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Democracy and Religious Fascism in India........
by Saima Alvi
04 July 2002 15:47 UTC
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*Arundhati Roy is the author of Power Politics, the
Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things and
The Cost of Living. This column originally appeared in
Outlook India.

Democracy: Who's she when she's at home? 


Last night a friend from Baroda called. Weeping. It
took her fifteen minutes to tell me what the matter
was. It wasn't very complicated. Only that Sayeeda, a
friend of hers, had been caught by a mob. Only that
her stomach had been ripped open and stuffed with
burning rags. Only that after she died, someone carved
'OM' on her forehead.

Precisely which Hindu scripture preaches this?

Our Prime Minister justified this as part of the
retaliation by outraged Hindus against Muslim
'terrorists' who burned alive 58 Hindu passengers on
the Sabarmati Express in Godhra. Each of those who
died that hideous death was someone's brother,
someone's mother, someone's child. Of course they

Which particular verse in the Quran required that they
be roasted alive?

The more the two sides try and call attention to their
religious differences by slaughtering each other, the
less there is to distinguish them from one another. 
They worship at the same altar. They're both apostles
of the same murderous god, whoever he is. In an
atmosphere so vitiated, for anybody, and in particular
the Prime Minister, to arbitrarily decree exactly
where the cycle started is malevolent and

Right now we're sipping from a poisoned chalice—a
flawed democracy laced with religious fascism. Pure

What shall we do? What can we do?

We have a ruling party that's haemorrhaging. Its
rhetoric against Terrorism, the passing of POTA, the
sabre-rattling against Pakistan (with the underlying
nuclear threat), the massing of almost a million
soldiers on the border on hair-trigger alert, and most
dangerous of all, the attempt to communalise and
falsify school history text-books—none of this has
prevented it from being humiliated in election after
election. Even its old party trick—the revival of the
Ram mandir plans in Ayodhya—didn't quite work out.
Desperate now, it has turned for succour to the state
of Gujarat.

Gujarat, the only major state in India to have a BJP
government has, for some years, been the petri dish in
which Hindu fascism has been fomenting an elaborate
political experiment. Last month, the initial results
were put on public display.

Within hours of the Godhra outrage, the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal put into motion a
meticulously planned pogrom against the Muslim
community. Officially the number of dead is 800.
Independent reports put the figure at well over 2,000.
More than a hundred and fifty thousand people, driven
from their homes, now live in refugee camps. Women
were stripped, gang-raped, parents were bludgeoned to
death in front of their children. Two hundred and
forty dargahs and 180 masjids were destroyed—in
Ahmedabad the tomb of Wali Gujarati, the founder of
the modern Urdu poem, was demolished and paved over in
the course of a night. The tomb of the musician Ustad
Faiyaz Ali Khan was desecrated and wreathed in burning
tyres. Arsonists burned and looted shops, homes,
hotels, textiles mills, buses and private cars.
Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs.

A mob surrounded the house of former Congress MP Iqbal
Ehsan Jaffri.  His phone calls to the Director-General
of Police, the Police Commissioner, the Chief
Secretary, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) were
ignored. The mobile police vans around his house did
not intervene. The mob broke into the house. They
stripped his daughters and burned them alive. Then
they beheaded Ehsan Jaffri and dismembered him. Of
course it's only a coincidence that Jaffri was a
trenchant critic of Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra
Modi, during his campaign for the Rajkot Assembly
by-election in February.

Across Gujarat, thousands of people made up the mobs.
They were armed with petrol bombs, guns, knives,
swords and tridents.Apart from the VHP and Bajrang
Dal's usual lumpen constituency, Dalits and Adivasis
took part in the orgy. Middle-class people
participated in the looting. (On one memorable
occasion a family arrived in a Mitsubishi Lancer.) The
leaders of the mob had computer-generated cadastral
lists marking out Muslim homes, shops, businesses and
even partnerships. 
They had mobile phones to coordinate the action. They
had trucks loaded with thousands of gas cylinders,
hoarded weeks in advance, which they used to blow up
Muslim commercial establishments. They had not just
police protection and police connivance, but also
covering fire.

