AN AMBULANCE CHAT, GAURI LANKESH AND HINDUTVA ABROAD

I was rushing my father to the hospital in an ambulance. The nurse and the ambulance driver had made ingenious efforts at getting my corpulent father onto the stretcher. In the ambulance, the nurse sitting beside me got loquacious.

“This whole neighbourhood is full of aged people whose children live abroad,” he began in an arresting tone.
“They address us via video-conferencing…
“So many elderly people with two or three children all living abroad. When you told me (on the phone) that your father was 90 years old, I assumed he must be yet another one of those…
“They abandon their parents and live abroad. Why do they need to earn so much money and neglect their parents? What is the use of all that money if this is the way you treat your own parents? …
“Hotte uriyatthe, saar (Kannada for ‘the stomach burns, sir’, or ‘the blood boils, sir’.)

“A lot of the buildings here have no lifts.” (It’s an old locality.)

“How long have you been working, sir?” I ventured to ask while he paused.
“Two and a half years. Earlier I was working ward-side. I want to give up this ambulance job.” (If I’d had an itch to give him unsolicited advice to request him to… but we’d neared the hospital.)

It so happened that next night too I was in the ambulance with him and reminded him of his last remark regarding his job the previous night: “Too much tension in this line of work. People call rather too late and some of them need to be transported from second or third floors. Things can go wrong and we get blamed.”

Needless to say the area I live in is typical of several such in other parts of Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and many others – a large number of elderly people coping and moping, awaiting visits once in a blue moon by their children and grandchildren settled abroad.

The above exchange took place a few hours after I’d returned from Bangalore’s Central College grounds where vast numbers of people including representatives of Adivasis (indigenous peoples), Dalits, Muslims and other groups were present in massive strength, protesting the assassination of Gauri Lankesh.

Anger over the murder of the widely respected journalist – how widely and in how many parts of the globe has been evident in recent days – had already been expressed through spontaneous and peaceful demonstrations in scores of cities and towns in Karnataka and beyond.

Protest rally in Bangalore was one of the largest yet and more are planned including in the Indian capital to keep focus on the issue of Gauri Lankesh’s assassination and what it means for the future of dissent in India.

Speakers on the dais said what has reverberated through social media: “we do not know who killed Gauri Lankesh, but we do know who are celebrating the criminal act.”

The reference was clearly to the obscene and ugly comments on Facebook, Twitter and myriad other social forums by Hindu fanatics and jingoists hailing the killing of Gauri Lankesh: Hers was a doughty voice against obscurantism and for values enshrined in the Constitution of India, a document that is gradually being called into question by forces that want to shred the secular fabric of the nation and the egalitarian aspirations it invoked. Gauri Lankesh, a votary of the ideology of one of the principal authors of the constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as well as a staunch opponent of communalism, was a thorn in the side of the Hindutva forces

These forces are not only active in India but among the Indian diaspora especially in North America and Britain. They agitate against accurate portrayals of Indian society in universities, fund Hindutva outfits back home and – as in the case of Britain – mount a campaign against proposed legislation outlawing caste discrimination. This ties together the slogans and speeches heard at the rally for Gauri Lankesh and ambulance nurse’s rant about people settled abroad and being unavailable to care for their elders.

Many of the Indian expatriates are Hindu fanatics who have contributed to the rise of Hindutva. Of course, there are sizeable sections opposed to the Hindutva crowd but it is the latter that seem to be the more vocal, affluent and influential. They have forged links with White racists and the Trump camp. And they rail against anyone writing about Hinduism and the Hindus as the celebrated Professor Wendy Doniger of Chicago Universit and others too many to name have found. And yet these Hindu fanatics neglect one of Hinduism’s precepts: “Maathru devo bhava, pithru devo bhava, acharya devo bhava, atithi devo bhava.” (Mother as god, father as god, teacher as god, guest as god”: From the Taittiriya Upanishad.) Of course, the words need not be taken literally nor were they likely meant to be, given the richness of ancient Indian philosophical discourse that celebrates argumentation.

Rather these expats and their fellow Hindu fanatics back home practice a ritualistic form of Hinduism limited to building and gathering at temples and hating Muslims and Blacks and other minorities while ignoring some of the finer precepts of their faith. Caring or not for parents is one thing and another is pushing guests such as Rohingya Muslims back into the jaws of death and rape is another – something that had been the subject of a column in Gauri Lankesh’s eponymous journal’s last issue which she had been putting to bed when she was assassinated.

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N. Jayaram Written by:

N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writes Walker Jay’s blog.

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