UNCEASING WAVES

The Hindu-Muslim Love Story

Posted in Politics, Society and Culture by Karthick RM on November 3, 2016

Originally published on Round Table India

“If you accept to play the games by the rules set up by those who own or control the board, you will always lose.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre

Surprisingly, a writer for Scroll.in in a recent article asked a very pertinent question – “Why doesn’t the violence against Dalits incite liberal fury, as does violence against Muslims?” (Unsurprisingly though, he fails in his analysis.) But it is worth our while to consider this question. So what is it about caste violence that makes it worthy of far lesser attention and outrage than anti-Muslim violence?

One obvious conclusion to arrive at, and which is not without truth in it, is that the lives of lower castes value less. Three main material reasons for this is that the Dalits have never been ruling classes in this country and structural violence against Dalits has been a constant for centuries; two, Dalits do not have the international networks and influence like the Muslims, and atrocities against them will not provoke adverse reactions from external actors; finally, the (forced) invisibility of Dalits in the public sphere makes the liberal mind ignorant and immune to anti-Dalit violence.

But a far more insidious process is happening here, one that is ideological in nature. This is the Hindu-Muslim Love Story. And it is this narrative that we must try to decode if we are to understand why the concern for Muslims does not extend to the lower castes, if we are understand why the anti-Muslim BJP is enemy no 1 for the liberal Hindu, but the CPI(M) which began its rule in Bengal with the massacre of hundreds of Dalits is an ally in the fight against communalism.

Historical Precedents

The historical playground is important. At one end, the Hindutva brigade moans the Islamic invasions and the ‘cruelties’ of the Muslim rule in India. To counter the Right Hindus, it has been pointed out by several Left Hindu historians that the Muslim rule was tolerant to their Hindu subjects and that claims of persecutions were exaggerated. They present several historical records to show the privileges that Hindus enjoyed in Muslim courts. We know that the ‘Islamic bigot’ Aurangzeb’s court had a sizeable representation of upper-caste Hindus. Movies are made eulogizing Akbar’s affairs with Rajput princesses. We can add some more examples. Muslims served in Rana Pratap’s army. Devaraya II built mosques for his Muslim soldiers while Ramaraya allowed his Muslim subjects to kill and consume cows in their quarters. Vavar’s mosque near Ayyappan’s temple in Sabarimalai is worshipped by the Hindus. The Muslim lady Bibi Nanchari’s devotion to Vishnu is celebrated by The Hindu as a ‘tale of eternal love’ – indeed, she is considered at places in South India as a lover and consort of Vishnu.

Liberal scholars will hold up these facts to state the tolerance, pluralism, multiculturalism etc. of India. What is missing in these historical romances is the fact that none of this mutual tolerance and respect translated into a modicum of change for those at the lower ends of the society. None of these religiously liberal rulers even considered something as simple as providing the untouchable castes access to temple entry or a decent education. Whether the Indian postcolonialists like it or not, it was secular colonial modernity that opened up that space. That is another theme to be considered later. But it is precisely the validation of this Hindu-Muslim Love Story that is required to preserve the entity of India, to impose an artificial unity on several nations within the sub-continent, and to put a veil on far deeper structural injustices in the Indian society. Why? Because the Good Hindu realizes that the Muslim is necessary to his being-a-Hindu and is thus genuinely grateful to the Muslim for it.

Another writer on Round Table India, Khalid Anis Ansari, has captured how the Hindu-Muslim narrative in India is set by the Hindu upper castes and their Muslim equivalents, the Ashrafs. He also notes how this works to the detriment of the lower castes and the Pasmandas, the lower sections of the Muslims in India. Let us see how this ideology operates.

Good Hindu/Bad Hindu

Brahminism’s brilliance as an ideology is its creation of false binaries and forcing them on people who have nothing to gain from either side, but are nevertheless ‘compelled’ to take a side. Shankaracharya or Ramanujacharya? Gandhi or Savarkar? Congress or BJP? Teesta Setalvad or Amit Shah? This is a strategy that predates and perfectly complements the postmodern condition of making false free choices in neo-liberal capitalism. “Do you want Pepsi or Coke?” No thanks!

We might assume that the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim is such a binary that has dangerous consequences. But it is the Good Hindu/Bad Hindu binary that is far, far more lethal. The Bad Hindu is a bigot. Often coarse and vulgar, he is easily identified by his unabashed xenophobia. The Bad Hindu is just like any other fundamentalist in any other part of the world, easy to understand, easier to oppose.