While Gujarat burned, our Prime Minister was on MTV
promoting his new poems. (Reports say cassettes have
sold a hundred thousand copies.) It took him more than
a month—and two vacations in the hills—to make it to
Gujarat. When he did, shadowed by the chilling Mr
Modi, he gave a speech at the Shah Alam refugee camp.
His mouth moved, he tried to express concern, but no
real sound emerged except the mocking of the wind
whistling through a burned, bloodied, broken world.
Next we knew, he was bobbing around in a golf-cart,
striking business deals in Singapore.

The killers still stalk Gujarat's streets. The lynch
mob continues to be the arbiter of the routine affairs
of daily life: who can live where, who can say what,
who can meet who, and where and when. Its mandate is
expanding quickly. From religious affairs, it now
extends to property disputes, family altercations, the
planning and allocation of water resources... (which
is why Medha Patkar of the NBA was assaulted). Muslim
businesses have been shut down. Muslim people are not
served in restaurants. Muslim children are not welcome
in schools. Muslim students are too terrified to sit
for their exams. Muslim parents live in dread that
their infants might forget what they've been told and
give themselves away by saying 'Ammi!' or 'Abba!' in
public and invite sudden and violent death.

Notice has been given: this is just the beginning.

Is this the Hindu rashtra that we've all been asked to
look forward to? Once the Muslims have been "shown
their place", will milk and Coca-Cola flow across the
land? Once the Ram mandir is built, will there be a
shirt on every back and a roti in every belly? Will
every tear be wiped from every eye? Can we expect an
anniversary celebration next year? Or will there be
someone else to hate by then? Alphabetically—Adivasis,
Buddhists, Christians, Dalits, Parsis, Sikhs? Those
who wear jeans, or speak English, or those who have
thick lips, or curly hair? We won't have to wait long.
It's started already. Will the established rituals
continue? Will people be beheaded, dismembered and
urinated upon? Will foetuses be ripped from their
mothers' wombs and slaughtered? (What kind of depraved
vision can even imagine India without the range and
beauty and spectacular anarchy of all these cultures?
India would become a tomb and smell like a

No matter who they were, or how they were killed, each
person who died in Gujarat in the weeks gone by
deserves to be mourned.  
There have been hundreds of outraged letters to
journals and newspapers asking why the
"pseudo-secularists" do not condemn the burning of the
Sabarmati Express in Godhra with the same degree of
outrage with which they condemn the killings in the
rest of Gujarat. What they don't seem to understand is
that there is a fundamental difference between a
pogrom such as the one taking place in Gujarat now,
and the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra. We
still don't know who exactly was responsible for the
carnage in Godhra. The government says (without a
shred of evidence) it was an ISI plot. Independent
reports say the train was set on fire by an enraged
mob. Either way, it was a criminal act. But every
independent report says the pogrom against the Muslim
community in Gujarat—billed by the government as
spontaneous 'retaliation'—has at best been conducted
under the benign gaze of the State and, at worst, with
active State collusion. 
Either way the State is criminally culpable. And the
State acts in the name of its citizens. So as a
citizen, I am forced to acknowledge that I am somehow
made complicit in the Gujarat pogrom. It is this that
outrages me. And it is this that puts a completely
different complexion on the two massacres.

After the Gujarat Massacres, at its convention in
Bangalore, the RSS, the moral and cultural guild of
the BJP, of which the Prime Minister, the Home
Minister and Chief Minister Modi himself are all
members, called upon Muslims to earn the 'goodwill' of
the majority community. At the meeting of the national
executive of the BJP in Goa, Narendra Modi was greeted
as a hero. His smirking offer to resign from the chief
minister's post was unanimously turned down. In a
recent public speech he compared the events of the
last few weeks in Gujarat to Gandhi's Dandi
March—both, according to him, significant moments in
the Struggle for Freedom.

While the parallels between contemporary India and
pre-war Germany are chilling, they're not surprising.
(The founders of the RSS have, in their writings, been
frank in their admiration for Hitler and his methods.)
One difference is that here in India we don't have a
Hitler. We have instead, a travelling extravaganza, a
mobile symphonic orchestra. The hydra-headed,
many-armed Sangh Parivar—with the BJP, the RSS, the
VHP and the Bajrang Dal, each playing a different
instrument. Its utter genius lies in its apparent
ability to be all things to all people at all times.

