Growing fascist intolerance
Bharatiya Janata Party Mahila Morcha activists attacked writer Arundhati Roy's residence in Delhi on Sunday for her remarks on azaadi in Kashmir.
This marks a new low for the forces of bigotry and intolerance in India. The attack, the Morcha said, was timed to coincide with the birth anniversary of former home minister Vallabhbhai Patel, whom Hindutva groups are trying to appropriate.
But it's Patel who banned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP's parent, after Gandhi's assassination, and warned Hindutva supporters against trying to suborn the Indian state.
The events leading to the attack follow a definite pattern. First, Roy's remarks on Kashmir are distorted to mean that she favours India's break-up. What she said -- like many Kashmiris, including Chief Minister Omar Abdullah recently -- was that the status of Jammu and Kashmir is not settled despite its Maharaja's accession to India in October 1947.
Indeed, the Shimla agreement of 1972, and efforts by various Indian governments, including Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee's, to reach a settlement on Kashmir with Pakistan, testify to the existence of an issue or dispute.
Roy also spoke of Kashmir's brutal military occupation. But it's undeniable that over 400,000 security forces are present in the Valley, and some 20,000 deaths have occurred there over two decades.
Second, the BJP demands that the government sue Roy for sedition. By saying it is examining the issue, the government partly legitimises the repugnant idea that Roy's sober reflection on Kashmir was meant to create "disaffection" and "hatred" against the state.
This erases the vital distinction between remarks which are controversial, even disagreeable, but acceptable in a democracy, and those which explicitly incite violence.
Three, mercifully, the centre drops the idea of prosecuting Roy, but sections of the media call Roy an "impostor" and a "traitor." TV channels send outdoor broadcasting vans to Roy's residence ahead of the BJP mob.
They become an accessory to a criminal attack and violate the fundamental right to free expression -- to earn higher Television Rating Points!
The hysteria against Roy goes back to the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, when a Right-wing TV anchor screamed: "Arundhati Roy, where are you? We want to tell you we hate you …." This is akin to the fascist targeting of dissidents and critics.
The Supreme Court too had punished Roy for contempt of court for saying, in the context of the Narmada dam, that the judiciary complacently believes that those who build large dams respect the Constitution and the human rights of displaced people.
This interpretation of contempt of court, against which truth is no defence, elevates the higher judiciary to divinity, and victimises a writer with the courage to speak the truth about the state's excesses and destructive projects.
One needn't agree with Roy 100% to say this. I disagree, for instance, with her analysis of the Naxal movement in Chhattisgarh. But I unconditionally defend her right to express herself.
The anti-Roy attack has a context. The Hindu Right has launched a two-pronged offensive on freedom and democracy. Its first campaign is against books, plays and films, which it dislikes for arbitrary, irrational reasons. It wants them banned for offending the sentiments of "the majority community" (which it doesn't represent).
This has culminated in the Shiv Sena's successful attempt to get Rohinton Mistry's fine novel removed from the reading list of Bombay University's English literature course.
The parivar has attacked exhibitions and academic institutions in different cities, and driven MF Hussain, India's best-known modern painter, into exile. Over the years, India has accepted such offences against freedom and tolerance, which degrade its democracy.
If we tolerate the intolerance of those who claim to speak for "the majority." for "the real India" (as if there's only one!), for "Indian culture." for "Bharatiya Nari," we destroy the soul of tolerance and punish those we might disagree with, but who cause no harm to others.
We become numb towards the value of freedom for a healthy social life and the public sphere. A society which cannot countenance multiple ways of looking at reality, or diversity of cultures and beliefs, and which cannot peacefully debate differences, isn't healthy.
Tolerance is an essential attribute of democracy. The Right is driving India towards a devalued and majoritarian half-democracy.
The Hindu Right's second campaign aims to shield some of its most violent elements, implicated in numerous recent bombings of Muslim dargahs and mosques. The Rajasthan Anti-Terrorism Squad's charge-sheet in the October 2007 Ajmer dargah blasts, which killed three persons, names five accused, of whom four are associated with the RSS.
Suspicion centres particularly on RSS national executive council member Indresh Kumar. He organised a secret meeting in October 2005, which discussed the strategy for conducting the blast. He was in regular contact with Sunil Joshi, who is believed to have made and triggered the Ajmer bomb with Harshad Solanki.
Solanki has just been arrested by the Rajasthan police. He's a prime accused in Gujarat's Best Bakery case -- an ominous connection.
Indresh Kumar and other RSS members are connected with the shadowy Jai Vande Mataram -- itself linked to Abhinav Bharat, which was behind the September 2006 Malegaon blasts and Hyderabad's May 2007 Mecca Masjid bombings.
The RSS has responded to these disclosures by deciding to launch nationwide protests (read, political bullying) against "a political conspiracy" to link it to terrorist activities.
If the link is established, the RSS's "nationalist" and "patriotic" credentials would collapse, with consequences similar to those in 1948-49, when it was accused of involvement in Gandhi's assassination.
The RSS believes it's legitimate to kill the religious minorities to fulfil its narrow political goals. But it hides behind labels like "cultural nationalism" to deny it has a political agenda.
The Hindu Right's terrorism is no less pernicious than Islamic-jehadi extremism. It's often more insidious -- when it's treated with kid-gloves by the state and successfully infiltrates the police.
Punishing Hindutva terrorism is a litmus test for India's democracy. It must not fail it.