The Good Hindu on the other hand is a peculiar phenomena. He reeks of ideology. You can find him quoting any radical text from anywhere in the world, giving support to exotic causes, and leading the fight against imperialism. He has several isms (pluralism, feminism, socialism etc) in his jhola which he will take out and use according to context. But the ism hidden in the pockets of his Fab-India kurta is the cultural logic of Brahminism…

In my stay in JNU, I had met some ultra-leftist Good Hindus who defended Osama bin Laden, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban for being ‘anti-imperialist’. These same leftists accused Kanshi Ram, Mayawati, and the Dravidian parties of being corrupt and practicing identity politics. But then again, these Good Hindus will also adopt the role of Dalit saviors if the situation requires, accusing the OBCs of being the real oppressors. They will discover Ambedkar and write a preface to him to introduce him to the Western world. They will use corporate platforms to convey communism, while lecturing to Dalits and OBCs about the evils of capitalism.They will question White privilege, but questioning Brahmin privilege will be termed ‘identity politics’. They will note how their party cadres are 90% Dalits, but not how their party leaders and intellectuals are 99% Brahmin… such are the riddles of the Good Hindu!

Fluid, flexible, and highly fashionable unlike his neanderthalic Bad Hindu counterpart, the Good Hindu is the highest point of evolution of Brahminism. And if there is a cause par excellence that he is committed to, it is Islamophilia. And we can take some examples from cinema to consider this point.

Some Islamophilic Cinematic Fantasies

We can consider some movies where the Hindu-Muslim identities are subject to an intense romantic treatment. These are just a few popular samples. Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995) is of a Hinduized Tamil male marrying a conservative Muslim girl. In the wake of the Mumbai riots, the love story comes to the foreground and unites Hindus and Muslims as one family, one nation, one India. Karan Johar’s Kurbaan (2009) shows a Hindu woman married to a Muslim terrorist and his My Name is Khan (2010) shows a Hindu woman married to a Muslim who is not a terrorist – both movies promoting the idea of tolerance and the vitality of modern India. The more recent Rajkumar Hirani’s PK (2014) showing a Hindu Indian girl in love with a Pakistani Muslim shows that Indianness can also be reconciled with Pakistaniness. Anything can go: as long as the Hindu upper caste remains at the top, and the Indian physical and ideological structure that preserves this remains intact.

Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) is instructive here. The Hindu character, Meenakshi Iyer, a conservative Brahmin wife and mother of a child, is exposed to an Islamophobic world of rioting Bad Hindus while travelling with a Muslim acquaintance. As she witnesses the violence, her humanitarian (Good Hindu) side takes over. She helps out her Muslim friend, and gets helped out by him in return, with both developing a strong mutual attraction eventually. We must resist the temptation to be blinded by these ‘human feelings’ overdoses and question the brutal logic that lies beneath. In the movie, Raja, the Muslim character does nothing to change the attitude of Mrs. Iyer towards her caste identity, how the “Iyer” identity by itself discursively implies that there are caste identities inferior to it. Is this not also the character of Muslim Rajas in India, who accommodated the elites, but did nothing for those at the lowest end of the spectrum? At the end of movie, as at the end of the Muslim rule in India, the Brahmin remained a Brahmin, if anything, more revitalized thanks to the Muslim. So, one must not miss the significance of this movie winning the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration. (Incidentally, Nargis Dutt’s story itself is a Hindu-Muslim Love Story.)

We can observe such fantasies playing among the reactions of the Good Hindus to the bogey of Love Jihad that was raised recently by the Bad Hindus. One such Good Hindu woman was very concerned for the safety of her Muslim partner and the prospects for their marriage under Modi rule. She feared, perhaps rightly, that the Modi rule would place restrictions on Hindu women to make their choices. And she ended up defending the Aam Aadmi Party, an outfit no less Brahminical than the BJP. Another such touching story was narrated in The New York Times, of one Ms. Iyer and a Mr. Khan. Their children were praised as “poster girls for a modern and liberal India.” So it is not just the reel, but also the real Mr. and Mrs. Iyer who make a fantastic story!

The Story That Is Not Told

Now, to prevent misinterpretation, the author must add here that he is not conveying a lack of belief in the possibility of love between a Hindu and Muslim. Indeed, love, genuine love, can exist between them as individuals. But when this love becomes a story that articulates certain identities (at the expense of others) and enters the terrain of discourse, it ceases to concern two individuals alone. It becomes political, exposes the politics of the narrators and the subjects, in what they say and what they do not say, and why this is so.