The Parivar has an appropriate head for every
occasion. An old versifier with rhetoric for every
season. A rabble-rousing hardliner for Home Affairs, a
suave one for Foreign Affairs, a smooth,
English-speaking lawyer to handle TV debates, a
cold-blooded creature for a Chief Minister and the
Bajrang Dal and the VHP, grassroots workers in charge
of the physical labour that goes into the business of
genocide. Finally, this many-headed extravaganza has a
lizard's tail which drops off when it's in trouble,
and grows back again: a specious socialist dressed up
as Defence Minister, who it sends on its
damage-limitation missions—wars, cyclones, genocides.
They trust him to press the right buttons, hit the
right note.

The Sangh Parivar speaks in as many tongues as a whole
corsage of trishuls.  

It can say several contradictory things
simultaneously. While one of its heads (the VHP)
exhorts millions of its cadres to prepare for the
Final Solution, its titular head (the Prime Minister)
assures the nation that all citizens, regardless of
their religion, will be treated equally. It can ban
books and films and burn paintings for 'insulting
Indian culture'. Simultaneously, it can mortgage the
equivalent of 60 per cent of the entire country's
rural development budget as profit to Enron. It
contains within itself the full spectrum of political
opinion, so what would normally be a public fight
between two adversarial political parties, is now just
a Family Matter. However acrimonious the quarrel, it's
always conducted in public, always resolved amicably,
and the audience always goes away satisfied it's got
value for money—anger, action, revenge, intrigue,
remorse, poetry and plenty of gore. It's our own
vernacular version of Full Spectrum Dominance. 

But when the chips are down, really down, the
squabbling heads quieten, and it becomes chillingly
apparent that underneath all the clamour and the
noise, a single heart beats. And an unforgiving mind
with saffron-saturated tunnel vision works overtime.

There have been pogroms in India before, every kind of
pogrom—directed at particular castes, tribes,
religious faiths. In 1984, following the assassination
of Indira Gandhi, the Congress Party presided over the
massacre of three thousand Sikhs in Delhi, every bit
as macabre as the one in Gujarat. At the time, Rajiv
Gandhi, never known for an elegant turn of phrase,
said, "When a big tree falls, the ground shakes". In
1985 the Congress swept the polls. On a sympathy wave!
Eighteen years have gone by. Nobody has been punished.

Take any politically volatile issue—the nuclear tests,
the Babri Masjid, the Tehelka scam, the stirring of
the communal cauldron for electoral advantage—and
you'll see the Congress Party has been there before.
In every case, the Congress sowed the seed and the BJP
has swept in to reap the hideous harvest. So in the
event that we're called upon to vote, is there a
difference between the two? The answer is a faltering
but distinct 'yes'. Here's why: It's true that the
Congress Party has sinned, and grievously, and for
decades together. But it has done by night what the
BJP does by day. It has done covertly, stealthily,
hypocritically, shamefacedly, what the BJP does with
pride. And this is an important difference.

Whipping up communal hatred is part of the mandate of
the Sangh Parivar. It has been planned for years. It
has been injecting a slow-release poison directly into
civil society's bloodstream. Hundreds of RSS shakhas
and Saraswati shishu mandirs across the country have
been indoctrinating thousands of children and young
people, stunting their minds with religious hatred and
falsified history. They're no different from, and no
less dangerous than, the madrassas all over Pakistan
and Afghanistan which spawned the Taliban. In states
like Gujarat, the police, the administration, and the
political cadres at every level have been
systematically penetrated. It has huge popular appeal,
which it would be foolish to underestimate or
misunderstand. The whole enterprise has a formidable
religious, ideological, political, and administrative
underpinning. This kind of power, this kind of reach,
can only be achieved with State backing.

Madrassas, the Muslim equivalent of hothouses
cultivating religious hatred, try and make up in
frenzy and foreign funding, what they lack in State
support. They provide the perfect foil for Hindu
communalists to dance their dance of mass paranoia and
hatred. (In fact they serve that purpose so perfectly,
they might just as well be working as a team.)

