India yesterday, India today

India yesterday, India today

Ye daagh daagh ujaalaa, ye shab-gaziida sahar,
Vo intizaar tha jiska, ye vo sahar to nahin,
Yeh woh sahar to nahi jiski aarzoo lekar
Chale the yaar ke mil jayegi kahin na kahin

–  Faiz Ahmad Faiz

This stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn
This is not that dawn of which there was expectation
This is not that dawn with longing for which
The friends set out, (convinced) that somewhere there we met with

In our childhood Urdu had still not found a religion otherwise perhaps my name would have been something else.  The only trace of my coming from a Muslim family seems to be my name.

Childhood and student day memories include innumerable stories about the freedom struggle, Nehru, Gandhi,  the Second World War, Russian revolution, Faiz, Sahir, Prem Chand, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Maxim Gorky, Tolstoy, Ostrovsky, Pushkin, Lermentov, KL Saigal, Pankaj Mallick, DV Paluskar, Hemant, Mukesh, Talat, Manna Dey, SD Burman, Rafi, Geeta Dutt, Guru Dutt. Among the thousands of books at home the Diary of Anne Frank and the Story of Zoya and Shura left a deep impression on me.

Despite extreme poverty, in earlier years and bare minimum existence later, we were exposed to world cinema and literature. After economic conditions stabilized a little regular soiree at home became a source of regular interaction with Habib Tanveer, Bhisham Sahni and many others.

We spent all vacations at Bal Bhawan and weekends at the Sapru House and Soviet Cultural Centre watching children’s movies and Russian classics. It is during this time that we saw films like Battleship Potempkin, Story of a Real Man, Ballad of a Soldier, Cranes Are Flying.

On lazy afternoons during summers and winters the favorite post-school occupation was playing pebbles, kite flying, gulli danda, dedhi phodh and cricket. During winters the emphasis was on chess, music and reading. There was no television or internet. The first record player appeared in our house when I was in the 9th standard and for sometime remained the center of attraction with Master Madan’s mesmerizing voice coming out of the black round disk.

There was nothing that distinguished any of us from others on the basis of religion. We ate seevayins (vermicelli) on Eid and mithai (sweets) on Diwali and played with color on Holi.  The library had the Holy Quran, Bhagwat Gita, Bible, Upanishads. The more intellectually inclined amongst the siblings perhaps read them, I was never drawn to them. There were no religious ceremonies at home. We never saw our parents praying or fasting and calling upon God in times of difficulties.

All five of us, I being the youngest, were brought up as free citizens of an independent secular, democratic and diverse country. There was gender equality in the air and within the house we never faced any discrimination on the basis of being a daughter or a son.  When our parents gave us our names they couldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams that one day their children will have to carry the weight of their names.

The story of transformation from being a free citizen, activist, woman to being a Muslim is long and painful and there is no time to narrate the whole story. Today I am called to comment on television when there is a need to condemn the terrorists, assuming they are all Muslims and it is the duty of all Indian Muslims to show their patriotism or rather prove their patriotism.

Shabnam Hashmi has to respond when some stupid maulvi comes out with a new fatwa. I am trolled on social media when I attack the fascist forces because how can a “Muslim” respond as a citizen. It has to be a “Pakistani loving, Muslim fundamentalist”. Those who had no role to play in the struggle for Independence, those who connived with the British question the integrity of every citizen with a Muslim name or those Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs who refuse to follow the path of the RSS.

The country at crossroads

India today stands at a crossroads. While intellectuals debate whether India has a fascist regime or not, it is clearly visible that almost all characteristics of fascism are in force and are gaining strength in incremental steps.

According to Dr Lawrence Britt, who examined the fascist regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Suharto, there are 14 common characteristics of every fascist regime. Fascist regimes make constant use of patriotism, they ignore human rights, a perceived enemy  (racial, religious, ethnic)  is created and used as a unifying factor, the military is given disproportionate funding, governments are male dominated, media is totally controlled, fear and national security is used as a tool, religion is used to manipulate public opinion, corporate power is protected, labor unions are suppressed, open hostility is displayed to higher education and academia, there is an obsession with crime, the police are given limitless power, there is rampant corruption, and elections are fraudulent.

The RSS was formed in 1925 with the sole dream of building a Hindu Rashtra. MS Golwalker in his book, “We or Our Nationhood Defined”, openly says that India can learn a lesson from Germany: “German race pride has now become a topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the 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 manifest 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 Hindustan to learn and profit by.”

The Sangh has never been so close to fulfilling its dream of “purging” the unwanted from India and turning it into a Hindu Rashtra (state) of its dream. They are now, at full throttle, not leaving any stone unturned to achieve their agenda.