We know for a fact that violence in the forms of killings, attacks, sexual assaults and humiliation heaped on Dalits is a pan-Indian phenomenon, an everyday occurrence, and has been happening even prior to Muslim arrival. If so, why aren’t stories of inter-caste marriages and appeals for dismantling caste bigotries appearing in the public domain with the intensity and zeal as the Hindu-Muslim Love Story? Why couldn’t these individuals be critical towards their Hindu identity and challenge it? It is, as Ambedkar observed, because the Hindu who is obsessed with his own self and the selfish interests of his class is incapable of critical self-introspection. The Dalits and OBCs asserting their humanity will dislodge the superhuman status of the ones at the top. Which is why the romance of the external Other is much preferable to asking crucial questions about the construction of the Self, which stories of the internal Other will bring about. In fact, the romance of the external Other is a screen to prevent such questions being asked about the imagined Hindu Self.

What Position to Take?

Why did Ambedkar and Periyar attack ‘Islamophilic’ Gandhi more than ‘Islamophobic’ Savarkar? The intellectual acumen of Ambedkar and Periyar was such that they realized Bad Hindus like Savarkar and Golwalkar were only a malignant symptom (and one can extend this to the BJP, RSS and VHP too) while it was the Good Hindus like Gandhi then (and in contemporary times we can add CPI(M), Congress and others) who were saving the disease of Hinduism using the love of Muslims as a cover. The former wanted a militant Hinduism, one that would not tolerate other religions. The latter wanted to create an image of a benevolent Hinduism, one that would embrace other religions, while benevolently maintaining its inherent social hierarchy. The Bad Hindu wants only his own particularity to be respected. The Good Hindu, in his tolerance for all religious particularities, also wants his own particularity to be tolerated. Neither are capable of a genuine Universality. To be asked to choose between these two is to be subject to a fraud.

Unfortunately, some non-Brahmin writers too have fallen in the trap laid by the Good Hindus of specifically opposing Hindutva’s opposition to Islam and Muslims. I have sought to show in the article above how Brahminism is a dynamic system that creates elite subjects who BOTH hate and love Muslims. If the bad Hindu uses Dalits and OBCs as mere pawns in the Hindu-Muslim hate games, the Hindu-Muslim Love Story of the good Hindu places them as poor spectators allotted the cheapest seats in a farcical drama. The only radical thing to do is avoid taking sides and to articulate the Periayarite and Ambedkarite position that the construction of the Hindu identity is by itself an oppressive riddle that needs to be dismantled. Ambedkarism and Periyarism have no place in, and no need for, the fantasies of Mr and Mrs Iyer.

Advertisements
Tagged with: , ,

India’s Patriotic Feminist Daughters

Posted in Uncategorized by Karthick RM on November 3, 2016

Originally published on Round Table India

The recent documentary “India’s Daughter” on the 2012 New Delhi gang-rape case by Israeli born filmmaker Leslee Udwin has come under criticism from certain leftist feminists for being ‘Western racist’ and the likes. A particularly trending article in these circles is one by Kavita Krishnan, who is a central committee member of CPI (ML) – Liberation. Comrade Krishnan is pained that Udwin has shown “India as a place of ignorance and brutality towards women, that inspires both shock and pity, but also call for a rap on the knuckles from the “civilised world” for its “brutal attitudes”.” She laments that there is a “racist profiling of Indian men” that informs this documentary. And so on and so on.

To start with, yes, Leslee Udwin’s documentary is problematic because it is not well informed. It picked a most brutal gang-rape that caught worldwide attention and tried to show some light on violence against women in India – but it failed to adequately pay attention to the systematic most brutal forms of rape and sexual violence that millions of Dalit, adivasi and lower caste women endure on a daily basis. The problem with the documentary is not that it demonizes Indians and India’s (Hindu) misogynistic culture. The real problem is that it has NOT demonized them enough!

Yes Comrade Krishnan, brutality is an Indian cultural problem, Indian backwardness is a problem, and Indian mentality is a problem. The problem is structural, embedded in India, in the idea of India, in the way this idea was imagined, in the discourse of India, by the people who create that discourse, who accept it and who defend it. I am not saying anything new. I am only repeating what Periyar has said in the past.

But what ethical rights does a Western person have to make a documentary on Indian women?

“I was in Hyderabad recently and was seriously appalled to hear that Arundhati’s piece is apparently being construed by some as being demeaning of Ambedkar and ‘devoting more space to Gandhi’. If this is indeed the nature of the criticism that is being made the pretext for the denial of permission, it is a travesty of reason and a deliberate, mischievous misreading of her article, not much unlike the Hindutvavadi’s misreading of Doniger.”

The above are Comrade Krishnan’s own words, based on nothing but rumour.

