The Madness & Fury of Communalism and Free Market; And the ‘why and how’ of our Cultural Revolt against it: Part I

Jayant Pawar

Jayant Pawar is a renowned story writer and dramatist in Marathi. His well known play ‘Adhantar’ is a tale about lives of textile workers in Mumbai in the backdrop of the failed textile strike of 1980s. He has been awarded with Sahitya Academy award in 2013 for his collection of stories ‘Phoenixchya Rakhetun uthala Mor’ (there arose a peacock from the ashes of Phoenix).Jayant Pawar, a journalist, currently works with Maharashtra Times. The speech was a Presidential address by him at Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan at Buldhana, Maharashtra in January 2015. The original speech in Marathi is being translated by Rahul Vaidya and we are thankful that the speaker has kindly agreed to publish it in Vikalp.

I am
grateful to Vidrohi cultural movement[1]
for honoring me with presidential position of the 13th Vidrohi
Sahitya Sammelan (Vidrohi, revolutionary Literary meet) and thereby providing
me this platform to put forth my thoughts. I remember sitting as part of the
audience in 1999 Sammelan held in Dharavi, Mumbai which was presided by the
great rebel writer Baburao Bagul. The Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan
(All India Marathi Literary meet) was going on at Shivaji Park, Mumbai. A few
days earlier, Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had caustically taunted the writers
‘bulls’ over the futility of their efforts. So the (mainstream) writers were
furious. It was Sena-BJP rule in Maharashtra that time. In centre, it was NDA
government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There was anger in the air. Vasant
Bapat, the president of the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, had
thundered ‘I spit on your money’ addressing Bal Thackeray in his presidential
speech. This seemed quite a rebellious and revolutionary spirit and challenge
for the sense and sensibilities of the petty-bourgeoisie writers of Marathi
mainstream discourse. But the real sparks of rebellion flew in Vidrohi Sammelan
at Dharavi. Because Dr. A.H. Salunkhe, during his the inauguration speech had
asserted: ‘now it will be our own head over our body’. These words, which
openly revolted against the establishment, gave a new identity, a new
meaningful existence to the oppressed and their expressions.
after 16 years, we have a BJP government in the Maharashtra state as well as in
Centre. Today, the language is of development, good governance; but in fact,
there is only religious, cultural fanaticism all around. The situation is
grave. In these times, one really needs to question if the head over body is
really one’s own. We are assembled here for the 13th Vidrohi
Sammelan. A few days back, Charlie Hebdo, a magazine of satire, was attacked in
Paris in which 12 people including 3 cartoonists were killed by terrorists.
Before that, Islamic fundamentalists killed 132 schoolchildren in Peshawar.
Religious fundamentalism is showcasing its presence and strength everywhere.
Even we are witnessing our own home-grown manifestations of the same
fundamentalism through movements like Ghar Vapasi, Love Jihad, Bahu Bachao Beti
Bachao. The religious fanaticism has sprung like never before. Communal
tensions have become worse. In these times, I have certain questions, certain
confusions. While tracking them, I keep encountering several thoughts- but
whether I will be able to lend a theoretical foundation to them, I am not sure.
Of course, this task has to be done collectively by very many like-minded
authors, intellectuals, leaders and workers of the movements. It is difficult
task. The situation around is complex, confusing and full of doubt. One doesn’t
know whom to trust. The meanings of the words are ever changing and slippery.
However, even if this work is difficult, it is not impossible. Our intellectual
lineage of Tukaram, Kabir, Basaveshwar, Phule, Dr. Ambedkar, Maharshi Shinde,
and Comrade Sharad Patil is quite strong. Our heritage is that of Shivaji, the
progressive visionary ruler. And it is a great relief for my confused mind,
that I am speaking at a place where a woman, Tarabai Shinde raised a true
revolt in 19th century Maharashtra. Leave aside women speaking to
men, even looking up to men was considered an offence and a challenge to
patriarchal power; in such times, Tarabai Shinde wrote ‘Stree- Purush Tulana’
(Woman-Man comparison) a comparative study showing faults of men and patriarchy
citing examples from myths, history and present. Her courage, courage of a
Bahujan woman, sustains me. I pay my respect to her and begin:

