SHABNAM HASHMI | 19 JULY, 2018
Attack on Swami Agnivesh Not an Aberration, It Is the New Normal
Creating an environment of fear
Sifting through hundreds of pages of data collected by young student interns for the 4 year report ‘Dismantling India’ released last week in Delhi, the image which came to my mind was of a huge multi-layered jigsaw puzzle, designed and crafted by experts to the minutest detail with lakhs of Lilliputians carrying various pieces of the puzzle and placing them in the right places, working towards completing the jigsaw puzzle piece by piece.
It has taken, the half pant wearing Lilliputians, more than 90 years to conceive and construct this complicated, complex, grotesque, many layered jigsaw puzzle and they have managed to place more than half of the pieces in their places.
Till two decades ago the movement was sluggish and they were building the foundation and the first few layers, they began from the terrain which was difficult, slowly they became emboldened and entered center stage of Indian political arena. The last four years witnessed the culmination of the process that had started 90 years ago.
The attack on Swami Agnivesh yesterday in Pakur district of Jharkhandwas not an aberration, it's a new normal. The attackers were not ‘fringe elements‘, they were not ‘fringe’ four years ago when the whole ‘anti-national’ & ‘deshdrohi’ jargon started against artists and activists and they are not ‘fringe’ now.
If anyone goes through the data published in over 200 pages of the report ‘Dismantling India’, it will be very clear that there is a design behind every action taking place on the ground. When mob lynchings start, they happened across several states, when artists, writers, activists were called ‘anti-national’ or ‘award wapsi gang’ it was centrally coordinated, when members of the ruling party both elected and otherwise give hate speeches it happened at several places during the same period. When women rights were attacked and gang rape was used as a tool to subjugate women that also happened simultaneously in several places.
Gujarat haunts not only Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it haunts me too. Travelling across ten districts in March 2002 when Gujarat was still burning, what shocked me most was the pattern of attacks, killings, of gang rapes and brutalization of women’s bodies and pattern of demolishing dargahs, mosques and homes. Everything was worked out to the last detail. Even the remote villages where women still cooked on cow dung, gas cylinders, tridents and swords had arrived much before S6 of Sabarmati Express burnt.
Even the ‘spontaneity’ in response to the attack in Godhra was well planned!
While we can debate whether we are moving towards fascism or not but we definitely seem to be witnessing in India all the 14 characteristics of fascism, which Dr. Lawrence Britt pointed out. He had identified these characteristics after studying the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile).
The common factors were: Powerful and Continuing Nationalism, Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights ,Identification of enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause , Supremacy of the Military , Rampant Sexism, Controlled Mass Media , Obsession with National Security, Intertwining of Religion and Government, Protection of Corporate Power, Supression of Labor Power,Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts, Obsession with Crime and Punishment , Rampant Cronyism and Corruption and Fraudulent Elections.
I see the attack on Swami Agnivesh in this light. It is neither the first nor the last attack on an activist. We have lost Gauri Lankesh, Kalburgi, Narendra Dabolkar, Pansare, many RTI activists have been attacked and killed, civil society organisations silenced by cancelling their licenses or freezing their funding, there is all round attack on freedom of expression, almost total control on media. Four senior most judges of the Supreme Court had to come out and say that democracy is at risk. Blatantly a probe into Judge Loya’s death was denied.
Swami Agnivesh has been raising very uncomfortable questions. He openly questioned Modi after his plastic surgery statement and has questioned all attacks on scientific temper and use of religion for political gains. By attacking Swami Agnivesh, Sangh has crossed yet another limit. It was no longer an attack on a ‘5 star anti- national activist’ as Modi likes to call all of us who oppose his policies and the authoritarian regime, it was an attack on a saffron clad Swami.
Attacking Swami Agnivesh, kicking him with boots and thrashing with fists, tearing his clothes, taking off his padgi was done to send a message to all those who have not been silenced so far. It also sends a clear message that they are not bound by the Supreme Court verdicts.
As the desperation to retain the power and complete the jigsaw puzzle increases; the attacks, the violence, the rapes, the hate speeches will rise. The coming year will be a test of nerves for all those who stand for safeguarding the constitution, democracy and diversity.
While the half pant clad Lilliputians are running at a fast pace carrying their pieces, putting them in the right places, we need to fearlessly confront them, snatch away the pieces which they are trying to fit in their design and reclaim our original Idea of India, which is plural, which is diverse, which is humane, which believes in liberty, fraternity, equality and justice.
Borrowing from Sashi Tharoor, we cannot let India become a ‘Hindu Pakistan’, because the half pant clad Lilliputians are nothing else but Hindu Talibans.
Fascism breeds on fear. They are masters in spreading fear psychosis. The only answer to this madness is to fight back fearlessly.
This battle for safeguarding the Idea of India cannot be fought if the whole opposition goes into a frenzy of defensive politics the moment someone utters a strong statement. This battle also cannot be fought on any other principle but on the principles of secularism and equality. The temple hopping or yielding to the advice of the ’Muslim’ intellectuals to keep away from the ‘M’ word has brought us to the present stage. There is a need to stand with every section of the society: farmers, unorganized labour, trade unionists, Dalits, Muslims, Christians, all other minorities, Adivasis, children and women, traders, industrialists, professionals, academicians, artists, intellectuals and all sections of the poor. There is similarly a need for all sections of the citizens to come together, fight back and support all secular political formations and force them into a broad coalition without any ifs and buts.
Gulliver, convicted and sentenced to be blinded, could escape to Blefuscu, Bertold Brecht had to leave Nazi Germany just after Hitler took over in 1933.
We will not leave. We will and must fight back and reclaim our nation, so that there are no more killings and no one has to leave again.