Why women? Why are they protesting (when they should be at home cooking and cleaning and looking after their children)?
You’ve heard that question, in its many variants, since the anti-CAA protests erupted in mid-December 2019. So have I — most lately last evening, when a few of us were discussing contemporaneous events.
Part of the discussion was triggered by a post I had written yesterday about the Woman in Red who became a totem of the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, and of Marianne the young drummer girl who triggered the march on Versailles that proved to be seminal in the French Revolution. And the talk veered, as such talks inevitably do these days, to Shaheen Bagh.
It only occurred to me gradually that the question stems not from genuine curiosity, but from a puzzled bafflement — a sense that authority, which knows how to use brute force against the dissenting male, is stymied when confronted by a defiant, determined woman. Remember these moments?:
The thing that baffles me about the “Why women?” question is the tone of irritated wonder, as if this were something new and strange. The small group I was with last evening was mostly young, all but two still in college; it was supposed to be an informal chat about narrative writing but it became about the protests, and “Why women?”
I wondered at the time whether this was one of the signs of an age where information is so plentiful that we consume everything but retain nothing. Women leading protests is not only a phenomenon as old as protests themselves, more often than not it is the participation of women that has tipped the scales (again, this is an essay for another day).
So, as aide memoire, here she is, the woman protestor, in all her avtaars: Defiant, determined, gentle, fierce, tearful, joyful, proud, implacable…
This list could go on but I’ll stop here, with a bonus link I found on Huffington Post that rounds up ‘60 stunning pictures‘ of women in protests around the world.
Meanwhile, back in the here and now, Delhi police has filed an 800-page chargesheet in connection with the December 15 violence at Jamia Milia Islamia University, when rioters had set fire to buses and private vehicles. 17 people have thus far been arrested in this connection.
Remember the spate of videos that mysteriously leaked the other day, purporting to show that the students had indulged in violence, and the police had entered the university campus as a result? (The police are reportedly now trying to figure out how they leaked. It is problematic for them on two counts: One, it is hard, actionable evidence of unprovoked brutality that damaged property worth over two crore; more importantly, it totally demolishes the concerted, coordinated efforts over time to paint the protestors of Jamia as destructive rioters). Remember the India Today ‘expose’ of rioting students? Remember the breathless, condemnatory reporting that appeared in Times of India, Mirror Now, Republic, Times Now, DNA, Zee, Aaj Tak and other outlets, all unquestioningly toeing the official line handed to them, never mind if in the process they were criminally slandering a university and its students?
Remember the manufactured consensus that while the police action was bad, so sorry, what to do, they were only doing their duty and the students deserved it? (The media’s role is laid out in this Alt News fact-check).
Remember the police denying that they had fired on the students, and then back-tracking after an internal investigation revealed that shots had in fact been fired? Remember how, during the Delhi election campaign, BJP leaders had repeatedly demonised the JMI students, with Kapil Mishra slyly equating them with Kasab, of 26/11 infamy? Remember Nirmala Sitharaman accusing Sonia Gandhi of “shedding crocodile tears” on behalf of the brutalised students? Remember Amit Shah saying in one breath that the “police did not go after students”, and in the very next breath saying “Don’t you think that the police should take action? Police have to take action because that is their duty and the right thing for them to do.” Remember Shah justifying the police action on the grounds that students pelted stones?
Remember the Supreme Court — the CJI, no less — in a remarkable example of circular logic refusing to hear an urgent petition against the state-sponsored violence on the grounds that “the rioting must first stop”?
Remember how, less than 24 hours later, several police officers from the area had been mysteriously transferred? It turns out that the Special Investigation Team, in the wake of the outing of compelling videographic evidence, has asked for the duty roster of policemen who were stationed in the area that night.
Here is the thing — the police acted as they did because they had a sense of impunity, the surety that there would be no consequences. Such an assurance had to come from the highest echelons of the police — and they, in turn, would never have passed such orders without the nod of the ministry they report to. Which, in case it needs reminding, is the MHA, under Amit Shah.