Under this relentless pressure, what will most likely
happen is that the majority of the Muslim community
will resign itself to living in ghettos as
second-class citizens, in constant fear, with no civil
rights and no recourse to justice. What will daily
life be like for them? Any little thing, an
altercation in a cinema queue or a fracas at a traffic
light, could turn lethal. So they will learn to keep
very quiet, to accept their lot, to creep around the
edges of the society in which they live. Their fear
will transmit itself to other minorities. Many,
particularly the young, will probably turn to
militancy. They will do terrible things. Civil society
will be called upon to condemn them. Then President
Bush's canon will come back to us: "Either you're with
us or with the terrorists."

Those words hang frozen in time like icicles. For
years to come, butchers and genocidists will fit their
grisly mouths around them ('lip-synch', filmmakers
call it) in order to justify their butchery. 

Mr Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena, who has lately been
feeling a little upstaged by Mr Modi, has the lasting
solution. He's called for civil war. Isn't that just
perfect? Then Pakistan won't need to bomb us, we can
bomb ourselves. Let's turn all of India into Kashmir.
Or Bosnia. Or Palestine. Or Rwanda. Let's all suffer
forever. Let's  buy expensive guns and explosives to
kill each other with. Let the British arms dealers and
the American weapons manufacturers grow fat on our
spilled blood. We could ask the Carlyle group—of which
the Bush and Bin Laden families are both
shareholders—for a bulk discount. Maybe if things go
really well, we'll become like Afghanistan. (And look
at the publicity they've gone and got themselves.)
When all our farm lands are mined, our buildings
destroyed, our infrastructure reduced to rubble, our
children physically maimed and mentally wrecked, when
we've nearly wiped ourselves out with
self-manufactured hatred, maybe we can appeal to the
Americans to help us out. Airdropped airline meals,

How close we have come to self-destruction. Another
step and we'll be in free-fall. And yet the government
presses on. At the Goa meeting of the BJP's national
executive, the Prime Minister of Secular, Democratic
India, Mr A.B. Vajpayee, made history. He became the
first Indian Prime Minister to cross the threshold and
publicly unveil an unconscionable bigotry against
Muslims, which even George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld
would be embarrassed to own up to. "Wherever Muslims
are," he said, "they do not want to live peacefully."

Shame on him. But if only it were just him: in the
immediate aftermath of the Gujarat holocaust,
confident of the success of its 'experiment', the BJP
wants a snap poll. "The gentlest of people," my friend
from Baroda said to me, "the gentlest of people, in
the gentlest of voices, says 'Modi is our hero.'"

Some of us nurtured the naive hope that the magnitude
of the horror of the last few weeks would make the
Secular Parties, however self-serving, unite in sheer
outrage. On its own, the BJP does not have the mandate
of the people of India. It does not have the mandate
to push through the Hindutva project. We hoped that
the 27 allies that make up the BJP-led coalition at
the Centre would withdraw their support. We thought,
quite stupidly, that they would see that there could
be no bigger test of their moral fibre, of their
commitment to their avowed principles of secularism.  
It's a sign of the times that not a single one of the
BJP's allies has withdrawn support. In every shifty
eye you see that faraway look of someone doing mental
maths to calculate which constituencies and portfolios
they'll retain and which ones they'll lose if they
pull out. Except for Deepak Parekh of HDFC, not a
single CEO of India's Corporate Community has
condemned what happened. Farooq Abdullah, Chief
Minister of Kashmir and the only prominent Muslim
politician left in India, is currying favour with the
government by supporting Modi because he's nursing the
dim hope that he may become Vice-President of India
very soon.And worst of all—Mayawati, leader of the
BSP—the great hope of the lower castes, is on the
verge of forging an alliance with the BJP in UP.

The Congress and the Left parties have launched a
public agitation asking for Modi's resignation.
Resignation? Have we lost all sense of proportion?
Criminals are not meant to resign. They're meant to be
charged, tried and convicted.  
As those who burned the train in Godhra should be. As
the mobs, and those members of the police force and
the administration who planned and participated in the
pogrom in the rest of Gujarat should be. As those
responsible for raising the pitch of the frenzy to
boiling point must be. The Supreme Court has the
option of acting against Modi and the Bajrang Dal and
the VHP suo motu  (when the Court itself files
charges). There are hundreds of testimonies. There's
masses of evidence.

