Horrors of Silence

There has been widespread and an immensely justifiable outrage on the brutal murder of 15 year old Hafiz Junaid who was stabbed on a Mathura bound passenger train starting from Delhi, while he was returning with his cousins/friends after Id shopping in Delhi on 22 June 2017. The murderers flung his bleeding body on to platform number 4 at Asaoti railway station where a crowd of around 200 people is said to have gathered around Junaid to watch him dying. However, when it came to stand witness to the incident at the time police started inquiring into the case almost none seem to have seen anything of the sort, let alone being witness to a dying boy.

The question is why this conspiracy of seemingly bigoted silence and how do we configure it? Referring to a report by Kaunain Sherrif M in the Indian Express on 25 June (Kaunain, 2017) at least one opinion piece (Sethi, 2017)  said – “The Hindus on the Asoti railway platform managed to collectively not see a 15 year old Muslim boy being stabbed to death. Then they collectively, and without prior agreement, continued to not see what they had seen after the event. This is the uniquely terrifying aspect of this incident ………” While articulated by one author, who incidentally herself appears to belong to the majority community, many could empathize with such an opinion under the circumstances obtaining in the country.

Without in the least forsaking the fact that there has been an unprecedented level of communalization of the majority community in the country, it need be said that such an opinion, perhaps motivated by a deep sense of anguish, fails to judge the situation for what it actually is. Let us for the moment discount the fact that the expression ‘The Hindus on the Asoti railway platform’ rests at best on an assumption. However, the question that begets an answer is – could the refusal of any member of this crowd which is supposed to be all Hindu, or the refusal of the Hindu corn vendor who sells his wares every evening on the very same platform; or that of the Hindu station master and two of his apparently Hindu staff; that of the Hindu kirana shop owner whose shop is just outside the station and within a visible distance of the hot spot under question; or that of the Hindu post master whose house is bang opposite the platform where this incident happened (all of these are reported in the report of the Indian Express reporter) be on account of their seeming Hindu bigotary?

As already conceded that the stock of bigots among the majority community in the country has increased by leaps and bounds yet I think that this observed conspiracy of silence cannot be attributed to seeming bigotry alone.The real reason in my considered opinion is the fear of the State and the rogue elements nurtured by it. It need be stressed here that the state machinery in India has since long been thoroughly, communalized. On top of it the present government in Haryana is run by a former RSS pracharak. Were any person to own up having seen the macabre sight, there is ample chance that s/he would have the same police which is now looking for people to stand witness, come in her tow to see to it that the witness develops cold feet at the opportune time. There of course would be no dearth of the ‘Nationalist’ hordes willing to ensure that the witness and her family faces consequences for the choice she made out of an exalted and misplaced sense of duty / civility. For those among Hindus who belong to the category of organized bigots it is important to assure the likes of Junaid’s murderers that they are there to stand guarantee for their protection in order to ensure the propagation of such mob lynchings of Muslims by the non-organized lumpen bigots.

Apart from the presumption the 200 strong crowd was all composed of Hindus it is only incidental that all the persons named in the Indian Express report were Hindus. There could have been Muslims in that crowd who did not look like a Muslim man of the kind many of us have gotten used to imagine. I guess that for the same fear of the State and the lumpen hordes nurtured by it even the Muslims in that crowd could have made similar choices as the rest of them did. Whether there were Muslims in that crowd or not is anybody’s guess.

There is a grossly flawed notion that to be secular or communal is largely a matter of individual choice. Such choices made by the people are conditioned by the overall societal conditions in the main and these conditions are out of control of individuals. That certain individuals do make a conscious choice to be secular in their outlook is also conditioned by the particular society and conditions they have been exposed to rather than being purely an element of their conscience. After all it is the being which decides the consciousness.

No actor howsoever powerful can match the influence exercised by the State in the shaping of ‘societal conditions’. It is in this context that the essentially communal character of the Indian State becomes important. Without going into the specific details of India’s partition may it be said that the very division of the country into Pakistan that was meant for Muslims and India, meant primarily for Hindus set the foundation of the communal character of the two States.