Now cracks have begun appearing in the official version, and these cracks are widening by the day. The SIT says it will be questioning those policemen who were on duty at the time, and hint at the possibility that FIRs could be filed against them. If that happens, and admittedly that is a big if considering what is at stake, then low-level cops will crack, and talk about the orders they received. This whole sorry chapter isn’t over yet, not by a long way.
In other news, senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran, on the directions of the Supreme Court, visited Shaheen Bagh for initial discussions with the protestors intended to find a solution to the blockade, now into its third month. They were welcomed with a standing ovation.
I was following the events live across various social media channels, and the moment that stood out for me was when the interlocutors suggested that the media be asked to leave, to which the response was “We are fighting for freedom, and we will not allow anyone’s freedom to be taken away.”
I began this post musing on women leading protests, and why male authority figures find it bewildering. I’ll circle back to it on this note: Though there are literally dozens of SB-style protests around the country (Frontline has an extended essay on this; here is a story of how, thanks to police brutality in Chennai, another Shaheen Bagh has sprung up there and, by way of thumbing their collective nose at the police action on Valentine’s Day, played host to a wedding), the original Shaheen Bagh has become a persistent, annoying burr under the skin of the government as evidenced by the continued efforts to demonise it.
TimesNow ran a breathless, high-decibel ‘Big Story‘ on how Teesta Setalvad — another woman activist, another red rag for a patriarchal government and its propaganda wings — had been “coaching” Shaheen Bagh protestors on how to talk to the SC-appointed mediators. Um — so? How exactly is it a problem for protestors — lay protestors, unused to the ways of courts and lawyers — to take advice?
Elsewhere, Facebook users took to circulating what they claimed are images of condoms found in the gutters of Shaheen Bagh — reminiscent of the BJP MLA who claimed “that daily 50,000 pieces of bones, 3,000 used condoms, 500 used abortion injections, 10,000 cigarette “pieces”, among other things, are found at JNU, where girls and boys dance naked at cultural programmes.”
In passing, why does right wing propaganda, particularly where women are part of the protests, depend so much on sexual innuendo? Meanwhile in UP, yet another BJP MLA has been accused of serial rape.
PS: I am off this blog till late Sunday evening — a workshop, and a couple of other commitments, therefore.
PSA: Over the next two days the blog is on a hiatus of sorts (If something major breaks, I’ll find a way to update), since I have a narrative writing workshop coming up Saturday, and I need to put a lot of material together.
On my way out the door: Yesterday’s post was on the JMI videos and the many inconsistencies/lies in the narrative around it. By way of ensuring the documentation is complete, here are two related fact-checks:
The student with the stone in his hand, used to justify the police action? It was a wallet, not a stone.
The “student with the stone” was the one injured in the Jamia shooting — which is to say, the shooting was justified. Again, no.
And on this issue, read this Newslaundry piece on India Today’s extended half-hour report on the issue to see how the media spins, lies, and obfuscates to promote the official line.
Right, my workshop is Saturday, so longer posts will likely resume after that. In the meantime, will use this to record important events through short link-outs and comments.
Spin — the massaging of facts to make them palatable or, as someone once put it, “the artistic moulding of the unshapely clay of truth” — is not new. David Greenberg, in his book Republic of Spin, traces its origins back to the ancient Greeks (though they called it rhetoric back then).
What is relatively new is that spin is no longer an activity that follows in the wake of facts — it has replaced facts. A case in point is the video that surfaced (linked in my previous post) late Saturday night, of the police action inside Jamia Milia Islamia University on December 15.
Within hours, the Crime Branch released two other clips, widely publicised by various right wing handles, which show incidents from before the police entered the library premises. Here is the first one:
It shows a milling throng leaning over the railing of a balcony, jostling for a better view. It shows the students entering the library. It does not show the stone pelting the post alleges.
