Corona Narratives III:Enmity, Hatred and Livelihood in times of Communal Virus

Ahmad (name changed) has been our regular kabadiwallah (junk dealer). He would come whenever we called him to collect newspapers, empty bottles, old junk of any kind. Around two years back he took a lot of time to come and, in fact, told us that he could come only on Sunday. I was perplexed at this. When he came I asked him whether he was not there in Delhi and had gone to his village in Uttar Pradesh his answer proved my premonition right – that of an economy which is making most people’s lives miserable. He said sale and purchase of junk was not providing two time’s meal for his family so he has become a daily wager and does this junk-dealing only on Sundays. During this Coronavirus lockdown he must be finding it difficult to survive. When a few daily-wagers have become vegetable vendors he cannot even resort to this new profession because he could neither purchase/rent a cart nor could he manage to hide his identity very easily. And I started thinking about the forms that capitalism can take – demonising individuals and communities, forcing them to verge of hunger. People would die but the system would survive because it has developed mechanism to tide over its crisis. It has created a consensus and has an army of mercenaries at work doing this. They include analysts and intellectuals who ensure that our eyes miss the fundamental flaw – that lies with the structure of the system itself, which takes inequality, hunger and impoverishment as normal because its functionality is bound to produce and reproduce these aspects. Capitalism-in-crisis has resorted to a powerful pedagogical tool – spread lies to such an extent that they become truths which no one could nullify. Lies become convincingly true, much more truer than the truth thereby nullifying the idea of truth itself.

People must have watched the video that went viral and even news channels showed it – a vegetable vendor was being asked to produce his Aadhar card to ascertain his religious identity. In many cases they are beaten up. The social media went into its usual hyper-activity following discovery of infected persons at a programme of Tablighi Jammat, after all the Right-wing and the fence sitters needed something to once again vilify the Muslims. We have seen in last two decades or so the way social media has been used to create a division in society based on religion. It becoming increasingly clearer that anything majoritarian is beyond law and other instruments of state in our times because it has either merged with the state or it has become supra-state. That is the reason any shouting match (as nearly all TV channels are constantly under adrenalin rush) on television goes unnoticed by the law, which sometimes becomes hyperactive and does something called suo moto cognizance. It is capable enough to differentiate why certain developments qualify to be cognized as such and certain others do not.

It does not really matter today if houses and shops are razed to the ground in the heart of the nation by a planned act of violence in name of religion. Strange logic seems to be at work when one after another intellectuals and journalists are booked under UAPA on one hand while on the other hand high decibel hate factories (read TV channels) are given respite by justice system. The intellectuals who simply analyse, dissent and write are considered terrorists. It is a weird, dystopic world governed by the Snowmen that we are living in. Everyone is under constant watch under some pretext or the other. Across the world, surveillance has increased but we know that some are watched with more seriousness while others are not. The law also works differently while some are not arrested despite ample proofs and others are arrested with much swiftness. But it seems normal – those in power would always look the other way when their own cadres engage in acts of violence. However, the liberal bourgeois democracy, which survives on its own self-appreciation of being democratic, and objectivity, is seeing a new moment.

In everyday lives, the reality is that communalisation has seeped in. The vigorous campaign that was launched by the Right and their cohorts has gone down deep among the masses – something that the ruling class in crisis would also love. After all, it is easier to blame the others for any crisis – the German Nazis did it on Jews and communists and in India it can be done on the minorities. I was feeling uncomfortable in asking the vegetable vendor his name and his place of origin, which I usually do for rapport building. My fear came from what was being done to the vegetable vendors and what was being done to the Muslims. He confidently gave me his details, including the phone number so that I can contact him during lockdown for vegetables. Only the other day another vendor said how Muslims have spread the virus – and I realised the success of the Right in their agenda. They are being deprived of their everyday economic means. It has been ensured that we stop thinking rationally. A human relationship, bereft of religion or even with two individuals with different religious faiths coexisting, is becoming more and more impossible. Enmity and hatred is the principle that governs our lives today and it gets encouraged by the formal and informal structures of power. Imagine what would happen to those who are struggling to meet their ends meet. I am reminded of the poem that Nagarjun wrote in 1983:

तेरी खोपड़ी के अंदर (1983)

गले से
रुद्राक्ष की लम्बी माला
लटक रही थी
जोगिया कलरवाले
कुर्ते पर
दाहिने कान से
लाल फूल अटका पड़ा था,
चमक रहा था भाल पर
चंदन का पीला तिलक
वो अपना रिक्शा
मेरे निकट ले आया
“नमस्ते बाबाजी!”
संजीदगी में बोला
“किधर को ले चलूँ बाबाजी?”

