Secularism And The Communal Colour
Cartoon by Mika Aziz
NEW DELHI: Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, an African-American, was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9 last year. He was unarmed. The incident spawned a raging debate in American media about racial stereotypes, persistent biases and the larger reality of black people living in the country. At the same time, right-leaning media houses expressed outrage, not for the incident, but for the way it was being reported. Many claimed that a racial angle was unnecessarily being added to the mix. They attempted to make it purely about law and order and cleave out the issue of entrenched discrimination from the narrative. Some even went so far as to say that the only ones who talk about race are racists; a way to evade a glaring issue under the guise of political correctness.
In Dadri, UP, an artificial, orchestrated frenzy over beef coupled with an equally orchestrated rumour led to Mohammad Akhlaq’s murder. In the wake of the incident, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the press that what is to be avoided at all costs is adding any ‘communal colour’ to the situation.
The parallel which emerges suggests a dangerous method to tackle accusations of intolerance. It amounts to not addressing the matter at all, but rather saying that addressal itself would amount to fanning flames of hatred. This stance attempts to avoid crucial introspection and ground realities in general. It also shields the perpetrators of communal crimes by downplaying their motives and allows discrimination, both subtle and sometimes fatal, to continue unabated.
The numerous examples of a recently heated communal atmosphere in India, much like the not-so-distant spate of killings of unarmed black men by the police in America, need a long and very detailed examination of origin. In the NDA’s case, it is important to delve into why, under its rule, majoritarian intolerance is on the rise. As the government itself, along with its affiliates, has been adding a perceptible ‘communal colour’ to the country’s functioning, it wants the entire question removed from the discourse in a bid to absolve itself from the manufactured fuelling of religious intolerance in India.
There has been a pressing effort from the Sangh Parivar to change how we look at the word ‘secular’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mocked it at home and, on more than one occasion, abroad. Most recently, Mr Singh, at the commencement of the Winter Session of Parliament, said that this ‘most misused word in Indian politics’ was not deemed fit by Dr B.R Ambedkar to be incorporated into the Preamble. The attempt seems to be to remove any positive connotation out of the word and reduce it to a sort of overanxious, bleeding-heart liberal exercise. By regularly terming outrage over communal incidents as ‘pseudo-secularism’, the right and ultra-right have tried to blur the difference between secularism and political opportunism in order to taint the credibility of any bad press they receive. However, secularism’s only dangerous application may be the government’s own.
One where we are told to not see the communal angle in a situation where one does exist. Seeing everything from a development prism has given the BJP the convenience of not addressing the deadly manifestations its religious agenda. As a response to the Dadri atrocity, PM Modi said that he wishes Hindus and Muslims would band together and fight poverty; a statement which addresses absolutely nothing at all and again seeks to downplay the pressing matter: religious intolerance.
Any discriminatory violence, whether it is based on race or religion or anything else, needs to be addressed in those terms. Social vices are not abolished through disengagement. As long as the vices exist and lead to fatalities, they should be discussed, decoded and called out on their divisiveness, in both the social and political sphere, to prevent the kind of situations which enabled the killings of Mohammad Akhlaq and Michael Brown.
Secularism applies to the Indian context in a unique and crucial way. It has never meant turning a blind eye to religious motivations. To tamper with it is to tamper with the Constitution. As the Bihar Assembly election was nearing its end, the BJP, fighting on the ‘development plank’, issued newspaper advertisements depicting a woman hugging a cow and demanding answers from Nitish Kumar over his allies’ ‘insult to cows’. There was no way in this case that the divisive slant could be disavowed. Its failure to dent the polls is a testament to secular values held by ordinary Indians. The ‘communal colour’, as proven by the voters in Bihar, can be noted, appraised and completely rejected.