A close relative, of hard right persuasion, sent me this clip with similar claims, excoriating me for supporting the JMI students who, he said, were “jihadi thugs”.
Where is the stone pelting? “This clip shows the scene immediately after they threw stones,” said my relative with fact-free conviction. I reminded him of a scene from an old Malayalam movie, where a bunch of conmen flog paintings to the relatives of dead people. In one instance, they tell the son of a dead man that his late father wanted a picture of a horse in a grassy meadow. But when they unwrap the canvas, it turns out to be bare. Where is the grass, asks the son. The horse ate it, says the conman. So where is the horse? Arre, when the grass is gone, what will the horse do there? When the grass grows back, the horse will return.
Which brings up the second clip:
The video shows students rushing into the library seeking shelter. It also shows some students already there. The messaging says it shows riotous students “after damaging public property” rushing to hide from the cops. What is the allegation that these students came here after damaging public property based on?
And all of this is prelude to this third clip:
This clip shows police — some with masked faces — entering the library and beating up students armed only with books.
An officer of Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police-rank, who is part of the probe into the violence that erupted during protest in and around Jamia Millia Islamia on Sunday, denied that the police entered its library and thrashed students.
“A DCP-rank officer took a video in which it is shown that students were asked to leave the library… they were then taken to a safe place with their bags on their heads so that they would not be hit by stones. Whether the library was ransacked is a matter of investigation. Our force did not enter the library,” the officer said.
So that is lie number one: The police did enter the library. Can we agree that this is now beyond dispute? Can we therefore agree that the police lied?
The exculpatory narrative is that the students damaged public property outside the university, then ran into the campus; the police entered on their heels and beat them up. Take those points in order:
One, the police on December 17 arrested ten people for the violence outside the university that they used to justify their intrusion onto the campus. None of them were students. Also: The police announced a Rs 1 lakh reward for information on those who were party to the violence outside the university on December 15.
In other words, those already arrested — on the basis of evidence, presumably — were not students; as late as February 10, the police was still looking for information on others involved in the rioting. How does that jell with the argument that the students inside the library — none of whom have their faces masked and are, therefore, easily identifiable — were responsible for the violence?
And if they were in fact responsible, as is being claimed not by the police but by propagandists, why have they not been arrested and charged? Why is the police, almost two months after the incident, still looking for information?
Secondly, and crucially, how did the police enter the campus without permission? Here is JMI VC Najma Akthar setting out the issue:
“I object to just one thing. We are with police when they have to look for criminals. But when they are coming to a university, they have to ask us so my proctor goes with them. That’s the only protest. Secondly, our university’s name should not be dragged in because we have nothing to do with it,” Akhtar said.
“If they (police) had asked us, we would not have denied permission. We would have asked our proctor to accompany the officers so that he could help them identify the students and ensure they are not humiliated. My university is closed and we are on vacation. Most of my students have already left the campus. How can we have 20,000 students participating in the protests?”
A contemporaneous account is worth reading for context, one that inter alia talks of police entering a mosque within the campus and beating up students who at the time were offering namaz. Were they chasing rioters? That remains one of the unanswered questions lost in the din.
Give the police the benefit of doubt, however. Say for the sake of argument that they were chasing rioters armed with weapons and stones the CCTV footage was not able to pick up. Then think ahead to the events of January 5, involving the same Delhi police, at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The police report of that incident says that there was a spell of violence earlier that afternoon; that a senior police official had toured the area and assured himself that the situation was under control. Then this:
The second spell of violence started before 6 pm, when members of the JNU Teachers’ Association and some students had gathered at Sabarmati dhaba for a ‘peace march’. According to eyewitnesses, the protest came under stone-pelting by masked men, who then barged into the nearby Sabarmati hostel and ran riot.