The veneer of India’s constitution being based on secular ideals, that is often deployed to hide the naked reality of our society, appears tattered once we take even a casual look at the post partition political history of the country which is full of instances to show how the Indian State has kept the embers of communal hatred smoldering. The examples are many but only to illustrate the point being made one could look at the acquittal of all accused policemen in the massacre of Muslims at Hashimpura on the flimsiest of the grounds. One can only imagine the message such a judgment would send to the likes of those who have gone around indulging in the lynching spree over the past three years. The massacre of Muslims in Maliana, the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, pogrom in Gujarat and then Muzaffarnagar riots are all examples of how thoroughly communalized the State machinery is in India.

Let us be mindful that the unprecedented levels of communal frenzy that is floating around would not have been possible without the sanction of the Indian State, and I am being very categorical in stating ‘Indian State’ and not ‘Modi Government’. Modi government has only further manipulated the Indian State to serve its purpose.

There is a hesitation on part of many otherwise well-meaning persons to accept the Hindu communal character of the Indian state, because to accept this is to accept that the solution to this mayhem does not lie in supporting some rainbow secular coalition in the next general election and hope that it will work wonders, that such a secular government shall take up the cudgels on our behalf in the fight against communalism. Such a secular government shall only pave the way for another ‘Modi Government’ or perhaps even worse by being willing bed fellows with soft Hindutva to leverage the communal state machinery towards their self-serving political ends. After all people voted the ‘Grand alliance’ of Lalu Yadav’s RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) and Nitish Kumar’s JDU (Janta Dal United) to power in the 2015 assembly elections in Bihar to prevent BJP from coming to power, and now one of the partners in the alliance, the JDU has shifted to the fence only to wait for an opportune moment for making an alliance with BJP.

For those who pander to solutions like the “Secular” political alliance for defeating the fascist Hindu communal forces, to acknowledge the Hindu communal character of the Indian State would also amount to acknowledging that the solutions they pursue are a mirage. Such a moment of truth is bound to confront them with the humongous task of changing the character of the Indian State. This task essentially implies the need to change the class character of the Indian State; to uproot the rule of the present ruling classes and put in power the class whose political objective can only be met by resoundingly defeating the communal forces of all hues. Such a class can only be the working class.

Modi government would be reduced to nothing without the backing of India’s big bourgeoisie and the big feudal/semi-feudal landlords. The Ambanis, Adanis and Tatas of India do not put their stakes in Modi government out of love for the idea of Hindutva or the wellbeing of Hindus; they do so because they feel that Modi can use the bogey of Hindutva to effectively thwart the opposition likely to be put up by the people to their designs of gobbling up as many of India’s resources and as fast as possible. Secondly, they need a government in power which shall lend the power of the Indian state to them for fulfillment of their objective. The day Modi becomes useless towards realization of this objective, he shall be dumped along with the baggage of virulent Hindutva and a suitable replacement shall be found. Removal of Modi government from power may ebb the mob frenzy prevalent today but the tools shall never be more than an arm’s distance away for the new rulers. For some, this much of a respite, until the communal volcano erupts again with enhanced ferocity, could amount to restoration of the secular order.

If we could agree with the above formulation then it does not serve any useful purpose to characterize the crowd assembled around bleeding Junaid on platform number 4 of Asaoti railway station as Hindus. They were only as much Hindu as the fundamentalist and reactionary elements among Muslims are Muslim. In such matters we should identify people for what they are rather than for the social identity they belong to. For example, it could well be said that – the two hundred or so crowd that had gathered around the body of Junaid would perhaps have identified themselves as Hindus or claim to belong to the majority community; these bigoted elements of the majority community or bigoted persons who would proudly claim themselves to be Hindus did this or did that …….. This calls for using laborious descriptions and phrases which obviously are least dramatic in their usage.

In suggesting this I am not in the least encumbered by a feeling that ‘Oh! Look Hindus are getting a bad name.’ My point simply is that we ought to make a correct analysis of events; secondly, in order to make a correct analysis we need to base ourselves strictly on the material realities shaping the events under scrutiny; and last, a materialist understanding of the events unfolding before us is most likely to throw up possible ways of remedying the situation.

