How India is Slowly Emerging as a ‘World Teacher’ albeit of a different kind
France has moved towards normalcy some time back.
The anger and anguish of the still marginalised in the society, which spilled over into the streets, over the killing of a 17 year old Nahel – son of an Algerian single woman of Muslim origin – by the trigger happy traffic police, recorded on a camera, has long subsided.
No doubt the questions raised by it are not going to go away so easily.1
Experiences of two countries cannot be compared easily but perhaps one could easily see in the uproar shades of the ‘black lives matter moment’ for the French society. Not only in terms of the brutality of the police as witnessed in American society after the killing of George Floyd but the soul searching of sorts which seems to have begun afresh there, a churning has accelerated within the French people after this killing.
Concerned voices had raised a simple question why forty years after the historic ‘March for Equality and Against Racism’ 2 which was the first expression or outburst of its kind in France – which were derogatively called ‘March of the Arabs’ by the French media then – when demonstrations focusing on issues of racism and immigration took place there in the last quarter of the year – France has made no progress on these issues or even seems to have gone backward on some points.3
Calls for urgent police reforms and forming a roadmap for the same instead of instead of ‘ruling with police violence’ were also heard. 4
Scholars underlinined the ‘hypermarginalisation’ experienced by certain suburbs mostly populated by immigrants and the widespread racial discrimination prevalent in the society making it impossible for people living there even to envisage a better life and how such it culminates in a ‘pressure cooker like situation’ which can explode over any fuse.5
Today there is a larger convergence of views that France’s own moment of reckoning with its past will not just go away despite formal denials by the French government 6 which was expressed when UN asked it to pay attention to it.
One could see the same concern out on streets when hundreds gathered in Paris and other parts of France to honour a black man who died in police custody in the year 2016. This “citizens’s marches of grief and anger” were held in thirty other towns and cities in France to honour Adama Traore, a 24 year old black man who had died in police custody in 2016 – despite official ban on any such marches.7Nobody has yet been charged in this death and hundred plus associations and political formations which organised and participated in this annual marches focussed themselves on the need for a “profound reform of the police, its intervention techniques and its weapons.”
This stirring in the French society which rather inspired / compelled people to look at the legacy of colonial racism 8 had also been a moment for the Far Right within France who feel that their call for dumping the ‘insane immigration policy’ stands vindicated or it is time to ‘expel all foreign criminals’ 9
Rightwing regimes and movements in neigbouring Poland, Hungary and Italy were seen keen to capitalise on this civic unrest in France and had asked EU to toughen its immigration policy. People were being asked to take lessons about showing ‘laxity towards Islamic radicalisation and ghettos dominated by criminality’ and are also being sermonised about failure of multiculturalism.10
What has gone bit unnoticed is the way these upheaval in French society had also brought sudden glee on the face of the Hindutva Right which has of late come under scanner on various national-international fora for facilitating India’s slide towards electoral autocracy.11
A cursory glance at the websites close to their worldview/weltanshauung or views of anchors, political persons close to them made it absolutely clear that there was a conscious attempt to portray the ‘riots’ as a manifestation of ‘Islamisation of Europe’ 12 which very much resonates with the stand of the far right in France.
No question of looking at the genesis of the problem or understanding how a history of colonialism and false assimilation has created this situation 13 readymade solutions were dished out to the French to deal with the ‘menace’.
TV channesl sympathetic to the rightwing view had no qualms in advising the French to implement the Yogi Model of governance 14- a controversial strategy adopted by the BJP led Uttar Pradesh government which is under scanner of human rights activists – which has witnessed alleged encounter killings 15 and use of bulldosers even to demolish houses, properties of suspects of various crimes. 16
One does not know whether the likes of Marine Le Pen or her deputy Bardella – leaders of the French right – could then become aware of these unsolicited advice being rendered to them by the Hindutva people or not !
As far as the Hindutva right is concerned it did not make any difference to its firespitting.