At around 6.45, the VC sent a message to the police asking for increased deployment at the main gate — this, while masked and armed thugs (unlike the ‘evidence’ being trotted out about JMI, here the videos clearly show hammers and iron rods in the hands of the marauders) subsequently identified as belonging to the ABVP were running riot inside. The police received numerous calls about the ongoing violence, and therefore were clearly aware of what was happening inside the campus. And then:
“The policemen found a group of 40-50 rioters carrying sticks were vandalising properties in the hostel and assaulting students there. The police used a public address system to warn the mob not to damage property and disperse peacefully. Despite warnings, the mob continued the violence and paid no heed to the police orders,” Arya said.
The Delhi police enter JMI without permission and beat up students who had no visible, demonstrable connection to any violence. One student lost an eye as a result of the police action. The same Delhi police, on actually seeing a group destroying property and assaulting students, is content with asking them to be good boys and girls and stop misbehaving — an appeal the rioters paid no heed to. What is the police supposed to do in such a case?’Stand by and watch’ is the wrong answer.
There is more:
However, despite already having the university authorisation to intervene, as per the FIR, the police force stopped at the gate and waited for an official permission to enter the campus.
What explains this behaviour? The lead paragraph of the story cited above says:
As a mob wielding sticks, iron rods and hammers assaulted students and damaged property on Jawaharlal Nehru University campus on Sunday night, police teams stood outside the gate and entered the campus only at 8pm. The police explained that they were waiting for an official permission from the varsity administration to enter the campus, as required by the law.
Waiting for official permission as required by law. The same police that 20 days earlier entered a university campus with no permission.
Unless the law referred to above was passed after December 15, the police who entered JMI were in clear and flagrant violation, yes? The supposedly exculpatory videos being passed around are therefore worth bupkis, yes?
Further, if permission is not given, the police cannot enter a university campus even if it knows there is violence within. Vide:
At 6.24 pm, after violence had broken out, Vice Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar messaged at least three top senior police officials. Strangely, instead of asking them to contain the violence quickly, Kumar said, “Considering the volatile situation in JNU campus, I request you to station police at the gates of JNU campus so that they can quickly reach the trouble spot in the campus if a law and order situation arises.”
“In case a law and order situation arises”, says the VC — while rioting was actually going on within the campus. What qualifies as a law and order situation, then? One more unanswered question.
In any case, the law-abiding Delhi police waited outside the gates, at the VC’s instructions. And then?:
What followed was dozens of men, their faces covered with mufflers, chanting slogans — “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalo ko”, “Naxalwad murdabad’ and “Na Maowad, Na Naxalwan, Sabse Upar Rashtrawad” — not allowing ambulances to reach the campus by puncturing tyres and smashing windows. They did so next to a police barricade and in front of a police detention van, with many of the men chanting slogans of ‘police zindabad’.
They also did nothing when scores of ABVP supporters, including a good number of middle-aged men, started harassing journalists, students and ordinary people waiting outside the main gate, hurling abuses and forcing them to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. They even assaulted India Today reporter Ashutosh Mishra as he was reporting live, calling him a “jihadist” and “Naxali”. Rohan Venkataramakrishnan of Scroll was surrounded by a mob as he tried to record a video on his phone, pushed around and hit on the head. He said several policemen were standing only a few metres away, but they didn’t intervene. Siddharth Ravi of the Hindu was gheraoed by masked men outside the campus. Ayush Tiwari of Newslaundry was told to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” by two men outside the gate. The very next moment, a policeman approached and told him, “Bhaag yahan se.” Go away.
All of this happened outside the gates. Accepting that the police did not enter to contain the violence within because they didn’t have written permission, what stopped them from intervening in such clear instances of violence outside the gate?
At every single point in the whole sorry mess, the actions of the police fail even the bare minimum scrutiny. And this is the police force we are expected to believe. While on that, Home Minister Amit Shah (who directly controls the Delhi police force) spoke at an official function yesterday, and this is what he had to say, just hours after the videos of the police brutality in JMI surfaced:
“Despite all the anger and provocation, Delhi Police should remain calm but it should also be ready to deal with the miscreants with firm hands to protect the people.”
