In Search Of An Icon


Shambhu Lal Raigar

“… A Hero of Our Time, gentlemen, is in fact a portrait, but not of an individual; it is the aggregate of the vices of our whole generation in their fullest expression.”

‘(From Foreword to Á Hero of Our Time, Lermontov’ quoted in Albert Camus novel ‘The Fall’)

Shambhu Lal Raigar is a new hero of our times.

It may be quite numbing for any decent human being to know that hundreds of people belonging to rightwing organisations came out on streets hailing the gory act committed by him or how people from different parts of India sent online donation worth around Rs 2.5 lakh  ‘supposedly to help his family’.

Glorification of Shambhu Lal reminds one of another similar episode which occurred around two decades back when Graham Steins (a pastor who was engaged in work of leprosy eradication in backward districts of Orissa) and his two kids (Philip and Timothy) were burnt alive in sleep in faraway Manoharpur by a group of around fifty people led by a right wing fanatic Ravinder Pal aka Dara Singh. This murderer – who was also charged in the killing of a Muslim trader Shaikh Rehman and a Christian cleric, Arul Das- was convicted by the courts and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

If today the murder of Afrazul by Shambhu is being ‘justified’by raising the issue of ‘love jihad’ or he is being portrayed as a ‘symbol of Hindu anger’ bogey of ‘conversion’ was peddled as a ‘rationale’ for the trio’s killing then. One does not know whether there were public demonstrations in support of Dara Singh and his henchmen or not but it was widely reported how many ‘senas’ and ‘support groups’ had come up which strived for Dara’s release. A few of them had even spread terror in their areas.

The tactical silence maintained by leading lights of Hindutva brigade in the aftermath of Shambhu’s criminal act, was also visible after Graham Steins killing and in fact had raised the issue of need for ‘national debate’ around conversion’. It was rather an oblique way of rationalising the killings. It is similar to formally criticising Nathuram Godse for his criminal act but in the same vein saying that he had some ‘genuine’grievances.

Anyone who is a close watcher of the South Asian scene would rather vouch that valorisation of such ‘fanatic murderers’ in this part of South Asia is not an exception. In fact, in recent times there have been many such killings of rationalists, journalists, activists of various movements here in Asia and such killings were ‘celebrated’ in right-wing circles.

The grave turned shrine of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who brutally gunned down the then Punjab governor Salman Taseer in which is visited by thousands of faithfuls every week is for everyone to see. In fact, Islamabad a city of 1.6 million people, already has 827 mosques some of which come with madrassahs and shrines of a varying degree of religious and political importance.

May it be the killing of Salman Taseer by terrorist Maliq Qadrifor opposing blasphemy or attack on Peshawar school by Islamists and killings of more than 150 kids or the way Islamists killed bloggers like Avijit Roy in Bangladesh, or ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas by Buddhist radicals or targeting of religious minorities by Buddhist fanatics in Sri Lanka, such targeted violence have met with support among the masses.

One can recall the killing of Gauri Lankesh, a journalist and leading anti-communal activist, at the gates of her resident in Bengaluru, which had sent shockwaves across the country.  There were widespread demonstrations to protest the killing but what was shocking that many revelled in this gruesome killing . Former Zee journalist JagratiShukla was at her venomous best:

So, Commy Gauri Lankesh has been murdered mercilessly. Your deeds always come back to haunt you, they say. Amen.#Bengaluru#GauriLankesh

The most controversial tweet after this killing came from a businessman from Gujarat called Nikhil Dadhich who called Gauri a “bitch”. This trader from Surat, was “Honored To Be Followed by PM Sh. @narendramodiJi”. Dadhich’s other followers included Union Minister Giriraj Singh and BJP North Gujarat media cell in-charge Parag Sheth.

Sometime back Altnews did a story on Nathuram Godse himself where he discovered the fan following of Godse

“Godse was God sent”, “Gandhi should have been hanged“, “Godse had valid reasons to shoot Gandhi”, “I repeat I’m a big Godse fan, so what?”

The metamorphosis of Nathuram Godse, a Hindutva fanatic, and leader of the terror module which killed Gandhi, from a hated figure to a person worth revering, where moves are on even to build this ‘great Patriots’ temples all over the country seems to be a recent development for the wider populace but it has been surreptitiously done since decades. The world came to know about it more than a decade ago when Nanded bomb blast happened (April 2006) when two activists of Hindutva Supremacist formation were killed while making bombs. (Ref: Portents of Nanded , 27 May 2006, EPW) On further investigation it was revealed how these fanatics use to ‘celebrate’ martyrdom day of ‘Hutatma’ (Martyr)’ Godse and it was not limited to a particular area or city.

And Godse was no exception to this mission ‘manufacturing’ an icon.

There are many other people in the Hindutva fraternity – who if the legal process of the country would have been allowed to function without any prejudice would have been tried for their criminal acts involving arson, murders or demolition of prayer houses or engineering riots – who are similarly glorified for their actions against the ‘others’ or their crimes against humanity. One still remembers when Babri Mosque was demolished in 1992, one of the chief architects of this mission demolition was felicitated as Hindu HridaySamrat. Or how birth centenary of a well established author cum Hindutva apologist was celebrated on a grand scale with chief ministers and political leaders of the saffron camp attending, who had admitted on records how the 2002 carnage in Gujarat was planned and executed with precision. Or when Malegaon bombers – part of a Hindutva terror module – were presented in courts in the year 2008, people had gathered there who showered rose petals on them reminding the way the Islamist Mumtaz Qadri was greeted in courts.

The growing normalisation of violence against innocents, the ‘others’ in 21st century raises serious questions about the moral ethical compass of the societies themselves. Time one relooks at such perpetrators, incidents not as individuals or in isolation but part of a larger pattern which demands serious contemplation. Talking about Eichmann, (19 March 1906 – 1 June 1962) a German Nazi officer who was tried for his role in holocaust, Hannah Arendt rightly observes:

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

Is anybody listening?

Subhash Gatade is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010)  Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India(2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative (NSI)  Email : [email protected]

First Published in ‘Newsclick’

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