Violence in
Pamuk’s Snow
begin with a small portion of a Turkish novel. Nobel winner famed Turkish
novelist Orhan Pamuk’s novel ‘Snow’ has this incident. The protagonist, Ka, is
a Turkish poet and journalist staying in Germany. He has come to a small city
Kars in Turkey on journalistic assignment. The mayor of the city is murdered.
Few women also have committed suicide. Ka wants to find out the reason behind
these suicides. Turkey was a liberal, open and tolerant society when he left
for Germany in his youth. Religion wasn’t dominant in public life. There was
hardly any trace of the observance of Burqa custom in women. However, now the
times have changed. It’s religious fundamentalism dominant now. There are
barriers between people of different faith. Radical Islamists have been
militantly carrying out propaganda that people have forgotten their roots,
their religion under the spell of western influence and have been successful in
securing dominance in public life.  These
Islamists go to people’s homes, distribute alms and influence them. They sell
dreams, influence women, youth and unemployed by grand schemes. They campaign to
vote for their ‘Prosperity Party’. Middle class and traders are also under
their spell because they seem really honest and modest.

incident, then, takes place in such surroundings. The protagonist is sitting
with his former fiancé in a pastry shop when the director of an educational
institution is killed right behind his table. A short fellow sitting right in
front of the director has fired bullets in his head and chest. He has come to
Kars from a faraway village for this sole mission. The director begs, cries for
mercy in the end. That time, the killer says: for past two days, I was
searching you all around Kars. Finally I had given up. Disappointed, I had
almost left. I came in here to have tea, and coincidentally, you also came in
here. If the god only sent you to this pastry shop, if he only doesn’t want to
pardon you, then why should I pardon you?

conversation between them before this portion is quite interesting: this
director is a secular. The killer, short youth accuses him that he declined
entry to burqa clad girls in his school. He threw them out of the school. When
the girls started fighting, he threatened to call the police. In the end, these
poor girls, with shattered egos and thorough depression, committed suicide. The
director says, we stay in a secular state, and this secular state has
prohibited burqa clad girls’ entry in school. The youth asks him, if you
believe ‘Holy Quran’ are Allah’s words, then what is said in 31st
line of the chapter of ‘Divine Light’ of Quran? The director says, it says that
girls and women should cover their heads and face. Then the youth asks, answer
me- which law is eternal and more powerful, that of state or that of god?

conversation begins like this: the youth says to the director, ‘I want to speak
to you regarding the topic of progressives and regressives. He repeatedly says,
Sir, I respect you. Don’t worry. He even kisses his hand. He says, I hate
terrorism, I respect democracy, I respect human values, I believe in God and I
don’t like anybody’s religious sentiments getting hurt. But, why did you behave
inhumanly with those girls?’ According to him, one black American Muslim
professor has published a statistic showing that the Muslim countries where
women wear Burqa has lower percentage of violence against women. ‘Wearing Burqa
is the wish of the women here, then by prohibiting them to do so, aren’t you
denying them their right? Burqa protects women from violence; it gives a
position of respect in society. They don’t have to live like a commodity. The
gender revolution in Europe led to many sexual assaults on women. Do you want
them to happen to our women as well? and if that happens, you would serve as a
pimp. Do you have any idea, sir?’  the
director tries to tell him that ‘out the girls who committed suicide, one was
jilted in love with a fellow 25 years elder to her. She was depressed due to
his refusal to marry her.’ But the killer is in no mood to listen. He grows
impatient, angry. Islamic liberators have judged you and have sentenced you to
death. Now no use begging and pleading; he says, and fires bullets.

the people sitting in the pastry shop get up quietly and leave. Along with
incessant snowfall, a shiver of fear runs through that mystical city of Kars.

And what is the situation here?
me take up our situation. There is news on front page in Indian Express of 23rd
December 2015 titled- ‘The man whose job
was fanning communal fire
’. The police arrested a 35- year old fellow named
Desh Raj in Parsauli village in Uttar Pradesh. The reason- he threw beef in the
village temple and wrote derogatory messages against religion. The people grew
furious. They were not allowing the police to dispose of the beef in the
temple. A similar incident had taken place in another temple where Desh Raj had
taken away the Nandi, the god Shankara’s bull, and he had also killed a dog and
threw the dog meat in the village mosque. When mosque personnel came to know,
they hurriedly disposed it and hushed matter since they didn’t want further
troubles. Police kept a watch and arrested Desh Raj. His family members
maintain that he is mentally disturbed and needs help. Police found several
maps with him where he had made marks on temples and mosques around. This
unemployed youth keeps praying throughout the day and studies astronomy. When
police questioned him over his motive of these acts, he reasoned thus- ‘
कोई मसिजद ना रहे, सिर्फ मंदिर रहे.’ (Let there be no mosque, let only temples remain)