Perhaps it can always draw solace from the fact that it has ‘inspired’ hatemongers elsewhere.
Does anyone remember the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who had killed 77 people on 22 July 2011 in a bomb attack in Oslo, whose rather infamous manifesto ‘ Justiciar Knights’ had hailed Hindutva. It
‘[h]ailed India’s Hindu nationalist movement as a key ally in a global struggle to bring down democratic regimes across the world.
‘2080: A European declaration of independence’ lays out a road map for a future organisation, the Justiciar Knights, to wage a campaign that will graduate from acts of terrorism to a global war involving weapons of mass destruction — aimed at bringing down what Breivik calls the “cultural Marxist” order. 17
It had claimed that the goals of ‘Justiciar Knights’ were idential to ‘Hindu nationalists’ 18 Remember he is the same Breivik who has been an inspiration of sorts to other white terrorists in later years – including one called Brenton Tarrant, a 28 year old Austrailian supremacists who killed 50 Muslims in New Zealand on March 15, 2019 19
What connects these white supremacists with their Hindutva counterparts here in South Asia and elsewhere?
One can say that these white supremacists are opposed to multiculturalism, an increasingly popular egalitarian global perspective which believes that people of all religions, races can and should live peacefully together and prosper and thus oppose the immigration policies of various governments which have been quite liberal or less stringent in admitting people. Incidentally since a significant section of these immigrants to Europe or other advanced countries are Muslims or from Islam dominant countries, they perceive that this ‘Islamisation’ poses a danger to their society. A view which resonates with the worldview promoted and peddled by the exclucivist Hindutva forces here.
Closer home even the Sinhala extremist outfits in neighbouring Sri Lanka who have been accused of attacking religious minorities there, 20 have also underlined how they feel inspired by these Hindutva Supremacist formations. 21. Amnesty International 22 had in its communique few years back had even asked Sri Lankan authorities to act to prevent attacks on minority Muslims at the hands of Buddhist extremist groups led by the Bodu Bala Sena.
A New Your Times editorial 23 had even underlined how talks were underway between the Buddhist extremist organisations in Sri Lanka and Myanamar with Hindutva supermacist organisations to form ‘Hindu Buddhist Peace Zones” in South Asia – which would be aimed at alliances against Muslims or how a senior leader of these Hindutva organisations had once written comments sympathetic to Bodu Bala Sena and Wirathus group 969 in Mynamar on his social media accounts. (-do-)
Gone are the days perhaps when Hindutva Supremacism, which was taking baby steps during the period of anticolonial struggle, had underlined its own appreciation of the various Supremacist ideas and formations taking shape in early part of the twentieth century in Italy and Germany. Much in contravention of the broader unity of people across communities, castes which was being envisaged by the leaders of the anti-colonial struggle against the common enemy of British colonialism, they were engaged in learning about ‘Final Solutions’ to deal with the ‘others’
There are enough studies as well as documentary evidence available which tell us that apart from its domestic roots this militant Hinduism has borrowed enough from foreign influence. 24 Marzia Casolari had provided details of Dr B S Munje’s tour of Italy, his meeting with Mussolini and his impressions of The Balilla institutions, an idea conceived by Mussolini for the ‘military regeneration of Italy’ and his resolve to develop a similar institution with ‘our institution Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh”(-do-). Remember he is the same Dr B S Munje, who was mentor of Dr Hedgewar and one of the founders of RSS. It is the same organisation which wants to consolidate Hindu society and today one of whose affiliated organisation ( which it calls ‘Anushangik Sangathan’) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the ruling dispensation in India today since around a decade.
It is part of documented history that apart from Hedgewar, and Munje, L V Paranjpe, B B Thalkar and Baburao Savarkar — V.D. Savarkar’s brother — were present at the inaugural meeting of RSS on Vijaya Dashmi .25
One also needs to recall how in the much controversial monograph titled We or Our Nationhood Defined’ which Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second supremo of RSS penned down during that period he wrote:
“To keep up the purity of Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.”26
Things move on.