Remember this example of the police being “provoked” but still remaining “calm” and protecting the people with “firm hands”?:
Meanwhile facts, like murder, will out. A few more videos have now come out.
While on unanswered questions, here is one more: How did these videos leak, and from where? JMI universities had earlier said the police had taken CCTV footage for their investigations (which, two months later, are still going on). Which means the police, and the HRD ministry that controls them, are the only ones with access. So who leaked? Why? (As I was writing that, I remembered a Sir Humphrey Appleby line from Yes Minister: “The ship of state is the only ship that leaks from the top”).
In context, remember also that on the exact same day, December 15, there was a similar police action in Aligarh Muslim University, resulting in widespread injuries.
All of the above are facts. Now for a segue into supposition/deduction: The protests in the wake of the passing of the CAA caught the home minister by surprise. And — since that is the only method he knows — he responded by unleashing his police force in an orgy of violence, hoping to terrify the protestors into submission. The protests escalated as a result — so he used a tame VC and the uniformed personnel as enablers, but this time relied on the private army that masquerades as the BJP’s student union to indulge in another orgy of violence. Because bullies will be bullies.
In other news, Donald Trump is coming to India. We are building a wall to ensure that no eyesores — you know, poor people living in slums — spoils the schmooze-fest of two of the world’s leading narcissists. It is estimated that Rs 100 crore or more of taxpayer money will be spent on “beautifying” Ahmedabad — in other words, in creating a Potemkin facade of prosperity — for a visit that will last for three hours. And 10,000 policemen will be on duty to ensure that, god forbid, no protestors sneak into the celebrations.
But that is okay, we are told, sometimes you have to spend money in the larger interest — which, in this case, is the Indo-US trade deal all the king’s horses and all the king’s men have been working on for more than two years now. In its desperation to get something out of the visit, India announced its readiness to permit the import of US chicken legs, turkey, blueberries, cherries and various dairy products.
All to no avail. USTR Robert Lighthizer was expected in India this week to sit with Indian officials and iron out the details of a trade deal. He has, however, informed the Indians that he is unable to travel — which basically means the deal is kaput, at least for now. And to make things worse, the US putting India in the list of developed nations means further economic strife. But never mind, we will have a grand event, with lots of pictures of Modi and Trump traveling on a road strewn with Rs 3.7 crore worth of flowers, and…
In other news, after Amit Shah announced the other day at the TimesNow summit that over the next three days he was ready to meet anyone who wanted to discuss CAA and related issues, the dadis of Shaheen Bagh took him at his word and announced they were marching to his residence to seek an audience with him. The march was blocked, and permission was denied. Bonus in this story of the incident is the lead image (which I am using as the cover image for the day) of the dadis blessing the police officer with whom they were trying to negotiate permission. In passing, the Supreme Court begins hearing the government response in the hearings into the Shaheen Bagh protests.
We will shortly get a Ramayana-themed train, yay, with bhajans and everything. We spent Rs 644 crore in four years to promote Sanskrit, also yay, though the story doesn’t say what this promotion consists of, and what the outcomes were. The Modi government wants scientists to research the possibility of creating shampoos, oils and cancer-curing drugs from cow dung, very much yay. Modi himself spent Sunday unveiling another statue, this time in his home constituency.
And since we could use all the distractions we can get to deflect from anything resembling actual news, the always reliable Subramanian Swamy has asked that investigations be reopened into the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi because apparently, it cannot be “fully established” that Godse was the killer, and there is something about an “Italian revolver”, and… oh well.
In good news — or at least, in terms of clutching at straws — Supreme Court Justice JY Chandrachud spoke out against the criminalisation of dissent (The full speech is here, and it is worth reading):
“The blanket labelling of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracy,” he said.
