I’m back! To more depressing stuff! Be warned, this section starts with some hard hard stuff. But also important stuff, a reminder of why all this philosophy and discussion matters. And this will, once again, get people mad at me. But I’ve decided it is worth it (even though I hate it when people don’t like me). And if necessary, I can also close the comments.
(I am going to describe the Gujurat Pogrom of 2002. I am going to describe it as it is reported by international human rights organizations and researchers and reporters who were on the ground shortly after. You can look at the two sources I reference for more information. This does not match the official government accounts, or the accounts published in the Indian press. I am aware of the other versions, but my informed opinion is that this version is the most accurate. Including the choice of the term “pogrom” rather than “riot”. “Ethnic cleansing” and “Genocide” are also the terminology used by academic and human rights reporters, but not within India.)
(from the Human Rights Watch report here)
Days later trucks arrive at gravesites through out Ahmedabad. Enormous holes are dug, and filled with bodies missing body parts-arms, legs, and even heads. Some female bodies had their bellies cut open so the fetuses they were carrying could be removed, before the women were raped, burned alive, and then killed. The gravediggers tried, when possible, to reunite the fetus with the mother and bury them together.
In between these two trucks, were phone calls to the police stations in Ahmedabad, begging for help. In response, they were told:
“Whose house is on fire? Hindus’ or Muslims’?”
“If you wish to live in Hindustan, learn to protect yourself.”
“How come you are alive? You should have died too.”
“We have no orders to save you.”
One the walls of a burnt madrassa in Ahmedabad was written:
Jaan se mar dengey Bajrang Dal zindabad Narendra Modi zindabad [We will kill you. Long Live Bajrang Dal. Long Live Narendra Modi]
The total dead were somewhere in excess of 2,000 (hard to count when the bodies are in pieces and burned). Total displaced, 150,000.
Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujurat and now Prime Minister of India, responded to this violence by saying: “riots resulting from the natural and justified anger of the people.” “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” “The five crore (50 million) people of Gujarat have shown remarkable restraint under grave provocation” His response to the refugees and relief camps was: ” What brother, should we run relief camps? Should I start children-producing centres there? We want to achieve progress by pursuing the policy of family planning with determination. Ame paanch, Amara pachhees! (we are five and we have twenty-five) . . . Can’t Gujarat implement family planning? Whose inhibitions are coming in our way? Which religious sect is coming in the way?” *
Four years earlier, there were already reports that the Modi-BJP government was arranging for senior minority police officers to be re-assigned, taken off the streets and put on desk jobs. In the months before the riots, various sources reported RSS workers asking for lists, lists of students at schools, lists of voters, any record of who is Muslim and who is Hindu.
Survivors describe police firing and killing teenage boys, leading the rioters into neighborhoods, or simply doing nothing, failing to respond to calls for help, or even desperate people rushing into stations and begging. There are also stories of Dalits who snuck families out and helped them get medical care, and Christians who hid their Muslim neighbors in their homes, and even the gravediggers (another low caste) who volunteered their time to go into the burned out areas, collect the bodies, wash them, and bury them. The gravedigger community received no money from the government for their service, and did not expect to ever receive any.
The BJP government called for elections within weeks. Hundreds of thousands of people (mostly Muslims) were still in refugee camps, unable to vote. The BJP was swept back to power. 12 years later, Modi was elected Prime Minister. The first Prime Minister of India to be a former RSS member.
How did we get here?
Well, it starts by normalizing certain beliefs, making them accepted as common knowledge, as a totally reasonable and not shocking things to say. The RSS teaches millions of young boys (and girls, through the woman’s branch) the basics of their way of looking at the world. Those boys and girls grow up, go out in the world, talk to people, and spread it farther and farther. The VHP gives wise thoughts and provides “experts” to talk anywhere from academic conferences (“ayurvedic scientists invented jet planes thousands of years ago, here is the proof”) to TV shows. And the BJP spreads through out politics, using the power of the state in ways big and small to subtly change the perception of the world. For example, here is a section that was added to Gujurat textbooks in the years before the riots, normalizing fascism and genocide:
Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German government within a short time by establishing a strong administrative set-up. He created the vast state of Greater Germany. He adopted the policy of opposition to the Jewish people and advocated the supremacy of the German race. He adopted a new economic policy and brought prosperity to the German people…He instilled the spirit of adventure in the common people.
SPODEK, HOWARD. “In the Hindutva Laboratory: Pogroms and Politics in Gujarat, 2002.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 44, no. 2, 2010, pp. 349–399. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27764659.
