Democracy and violence in India


Book: The Clash Within; Democracy, Religious Violence and India's Future
Author: Martha C Nussbaum
Publisher: Permanent Black, India
Price: Rs 595
Pages: 403

Mushtaq ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

The word "clash" got a new lease of life after the famous "Clash Of Civilizations" thesis of Samuel P Huntington,.though the term 'Clash Of Civilizations' was used well before that by the well known Orientalist scholar Bernard Lewis. After 9/11 attacks the term became more vociferously and frequently used, to prepare a ground for the future Clash between Islam and West, though intellectuals like Edward W Said and intellectual-activists like Noami Klein discredited its use as Weltanschauung as they deplored it only a hype and fear created by governments and corporations to legitimize illegal wars so as to earn enormous profits.

But these critiques could not hold a large chunk of opinion makers to discredit this term of Clash Of Civilizations, but instead some among them changed its context and made it more wider in scope, indigenous in character and universal in application. Akbar S Ahmad in his book 'Islam The Siege Within' negated a Clash of Civilizations but surmised a clash within i.e Between Muslim Inclusivists and Exclusivists in all Muslim Nations. The present book under review too talks about this indigenous clash with the case study as India but conclusions drawn universally. It surprises readers with the Clash within virtually among all modern nations, between people who are prepared to live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect and those who seek the protection of homogeneity, achieved through the domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition.

The subcontinent being cradle of a great civilization with varied diversity on various grounds offers best case study to understand the clash within. Be it the Partition of subcontinent, communal riots, ethnic cleansing, linguistic controversy or regional disparity, each one depicts the Clash. The British paramountcy was declared as the source of all evils confronting India during the freedom struggle, but freedom came with a bloody trail and Partition, intensifying the Clash. Muslims sought the solution by demanding a separate homeland a heaven on earth, but the Clash remained which exemplified in the form of Bangladesh and continuing ethnic tensions in the land of pure though welded together by a common religion.

India, since Partition, too has been a hotbed of Clash Within, though it is dominantly visible among the apparently different creeds i.e Muslims and Hindus but Christians too have been squeezed in the recent years, though Clashes within Hinduism haven't been getting too much coverage as millions of dalits continue to linger in the abyss, of shambles, illiteracy, poverty, socio-religious exploitation plus hidden apartheid being practiced against them. Now the regional Clash too is becoming dominant be it Maharashtra-Marathi question or Demographic Change - Kashmiri Question.

Depicting this clash Martha C Nussbaum in her introduction goes as "The Clash between proponents of ethno religious homogeneity and proponents of a more inclusive pluralistic type of citizenship is a clash between two types of people within a single society. At the same time, this clash expresses tendencies that are present at some level, within most human beings: the tendency to seek domination as a form of self protection, versus the ability to respect others who are different and to see in difference a nation's richness rather than threat to its purity". This tendency to dominate has been lucidly deliberated in the chapter on Genocide in Gujarat, with its implications, initiation, mob frenzy, and opiate hallucination of revenge of subjugation, humiliation and restoration of pristine Hindu Glory as the subjugation to alien Muslim rulers has been avenged.

Nussbaum through her Case Study of Elite who represent the face of Hindu Right deliberates on the diversity among them which offers good food for thought to vigilant readers as to surmise the future of Hindu Right whose political arm i.e BJP is presently suffering a Clash Within as its stalwarts are distancing from its violently exclusive ideology; it may even be witnessed as a change of stance as masses and intelligentsia could no longer be befooled in the name of Hindutva only, and some sort of Soft Hindutva is needed to keep the political face of Hindu Right omnipresent. Drawing on the interviews with K.K Shastri : The Zealot and Devandra Swarup: The RSS scholar, Nussbaum writes "The contrast between Shastri & Swarup is typical of the subtle differences that one often finds between the VHP & RSS. The VHP has an intellectual aspect; but it is not very central; its members tend to be activists who rely on mob tactics. The RSS by contrast has a group of dedicated scholars and aspires to control scholarly institutions. Although both organizations have an ideology of self denial and asceticism, the RSS supports spiritual values of loyalty, diligence and self denial. Whereas the VHP often openly asserts the acceptability of violence as a strategy (Togadia being one example), the RSS tends to express opposition to violence except in retaliation" (p-57).

