Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How BJP is trying to change the “idea of India”- one ban at a time

India is under attack, but not from the some external agency, or enemy country, but from within. And strangely, the ones attacking India are the one who seem to have copyrighted terms like “nationalism”, “patriotism” and  claim to be actually propelling the country ahead to glorious times. Confused? Let me explain.

India is a country that has, for over centuries, been  known for its diversity. India has been a nation which has absorbed many cultures, many religions, many languages and adapted them locally to have what we now know as India. This idea of India was where different languages co-existed, where religions co-existed, different cultures too co-existed. And it was this co-existence that  when it came together formed India. “Unity in diversity”- that is what I learnt in school. But sadly, this diversity is being threatened, and so is the idea of India.

2014 elections were considered a major turning point for a number of reasons. For the first time social media and technology played a very important role. There were a large number of first-time voters, an anti-corruption movement. It was also one of the most polarizing elections of recent times. The ascent of Narendra Modi was being feared by many liberals and seculars as being antithetic to the idea of India. They were booed, termed anti-national, pseudo-secular, and anti-development.
But 1 year down the line, the cloak is coming off, and the sheen of development promises is fading too.  It is important to see how in this time, constant attempts have been made to re-imagine India only as a “Hindu” nation, with Hindutva as the only philosophy as Hinduism. Signs of this had started appearing when the Prime Minister and Home Minister claimed mythology as scientific evidence. Hinduism and the Vedas had all the answers, or so the new Govt would have us believe. A scientific conference strangely had papers on mythological inventions, and the government was spending money trying to prove the superiority of ancient India, which of course meant only “Hindu India”. The PM, in his intial speeches referred to “thousand years of slavery”. The British ruled India for some 200 years only.  You see,  Mughals weren’t part of India in the BJP’s version. India only existed before the Muslim invaded and settled down. But this was restricted to speeches till now.
The first major signs of belittling of minorities were visible when PM Modi declared Christmas as a “Good Governance Day”. A smart move to mask your intentions with words like “good” there. There were controversies abound, but the adamant BJP and PM stuck to it. The hullabaloo was soon settled. But the government had made its intentions clear. It will not buckle down, and more would follow. It would be interesting to note how VHP and Sangh Parivar, BJP’s parent organisations, have been involved previously in attacks over Christians. Was it mere co-incidence then that the country also saw a spurt in violence against Christian places of worship?

Then there were the “ghar wapsi” campaigns and love-jihad propaganda of the Sangh. Suddenly, love between a hindu and a muslim was deemed a conspiracy. Ridiculous claims were made. As if love marriages, especially inter-religious marriages, in India were any less opposed by parents, it also became the site of Sanghs political play. The PM, which takes to twitter to wish birthdays and congratulations for achievement, had nothing to say about the whole affair. BJP washed its hands off the matter saying the central government had nothing to do with it, and policing was a state affair. That the parent body of BJP, from which most of the government ministers have come, is involved in such vitriol was suddenly of no importance. Silence in this case was more related to condoning of the acts, rather than being silenced by pain.

If the poor/common Muslim was attacked through such tirades, the high and mighty weren’t left either. BJP and the Sangh have time and again targeted Vice President Hamid Karzai. He was first targeted by the Hindu right with pictures of him being circulated for not saluting the National Flag at the Republic Day Reviewing Stand, and then for not being present at the Yoga Day celebrations by the Govt. In both the cases, the credentials of a person who has served the country for years were questioned because he was a Muslim. In doing so, the message that the BJP was clearly trying to send was- if we can target the Vice President,  we can easily target you (the common Muslim).
But attack on Muslims hasn’t been the only salient feature of this Govt. NGOs have come under special scanner. Greenpeace has been targeted constantly because of its work, and because it has exposed the many ways through which a corporate-government nexus is ruining lives and environments. Teesta Setalvad was another target, and she had to get relief from the courts finally. Dissent, a hallmark of a dynamic democracy, is no longer allowed under this Govt. So much so that TV channels are being sent notices for questioning the PM and his schemes (indirectly), or for showing other side of the story (Yakub Memon). Fear and intimidation are being instilled into the people.

But that’s not all. BJP also wants to decide what food you eat, what kind of sex you have (in this case the matter was made easy by the Supreme Court), and what things you watch. So suddenly, one fine day, ISPs started blocking some popular porn sites. It is interesting to note that the previous UPA govt had told the Supreme Court that it wasn’t possible to ban porn on the internet, in fact, the courts had also said that what one watches in his/her privacy is no one’s business. Yet, the Govt took it upon itself to ban over 300 porn sites, in the most secretive way possible. The excuse of “child pornography” didn’t hold true when the list was leaked over the internet. Sangh Parivar (and BJP) have always looked at sex (and sexual pleasure like porn) as immoral, and so it was no surprise that it went in a hurry to ban porn sites and decide what the citizens could access over the internet.
While porn ban was something that the govt had to revert, it has again tried targeting Muslims and their livelihood and eating habits by the infamous Beef Ban. Maharashtra, ruled by BJP currently, banned beef and the punishment for the possession of the same was made as 10 years. Cow slaughter was already banned in the state, but by banning the consumption and slaughter of other bovines, BJP was again playing its anti-muslim card. Other BJP states too followed soon. If the Muslims had to live in BJP ruled parts, they must do so on BJP’s terms. That the Constitution gives everyone equal rights, irrespective of caste,c reed, religion, sex… didn’t matter to BJP. 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

These lines by Pastor Martin Niemöller fits the Indian scenario perfectly today. So while eating habits and patriotism of Muslims (or anyone who questioned the govt) were being targeted, majority Indians kept quiet, for it did not affect them. But with a blanket ban of meat in the name of “respecting sentiments of Jains” being place in Maharashtra and other BJP states, it was no longer the Muslim or Dalit who was the target. The Brahminical tyranny of BJP was in full display.  

Compare the histrionics of the PM when he was sworn in, to the present day scenario. He remains mostly absent from Parliament debates, but rushes to the RSS conclave to present a report card of the govt. He doesn’t prefer to answer the opposition (elected members), but has no qualms in answering the Sangh Parivars call. No sooner had the ministers come out of the RSS conclave, that the culture minister was all charged up giving interview of what the definition of Indian culture was, and how “despite being a muslim” APJ Abdul Kalam was a great humanist and nationalist.

BJP, whether through its bans, or by questioning the patriotism or nationalism of certain sections of the country, has been constantly attacking the idea of India. The India which was imagined by our founders where people of all religion and caste would live with equal rights and dignity. Through its bans, or through its name-calling, through its attempts at homogenising India,  BJP has been constantly hammering this idea, with the intention that over a period of time, it would have weakened the structure so much that it would crumble on its own.  To its credit, it has been able to shift the debates away from poverty, and the shoddy role of Sangh in distorting the truth and instigating riots; to one where we are debating how many days of ban should there be on meat. Irony is that organizations terming themselves as nationalist are the ones who have not been celebrating the Independence Day of the country for over 60 years, and had no role in the freedom struggle!

Note: This post was written for Youth Ki Awaaz's advertisement related to editorial opening, which required a fresh unpublished piece to be submitted. Since I haven't heard back from them, I decided to publish it on my personal blog

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