It is a fact of history that whereas the Supremacist movements or formations- which once inspired the leading lights of Hindutva then – might have gone into oblivion, with passage of time this project of what is being termed as ‘consolidation of Hindu society’ 27 which essentially means reconfiguration of Hindu society as per the vision of its founders has definitely gone from strength to strength.
Today, with its increased influence it in this part of South Asia, Hindutva Supremacism yearns to become a Vishwaguru, an idea which regularly pops up statements of its stalwarts or political spokespersons. 28
Right from the likes of Mohan Bhagwat 29 to Narendra Modi – who started his social political journey as a full time activist ( Pracharak) of the RSS, such claims 30 have gained new pitch since last few years .
Whatever might be the bold claims of these ideologues or practitioners of Hindutva, one thing is certain that there is a great hiatus between these claims and reality.
For any independent observer of the situation in the country these things are becoming obvious day by day.
The long silence of the head of the government of the Republic of India – who holds the executive authority – namely the Prime Minister, over the ongoing violence in the north eastern state of Manipur 31 or his refusal even to visit the state to heal wounds of people and share their grief has punctured his singing paens to the claim that India is ‘mother of democracy’ – an idea which suitably fits in with the Vishwaguru thesis.
In fact, silence seems to have become a new modus operandi of the ruling dispensation and its custodians when faced with inconvenient questions, making it much obvious that where does their actual sympathies lie or how they are ready to look the other way or condone even barbaric behaviour or even violence if that serves their agenda well.
Not that they are not aware of counter examples where elected leaders boldly condemned such targeted killings of religious minorities and marginalised ethnicities or when a specific ethnic or religious community came under attack.
Take the case of the killing of a 17 year old Nahel which had clear racial and religious overtones and the ensuing reaction from the French government.
What is worth emphasising that despite legitimisation offered to the killing of the adolescent by a section of the police which had received support from the rightwing, President Emmanuel Macron did not mince word in the condemnation of the police.
“We have an adolescent that was killed, it is unexplainable and inexcusable. Nothing justifies the death of a young man.”
He did not stop at that but he even offered “solidarity and affection” to the teenager’s family, pledging that justice would be done after calm was restored.32
The response of Jacinda Ardern, who was Prime Minister of New Zealand, was equally exemplary, when she had to deal with massacre of Muslims in two mosques by a far right terrorist. 33 People still recall how it is still considered by many to be the defining moment in her time as New Zealand prime minister.
Silence speaks rather more loudly.
The case of Chetan Singh, a RPF constable who engaged in targeted killings of Muslims in a train and allegedly even ‘delivered’ his message to the people, can be eye-opener.
It need not be told that it has sent shock waves among religious minorities in the country 34 who already feel besieged because of the ascent of Hindutva Supremacism in the country.
Tîll date there has been no word of ‘official condemnation of the incident nor word of consolation has been offered to the intimate ones of the victims.
Question arises whether the Prime Minister, Home Minister or any of their colleagues in the cabinet or those running the administration do not feel any responsibility that a country which still formally adheres to the Constiution and where it has been resolved since more than seventy years that there would not be any discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, language, nationality, ethnicity etc and everybody is equal before law, do they owe any formal or moral responsibility towards these killings.
Does it matter to them or not that people were identified by their religion – where killer was a personnel in the service of the government, inside a train run and administered by the government itself, they should at least be ready to share the grief of the intimate ones of those killed, try to apply a balm to them.
Till date neither the Prime Minister – who calls constitution a Holy Book or his deputy Amit Shah nor any other senior leader or a party functionary has deemed it necessary to express regrets over the incident and extending one’s condolences to the family of the bereaved ones.
Perhaps they would be surprised to know the response of the Norwegian Prime Minister to the killings by Breivik.