मैं उसको गौर से देखने लगा
वो अच्छा-भला युवक था,
गंदमी सुरत का डबल-पतला!

बड़ी-बड़ी आँखे, सुरमई
चौड़ी पेशानी पर
चमक रहा था चंदन का टीका
लूँगी पीली थी
पैर ख़ाली थे

“चलो बाबाजी,
किधर ले चलूँ?
छीपी तालाब?
बेगमपुल?”

कि इतने में
एक और युवक
इन कानो में
फुसफुसाके कह गया –
“ख़बरदार, यह मुसलमान है
इसके रिक्शे पर
कभी ना बैठना आप!”
मगर अपना साथी
अ अ बोला –
“हम इसी का रिक्शा लेते है।“
हमने उससे कहा –
“हॉस्टल ले चलो,
हाँ-हाँ, मेरठ कालेज हॉस्टल ।“
हमे हॉस्टल के गेट पर
पहुँचाकर
निहायत नरम आवाज़ मे
वो कहने लगा –
“बाबाजी, हम चुटैया भी रखेंगे
आठ-दस रोज़ की
भुखमरी के बाद
हमारे अंदर
य अक्किल फूटी है।

“बाबाजी,
रुद्राक्ष के मनके
अच्छी मजूरी दिला रहे हैं

“बाबाजी, अब हम
चूट्टना भी रखेंगे माथे पे
अब हम चंदन का टीका भी
रोज़ लगाते रहेंगे
बाबाजी, अब हम
अपना नाम भी तो
‘परेम परकास’ बतलाते है
……….
……….
अपना रिक्शा लेकर
प्रेम प्रकाश जा रहा था
और हम डोनो
मिनटों उसे जाते हुए
देखते रहे
यों तो वो
कल्लू था –
कल्लू रिक्शावाला
यानी कालिमुद्दीन
मगर अब वो
‘परेम परकास’
कहलाना पसंद करेगा
कालिमुद्दीन तो
बख की भट्टी में
ख़ाक हो गया था

“जीयो बेटा प्रेम प्रकाश!
हाँ-हाँ, चोटी ज़रूर रख लो।
और हाँ, पूरनमासी के दिन
गढ़ की गंगा में डूब लगा आना!
हाँ-हाँ, तेरा यही लिबास
तेरे को रोजी-रोटी देगा !
……….
लेकिन तू इतना तो ज़रूर करना
मुझे उस नाले के क़रीब
ले चलना कभी
उस नाले के क़रीब
जहां कल्लू का कुनबा रहता है!
मैं उसकी बूढ़ी दादी के पास,
बीमार अब्बाज़ान के पास
बैठकर चाय पी आऊँगा कभी!
कल्लू के नन्हे मुन्ने
मेरी दाढ़ी के बाल
सहलाएँगे…..

Reads so true even today. It has not changed. It has aggravated and intensified. One needs to be worried at the generalisation of hatred.

Celebrating Eid in Kashmir and the Growing Insensitivity of Our Times

A newspaper reported that 18000 people offered namaz in Srinagar on Friday (the Jumma before Eid). The population of Srinagar as per 2011 census was around 11.8 lakhs. And one wonders why the number of people offering prayers was too low generally and secondly, why does one want it as the news headlines. Muslims offering prayers on this day in Delhi did not make it to news. Obviously, the situation is abnormal and has been created wilfully. This Eid will not be same for the people of Kashmir, as guns seem to outnumber people. There is something wrong, abnormal as the Jama Masjid of Srinagar remained closed even on the last Jumma before Eid.

