In 2013 Narendra Dhabolkar, who was fighting to get the Anti-Superstition law passed in Maharashtra and led a campaign for rationalism, and against blind faith all his life, was killed. This was followed by the killings of Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi in 2015. And this year, Gauri Lankesh. All of them have reputation for being fiercely opposed to caste and communal prejudices, and superstitious beliefs. All of them wrote and spoke to the people in language that they understood.
There is nothing more threatening for an orthodox religious mind than talk of peaceful coexistence. For the fundamentalist, there cannot be any peace with the other. Before their all-pervasive loyalty to the man-made Gods and God-men, humanism bites the dust again and again.
But one perhaps must ask whyby some unerring coincidence, the blood-thirst of these Gods and their henchmen manifests when the political and economic power is in crisis. When the poor begin to assert their rights, when the Hegemons no longer have any method of fooling the people, the Gods are invoked.
Fundamentalism is nothing but the weaponisation of culture and religion to achieve political goals. Religion and faith are dressed up as virtues in and of themselves. But the end game happens to be always political and economic control. Rightward shift in politics appears to be a global phenomenon whenever the capitalist system goes into one of its periodic crises.
If we look at communal conflicts in India and their contexts, the years in the run-up to the demolition of Babri Mosque were marked by deep economic turmoil. In 1991 economic liberalisation began as a panacea for the problems facing the Indian economy then, and by 1992, the Babri demolition happened which deeply communalised the polity, caused riots and loss of life in the years that followed. The AdvaniRathyatra literally mowed into the economic distress of the people and kept the people distracted with communal polarisation.
The communal narrative lays thecause for all problems of India at the door of the conquests by the Muslim rulers, and the Hindu community’s subjugation. The majoritarian re-assertion through communal politics of righting historical wrongs, by assaulting the minorities and showing them their place, began to take root and spread throughout the following years to the present.
A population buffeted by globalisation and liberalisation policies and fed on anti-welfare rhetoric embraced the new self-serving ideology of individualism. The new economic philosophy of “greed is good”, branded anyone who advocated welfare, equality and justice for all as a threat to the very existence of the nation. The right-wing political forces have succeeded in discrediting community solidarities as unrealistic.
From 1984, when BJP had 2 seats in the LokSabha to 2014 elections when the BJP won 282 seats, the country saw growing caste and communal intolerance. Liberalisation and globalisation policies promoted aggressively on privatised media also successfully glamorised authoritarian politics and the need for a strong leader who will crush all opposition and take the country to a free market utopia.
After the 2008 global economic crisis again, there was an attempt globally to cover-up the bankrupt, corrupt and undemocratic politics engendered by the finance capital through a systematic global campaign of Islamophobia and destruction of the major nation-states of the Middle-East. Islamophobia is being fully exploited by right-wing politicians to put in place undemocratic and draconian police states to curb all dissent in the name of war on terror.
Invariably, at least some of the traumatised people, a people who have lost direction and are helpless, repose their blind faith in the false political Gods and their miracles. It gives them a sense of security and community to gather around autocratic figures and undemocratic institutions. In human history, blind faith has made man sacrifice his own children and community. Murderous gangs that breed in blind faith kill to please their masters.
At the critical historic juncture of India’s transition from a colony to a democracy, Gandhi was assassinated in the hope that the country would accept the idea of Hindu supremacy and reject the notions of democracy. But Gandhi’s assassination only strengthened the popular resolve to ensure that politics based on hate are rejected and foundations for a secular democracy were laid through the Constitution.
But as Dr Ambedkar said, in a country where the social and cultural base is fundamentally unequal and discriminatory, the Constitutional values of liberty, fraternity and equality are almost an impossible dream. Without an egalitarian base, the other principles of fraternity and liberty are not achievable. The peddlers of orthodoxy are also the primary preservers of inegalitarianism and jingoistic nationalism. Unless the orthodoxies are broken through, there is little hope to achieve a fair society.
The voices that shout out for such a society are under threat. More so because the state is no longer the only purveyor of violence within the framework of law and authority bestowed on it. Violence is now being deliberately outsourced to shadow-militant groups who will kill in darkness and express condolences on national television channels. All of us know which organizations these are and how dehumanised they are through poisonous religious education and training in wielding lethal weapons. Today they operate under the collusive protection of the ruling government with complete impunity.
From Gandhi to GauriLankesh, the pattern seems to be the same. The DNA of the killer-organizations is the same. The names of the victims are changing. These murderous-protectors of faith feel it is necessary to silence not just those from other religions, but anyone who argues in favour of rational thinking, and diversity. The global and national capital thrives in such autocratic regimes where the state does not hesitate to impose policies like demonetisation dealing a body blow to the poor and working people. Such policies are hailed as “bold reforms”.
The push back against the retrograde economic tyranny is beginning in India and globally. Whether India will remain a democracy or even if it turns into a full-fledged fascist state, history tells us that when the ordinary working people rise, some of the most well-armed and powerful empires have fallen. It is the ordinary people who will ultimately reclaim humanity and set right history.
Till then, many courageous people like Gauri Lankesh, Kalburgi, Pansare, Dhabolkar, will continue to keep the torch of equality and freedom for all burning. If they can only kill to silence, it also shows us how scared they are of the ideas that enlighten and empower. These deaths will only intensify the push back against politics of supremacy that is a historical inevitability.
Padmaja Shaw retired as a professor of journalism from Osmania University.