Citizens for Justice and Peace

Fear of Death

14, Oct 2017 | Teesta Setalvad

For the RSS and Affiliates, Religion Alone Defines Entitlement, Rights and Citizenship

It’s a worldview at odds with modernity and republicanism crafted in the Indian constitution and the state. A fundamental belief, indoctrinated through skewed ‘history’ lessons in the shakha that asserts,  inherently  that religion and faith systems,  especially some,  draw the faultlines and define the difference.  Of entitlement, rights and citizenship.

It is this prism that governs officialdom and India, today and which tells us –quite unashamedly that the Rohingyas (never mind that they are poor, distraught and way below any poverty line) are a security threat, simply because they are Muslim. The Chakmas are not, the Hindus from Myanmar are not, but Rohingyas are a threat, simply because of their faith. (Indian government’s affidavit before the Supreme Court of India dated September 18, 2017).

Who is or can become Indian ? Only non-Muslims –Hindus of course, but “Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants” says a draft legislation proposed by this regime that signals, again, the institutionalisation of discriminatory citizenship. It all eventually all boils down to the construct of India, ‘their’ Motherland and citizenship.

Way back in 1991, this writer,  then with Business India,  was gifted  a ‘map of Ahmdedabad,  by a then far more tentative,  Vishwa Hindu Parishad.  The VHP,  formed in 1964, is a branch of the now 92 year old Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS),  earlier restricted  by its own contours of being both Brahmanical and misogynist.

The Bajrang Dalit, too formed in the 1980s was mandated to ‘woo’ the Dalit. An RSS publication, Matrusansthas (literally, ‘mother organisations’), on the numerous affiliates and organisations which the RSS has spawned over the decades and which form part of the Sangh Parivar, describes the constitution and need of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and the VHP which are clearly defined.]] 

The VHP was born in 1964, when the RSS chief, Shri Golwalkar, met a select group of sanyasis and heads of religious organisations in Mumbai with the aim of launching a new organisation to unite all Hindu religious sects under a single umbrella. In legal terms, the VHP was conceived of as a trust, with a 100-member board of trustees and a 51-strong governing council. The latter body includes a nominal sanyasi , an indication, perhaps, that the ultimate controlling power rests not with traditional religious leaders, but with the RSS patriarchs. VHP activists are called hitchintaks (well-wishers). Beginning with the tribals of the north-east, the ‘Hinduisation’ of exploited social groups became urgent. As Raghunandan Prasad Sharma’s VHP says in its  Aims, Activities and Achievements, the VHP advises the spread of the ‘chief religious samskaras’ among ‘vanvasis, girijans and harijans’. Clearly these are meant to replace existing beliefs and practices among tribals and ensure a homogenised version of religion.

The Bajrang Dal, first formed in 1984 to ‘take forward the ‘Ramjanmabhoomi movement launched by the VHP’ is defined by the organisation itself as the ‘youth wing’ of the VHP, and calls itself different names in different parts of the country, a useful tool to convey heterogenity and omnipresence. In Bengal, for instance, it is known as the Vivekananda Vahini. All these outfits, with their core being the RSS, have from their outset, had clearly defined politcal aims though their garb is overtly religious.

Coming back to the VHP’s metamorphic map of Ahmedabad. The map had clearly defined course zones,  the green and the bhagwa/saffron.  Coding the green (read Muslims) into the old city (where a vibrant culture exists),  the message to its fire breathing cadres was clear.  Use any means,  fare or foul,  to limit ‘Muslim’ spread into the rest of Ahmedabad.  Covering the post Ruth Yatra  violence in 1991, a particularly  crude send bloody incident,  haunts me.

Two buxom,  Gujarati woman shoved off a middle aged Muslim professional from his second floor home in Narangpura, seen as a posh ‘ours, not theirs‘  part of this go-getter city.  He fell to a cold and bloody death. This was one among increasing instances of women engaging, actually and physically in acts of generating neighbourhood terror. The messaging for the Muslim was both loud and clear, a message against integration, confining and segregating Muslim existence to the ghetto.  The fact that this pair of Gujju behens were also felicitated that Navrati of 1991 (the ten days of fasting and ‘atonement’ before Dussehra when the metamorphic ‘good over evil’ battle was once fought!)  tells us more than a little about the kind of militarised,  exclusivist ‘Hinduism’ politically bartered by these closely connected outfits.

