22, Jul 2019 | Suparna Banerjee
A bevy of fighters is pitting themselves dauntlessly against a coercive and polarising Hindu right
Once in a while a book comes along that makes one rethink the boundaries defining the world of publishing. Battling for India is a book of that genre-bending kind. It is not the usual research-led monograph; nor is it a mass market book meant to cater to the popular taste. In other words, it blurs the lines between the serious and the popular, the high-brow and the massy.
This is because the rather weighty theme — the rise of sectarianism and an exclusionary hyper-nationalism in India and the nationwide resistance to these — is treated in an altogether unconventional manner by the editors. Instead of prioritising rhetoric or intellectual discussion it adopts an illustrative, empirical methodology that emphasises lived experience over proselytism or debate. It is an approach that shows us both the corrosive effects of the reigning ultra-Rightist ideology upon the lives and liberty of the Indian people and the diverse ways in which citizens, nationwide, have been resisting the oppressive, divisive regime. The Introduction identifies this group of resisting men and women who are battling to save both themselves and an ‘idea of India’ that would guarantee equal citizenship to all Indians.
This bevy of fighters that includes farmers, students, union members, journalists, teachers, and artists — many of them Dalits or Muslim — is ‘Battling for India’, pitting themselves dauntlessly against a coercive and polarising ‘Battling India’. This contingent, whose tales of gritty resistance to sectarianism and oppression the book presents, speaks not the uniform language of fascist, militarist ‘nationalism’: its voices, its languages are many and diverse, and in this very diversity it upholds the Constitution-based pluralist idea of India, trying to save it from the jaws of the ‘many-headed beast’ that is the ‘Battling India Parivar’. Subsequent chapters consist of articles laid out in six parts that delineate the fight against ‘the thought police’, against raw brutality and persecution, unreason and lies; relive notorious incidences of violence against minorities; discuss economic issues like demonetisation; and then deal, medley-fashion, with transgender rights, hate crimes, Section 377 and the like.
Among this eclectic mix of essays some are by stalwart writers or academics like Githa Hariharan and Prabhat Patnaik, while others come from anguished students or activists like Alash Vadakara and Teesta Setalvad. Yet others are by senior journalists pained by the ‘toxic atmosphere’ of the country.
Amidst all this righteous angst is also Pushpamala N’s ‘elegy’ for Gauri Lankesh that lingers in the mind both for its personal warmth and the veneration it generates for the late Lankesh.
In all, Battling for India is a soul-stirring read. The sad irony of having to critique it now — after the ‘Battling India Parivar’ has won a second term — keeps it from being invigorating.
Battling for India: A Citizen’s Reader; Edited by Githa Hariharan & Salim Yusufji, Speaking Tiger Books, ₹399.
The original article can be read here.