Now, what are these beliefs? The ones that the Sangh Pariwar spreads like a cancer into Indian society and beyond? I don’t have the best grasp on all the details and subtleties of them all, but here is what I think I know. Also, remember that this is a HINDI film 101, the BJP and RSS are strongest in the north, all of India and all of Indian film does not follow these thought patterns by any means. And please, add on your understandings in the comments:
The Hindu man is peaceful, intelligent, naturally gifted. He is desired by women, but has no desire himself, is beyond those concerns. He has enormous inner strength, but is slow to use it. After years of abuse and humiliation by Muslims, the RSS is teaching him to release his strength, to reclaim his rightful power, and to learn how to protect his community from the attacks of the Muslims. Shahid Kapoor in Padmavat, and Ranveer Singh in Bajirao are good representations of this idea of the perfect man, one who is still destroyed by the perfidy of the Muslim and his unwillingness to cross the lines necessary to protect his community.
The Hindu woman is powerful and noble. She finds her true happiness in devotion to the Hindu man, her father and then her husband and finally her son. Her greatest service is to raise her sons with a “true” understanding of their Hindu power and their responsibility in protecting their community from Muslims. She can also fight for the country, but only when she has the approval of her father to do so, and not if she is married. The Hindu woman is also foolish, at risk of “Love Jihad”, being seduced by the superficial appeal of the Muslim man into forgetting her duty. It is important for the men around her to keep her on the right path. Sara’s story in Kedarnath, the way her father manages to save her from marrying a Muslim boy just because she loves him, would be an example of this. The Noble Good Wise mother character who raises her sons to fight for Bharat and also fights herself, once she is without a husband, can be seen in Kangana’s role in Manikarnika.
Grand sweeping changes are best. The BJP’s demonetization scheme, the massive Swatch Bharat movement, that kind of change. There should be a strong central leader making decisions for the nation, a Hindu man. But on the micro level, the state should reduce it’s interference. Fewer social schemes and tedious red tape to set up new businesses. Everything should happen fast and decisively, this is a sign of strength.
Business growth should be unfettered. Fewer restrictions, fewer pointless regulations. More international connections. India will move forward as a whole if there are more large corporations and companies. India’s youth power and natural intelligence and invention will allow it to thrive in the open market. You can see this in pretty much every recent Hindi movie, in which the hero/heroine’s dream is to get a bright shiny job with a multi-national corporation.
Culture is India’s greatest value. The people may not have infrastructure, but they have culture. Culture is also India’s greatest natural resource and must be protected. The threats to culture are not just from Muslims, but from everything. “Western” things, like Valentine’s Day, threaten Indian culture and must be destroyed. You can see this in Namaste London, for instance, when Akshay gives a speech about the wonders of Indian culture and convinces Katrina to run away from London and go live in a village with him.
Art is beautiful so long as it is “traditional” art, art that can be proved to have an Indian connection. Hip-hop and rap is bad. But Prabhudeva is good, his dances have a classical basis. Films are good if they show “Indian” values, Padman is good, Manikarnika is good. Jodha-Akbar is bad, Dilwale is bad. Right now, most Hindi films are “good” by the definition of Sangh Pariwar.
Science is good, so long as it follows Ayurvedic principles. Modern medicine is not as good as traditional medicine. Modern science is less reliable than religious scholars, for instance the inventors of “Vedic Mathematics” are more important and more reliable than regular mathematicians.
Technology is the future. The internet, cell phones, laptops, cool apps, they will solve all the problems of the world. Viral videos and twitter speak the truth of the people. Technology is also the past, all the new discoveries of the present can be traced back to Ayurvedic principles. You can see this belief in technology over everything in almost every film now, with the viral video easy fix for all the social problems, better than the State interfering.
Animals must be protected. So must natural elements which are related to ancient Hindu places of worship. But environmental protection on the mass level is less important, factories must go up, farmlands must be destroyed, that is unrelated to respect for animals and the earth. You can see this in every movie which uses CGI to replace real animals so they are not harmed, and yet uses human underpaid extras in terrible working conditions. The animals are more likely to cause protests than the humans.
The RSS is officially strongly anti-caste. They have lead the fight to have Dalits made into priests, they are even founding schools and raising money to help the lower castes. Although you are still unlikely to see a mainstream film with a cross-caste romance, especially not a happy one. Caste lines still matter in some ways. Dhadhak had an anti-caste message, while still making the cross-caste romance a doomed one.
Christianity is “foreign”, not the natural state for anyone in the South Asian continent. People who identify as Christian are confused, or tricked, or forced into converting. Forced conversions are terrible, missionaries cause them by giving poor communities (usually Dalit or Adivasi) food, schooling, and medical care. This tricks the people into thinking that Christianity is good and they become Christian. Christianity is a temporary identity, you can see this in Kaho Na Pyar Hai when Amisha Patel happily falls in love with two separate Hindi boys and does not consider her religion as a factor.