us go a bit deeper here. Why does Desh Raj think like this? There is a village
called Jhola near Parsauli. The population of Muslims suddenly went up in last
one year. Parsauli has almost same share of Hindus and Muslims. But this proportion in Jhola became
skewed suddenly. Why? Because the Muzaffarnagar riot victims were rehabilitated
in Jhola. Hence Muslims increased in Jhola. And Desh Raj became enraged. It is
this 2013 Muzaffarnagar riot where 9000 families had to migrate, 50000 were
rendered homeless and began living in rehabilitation camps. It is the worst
communal violence in UP’s history. The reason for this riot was murder of a
Muslim youth by two Jat young men over offending modesty of their sister. In
revenge, the Muslim group killed these two Jats. It was revealed later that the
girl had never even seen the Muslim youth before who was killed under the
pretext of offending her modesty. He had not even come to that village. She had
only heard people discussing that Muslim youth from neighboring village come
and do these kind of things and had mentioned it to someone. After the
abovementioned killings, the local BJP MLA posted a video on YouTube showing
the Muslim mob beating the Jat young men mercilessly and it sparked off the
riots. Later it was revealed that the video clip was not even authentic and was
shot at Sialkot in previous year. But the mission was accomplished by then. The
venom of religious nationalism had spread everywhere. Desh Raj is a byproduct
of these riots. Not just him, there are lakhs of young men who are ready to
‘teach’ Muslims a lesson or two. This is because the situation in India has
changed dramatically after 26th May 2014. It is the claim of powers
like RSS that ‘Hindu rule has now been established after 800 years of
oppression. Now you better listen to them’. There are several young people
under the spell of elements like Sri Ram Sene ready to beat, to pull the hair
of girls and women going to pubs, following the western culture and values.
Girls who have married Muslims, have been portrayed as the ‘wronged, helpless,
poor things’ and victims of ‘Love Jihad’. Innumerable self-proclaimed saviors
of religion are agitating to ‘bring them back to the fold’. When the leaders
start ranting like ‘Short clothes of girls invite rapes and violence’; the
followers need no further direction. An Indian girl kissing a Pakistani guy in
the film ‘PK’ is portrayed as encouraging Love Jihad and hence these fanatics
agitated for banning the movie. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha vandalized one
café in Kozhikode, Kerala since young men and women come together and dance.
The Taliban in Afghanistan restricted the dress and behavior of women under the
pretext of warding off the western/ American cultural influence. We also have
our Sadhvis, Mahants, as well as religious- social political leaders,
(including women) who are raving against American culture, which changed the
dressing of girls and meant men getting astray leading to higher violence
against women. There is simply  no
difference now in the short fellow in Pamuk’s novel which I described, and
several fanatic young men in our own country today. Tomorrow, anybody can kill
anyone in broad daylight, in Open Square, in a café, or anywhere, under the
charges of being the traitor of the religion. If you are putting forth liberal
thoughts in public sphere, then anyone can silence you, can threaten you. These
are the same times, when Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was murdered in broad daylight, in the middle
of the Pune city and still there is no trace of murderers. One Muslim engineer
was killed in Hadapsar, Pune and the accused person has been declared ‘Shaurya
Puraskar’ (Bravery award) by guardians of faith. In Franz Kafka’s novel ‘The
Trial’, the protagonist wakes up one morning to find that he is under
surveillance. He is not in jail, he can roam around. He can work. But he
constantly feels being observed, being kept under the eye. Now you are also
under the surveillance. There is always an indirect watch over what are you
speaking, thinking. Your phone calls are being tapped. The ministers of the
country aren’t even spared from this. Who are you and me then?

Surveillance hills and parallel censorship
people may think it is an exaggeration; but if one glosses through the moves
and movements in the cultural sphere in past two decades, one can easily
understand how these surveillance hills are growing in number as well as
stature. After 1996-97, Marathi theatre and plays were carefully kept under a
close surveillance. Certain plays were targeted and their shows were attacked
and theatres vandalized under the charges that these plays had derogatory
content poking fun at Hindu gods and goddesses. Play writers and directors
started getting threat calls. Writers, directors, producers were pressurized to
omit the objected parts of the play. Censor board was bombarded with thousands
of letters and faxes to reject permission to stage these plays. Several
protestors started agitating with banners calling for ban wherever these plays
were staged. The Marathi theatre never collectively and loudly protested
against these tendencies and groups. This meekness emboldened the guardians of
culture further. The gravity of danger was only recognized after the bomb
blasts in theatres. But still, the protest never went beyond words. Deepa
Mehta’s movies- ‘Water’ which portrayed the plight of widows of Vrindavan, and
‘Fire’ portraying lesbianism, ‘Fanaaa’ of Aamir Khan, who participated in
Narmada Bachao Andolan, ‘Rang De Basanti’ which put light on reality of jingo
nationalism, etc. several movies were targeted and protests were held demanding
a ban on them. There was such a remarkable continuity in these protests that it
affected common people’s thought processes.