In December 2014 UP Dharm Jagran Samiti’s head Rajeshwar Singh said, “Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here. So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here.” Hindu Maha Sabha, announced the launch its “Islam-free India” campaign on August 3 from the temple town of Varanasi.  Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti described those who do not worship Ram as “haramzade” or bastards. A Shiv Sena member of parliament force-fed a Muslim canteen functionary during his roza fast. Another, Sanjay Raut, called for the disenfranchisement of Muslims. Sadhvi Deva Thakur gave a call on November 15, 2015 to declare emergency and sterilize Muslims and Christians to control their populations.

The RSS agenda has moved far beyond only targeting the minorities now. They want to see a homogenized, mono-cultural standardized society. An unprecedented multipronged attack has been mounted on scientific temper, rational thinking and scientific establishment of the country. Official platforms are being used for anti-science activities; providing credibility to myths and superstitions; there are heavy budget cuts; and political interference is bedeviling scientific institutes. There have also been drastic budget cuts in the social sector: health, education, women and child welfare and rural employment schemes.  Big corporate houses and businesses are being supported at the expense of India’s poor and working masses.

With over 4500 communities and over 400 living languages, dietary restrictions are forced on the people. The cow has become a major tool to spread hatred and attack and kill innocent people. While a man was lynched to death by a mob near Delhi on a rumor that he had cow meat in his house, the whole state machinery was busy in getting the meat tested.  The government either actively connives or remains a mute spectator to these developments and hate mongering, and Prime Minister Modi utters a few sentences only for the sake of his image abroad.

Traditions and antidotes

Speaking recently at the Wembley stadium in London Modi said that Kabir, Rahim have been our inspirations and Sufi tradition is the best antidote to terrorism. It is of course very convenient to talk about diversity abroad and suppress every trace of it in the country. In a 2002 pogrom close to 500 Sufi shrines and mosques were blown up using gas cylinders. When the Gujarat High Court ordered to rebuild them the Modi government rushed to the Supreme Court for a stay. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court refused to stay the High Court’s order, no progress has taken place.

Narendra Modi while talking of Sufi tradition being an antidote to terrorism also indirectly implied that antidote was required for Muslims, very conveniently forgetting that there is a strong Hindutva terror network in the country which his administration is trying to sweep under the carpet. In June 2015, Rohini Salain, Special Public Prosecutor in the Malegaon terror attack in 2008 shocked everyone by divulging that since the arrival of the new government she has been under pressure from the National  Investigation Agency to go “soft” on the Hindutva terrorists involved in the case.

RSS recently observed its 90th anniversary. Over the past 90 years it has grown both horizontally and vertically. Over the past few decades through a large network of rightwing propaganda machinery including well-placed journalists, thousands of educational institutions, grass root organizations and new age gurus and babas  every effort has been made to promote mediocrity and irrationality, to promote a certain majoritarian view of society. All efforts have been made to wean people away from rational thought processes.

Hundreds of organizations under the umbrella of RSS have invaded deep into every possible space, both public and private. It’s a complicated web, well orchestrated and funded, using the latest technology to attack every democratic structure within the country. While we can compare them with the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Suharto to look at the characteristics of fascism but they are far ahead in terms of their creativity.  If Hitler held the whole world to ransom one can imagine what might happen when a country having 1/7 of the world’s population leans toward fascism.

A few decades ago no one took them seriously; they were considered fringe elements but the journey of over three decades have placed them center stage. Beginning from the Ayodhya movement in 1980 till the crowning of Narendra Modi, India’s national consciousness has shifted from being secular and plural to communal. There is legitimization of communal ideology by the State and the media, acceptance of prejudices and stereotyping without questioning them in popular consciousness, deep infiltration of hate in the minds and hearts of ordinary people and apathy on the part of a large section of the society especially the “educated” middle classes.

Modi came riding on the bogey of “Vibrant Gujarat”.  Creatively re-carving the image from a man who supervised a pogrom to a “development” man, the PR agencies projected him larger than life.  Combined with a façade of development the tool of terror was used and a large number of fake encounters organized in Gujarat. According to the skillfully created narrative every “terrorist” who entered Gujarat, including the 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan, a Mumbai college girl, came to kill Modi, was detected and killed in an encounter.  With every such fake encounter Modi became the only savior of the “Hindus”.  During huge jamborees of “Vibrant Gujarat” MOUs worth millions were signed with multinationals and became front page news.  The investigative stories exposing the poor implementation of the signed agreements were either totally suppressed or termed as propaganda.

Even if we don’t talk of the 2002 pogrom (over 2000 killed and 200,000 displaced)  and its ghost that follows Modi, the fact that there is still a chance of him being prosecuted in the Zakia Jaffery case, and despite all efforts he and his battery of followers have not been able to imprison Teesta and Javed, or the case of Jasoda ben, Modi’s wife whom he failed to mention in the affidavits in the local elections but had to write her name as wife when the facts were taken out by  Right to Information activists, there is so much more which is hidden from the nation.