In the instant case of Junaid’s murder, reducing the material reality to just the religious identity of the crowd, howsoever mistakenly, leaves us to rue the degeneration and degradation of people belonging to a particular religion, which in the instant case happen to be Hindus. One can only build the scenario forward to see where this will lead us to. Even if we insist that such lament applies specifically only to those Hindus who were witness to the entire carnage then also we are left clueless to what need be done further.

To the contrary we could profile the role of the state in the build up to the incident under question which leads us to clear tasks flowing out of it; the biggest of them we have mentioned above.

The second important aspect is that in all likelihood the crowd assembled around Junaid’s body belonged to the underclass, just as those involved in the number of such incidents being reported from different parts of the country on a daily basis. The secular urge of a section of middle and upper middle class English speaking elite almost never manages to percolate down to these sections. This underclass leads its daily ghettoized life segregated into clusters divided by religion or caste or some other fault line created by the rulers. The conditions of their lives are maintained per force through elaborate mechanisms such that their consciousness can never develop beyond worrying for the satisfaction of their animal functions. Yes, they can acquire the consciousness to fight for their economic rights, which too is not facilitated so easily, but acquiring the consciousness to overthrow the social, economic and political conditions imposed by their expropriators on them has always to be infused from outside.

Contrary to this even though the overwhelming mass of the middle and upper middle classes in India appears to be deeply communal today, yet they do not go about cutting the throats of their communal adversaries by themselves. They outsource the task to the underclass. Were there to be powerful movements on issues like unemployment, privatization of education, abolition of labor laws, ruination of agriculture etc., the pall bearers of these movements shall also come from among the poor workers and peasants that constitute our underclass. And the communal forces know this better than us, hence they have managed to breach through to where we ought to have been first. Alas there are no powerful country wide movements on these issues.

If we have to worry about secularism in this country then we have to worry about the deep communalization of the underclass of our society. Were we to realize the need to build powerful movements of the under-classes based on their political agenda, sooner than later, then we can’t possibly order a new underclass for India to enable us to build these movements? We shall have to work with these very people patiently and with ever more commitment such that they develop the consciousness to draw the right conclusions from their material conditions in which we have to actively intervene. How does then identification of the members of underclass, whatever be their fault, as Hindus and Muslims help us fulfill this task?

We need to identify that they belong to the underclass, and identify alongside, that until this class is armed with its class consciousness it is liable to be the repository of the most retrograde and reprehensible of the ideas and behavior that is spawned by the present social, economic and political system lorded over by the ruling classes of India to suite their class rule. The underclass cannot even afford the sophistry of the elite, and hence their acts may appear all the more crude. These constitute the most important aspects of a materialist understanding of the entire sequence of events surrounding Junaid’s murder. It is contingent upon such an understanding that we shall be likely to transcend our own role from name taking to becoming the active political agents of the change that shall uproot the system which breeds such cruelty and depravement. To infuse their class consciousness among the socially, economically and politically exploited sections of the society would also emerge as our specific responsibility from this analysis, because it is we who have had the privilege to get educated, to have had an exposure to what constitutes refined cultural influences, to be employed and be able to afford a living standard deserving of human existence. That these privileges are accorded to such a small section of our society while an overwhelming majority goes without them further highlights the injustices bedeviling our society.

To present this view of things is not to exonerate those who committed the crime. Indeed the criminals must be brought to justice at the earliest. Failure to do so shall amount to encouraging more lynchings. However, the matter of concern here is not restricted to this one incidence; it is about the lessons we must draw from this incident to build a secular society in the country.

Recently on the 28 of June 2017, the civil society took an initiative to organize a protest under the call #Not in My Name#, simultaneously in several cities of the country. In Delhi the protest was organized at Jantar-Mantar. Such initiatives are a welcome development in the times we are passing through. One, this protest gave expression to the wide spread anger among the people against the mayhem being unleashed by the Hindu communal forces; secondly, it afforded an opportunity to the Muslims to give some expression to their pent up feelings, especially as they had been completely pushed to the defensive under the threat of violence.