is the state of cultural field. In case of education, Deenanath Batra’s Shiksha
Bachao Andolan Samiti is keeping a close watch on history syllabus and text
books. This Samiti keeps sending notices to state boards, publishers, threatens
them, sues them to make them delete the portion seemingly offensive to Hindu
religion (offensive as per the wishes and fancies of this Samiti).   NCERT textbook of 7th standard
mentions: ‘Mathura was established around 2500 years back. It had several
Buddhist monasteries, Jain places of worship. Also it was a centre of Krishna
worship’. Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti doesn’t approve of this. It says: why
do you hide the truth that Krishna was born in Mathura 5200 years ago? 6th
standard textbook mentions that ‘epics Ramayana, Mahabharata were written
around 2000 years back. Women and shudras didn’t have right to study Vedas’.
Batra says ‘this is twisting the truth and should be removed immediately.
Ramayana-Mahabharata is our real history’. To mistake myths in Hindu religion
for the historical truth, to not allow the reality of exploitation under the
garb of religion, opposing the sex education in name of the same being
offensive to religion; this is continuing mission of Batra and his likes. Now
Gujarat government under Anandiben Patel has accepted Batra- suggested books as

there is no reason to believe that these ventures remain limited to school
curriculum. It is doing the great job of banning the works of many scholars. In
2013, Batra’s Samiti compelled Manmohan Singh government to drop A.K.
Ramanujan’s essay ‘three hundred Ramayanas’ from curriculum. Shiskha Bachao
Samiti had filed a petition in court calling for ban on Renowned historian
Shekhar Bandopadhyay’s book ‘Plassey to Partition: a history of Modern India’
since it defames RSS. However, even before judgment was passed, the publisher
of the book, Orient Blackswan withdrew this book from circulation. It is
instructive to understand the nature and power of cultural terror: the
publisher didn’t just stop there. It appointed one committee to enlist the
probable ‘sensitive’ books and ‘sensitive’ content therein. One of them was a
book titled ‘Communalism and sexual violence: Ahmedabad since 1969’ by Dr. Megha
Kumar from Oxford University. The said book which throws light upon the
communal and sexual violence in Ahmedabad since 1969, was not even on the radar
of Batra’s Samiti and it had not even demanded a ban for the same. However,
Orient Blackswan banned the book of its own accord. Penguin India, another
renowned publishing house, withdrew Wendy Doninger’s book ‘The Hindus: an
alternative history’ after receiving court notice and burnt the remaining

Rewriting history
independence, our country adopted framework of a secular state and adopted a
constitution prepared under Dr. Ambedkar which was assimilative of diverse
traditions, faiths and cultures of this land, which respected everyone as equal
and gave everyone freedom of choice, expression and faith. The constitution is
the one solid thread which weaves together multiple faiths, sects, castes,
language groups, traditions. But the forces challenging the constitution itself
are growing stronger by the day. The clear indication is appointment of K.
Sudarshan Rao (whose contribution to historical research is nil) as ICHR
chairman to rewrite our history. RSS maintains that history of India so far has
been written under European and Leftist historians’ influence. Now it should be
written from ‘Indian perspective’. And by ‘Indian perspective’, RSS obviously
implies ‘Hindutva perspective’. You can obviously write such history; but that
also requires material proofs and concrete evidences which can survive
scientific tests. But where scientists can’t find evidences dating 2500 years
back; how can one expect to believe that Ramayana and Mahabharata as dating
back 5000 years and part of history and not myth? How justified is it to
celebrate and approve Bhagavadgeeta’s 5200th anniversary?