But in India if you are a butcher or a genocidist who
happens to be a politician, you have every reason to
be optimistic.No one even expects politicians to be
prosecuted. To demand that Modi and his henchmen be
arraigned and put away, would make other politicians
vulnerable to their own unsavoury pasts—so instead
they disrupt Parliament, shout a lot, eventually those
in power set up commissions of inquiry, ignore the
findings and between themselves make sure the
juggernaut chugs on.

Already the issue has begun to morph. Should elections
be allowed or not? Should the Election Commission
decide that? Or the Supreme Court? Either way, whether
elections are held or deferred, by allowing Modi to
walk free, by allowing him to continue with his career
as a politician, the fundamental, governing principles
of democracy are not just being subverted, but
deliberately sabotaged. This kind of democracy is the
problem, not the solution. Our society's greatest
strength is being turned into her deadliest enemy.
What's the point of us all going on about 'deepening
democracy', when it's being bent and twisted into
something unrecognisable?

What if the BJP does win the elections? (The buzz is
that engineering a war against Pakistan is going to be
the BJP's strategy to swing the vote.) After all,
George Bush had an 80 per cent rating in his War
Against Terror, and Ariel Sharon has a similar mandate
for his bestial invasion of Palestine. Does that make
everything all right? Why not dispense with the legal
system, the Constitution, the press—the whole
shebang—morality itself, why not chuck it and put
everything up for a vote? Genocides can become the
subject of opinion polls and massacres can have
marketing campaigns.

Fascism's firm footprint has appeared in India. Let's
mark the date: Spring, 2002. While we can thank the
American President and the Coalition Against Terror
for creating a congenial international atmosphere for
its ghastly debut, we cannot credit them for the years
it has been brewing in our public and private lives.  
It breezed in in the wake of the Pokhran nuclear tests
in 1998. From then onwards, the massed energy of
bloodthirsty patriotism became openly acceptable
political currency. The 'weapons of peace' trapped
India and Pakistan in a spiral of brinkmanship—threat
and counter-threat, taunt and counter-taunt. And now,
one war and hundreds of dead later, more than a
million soldiers from both armies are massed at the
border, eyeball to eyeball, locked in a pointless
nuclear standoff. The escalating belligerence against
Pakistan has ricocheted off the border and entered our
own body politic, like a sharp blade slicing through
the vestiges of communal harmony and tolerance between
the Hindu and Muslim communities. In no time at all,
the godsquadders from hell have colonised the public
imagination. And we allowed them in. Each time the
hostility between India and Pakistan is cranked up,
within India there's a corresponding increase in the
hostility towards the Muslims. With each battle cry
against Pakistan, we inflict a wound on ourselves, on
our way of life, on our spectacularly diverse and
ancient civilisation, on everything that makes India.
Increasingly, Indian Nationalism has come to mean
Hindu Nationalism, which defines itself not through a
respect or regard for itself, but through a hatred of
the Other. And the Other, for the moment, is not just
Pakistan, it's Muslim. It's disturbing to see how
neatly nationalism dovetails into fascism. While we
must not allow the fascists to define what the nation
is, or who it belongs to, it's worth keeping in mind
that nationalism, in all its many avatars—socialist,
capitalist and fascist—has been at the root of almost
all the genocides of the twentieth century. On the
issue of nationalism, it's wise to proceed with

Can we not find it in ourselves to belong to an
ancient civilisation instead of to just a recent
nation? To love a land instead of just patrolling a
territory? The Sangh Parivar understands nothing of
what civilisation means.It seeks to limit, reduce,
define, dismember and desecrate the memory of what we
were, our understanding of what we are, and our dreams
of who we want to be. What kind of India do they want?
A limbless, headless, soulless torso, left bleeding
under the butchers' cleaver with a flag driven deep
into her mutilated heart? Can we let that happen? Have
we let it happen?

