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Mainstream, VOL L, No 1, December 24, 2011 (Annual 2011)

Only Reacting, Not Acting

Tuesday 27 December 2011, by Mukul Dube

This piece of writing is inspired by a long telephone conversation with Harsh Kapoor (South Asia Citizens’ Wire, Communalism Watch, etc.) which followed a public meeting of Champa—the Amiya and B.G. Rao Foundation — at which the speakers were Manisha Sethi and Kumar Ketkar. I shall focus on the implications of what I see as the main issues discussed.

Sethi, who is perhaps best known for her work related to the Batla House “encounter” of 2008, spoke of what has become the established pattern in dealing with “terror”: Muslims, mostly young males, are arrested and imprisoned—with the foul treatment that imprisonment has come to imply—and the business is given wide and completely uncritical publicity by the mass media. These unfortunates are often released, years later, after their lives and those of their families have been destroyed. There is an assumption that every explosion and every discharge of a gun must be the act of a Muslim, because don’t we know that all Muslims belong to SIMI or IM or another of the terror outfits that might just as well have been created by police and press, so convenient are they. We know now that many “encounters” have been imaginary, dreamt up by a few people in uniform. The corpses, though, are real—and as they cannot speak, the police have the last word.

Ketkar spoke chiefly of the quite rapid growth of Hindutva as a force in Parliament, and in the country’s politics generally, and of how Hindutva has managed to infiltrate every institution in the country, from the staffs of daily newspapers to the sarkari bureaucracy and even the state machinery of the police and armed forces. He said a good many other things, but in this piece of writing I shall ignore them.

Kapoor said that Hindutva has become the done thing, while in the past it was at least subterranean, if not actually despised. This is manifested in the symbols seen everywhere—the marks on the forehead, the thread tied around wrists. I pointed out that it is religiosity in general which has become a way of life: if the “Hindus” have their symbols, the Muslims have their skull caps—which I, a product of the 1950s and 1960s, associate with namaz and not with constant, public visibility.

There is a common thread here. The monetary compensation that is given to those unjustly imprisoned is not justice. Justice demands that the functionaries of the state—the police and others—who perpetrated the injustice be punished according to the rules under which they are employed and under the laws of the land. If the forces of Hindutva have infiltrated the country’s governmental institutions, they have done that against the rules which govern the functioning of those institutions. If Hindutva, as expressed in hatred towards other religions, has come to permeate the very thinking of the bulk of Indian society, that must be called at once the victory of unreason and the defeat of our humanity. The media, by and large, look to the saleability of what they produce and not to the principles of journalism or to the role of the mass media in society.

KAPOOR also pressed home something which both speakers had touched upon, something which has been brought up repeatedly, in the years since 2002, by far more people than I can list here. This is that the agenda is set by the actions of Hindutva and the terms of discourse are defined by Hindutva, so that the rest of us can only react and are kept so busy putting out fires, metaphorically, that we have no time to do those positive, productive and creative things that should be done.

I belong to the old tradition, seen all over the world, which might be called the Phir Subah Hogi tradition. The older among us speak constantly of the dawn that is around the corner, certainly to inspire the young and perhaps to give ourselves courage. But the problem, in the words of a friend whom I shall not name, is that those who are kept busy dousing innumerable large and small fires and trying to tackle the termites and worms and locusts that are all over, cannot take any of the steps that are needed to bring that dawn closer.

Do we live in hope or in despair? Usually we engage in just the sort of mechanical activity that serves as a substitute for accomplishment. Again in the words of Kapoor, people who see them-selves as progressive and secular find themselves sharing the stage with essentially obscurantist individuals from both the main religions. This must be called a victory of practicality over principles: and because it is fundamentally flawed, it leads to nothing beyond small items tucked away in some newspapers and a few posts on obscure websites. We only think that we have done something.

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