Muslims are guests in Bharat who the Hindus graciously welcomed, and then were punished for their trusting nature. Since the arrival of Muslims in the 1300s, they have consistently attacked the Hindu community, whether by tearing down temples, or encouraging conversions, or Akbar’s famous “female market” where he encouraged Hindu women to shop so he could travel in disguise and rape them. The Muslim man is naturally sexual and predatory, they have multiple wives to contain their lust, and they have multiple children without care for family planning to restraint. They are trying to take over India through population growth, with their many wives and children. Finally, thanks to the bravery of the RSS, the Hindu community is learning to fight back and defend themselves. Muslims must learn their place, either leave the country or reject their religion and their community. You can see this in most Hindi films now, the Muslim characters are “foreigners” who do not belong and bring misery with them, whether they are gangsters or terrorists or ancient warriors. And they have evil bodily lust, especially directed towards virtuous Hindu women. The Muslim women on the other hand are there to fall in love with Hindu men. The women are “good” Muslims, which means they reject their community and instead choose to live with Hindus. Men can be “good” Muslims as well, but only if they officially turn their backs on their community and choose the Hindu people instead. For instance, the one Muslim police officer that is usually present and loyally following his Hindu captain.
The West is good so long as it stays in its place. If it appreciates Indian intelligence and culture and religion, it is good. It provides much needed validation. But if it tries to change “Indian culture”, tries to let women get divorced, or cut their hair, or bring modern medicine, or bring in different clothes, then it is bad. Western companies and products are good, we should buy them and let them in the country. But western ideas are bad, we should keep them out.
Moderate politicians, like the Congress party, will pass laws favorable to minorities in an effort to gain their votes and look good. This is bending to voting blocks, not thinking about the overall good of the country. It is hypocrisy and cowardice, unlike the RSS who is willing to speak truth to the powerful minority voting blocks and force them to listen. An example of scorned “pseudo-secularism” might be the film Jodha-Akbar which lies about Akbar’s evilness in order to bring in the “pseudo-secular” audience that wants to feel good about themselves.
There’s some good in these beliefs. Look at the economy and State thinking, for instance. India did have massive issues with slow moving state functions. And the soft-socialism lead to strange restrictions on trade and the growth of business. There is a reason that a moderate voter in India might prefer the BJP, with their plans for massive reform, over other parties. And that has nothing to do with their religious policies and beliefs.
And yes, it is good for India to appreciate and have pride in its traditional art forms. And to understand its history and what makes it special and different from other places. But it’s easy, once you accept the premise of one of these ideas, to find yourself accepting the premise of the others. And so the “Muslim guests” idea of the Indian Muslim identity, the idea that Hinduism invented most scientific principles, the fear of anything “western”, the fear of Love Jihad, the hatred for Christians, it all has slowly come to be more and more accepted, something you can say in casual conversation without causing shock from your listeners. The people saying that may never think of harming another person, would never actually raise knives and join a mob. But these initial reasonable thoughts can open the gates to accepting the less reasonable ones, or at least not protesting against them.
One of the survivors of the 2002 riots, a 20 year old woman, told a story of open gates. She was one of two Muslim families in a middle-class housing complex. She grew up there, her family had lived there for years. During previous upsets in the city, the complex had closed their big gates, protecting the residents. This time, they left the gates open. Her family was planning to leave when they heard news of the rioting, if they had left them they could have saved themselves, but one of their Hindu neighbors told them to stay, wait. And then the mob came, hit, stabbed, raped. Her family fled with nothing, not even shoes on their feet, to a refugee camp.
Her neighbors didn’t attack her and her family. They were good sensible people who would never take part in a riot. But they left the gates open.
*the official version of the riots is that they were a spontaneous response to the Godhra train burning. A train carrying Hindu pilgrims was stopped on a siding in a Muslim neighborhood. There were taunts and thrown stones and so on, and then the train caught fire and the people inside died. The state government had the bodies from the train brought to Ahmadabad (even though most of the people were not from there) and put on public display. The RSS declared a 3 day “Bandh” (strike), and the government failed to alert the police or army or make any preparation for rioting. And there are stories that the lists were collected in advance, long before any of this happened. Also, two investigatory bodies have now determined that the train fire started by accident, not any external cause. There was no “provocation” at all, in reality. The Muslim community did nothing to start this.
There was also retaliatory violence towards the Hindu community. Including gunman storming into a temple in the days following the riots. But objective outside observers found that violence to be limited, not organized, unlike the original pogrom. And without any state support.