The incipient, creeping fascism of the past few years
has been groomed by many of our 'democratic'
institutions. Everyone has flirted with it—Parliament,
the press, the police, the administration, the public.
Even 'secularists' have been guilty of helping to
create the right climate. Each time you defend the
right of an institution, any institution (including
the Supreme Court), to exercise unfettered,
unaccountable powers that must never be challenged,
you move towards fascism. To be fair, perhaps not
everyone recognised the early signs for what they

The national press has been startlingly courageous in
its denunciation of the events of the last few weeks.
Many of the BJP's fellow travellers who have journeyed
with it to the brink are now looking down the abyss
into the hell that was once Gujarat, and turning away
in genuine dismay.  
But how hard and for how long will they fight? This is
not going to be like a publicity campaign for an
upcoming cricket season. And there will not always be
spectacular carnage to report on. Fascism is also
about the slow, steady infiltration of all the
instruments of State power. It's about the slow
erosion of civil liberties, about unspectacular
day-to-day injustices. Fighting it means fighting to
win back the minds and hearts of people. Fighting it
does not mean asking for RSS shakhas and the madrassas
to be banned, it means working towards the day when
they're voluntarily abandoned as bad ideas. It means
keeping an eagle eye on public institutions and
demanding accountability. It means putting your ear to
the ground and listening to the whispering of the
truly powerless. It means giving a forum to the myriad
voices from the hundreds of resistance movements
across the country who are speaking about real
things—about bonded labour, marital rape, sexual
preferences, women's wages, uranium dumping,
unsustainable mining, weavers' woes, farmers' worries.
It means fighting displacement and dispossession and
the relentless, everyday violence of abject poverty.
Fighting it also means not allowing your newspaper
columns and prime-time TV spots to be hijacked by
their spurious passions and their staged theatrics,
which are designed to divert attention from everything

While most people in India have been horrified by what
happened in Gujarat, many thousands of the
indoctrinated are preparing to journey deeper into the
heart of the horror. Look around you and you'll see in
little parks, in big maidans, in empty lots, in
village commons, the RSS is marching, hoisting its
saffron flag. Suddenly they're everywhere, grown men
in khaki shorts marching, marching, marching. To
where? For what? Their disregard for history shields
them from the knowledge that fascism will thrive for a
short while and then self-annihilate because of its
inherent stupidity. But unfortunately, like the
radioactive fallout of a nuclear strike, it has a
half-life that will cripple generations to come.

These levels of rage and hatred cannot be contained,
cannot be expected to subside, with public censure and
denunciation. Hymns of brotherhood and love are great,
but not enough.

Historically, fascist movements have been fuelled by
feelings of national disillusionment. Fascism has come
to India after the dreams that fuelled the Freedom
Struggle have been frittered away like so much loose

Independence itself came to us as what Gandhi famously
called a 'wooden loaf'—a notional freedom tainted by
the blood of the thousands who died during Partition.
For more than half a century now, the hatred and
mutual distrust has been exacerbated, toyed with and
never allowed to heal by politicians, led from the
front by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Every political party has
tilled the marrow of our secular parliamentary
democracy, mining it for electoral advantage. Like
termites excavating a mound, they've made tunnels and
underground passages, undermining the meaning of
'secular', until it has just become an empty shell
that's about to implode. Their tilling has weakened
the foundations of the structure that connects the
Constitution, Parliament and the courts of law—the
configuration of checks and balances that forms the
backbone of a parliamentary democracy.  
Under the circumstances, it's futile to go on blaming
politicians and demanding from them a morality they're
incapable of. There's something pitiable about a
people that constantly bemoans its leaders. If they've
let us down, it's only because we've allowed them to.
It could be argued that civil society has failed its
leaders as much as leaders have failed civil society.
We have to accept that there is a dangerous, systemic
flaw in our parliamentary democracy that politicians
will exploit. And that's what results in the kind of
conflagration that we have witnessed in Gujarat.
There's fire in the ducts. We have to address this
issue and come up with a systemic solution.

But politicians' exploitation of communal divides is
by no means the only reason that fascism has arrived
on our shores.