However, it need be acknowledged that such initiatives by the middle and upper middle class members of the civil society have marginal penetration among the huge mass of workers and other under privileged sections of the society. Secondly, the secular urge of a large number of such civil society members is consummated in the formation of “secular fronts” for challenging the communal forces in the next election.

It is not to argue that the communal forces should not be challenged in the electoral arena, but if we are serious about fighting communalism and building a secular society then we cannot help but be aware of the potential of such “secular fronts”, especially under the circumstances where there is a basic policy consensus among all parties of the ruling classes, from the Parliamentary Left to the rightwing Hindu communal parties for implementing the anti-people economic policies. Moreover, prudence demands recognition of the fact that political parties do not form fronts because people want them to do so, but depending on what is expedient to their political interests. ‘Secular’, ‘Progressive’, ‘National’, ‘Democratic’ etc. are all post facto tags meant to rationalize the most irrational of the combinations.

Any secular front, if voted to power would be expected to put to end the heightened communal tensions and restore the status quo ante, but from the perspective of a large number of secular individuals of the middle and the upper middle classes, restoration of such status quo ante is sufficient to proclaim restoration of secularism. There can be no doubt that this would indeed be a big relief in the immediate sense but from the perspective of the working masses this in itself does little to change their ghettoized existence segregated on the basis of religion. It does little to change the material conditions of their lives in the womb of which these masses succumb to the communal virus.

The anti-people character of economic policies is something that the secular elite can live with if not outrightly endorse. They can also put up with obnoxious transgressions by the “secular forces” such as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the post Babri Masjid demolition Bombay riots under the watch of the Congress government headed by Sudhakarrao Naik or for that matter Akhilesh Yadav headed “secular government” of Uttar Pradesh which made the Muslims displaced during the Muzaffarnagar riots sign an affidavit that they shall not return to their village homes, nor would they lay claim to their movable or immovable property  if they wished to get a government compensation of Rs 4 lakhs. Later the same “secular government” had the refugee camps of Muslims wiped out by bulldozers by sending huge police force and other officials of the state. The same police was incidentally absent when the homes of these Muslims were being attacked in the first place. The secular elite can of course put up with these minor encumbrances to ward off the major ones and sit pretty under the rule of their “secular government.” But can such secularism be the deliverance for the poor Muslims who barely manage to eke out an existence in this country and are way down in the social and economic ladder? Indeed, is this the secularism in which the poor among Hindus, the dalits and the tribals could prosper?

Secularism is not just about ‘having a Muslim friend’; it is not only about inter-faith wining and dining; neither is its meaning restricted to wishing each other on festivals or formal equality before law; secularism is also not limited to nurturing our tender and sometimes fashionable cultural sensitivities which I am sure must have been brutally traumatized by the umpteen lynching sprees; secularism most certainly is not restricted to being a subject matter of seminars and symposiums. Secularism is about taking pride in our shared cultural heritage and having a shared vision for a common future; it is about shared aspirations and shared perseverance to fulfill those aspirations; secularism is about making sacrifices for and drawing inspiration from each other; secularism is about unleashing the agency of India’s working class and the toiling peasantry which alone can stand guarantee for a Secular India. Secularism is the necessary condition for the prosperity of the toiling masses of India. It is only such secularism that can bring deliverance for them. Building of such secularism shall entail more than an electoral duel; it shall entail a revolutionary transformation of India.

What can be a bigger tribute to Junaid, to Akhlaq, to Pehlu Khan and several others than our resolve to initiate some practical steps towards realizing this transformation.

 

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Vikas Bajpai Written by:

Dr Vikas Bajpai is Assistant Professor at Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University

One Comment

  1. vrijendra
    July 13, 2017
    Reply

    A n incisive piece. Correctly piointing out the llimits of the notinmyname campaign and the deeply embedded character of the Indian state especially that Modi government has not created this communal state in practice but has only furthe manipulated it. The problem of secularism in India is much deeper than confronting Modi government. In Maharashtra, for example, shiv sense for decades was nurtured by the ‘secular’ congress.
    Good that this piece initiated a much needed debate about crisis of secularism and the politics of class in India and how these two are so closely inter-related.
    Vrijendra

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