Remember he was unequivocal in his condemnation of the killings by the Christian far right terrorist, and called the massacre a day when Norway was “struck by evil” 35 There are reports which tell us that he led thousands of Norwegians pledging that we should never allow such an ‘evil’ to struck again, we have a larger responsibility to those killed and their intimate ones.
A year after the gruesome killings Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg again led Norwegians to “honor the dead by celebrating life.” 36 He underlined how the Breivik, a self-declared ultranationalist who raged against Muslim immigration and multiculturalism, failed to achieve his goals
“The bombs and bullets were intended to change Norway. The Norwegian people responded by reasserting our values,” .. “The perpetrator failed to achieve what he set out to do. The people triumphed.”
He called on people to remember their murdered loved ones with joy.
Breivik was the same Christian far right terrorist who shook the Norwegian society to its roots.
Looking back one can say that there were many similarities between the two acts – one by Breivik and other by Chetan Singh
Breivik killed innocents – total number 77 – and a big cross section of his victims were young people and with whom he had no personal enmity and also released his ‘manifesto’ about the motives behind his killings
Chetan Singh also killed three Muslims after killing his senior and as per reports he allegedly delivered a message – his ‘manifesto’ of sorts – which was recorded on the mobile phones.
The similarity does not end there.
In case of Breivik there were conscious attempts by psychiatrists to declare him mentally unsound but when a bigger board of psychiatrists was constituted it debunked this hypothesis and called it a mischievous attempt to save this bigoted murderer from serving punishment.
The dilly dallying first by the Railway administration and later by the police in case of Chetan Singh is on record . 37
As per reports, ‘[P]olice Focuses on RPF Constable’s ‘Mental Illness’, Erases Mention of Possible Hate Crime from FIR.’.. ‘The remand copy doesn’t have any mention of the videos that clearly show his communally charged speech. In one of the videos, he is heard speaking about Pakistan and declaring that if one has to live in India, Modi and Yogi were the only way forward. 38
Enquiries after these killings in Oslo by the terrorist Breivik revealed that these killings could have been avoided if the police and administration had been more sensitive and more vigilant towards the pieces of information which it were getting.
It could also be said that these killings by the RPF constable could have been avoided if people in the train were more vigilant towards what is happening around them and had not cared merely about their own lives. A blood thirsty killer was on rampage and none from the hundreds of people in the train tried to stop him.
Whether there was no one the whole train who could have pounced on him or stopped him from his bloodlust, or all of them were just hiding somewhere ?
It is rather difficult to believe all these stories !
There is certain gap in it which needs to be filled.
Whether one wants to recognise or acknowledge it or not, it shows the how a certain numbness has crept in our society, we have become immune to the sufferings of the others.
Remember not only none of the passengers in the moving train tried to show her/his anger towards the murderous acts by the bigoted killer but allegedly even recorded his message on their mobile phones, when the murderer was standing beside the dead body of his victim.
This response of hundreds of passengers on this Jaipur-Mumbai express train could be easily contrasted to the response of Ian Grillot (age 24) when a gunman came to kill Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani in a bar in Olathe, Kansas (USA) in 2017. 39 Grillot put himself in the line of fire, shot in the chest as he attempted to stop the shooter killing more people (Kuchibhotla died later of his wounds). When Ian Grillot was hailed as a hero, he said,
‘I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he was from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.’
If he had not acted, he said, he could not have ‘lived with myself if I wouldn’t have stopped or attempted to stop the shooter’.
In Portland, Oregon (USA) in 2017, a white man shouted racist slurs at two girls – one of whom wore a hijab. Three men on that train intervened. Two died – Ricky John Best (age 53) and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche (age 23). The third man –Micah David-Cole Fletcher (age 21) was badly wounded. Namkai- Meche’s mother – Asha Deliverance – said of her son,
‘My dear baby boy passed on yesterday while protecting two young Muslim girls from a racist man on the train in Portland. Shining bright star, I love you forever.’