A very small sample of the kind of material which is available and which has been suppressed totally in the media: 54,656,819 sqm of land was sold to Adani in Gujarat for SEZ. All rules were bent backwards. Twenty-five applications for land were submitted on two consecutive days – 22 & 23 /12/03 and 23 orders for sale of land were released on a single day 15/07/2005. The price of land charged from Adani was between Rs. 2.5- Rs 25 per sq meter when the market rate was between Rs 1000 to Rs.1,500 for each square metre.

Between September 2011 and February 2012 Modi organized 34 Sadbhavna Fasts programs in Gujarat extensively covered by the media and the project “Image Makeover” was launched fraudulently using public money. Letter No. GS.14.1/138/2018/2012 dated 22.3.2012 stated the diverted amount which was spent from various departments as : (Narmada Water Works- Rs. 46,800; Information and Broadcasting Dept. – Rs. 6,434,000; Road & Housing Dept- Rs. 8,681,000; Sports Youth & Culture Dept- Rs. 497,209; Industry & Mines Dept- Rs. 56,832; General Administration Dept- Rs. 2,434.)

Gujarat’s actual debt had mounted from Rs. 45,301 crore in 2001-02 when Modi took over to Rs. 138,978 crore on December 30, 2012 (source: Director, Department of Economics and Statistics, Government of Gujarat, & Gujarat assembly question hours 2011-12), when Modi was claiming Vibrant Gujarat 455,885 applications were pending for agricultural power connection in March 2011 (source: Ministry of Agriculture, Gujarat, 2011-12). Meanwhile health expenditure in Gujarat had fallen from 4.25% in 1990-95 to 0.77% in 2005-2010; and Gujarat occupied second position from the bottom in terms of allocation for health in the state budget (source: Planning Commission report, 2012-13 and National Health Profile: Central Bureau of Health Intelligence).

Model, sham and hurdles

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on Gujarat disclosed huge amount of corruption, but this was never projected in the media or placed before the nation.  The Gujarat development model is a big sham but Gujarat Model of converting India into a Hindu Rashtra is a successful model. Methods of discrimination, spreading disharmony, controlling minds, spreading irrationality, use of fear, the use of the tool of terrorism and many others have been experimented and perfected.  And now these methods of spreading hatred and prejudices perfected in the laboratory of the Hindu Rashtra are being exported to other states across India.

Modi knows it well that its only the activists, the NGOs, the people’s movement which can expose him or become hurdles in the plunder of natural resources and blatant flouting of rules and legal provisions.  NGOs working on the environment were the first target as they posed a huge impediment in gifting away land as seen in the example above to Adani and other corporate houses. Legal activists like Teesta Setalwad are a threat as Modi and Amit Shah can be imprisoned in the cases and intellectuals, groups working on democracy, secularism, education and culture are in the line of fire as they are a obstacle in the path of their brainwashing program.

Many of these facts were placed in front of the nation across many cities exposing PM Modi but the din of the propaganda machinery was at such high decibels that the facts were totally drowned in that cacophony.

Democracy and secularism are not natural phenomena. Indian democracy, secularism, pluralism and diversity have their roots in centuries of intermingling of different cultures, philosophical debates, and the legacy of the long struggle for India’s independence. Democracy and secular thought have to be built and safeguarded consciously. Divisive politics and interference of religion in the affairs of the state need to be confronted at every step.

Though we have allowed the roots of divisive politics to sink too deep into our society, unfortunately for the rightwing India is still too diverse and plural. It is not possible to erase the centuries’ old traditions of intellectual and philosophical debates. India also has a large number of live struggles in all corners on the questions of land, livelihood, dignity, caste and gender oppression.   A strong resistance is building up against the nefarious designs of the fascist forces. In India’s electoral history for the first time the election in Bihar has been fought and won openly on a call to defeat the RSS and fascist political forces.

These are difficult times for the country and one state assembly’s election cannot turn the wheel around; but secular, democratic Indians, intellectuals, artists, writers, poets, workers, fishermen and women, trade unions and ordinary citizens will unite again to safeguard the Indian Constitution in the same way as they fought against the imperialist forces to make India free.

Barabari ka sab junoon simat ke phir se ayega
Bikher degi zindagi ki heer apni zulf ko
Yahin se utthegi sadaa ke khud pe tu yaqeen kar
Yahin se zulm ki kadi pe pehla vaar ayega

  • – Gauhar Raza

I believe once again, from this very land,
Our nascent dreams will become alive and
The passion for equality will rise yet again
Beloved life will once again spread her beautiful tresses
Believe, that from here we will get the clarion call
The first blow on the tormentors will be struck here

Shabnam Hashmi
CONTRIBUTOR
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1 Comment

  • gaharpur@yahoo.ca'
    Bilu
    April 3, 2016, 12:18 am

    That such an article can still be written and published in India is a sign of hope. Like Iqbal said, "Lost Yusuf will return to Kenan once again." The constitution of India will be reinstated in its full glory. It is time all so-called minorities and all sensible citizens work unitedly to dispel the spate of darkness and fascist cloud of ignorance and obscurantism. Or else, it is Muslims and Christians today, Jains, Buddhists and Persis tomorrow.

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