It is
one thing to be proud of our history and another to paint unhistorical,
mythical things as historical and take pride in them. History of course changes
all the time; but the same has to be proven on hard tests. However, if one
chooses to merely celebrate myths as history escaping the burden of proving
their historical, scientific validity; it leads to false pride first, and then
into superiority complex- ‘We are the best in the whole world, and it’s our
responsibility to rule or direct the world’, as this feeling grows, it gives
birth to cultural nationalism. It works like a contagious fever; it goes to
one’s brains and then anybody who questions starts looking like an enemy.
Vicious sentiments grow stronger- those who do not agree to such parochial
definition of nationalism ought to be killed. This is because propaganda of
hate and fear successfully demonstrates the several injustices done. An ‘other’
is created and language of harmonious co-existence gradually gives way to
cultural homogenization. ‘If you want to live with us, live on our terms and
conditions’ becomes the language of the day, a part of common sense.

‘Mare Jayenge’- they
will be killed
cultural nationalism in India today, speaks of cultural homogenization and
challenges the Indian constitution. Even if it speaks of peace, such peace is a
façade. Under the speeches of peace, it is a breeding ground for fear and
hatred. It is going to shut voices of dissent. It is going to fit moulds of
thoughts inside everyone. Poet Mehboob Shekh says-
जो इस पागलपन में शामिल नही होंगे
मारे जाएंगे
कठघरे में खडे कर दिए जायेंगे
जो विरोध में बोलेंगे
जो सच सच बोलेंगेमारे जायेंगे
(Those who
don’t participate in this madness, they will be killed. Those who will speak
against it, those who will speak the truth, will be killed.) 
this is the time when we should raise voice against this heinous and violent
nationalism trampling dissent, its censorship, its regressive offensive against
women’s liberation, its assault on freedom of expression of writers, poets,
intellectuals. I condemn this cultural offensive from the platform of Vidrohi
Sahitya Sammelan. And at the same time, I appeal to everyone who believes in
egalitarian values, to join me from every possible forum, every possible
corner; in condemning and resisting this attack.

resistance, this protest should grow loud. And it should be regular. This is
because the force of the cultural attack is severe. Its face is that of benign
development. This catchword of ‘development’ has the middle class of the
country so madly spellbound that it is ready to pay any price for the same.
This madness has reached the absurdity of wishing away the poor of this country
as with having them alive, the ‘development’ is not possible. Hence it has long
ago given up on alliance with poor and working class. Further, fever of
Cultural nationalism is most rampant in this middle class, as well as the
strata on periphery of this middle class and lower classes. Therefore, everyone
has lost the grip on reality. Russian novelist Tolstoy has said in his book
‘Confession’- ‘our society blindly believes in progress. People don’t try to
understand the meaning of life and then they try and hide this scarcity behind
the pursuit of the progress’. These words, spoken for Russian society in 19th
century, hold true for Indian society in 21st century as well. We
have lost the sense of common welfare, compassion for the toils of people
through which the wealth is made, mutual respect etc. and we are trying to make
up for it by market-centrism, rituals, religious fanaticism, mental peace
bought through Babas- Bapus and satsangs. American capitalist culture which
proclaims ‘The World is flat’ on one hand, and revivalist religious culture on
the other, they both are growing simultaneously. Consumerist American culture
preaches to become more selfish, more acquisitive, and turn back upon the
troublesome things. On the other side, the religious fundamentalist culture is
teaching to become more intolerant. This culture doesn’t approve the several
facets of Ramayana and Ram. Hence, they oppose Ramanujan’s ‘three hundred
Ramayanas’. For them, Valmiki Ramayan is the only one and worth following. If
you think otherwise, it will be considered blasphemy. So in other sense, they
also want a flat world- a cultural homogenization. Hence, ideology of free
market and cultural nationalism are two sides of the same coin and they are
complementary to each other.  At the
outset, although it seems that Hindutva forces have waged a war against American
consumerist culture, this war is conveniently posed in such terms that upper
caste, upper class people will never have any material harm to their class
interests. It is the majority working people, the bahujan samaj and also those
who have no nuisance value; which will pay the price. It is their destiny.
Hence  Mehboob Shekh writes further in
his poem ‘Mare Jayenge’:
सबसे बडा अपराध है इस समय में
निहत्थे और निरपराध होना
जो अपराधी नही होंगेमारे जायेंगे (the biggest crime
today is to be unarmed and innocent. Those who are innocent, will be killed)
(To be continued)

[1] Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan is an annual conference organized Revolutionary
literary cultural movement in Maharashtra, which is largely an amalgam of
Dalit, Socialist, Communist and other progressive democratic forces.

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