Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pointing Fingers at Fascists

A fortnight ago I had occasion to visit and write about an exhibition at the Kala Academy that, in my opinion, amounted to trying to create a genocidal, Gujarat-like situation in Goa. Subsequent to its publication the essay was ‘commented’ on by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti- the organizers of the exhibition, and a few others. The more substantial of the criticisms against the column accused me of being Fascist and preventing a peaceful organization from exercising their right to speech. This particular criticism is an interesting one to respond to since it is this single argument that often underlies a number of contentious issues.

Thanks to the Constitution of India, the right to the freedom of speech and expression is the fundamental right of every Indian. And yet, this right is not an absolute right allowing us to say and express everything that we think and feel. The same Article that guarantees us this fundamental right also places restrictions on this right. We may not exercise this right to speech and expression if it threatens to, among other things, impinge on public order or act as incitement to an offence. It was my opinion that the exhibition in exhorting Hindus (and Hindus alone) to hate Muslims and view every single one of them as a potential terrorist was clearly exceeding the rights under the Constitution and entering into the realm of hate-speech. There can be no fundamental right to hate-speech. To allow for hate-speech under the Right to Speech and Expression is to make a fetish of this Right to the point of its loosing its meaning. In fact it would be a fascist tendency that would argue that it has a right to hate-speech, allowing me to turn around and ask my accusers if they and not I are more worthy of the label they award me.

The criticisms also accused me of being a Hindu-hater for asking that their exhibition be banned. Nothing could be further from the truth; on the contrary most of my best friends are Hindu! The exhibition purported a concern for the situation for the Hindus in Kashmir, and truly there is reason to be concerned for the daily violence and bloodshed in Kashmir. It is true that a number of Hindu families have been forced to leave the valley and this is not just tragic but condemnable. But this is not a Hindu tragedy alone since it is also Muslim families and those of other religions that have been forced to leave the valley thanks to the frenzy of violence that engulfs Kashmir. To ignore this dimension of the problem is not to solve the problem, but to only compound it. Any solution to Kashmir must necessarily ensure that all these affected groups are returned in peace to their homeland. The violence in Kashmir is one that should concern any individual not just Hindus. It is the appeal to Hindus alone, thereby excluding others from even expressing concern, or denying their possibility for concern- as indeed is what my critics are doing to me- is what is disturbing about the exhibition and its organizers. What is disturbing about the appeal to a ‘Hindu’ consciousness is that it is based on the denial of all other identities- gender, caste, region, syncretic- and the recollection of historical wrongs that are sought to be redressed in the present. Thus, it wasn’t surprising that responses to the column dragged up the issue of the Inquisition and the destruction of temples in Goa. In doing so, once more the issue was constructed as only a Hindu issue. What these critics forget is that the primary target of the Inquisition was those persons who became Catholic and whose lives subjected to greater stricture than those who managed to retain, through negotiation with the Portuguese state, their religion. This historical recollection of wrongs then, is only a partial recollection, and it is this partiality that we must question to realize that there is something deeply problematic with the construction of a ‘Hindu’ consciousness.

The problem of ‘Hindu’ consciousness is not a unique problem though; it shares more in common with fundamentalist and radical Islam and Christianity that it realizes. Which is why, when we are called to contest Islamic radicalism and the manner in which these radicals begin to define Islam, we are similarly called on to contest Hindutva proponents who seek to tells us that they know Hinduism better than us, and Christian fundamentalists who pervert the religion in their bid for State power. Hindu-Muslim-Sikh- Isai, Sab hain bhai-bhai, went a now forgotten nationalist slogan. It appears that the moment to forge the Brotherhood anew is upon us as the fight with these dark fascist forces looms large on our horizon.
(Published in the Gomantak Times as 'Right to free speech is not Absolute' on 19th October 2007)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Accused of defamation and false propaganda

Following the publication of the earlier essay in the Gomantak Times, the Hindu rightwingers seem to have gotten very upset, accusing me of Defamation and false propaganda. The link to their response to my essay lies below, my public response will follow soon!

Monday, October 1, 2007

An Invitation to Hate and Genocide

This weekend I had the misfortune of visiting the most obnoxious exhibition. Set up by the Hindu Janajagruthi Samiti, the object of the exhibition was to ‘educate’ the average Hindu about the violence by Muslims on the Hindus of Kashmir and Bangladesh. I say ‘educate’ the Hindu, since every display of violence was followed by a caption addressed to the viewer indicating that if they were Hindu, then these visuals should make their blood boil, and tomorrow this violence could possibly be visited on them. If they were not moved, they were not fit to be - and hence not - Hindu. The theme of the exhibition purported to be the violence occurring in Kashmir, and yet, addressing the plight of the Kashmiri whether Hindu or Muslim was not its concern. On the contrary, the attempt through the exhibition was to ensure that local Hindus see the local Muslim as the natural and necessary enemy. What this exhibition is, therefore, is a very clear and deliberate attempt to create communal divisions in Goa.

Now I am not surprised by this display of anti-Muslim hatred, since one has gotten used to seeing this daily violence perpetuated for not being a certain kind of Hindu. For the Hindu right wing, it is not enough to hate only the minorities. Not being brahmanised upper-caste and minority hating is just as bad in their book. What is surprising is that this very blatant organizing of Hindus against Muslims (and by logical conclusion against the Catholics in Goa) is that it is taking place in the premises of the Kala Academy. Why the premier cultural institution of a secular state is allowing violent activities on its premises is a question that the authorities of the Kala Academy must immediately answer. The authorities can reprieve themselves of this abuse of authority only by withdrawing permission for this exhibition immediately. Worse, this is not just an exhibition; there was also a screening of inflammatory documentaries, followed by similar discussion sessions which were nothing short of unnerving.

Walking through the exhibition, the organizing women clamoring quite literally for the blood of local Muslims, was extremely unnerving. I fancy myself as a reasonably rational individual not given to acts of passion. And yet in this environment, I was strangely drawn toward pulling down the posters, destroying the projector and disrupting the meeting that was being conducted, knocking a few heads while I was at it. It was when placed in this environment that I finally realized what it must be like to be a persecuted minority, and especially a Muslim in this country. Every apparently innocuous saffron flag is in fact a threat, telling you that your time is coming and you had better be careful. If then I, as an individual who is not being directly threatened here, who has an escape route out of the country in terms of livelihood options, should respond irrationally and violently to such stimuli, how would a Muslim, already on the economic fringes of society, and subject to no less that 60 years of harassment respond to this threat? The object of the exhibition then, is twofold. It is first to tell the individual that you are Hindu (or not Hindu) first, and that every Muslim is your presumed enemy and you should ‘get’ them before they get you. The objective: The creation of a communal divide, and an invitation to violence. It exceeds this-one sided mobilization however, and also operates as a provocation to local Muslim groups. Of course, once the Muslims have been hounded enough to retaliate, all of society will turn around, refuse to see the provocation and shrug, saying “It is true, these Muslims are violent by nature.” A minimum of 60 years of such violence has produced nervous and insecure Muslim groups in India. 60 and more years of Hindutva aggression has created the communal bloodbaths of this country, and the current exhibition is a fantastic example of who and what is responsible for it.

This particular exhibition has been touring Goa for some months now and it is a sign of the power and arrogance of these groups that they dare to take over the Kala Academy, the space of the secular and sophisticated in our capital. This is nothing less than a final flexing of muscle before they act out their fiendish agenda. While we must guard ourselves from this venom, they must first be cast out from the Kala Academy and the Academy asked to explain how they got there in the first place.
(Published in the Gomantak Times, 2 October 2007)