Festivals are always eagerly awaited. For some like the Bengalis they literally go crazy so does the market months before Durga Puja each year. There is a lot of planning, managing the everyday during those four-five days. Festivities have their own important place in our lives. People await Diwali, Christmas or Navratra because it gives them opportunities to do what they cannot during the rest of the year. They express love towards their dear ones, be with them, remind themselves that they are part of a human society after all the alienating lives they lead throughout the year struggling to meet their everyday necessities. It is the sense of celebration that entices people apart from their religious significance. This is the reason why there is more than one Eid (which means ‘celebration’). Munshi Premchand describes the exuberance of Eid ul Fitr in his famous story Eidgah:

A full thirty days after Ramadan comes Eid. How wonderful and beautiful is the morning of Eid! The trees look greener, the field more festive, the sky has a lovely pink glow. Look at the sun! It comes up brighter and more dazzling than before to wish the world a very happy Eid. The village is agog with excitement. Everyone is up early to go to the Eidgah mosque. One finds a button missing from his shirt and is hurrying to his neighbour’s house for thread and needle. Another finds that the leather of his shoes has become hard and is running to the oil-press for oil to grease it.

There is supposed to be a sense of excitement in air for everyone – old and young, men and women. The Jumma before the Eid is an important one and like any other festivity it is expected that the families reunite and celebrate the festival. The young, impressionable minds, who would have enjoyed the day most would ask why they were denied the pleasure. Those who deny become perpetrators for those young minds and on this day they would see the troops as those perpetrators managing the mosques, the streets and markets not letting them go free, run around and engage in all kind of disobedient acts that they would have done. The discomfort at being monitored every second destroys the possibility of celebration even if officially there is a relaxation of curfew. Premchand captured how the young boys waited more for this day than others. He wrote:

The boys are more excited than the others. Some of them kept only one  fast— and that only till noon. Some didn’t even do that. But no one can deny  them the joy of going to the Eidgah. Fasting is for the grown-ups and the  aged. For the boys it is only the day of Eid. They have been talking about it  all the time. At long last the day has come.

However, the Kashmiris cannot contact their family members and or be with them. Whatever the Indian state did has denied the possibility of celebration of one of their most awaited festivals to a huge community. It has taken away the basic right that any individual wants – be with their family, celebrate with freedom the festivities and enjoy the day that the children, youth, old, men and women await so eagerly.

The Human Pain and Suffering and Insensitivity of Our Times

What surprises is that the people in rest of India are more driven by what the Indian state has done and less concerned with the sufferings of other humans. Would it have been a normal, acceptable situation if people were denied celebration of Diwali or Durga Puja in Delhi or Calcutta? It would have created a havoc as media would have ran campaigns to show how people were denied of even their basic human desires of celebration, meet their families and share the joys with others. Media houses move their microphones across different locations asking people what they think about the abrogation of Article 370. People respond with a predominantly positive feeling about abrogation. Newspapers do not even mention that there are protests and that there is huge discomfort that people are experiencing at being denied the normalcy of leading their everyday lives. Rather, there are WhatsApp messages now celebrating the possibility of buying land in Kashmir or showing a saffron image of an Akhand Bharat. The political patriarchs are joking about the Kashmiri women. What all of them, from the people on the streets to the political patriarchs, miss is the pain and suffering of Kashmiri people and forget that those pains are same for everyone whether it happens in Delhi or Srinagar and Kargil. 

One of the hallmarks of what has happened in last five-six years has been the intensification of a dehumanising ethos. We do not get perturbed when someone is lynched, when mass crimes of rape and physical violence happens against particular communities, when food censor happens for the majority simply because they like to eat non-vegetarian food during the whole year. The protests or solidarity meetings that happen against lynching or against atrocities on tribal and intellectuals are attended by very few people. Increasingly, the feeling of empathy has replaced with mechanical world of try to guard one’s own interests and if any act that does not remotely appears connected with these interests one lets it go. On the other hand, the media (social and electronic alike) manages to create a consensus about what is one’s interest. This process has led to insensitivity towards the others who are made to suffer.

The most obscene manifestation of this will be when Kashmiri people won’t be celebrating Eid and the rest of India will be indifferent to them watching and re-watching Indian Oil sponsored display of masculinity with Bear Grylls in evening.