B.S. Moonje’s Diary No 6-17, November 1946, written en route to Islampur in Bihar, makes for fascinating, if chilling reading. This RSS ideologue, who after a visit to Benito Mussolini’s camps in 1931,started first the Rifle Association in Nagpur and then established Bhonsla Military Academy in Nashik and then Dehradun in 1936, was touring districts affected by the Partition related riots. 60 Muslims of Junair Patna had been converted to Hinduism ‘of their own accord’ by some Arya Samajists. Moonje recounts, in almost gloating terms, the ‘power of the fear of death’ among battered Muslims, signalling that this was the way to go.

Addressing a meeting in Delhi, here’s what Moonje then said, “I found the Moslems were so frightened from their experience in the Bihar disturbances that they came to me and said with folded hands, Huzoor, Babuji, hum Hindu hokar rahengay….’ This was the first exoerience of its kind in my life. Fear of death is great. Concluding my speech, I said, this is how people are to be coverted to a new Religion.Freedom of conscience and propaganda are of no use. They only cause waste of money with practically no result whatsoever (my emphasis).”

Fear of death after the use of targeted violence to achieve a political objective. An unbeatable combination that has been nurtured since 1946, and has been evident in bouts of orchestrated and targeted violence, bouts that have transformed into full-blown pogroms, post Independence and Partition. The power and influence of Moonje’s worldview has grown to dominate India’s parliament and rope in 31 per cent of the Indian electorate (in many states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, that percentage of support is much higher, over 40 per cent).

At the core of this instrumental use of a militarised form of faith is the transformation –through a climate and fear of violence and death –of India as articulated in the decades long struggle for independence from British colonial rule and exemplified in India’s founding document. Our Constitution.

Theocracy, or religion based nationhood was unequivocally rejected by India’s Constituent Assembly,  by leaders of all ideological dispositions. It was exclusivist outfits who were one in their worldview, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, with the Muslim League — who also successfully projected that Muslims could not be part of a composite nation with India’s Hindus.

Today, this worldview, that unashamedly articulates nationhood, citizenship and entitlements based on narrow definitions of faith,  dominates Indian Parliament and rules 12 states (another five in alliance). The game of numbers, finally is on their side. It is no wonder then, that be it Govindacharya (2015-2016) or Mohan Bhagwat now, they make bold assertions calling for a paradigm shift away from India’s Constitution. Mohan Bhagwat recently said (September 10, 2017) that laws and the Constitution should be based on the ‘ethos of our society.’

Is the ethos that the RSS speaks of the one that Moonje so accurately described after the blood-letting of 1946? An ethos of Violence crafted around the Fear of Death?

For any dispensation in the 21st century, in a country of over 1.324 billion people, a good 15 per cent of whom are Muslim, 2-3 per cent Christian, 27 per cent Dalit, a physical ethnic cleansing of those ‘not Hindu’ may not be easy nor practical.  But periodic and brute lynchings — by the brainwashed and armed cadres of these multi hydra organisations–are useful to build such an ethos, based on the Fear of Death.

It is this Fear of Death, that Moonje believed to be the best tool. That will then keep Muslims in line and Christians sufficiently fearful.  Top this with the assassins bullets,  aimed at sane, courageous dissenting voices who question the very construct of the homogenised Hindu, and who assert  as Narayan Dabolkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh did, that our ethos has been one of resistance to any homogeneity, an ethos of the assertion of dissent and difference, an ethos epitomised in the questioning of the shravana — not the controlling fear by the brahmana– and the stranglehold on our freedoms, is near complete.

Basavanna (Basava),  the radical philosopher and mass mobiliser rejected the crude exclusions bases on gender,  community  and caste contained in Brahmanical Hinduism and inspired the birth of a Lingayat tradition that stood rational and apart. This was in the 12th century. Before that we had Eknath and Namdeo in Maharashtra. After that, Tukaram, Kabir and of course Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule and our very own Ambedkar.

Which ethos does Ambedkar belong to ? The Sangh claims him as theirs, but arguably, Ambedkar, with his sharp and biting articulations –read Anhilation of Caste, State and Minorities,  State and Shudras, State and Women would,  if alive, would also been a target of elimination.

To drive home the Fear of Death.


Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times


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