Over the past fifty years, ordinary citizens' modest
hopes for lives of dignity, security and relief from
abject poverty have been systematically snuffed out.
Every 'democratic' institution in this country has
shown itself to be unaccountable, inaccessible to the
ordinary citizen, and either unwilling, or incapable
of acting, in the interests of genuine social justice.
Every strategy for real social change—land reform,
education, public health, the equitable distribution
of natural resources, the implementation of positive
discrimination—has been cleverly, cunningly and
consistently scuttled and rendered ineffectual by
those castes and that class of people who have a
stranglehold on the political process. And now
corporate globalisation is being relentlessly and
arbitrarily imposed on an essentially feudal society,
tearing through its complex, tiered, social fabric,
ripping it apart culturally and economically.

There is very real grievance here. And the fascists
didn't create it. But they have seized upon it,
upturned it and forged from it a hideous, bogus sense
of pride. They have mobilised human beings using the
lowest common denominator—religion. People who have
lost control over their lives, people who have been
uprooted from their homes and communities who have
lost their culture and their language, are being made
to feel proud of something. Not something they have
striven for and achieved, not something they can count
as a personal accomplishment, but something they just
happen to be. Or, more accurately, something they
happen not to be. And the falseness, the emptiness of
that pride, is fuelling a gladiatorial anger that is
then directed towards a simulated target that has been
wheeled into the amphitheatre.

How else can you explain the project of trying to
disenfranchise, drive out or exterminate the
second-poorest community in this country, using as
your footsoldiers the very poorest (Dalits and
Adivasis)? How else can you explain why Dalits in
Gujarat, who have been despised, oppressed and treated
worse than refuse by the upper castes for thousands of
years, have joined hands with their oppressors to turn
on those who are only marginally less unfortunate than
they themselves? Are they just wage slaves,
mercenaries for hire? Is it all right to patronise
them and absolve them of responsibility for their own
actions? Or am I being obtuse? Perhaps it's common
practice for the unfortunate to vent their rage and
hatred on the next most unfortunate, because their
real adversaries are inaccessible, seemingly
invincible and completely out of range? Because their
own leaders have cut loose and are feasting at the
high table, leaving them to wander rudderless in the
wilderness, spouting nonsense about returning to the
Hindu fold. (The first step, presumably, towards
founding a Global Hindu Empire, as realistic a goal as
Fascism's previously failed projects—the restoration
of Roman Glory, the purification of the German race or
the establishment of an Islamic Sultanate.)  
One hundred and thirty million Muslims live in India.
Hindu fascists regard them as legitimate prey. Do
people like Modi and Bal Thackeray think that the
world will stand by and watch while they're liquidated
in a 'civil war?' Press reports say that the European
Union and several other countries have condemned what
happened in Gujarat and likened it to Nazi rule. The
Indian government's portentous response is that
foreigners should not use the Indian media to comment
on what is an 'internal matter' (like the chilling
goings-on in Kashmir?). What next? Censorship? Closing
down the Internet? Blocking international calls?
Killing the wrong 'terrorists' and fudging the dna
samples? There is no terrorism like State terrorism.

But who will take them on? Their fascist cant can
perhaps be dented by some blood and thunder from the
Opposition. So far only Laloo Yadav of Bihar has shown
himself to be truly passionate: "Kaun mai ka lal kehta
hai ki yeh Hindu rashtra hai? Usko yahan bhej do,
chhati phad doonga!" (Which mother's son says this is
a Hindu Nation? Send him here, I'll tear his chest

Unfortunately there's no quick fix. Fascism itself can
only be turned away if all those who are outraged by
it show a commitment to social justice that equals the
intensity of their indignation.

Are we ready to get off our starting blocks? Are we
ready, many millions of us, to rally not just on the
streets, but at work and in schools and in our homes,
in every decision we take, and every choice we make?

Or not just yet...

If not, then years from now, when the rest of the
world has shunned us (as it should), like the ordinary
citizens of Hitler's Germany, we too will learn to
recognise revulsion in the gaze of our fellow human
beings. We too will find ourselves unable to look our
own children in the eye, for the shame of what we did
and did not do. For the shame of what we allowed to

This is us. In India. Heaven help us make it through
the night.  


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