Photo courtesy: Khaleej Times

When Haryana Burnt: Religion, Politics and Lumpenism

The Failure of the Haryana Government

Why the Haryana government failed to ensure that the violence that Panchkula and Sirsa witnessed is more than merely a law and order question because law and order is as much a political as social question. As pointed out by courts despite section 144 thousands of supported marched into the city whereas we know that the few hundred workers trying to hold a meeting in the Honda compound were beaten up mercilessly and very often smaller sized marches by workers and civil society are repressed with utmost efficacy. In other words, the thousands who marched inside the city were allowed by the administration to sneak in knowing from past experiences of violence involving Rampal or much later the Jat reservation agitation unless Haryana government admits its inability to handle such incidents.

The administrative machinery has been lenient towards Dera Sacha Sauda because he has been providing them a vote bank. It was way back in 2014 that the Dera supported the BJP in Haryana and asked its supporters to vote for them. The BJP leaders even sought his blessings. The BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) also found his support in Delhi elections in 2015. The pictures of Haryana Chief Minister and leaders like Kailash Vijayvargiya also pointed to the relationship that the present government had with him. In fact, the education minister of the state, Ram Bilas Sharma, defended the march of Dera supporters to Panchkula on grounds that the Dera supporters are peace loving. He, in fact, had donated Rs 51 lakh to the Dera recently. Anil Vij, the senior Minister of the Haryana government had given Dera Rs.50 lakh from his discretionary funds for promoting sports. Manish Grover, another Minister did lag behind and gave his some money from his discretionary fund. In other words, if the political party running the state has such a close relationship with the Dera it was impossible for the law and order machinery to act against them. The administration could only maintain the appearance of being on guard while allowing the mob build up in the otherwise quiet township.

The implications of such a politics are serious. We have seen in recent past how godmen have been charged with serious criminal charges and have been awaiting court judgements – ranging from Asaram to Rampal to Ram Rahim. It is important to note that these are are also extremely rich entities. For instance, the Dera’s income was Rs 165,248,455 in 2010-11; In the year 2011-12, it grew to Rs 202,099,999 and in the 2012-13, it touched Rs 290,818,760.

Once this money combines with the political connections it produces an extremely corrupt and deviational religious entity. A process of militarisation of such sects also start as we saw in case of Rampal and now in case of Ram Rahim, who is also one of the 36 people in India to get a VVIP status and Z level security. While such personalities must be held liable for their acts the political formations, which help them in building an empire based on sheer lumpenism and violence waiting beneath the appearance of quietude and solidarity, must also be held liable.

BJP’s Politics: Opposing Judiciary, Supporting Violence Against Women?

BJP has a history of its leaders coming out openly in support of chargesheeted godmen such as Uma Bharti’s defence of Asaram Bapu in 2013. Their understanding of women’s position was also clear when their leaders remarked that they must remain within their laxman rekha or that they must not wear jeans, etc. The events of August 25 are more or less a repetition of the same understanding within the party. With over twenty people killed in the first few hours after the judgement, the statement of the Haryana Chief Minister that some miscreants had infiltrated the followers was still an act of trying to save the Dera leader from further humiliation. Thankfully, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has been extremely proactive and ordered that all his properties be attached. Even in such a moment apart from the milder reaction of the Haryana Chief Minister the vocal BJP leader Sakshi Maharaj stood for the convicted godman. He not only put the onus of violence on the Court, which convicted Ram Rahim, but also indirectly meant that he should not have been convicted. His conviction appears to be an attack on India’s culture to the Member of Parliament.

The MP asks as to why was the voice of one person (meaning the complainant) given so much of importance when crores stand with him. The ramification of such a defence is also that the complaint filed by a woman in this highly patriarchal society should not be given as much as importance as the larger (patriarchal) society itself. Hence, let the oppression continue because it hurts the perpetrators. Now the question also remains that why does BJP and its progressive Beti Bachao Beti Padao rhetoric has space for such voices and such politics to coexist within itself. It may not be a rocket science to answer this question given the history ad politics of the Right but it needs to be answered by the ruling party in light of all its rhetorics and even other formations who have been patronising this phenomena as why would noboy came in defence of the women who for so long stuck to their complaints when powerful politician and officials were trying to pressurise the CBI official to drop the case.

What also needs to be understood is how such a huge following from the poor, marginalised section of society gets attracted towards such sects. It is more than the charisma of the person – it is also the larger political economy within this needs ot be located.

Photo courtesy: The Economic Times