So let us twist it slightly and say:

“I was in recently in New Delhi and was seriously appalled to hear that Leslie Udwin’s piece is apparently being construed by some as being demeaning of Indians and racist. If this is indeed the nature of the criticism that is being made the pretext for the denial of permission, it is a travesty of reason and a deliberate, mischievous misreading of the documentary, not much unlike the BJP’s rationale to censor it.”

One logic for Roy and another for a White person. If a Roy can write a (theoretically shallow) preface to Ambedkar to highlight Dalit issues to the West, why cannot a Westerner make a documentary to highlight India’s rape crisis to the West? Between the two, Leslee Udwin was at least honest to admit her shortcomings. Roy and comrades on the other hand said this and more. While the documentary has been wholeheartedly welcomed by other women activists, Roy’s preface came under massive critical condemnation from Dalit activists, thinkers and writers – which were dismissed off by the privileged leftist intellectuals without any just engagement.

Comrade Krishnan challenges Westerners to recognize “the “brutal attitudes” that abound in our own comfort zone, our own “culture”.” What she should do is to challenge Brahminists, the leftist ones especially, to challenge their brutal intellectual attitudes, the comfort zones that they inhabit, the academic spaces that they occupy, the political culture of their politburos, the voices they silence and marginalize. What she should do is ask how many Dalits and OBCs – the people who actually form the working class – are there in decision making levels of the various communist parties in India. But of course, anti-Westernism is “radical”. Anti-Brahminism is “identity politics”.

This is not meant to be an individual attack on Comrade Krishnan, but rather an attempt to offer an insight into a pernicious trend that is dominating political discourse in the name of “anti-Westernism” “postcolonialism” and so on. In fact, Krishnan’s response to the documentary is much in the line of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” where the latter argues against White men saving brown women from brown men. But in condemning western universality, who gave these members of an ultra-elite closed group the right to condemn in the name of all brown women and men? If it was not for the intervention of “white imperialist capitalist patriarchy” women of a particular low caste in Tamil Nadu would not be allowed to cover their breasts. It was British colonialist legislation that put an end to the barbaric practice of temple prostitution in the state. All these moves were also fought for and welcomed by the women of the concerned castes. The subaltern actually spoke. Spivak did not care to listen.

Some of the feminists have had a problem with the documentary being named “India’s Daughter”. But in their zeal to defend the image of India, they are behaving like dutiful Indian daughters in ensuring that the name of their mother country is not besmirched by a ‘colonialist Western foreigner’. Gayatri, Kavita, Pragya, Rithambara… sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

Tagged with: , ,

A Tale of Two Prefaces

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on May 12, 2014

Originally published on Round Table India

With her new preface to Dr. Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ Arundhati Roy, and the publishing house Navayana, have received criticism from Dalit activists and writers. Very compelling critiques have been put forth explaining how Navayana’s annotated version of an Ambedkarite classic is an act of appropriation. In the short essay that follows, I seek to explain why it is an act of appropriation with the help of an analogy.

In 1961, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth was released. The book, which was later praised as the “Bible of the Third World”, had a preface written by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, probably one of the most recognizable faces of “First World” philosophy of the 20th Century.

The beauty of Sartre’s preface was that it offended everyone privileged – the French nationalists who wanted him murdered, liberals like Hannah Arendt who thought that the preface was more incendiary than the original, dogmatic leftists who dubbed it anarchistic and also a section of Black American academics. These critics’ only contribution to Fanon studies is to reduce an intellectual giant’s thoughts to a Lilliputian idea of “lived experience”, who felt that a White man had overstepped the boundaries in writing a preface for what they felt was the work of a “Black man”.

However, Fanon himself was above such thoughts. He wanted Sartre to write the preface because he considered Sartre a “living god” and several biographical accounts confirm that he was greatly satisfied with the controversial preface. The power of a preface is that it conditions the way a text is read. And when the author of a work has conveyed an explicit approval for a preface, he is in a dialogical process with the one who writes the preface, and he also indicates that he wants to be read in that spirit. Or, Fanon wanted to be “framed” in the ideological parameters of Sartrean humanism and posthumous criticisms of the preface can only be termed as acts of bad faith.

Now, let us turn to a book that can rightfully be called a Bible, a manifesto of liberation, for the Dalits and the other oppressed castes in India – Babasaheb Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste.” Is there any indication anywhere in “Annihilation of Caste” that he wanted a Brahmin publishing house and upper-caste intelligentsia to frame how he should be read? Is there any indication anywhere in any of Ambedkar’s works that he wanted upper castes to assist in interpreting him? Since the answers to these questions, to the best of my knowledge about Ambedkar, is in the negative, the critics are right when they allege that Navayana is engaging in an act of appropriation when they decided to frame him in the fashion that they did. What those defending Roy should realize is that what is being contested is not Roy’s right to write an essay on Ambedkar – I’ll add here that I enjoyed reading the essay for the stuff on Gandhi – it is this essay framing Ambedkar within certain paradigms and reading him in a manner which has little relevance to Ambedkar’s politics that is being challenged.