RSS with its scholarly outpourings as has been discussed in other places of the book is responsible for distorting history to fit in the Hindutva plan; and in the form of Church hegemony before renaissance which persecuted Copernicus and Galileo, even made them eat their statements so as to suit the religious texts, or ancient Greece made Socrates embrace the cup of hemlock, in the same vein these blind religious zealots use the same tactics to coerce independent scholars give up their statements, threaten them with physical violence to force them fall in line with the Hindutva ideology, this process of crushing dissent, intolerance and stifling independent voices is showing an upsurge even in Western countries like U.S which cherish these values of freedom and independence, where the religious zealots attack Oriental scholars of Hinduism to give up their verdicts, research conclusions about Hinduism because they can't profess, propagate, proclaim and speak up for a religion or history which they don't believe or belong to! "The War over history pits one narrative against another. In a sense one might say that it pits a Nehruvian narrative of India's past, which stresses plurality, complexity and tension against a Hindutva narrative, which stresses internal purity and external danger"(p-261).

Through her well versed research she has traced the phenomenon of intolerance and authoritarianism from Gujarat to Georgetown, even depicting the hand of foreign currency in fueling the riots as well as the half summed up critiques of Oriental scholarship on Hinduism by some born again self proclaimed ideologues of pristine Hinduism.

Comparing Tagore, Nehru and Gandhi's methods of worldview, education and future of India Nussbaum draws some startling conclusions; and deliberates about the need for Public Poetry and mass grassroot level education which the Nehruvian model failed to provide but was understood essential by the Hindu zealots like RSS who through a well knitted network of shakhas indoctrinate and groom the young cadets in a culture of hate. "Nehru's blind spot concerning the psychology of 'the masses' prevented him from shaping a political culture able to withstand and transcend onslaughts by forces of intolerance. He ignored the nation's need for the legacy of Tagore - for a public education that would nourish critical freedom, and for a public poetry of humanity that would use art, emotion and the humanities to craft a pluralistic public culture. In place of this legacy, the Hindu Right went to work at grassroot level, crafting a public culture of exclusion and hate" (p-121).

Witnessing Tagorean Model as a ray of hope in this abyss Nussbaum goes on "At the heart of all three of the Tagorean capacities is the idea of freedom; the freedom of the child's mind to engage critically with tradition; the freedom to imagine one's citizenship in both national and world terms, and to negotiate multiple allegiances with knowledge and confidence; the freedom to reach out in the imagination, allowing another person's experience into oneself. It is really freedom to which the RSS shakha and the saffronized curriculum are most deeply opposed: both seek the imprisonment of children within a single 'correct' ideology. This fearful curtailment of freedom can also be a property of reactive left-wing conceptions, which prefer solidarity and correctness to the possibility that someone might independently choose another way. But it is only the risky idea of critical and imaginative freedom that offers India's democracy lasting strength as it faces an uncertain future" (p-296).

A good hope for India's future! But how much time would it take to percolate down, implement this doctrine, and witness the fruits of tolerance and pluralism? Where violence is not made by people who are born evil, but is created out of a fearful and anxious view of the world, in which violent aggression is seen as the only antidote to centuries of humiliation. Though the violence may have abetted a bit but the victimization of minorities continues as even with Muslims in particular who are made scapegoats after any terror attack. This has sharpened and broadened the wedge between the government and Muslims, the latter seeing the former as extension of Hindutva arm with State cover. This phenomenon if not abetted at its earliest will have severe repercussions, making the Clash translated into action.

This well researched book on a complex subject is a welcome addition to understand the phenomenon of Clash especially in India after Partition, and is a must read for anyone desiring to end this Clash.

Mushtaq ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is a Srinagar-based writer