Perhaps these killings on the Jaipur- Mumbai train remind one of the killing of one Junaid ( age 15) on a train from Delhi to Mathura.( 23 rd June 2017) who was anxiously waiting to celebrate Eid with a lot of gaiety with his family, where he and his friends faced attacks from fellow passengers for their religion The train compartment was crowded but none of the co-passengers came to their rescue. Junaid was stabbed. Then the men pushed Junaid and his friends onto the platform at Asaoti railway station. Junaid bled to death in his brother’s lap.
Whether there will be any let up in the situation?
It is difficult to say.
As we already mentioned a certain numbness has crept into our society. These killings have become normal. So have all the other instances of intimidation, violence, expulsion, and coercion. This young boy of 15 was lynched in broad daylight just because he prayed to a different god. His story is now woven into the tapestry of India’s history. It should not be forgotten.
Neither this fact be forgotten that the Prime Minister – who swears by the Constitution – did not speak a word when women were brutalised in Manipur in full public view, nor did he open his mouth when railway official along with three Muslims were killed in broad daylight by another personnel belonging to the Railway Protection Force only.
Apropos there is nothing surprising or shocking in such killings nor such brazen attempts at sanitisation of hate crimes nor the open deification of Hindutva Supremacist Icons which is visible among diaspora as well. (https://www.telegraphindia.com/world/made-in-india-hate-machine-at-india-day-parade-in-new-jersey/cid/1888977).
In fact, since last more than two decades India has witnessed slow spurt in incidents which involved targeting of members of religious minorities by individuals or group of individuals and emergence of many a new Hindutva icons touted as ‘ Hindutva Hriday Samrats’
Right from the barbaric killing of Father Graham Steins and his two children by the rightwing fanatic Dara Singh – wherein this priest from Australia – who was serving the lepers in the region was burnt alive with his two children while sleeping and emergence of various ‘Dara Senas’ to glorify the killings or leading politicians of the times openly asking for a ‘dialogue’ on conversions to understand the ‘roots of the anger’, one can cite similar example. (https://www.thequint.com/explainers/why-india-shouldnt-forget-graham-staines-murder-gladys-staines-dara-singh-bajrang-dal-christianity-odisha-saibo)
One has been a numb witness to the way one Afrazul Khan was literally hacked to death by one Shambhu Raigar and how hundreds of his supporters stormed the courts in his defence or even glorified the brutal killings by taking out a Jhanki in his name.
How there are instances where cabinet ministers were found to be provoking crowds to ‘kill deshdrohis’
This is a new India, as our rulers like to tell us.
This New India of the BJP is a normal of hatred and bigotry.
India has become a republic of fear instead of republic of hope.
This new normal is an unholy alliance of corporate interests and Hindutva zealots. It is defined by upturning the rule of law, sabotage of institutions, and the creation of an atmosphere of fear.
Today, with its increased influence in this part of South Asia, Hindutva Supremacism yearns to become a Vishwaguru, an idea which regularly pops up statements of its stalwarts or political spokespersons.
Nobody could have a premonition that it is the model of hate and exclusion which it has experimented here and perfected here which it wants to project as panacea of all ills, which it wants to present as THE MODEL for a 21 st century Democracy.
Subhash Gatade is a left activist associated with New Socialist Initiative
17.https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/norwegian-mass-killers-manifesto-hails-hindutva/article2293829.ece ; https://www.icct.nl/publication/anti-islamist-anders-behring-breiviks-manifesto
19.-do- , https://www.jpost.com/international/new-zealand-gunman-inspired-by-mass-murderer-anders-breivik-583624
25.Page 16, Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags, Tapan Basu, Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar, Sambuddha Sen
26.Trapped in the Golwakarian Past, Himal, May-June 2006, https://communalism.blogspot.com/search?q=golwalkar%2C+gatade ; https://communalism.blogspot.com/2006/02/sanitising-supremo-on-birth.html
29.Organiser, February 19, 2017, Organiser of December 20, 2020, quoted in https://thewire.in/politics/rss-vishwaguru-india-world-hindutva