘Huzoor, Babuji, hum Hindu hokar rahengay…’ This was the first experience of its kind in my life. Fear of death is great. Concluding my speech, I said, this is how people are to be coverted to a new Religion of conscience and propaganda are of no use. They only cause waste of money with practically no result whatsoever (my emphasis).”

The fear of death after the use of targeted violence to achieve a political objective makes for an unbeatable combination. It has been nurtured since 1946, and evident in bouts of orchestrated and targeted violence. These have transformed into full-blown pogroms post Independence.

At the core of this instrumental use of a militarised form of faith is the transformation — through a climate and fear of violence and death — of India as articulated during the Independence movement and exemplified in the republic’s founding document, the Constitution. Theocracy, or religion-based nationhood, was unequivocally rejected by India’s Constituent Assembly. It was exclusivist outfits who were one in their worldview, the RSS (and Hindu Mahasabha) and the Muslim League, which successfully projected that Muslims could not be part of a composite nation with Hindus.

Today, this worldview that unashamedly articulates nationhood, citizenship and entitlements based on narrow definitions of faith, dominates the Indian Parliament and rules 12 states (another five in alliance). No wonder that people like Mohan Bhagwat now call for a paradigm shift away from India’s Constitution to one based on the “ethos of our society”. Is the ethos that the RSS speaks of the one that Moonje so accurately described after the blood-letting of 1946? An ethos of violence crafted around the fear of death?

For any dispensation in the 21st century, in a country of 1.3 billion people, a good 15 per cent of whom are Muslim, 2-3 per cent Christian, 27 per cent Dalit, a physical ethnic cleansing of those “not Hindu” may not be easy or practical. But periodic and brute lynchings by the brainwashed and armed cadres of these hydra organisations are useful to build such an ethos, based on the fear of death. As Moonje believed, the fear of death is the tool to keep Muslims in line and Christians sufficiently fearful. Top this with bullets, aimed at sane, courageous dissenting voices who question the very construct of the homogenised Hindu, and who assert — Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh — that our ethos has been one of resistance to any homogeneity, assertion of dissent and difference, the stranglehold on our freedoms is near complete.

Which ethos does Ambedkar belong to? The Sangh claims him as its own, but arguably, Ambedkar, with his sharp and biting articulations — for instance, Annihilation of Caste — alive, would also been a target of elimination.

The writer is a civil rights activist, educationist and journalist.

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