There is also a particular way in which the Dalit criticisms are being read by those to whom it is addressed to and the way they respond to the same. It is as though they are responding “Ooh, we understand and sympathize with your lived experience but we are trying to help you with our knowledge.” This seems to be a way of saying “Ha ha ha. Knowledge still belongs to us, but you guys can only talk from experience.” Sorry to disappoint you friends. Ambedkar’s critique of caste was not based on lived experience alone but rather was and is one of the most rigorous theoretical analysis of a social system of oppression that has confounded and condemned the oppressed for millennia. And likewise, the Dalits and lower castes who are “claiming Ambedkar for themselves” are not doing so based on their lived experiences alone, but rather because of a thirst for emancipatory knowledge by challenging the epistemological privilege that Brahmins have enjoyed for ages.

What is this privilege? The superiority of the Brahmin is not based on economic power that can change with fortunes. It is also not a weak pseudo-science argument of race superiority. It rests largely on the Brahmin’s power over definition, on his ability to determine good and evil, social and anti-social, clean and unclean, high and low, acceptable and unacceptable, interpretation and misinterpretation. It is the Brahmin’s power over the Word, over knowledge, and over meaning.

In contemporary India, take the Indian nationalists, the Hindu nationalists, the central committees of the various socialist parties, postcolonialists, liberals, anti-modernists, anti-Eurocentrists, anti-Enlightenmentists, anti-colonialists, feminists – which caste defines the ideological paradigms in any of these different political/intellectual/ groups?

When the Brahmin determines what the philosophy of oppression is, the Brahmin determines what ‘neutral’ liberalism is, and the Brahmin also determines what resistance is, where is the space for a counter ideology to emerge? And when a Brahmin runs a powerful publishing house that markets how Dalit thinkers should be read, is it not legitimate to think that the traditional monopoly over knowledge and meaning is being extended to assimilate even the voices that counter it?

Going back to Fanon, he clearly recognized that Europe had a thousand problems. But he also recognized that it produced schools of thought that sought to take man to a higher level. Thus, Fanon accused the White colonizer of hypocrisy, of belonging to intellectual traditions that spoke about equality but behaving as a person practising inequality. But in our case, as recognized by Ambedkar and thinkers like Periyar, the Brahmin is a hypocrite only when he talks about equality. The radical potential of the thoughts of Ambedkar lies in the fact that he recognized that, throughout history, even in the most liberal vision of equality as propounded by the Brahmin, whatever intellectual tradition the Brahmin hails from, to take an Orwellian line “some animals are more equal than other animals.” Consider this, Arundhati Roy has pointed out several times in her public speeches that over 90% of the cadres of the Maoist party are Dalits and Adivasis. But why is it that over 90% of the leaders of the Maoist party and its urban intelligentsia come from the upper castes?

Some years back, Hindutva ideologue Arun Shourie wrote “Worshipping False Gods”, a third-rate pamphlet against Ambedkar. The sordid history of the Hindu religion shows us one thing – while there are one section of Brahmins who denigrate and deride the gods of the lower castes, there is also simultaneously another section of Brahmins who try to accommodate and assimilate these gods within the Brahminical tradition and spin their own myths about these gods which are then imposed on the rest of the population. The lower castes have lost several such gods in history. They cannot lose anymore.

They cannot lose Ambedkar.

Tagged with: ,

A Comment on “anti-Racism”

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on March 18, 2014

In a country where Whites constitute the overwhelming majority, they occupy 80% of posts in academia, corporations, judiciary etc. And that country is supposedly “racist”. But a country where only 3% of a population, a permanently closed in-group, controls over 90% of the resources is a what? Only yesterday, a friend, who is consistently opposed to “white racism”, from South Asian origins said that he was not in favor of Great Britain outlawing caste discrimination. Sometimes, I feel that “white racism” is the easiest thing to criticize, and those from the Third World, especially from South Asia like to jump in the bandwagon and declare themselves as “progressive anti-racists” only because they are either willfully ignorant of social stratification back home or they are just complicit in it. Either ways, a truly progressive politics has to recognize these people as no different from the White racists, or maybe even worse because they wear the mask of “being oppressed” as a privilege. We need another Lenin.

Tagged with: ,