While on justice, earlier today the Supreme Court told the government that it has to give permanent commissions, and command posts if eligible, to women who opt for it. The ruling has retrospective effect.
“The Centre’s submissions that women are physiologically weak are based on a deeply entrenched stereotype that men are dominant and women are basically caretakers. Taking care of family is a woman’s job. This is deeply disturbing,” said the SC.
And because we could all use a laugh just every once in a while:
Update, 7.30 PM: The JMI video leaks are beginning to give the sense that someone’s bright idea boomeranged. If the original idea was to give the cops an out, to excuse their behaviour, the exact opposite is now happening as streams of new videos are being outed and more lies thereby getting exposed. Here is the latest in the series:
Remember that the cops justified breaking the law and entering the campus without permission by saying they were in “hot pursuit” of rioters.
Asked why police had earlier denied entering the library, (Special SP (Crime) Praveer) Ranjan said Delhi Police stood by their position that they “entered the campus in hot pursuit after rioters started going inside the campus and began pelting stones at police”. He said that “there is a video of the Joint CP requesting them to talk”.
So much for that. And my understanding is that this is going to get much worse. Which leads to a thought: When people protest against a government, one of the major tipping points happens when people within the establishment begin siding with the protestors, either overtly or covertly (at some point, I hope to do a longish essay on how various protests in the age of social media and citizen journalism played out). This is now beginning to feel like one of those moments: the leaks are coming from inside the system, not from the protestors.
December 15, 2019: Police — many of them masked — entered the Old Reading Hall on the first floor of Jamia Milia Islamia university, and this happened.
Ostensibly, the police action was in retaliation for violence by students in course of which buses were burnt. But:
The extended thread, with four videos, is here. The police repeatedly denied that this happened. One student, Minajuddin, lost his eye in this attack — this is his testimony. And the library, after the police action, was in this state:
The media, while reporting on the incident, spoke of “clashes” between police and students. How is it a “clash” when one side is masked and armed, and the other side is armed only with books? Always worth paying attention, when reading news stories, to exculpating language.
Passing mention: The Delhi police, which on that day entered the campus without permission, report directly to Home Minister Amit Shah.
In a previous post I wrote of Hitler, of fascism, of the means to the murderous end that was euphemized as “the final solution”. I expected there would be pushback, and I got what I expected. The politest feedback – I had to sift through a lot to find It – suggested that I was using words I had read somewhere without any understanding of their true meaning; that I was egregiously misapplying those pejorative terms to the India of today; that my “screed” was driven by blind hatred of Modi.
The thing is, I am by no stretch the first to use those words for the RSS/BJP machinery – others, with far better knowledge and qualifications, have used these words before. And these terms were used well before Modi even became Chief Minister of Gujarat, let alone Prime Minister of the country.
One such leading light – a Harvard scholar, an educator, a politician, a former Union Law Minister no less, named Subramanian Swamy – wrote this way back in 2000 to warn us of what was coming, and he was prescient. He was also meticulous in outlining the various steps in the RSS process:
(1) Discredit your opponents and protect your friends: (2) “Shake public confidence in every institution that can circumscribe or act as a speed-breaker for the RSS juggernaut; (3) Script new history; ready the blueprint for the coming agenda; (4) Bridle the electoral system.
The RSS game-plan is ready, Swamy wrote then, only the date for the final blitzkrieg remains to be picked.
Think back to those four steps Swamy outlined. I could have linked a few dozen current examples to illustrate each of them, but I’m going to leave it up to you: As you think back over the past six months, as you read the headlines today, how many of those boxes do you think you can tick?
“Of course,” concluded Swamy, “the good news is that the game plan can fail. I live on the hope that in India, no well-laid plan ever works. India, after all, is a functioning anarchy. That has been the undoing of every attempt to straitjacket its society. That is why we are still the longest continuing unbroken civilization of over 10,000 years. The RSS is, luckily, our counter-culture. The vibrations of Mother India will, I hope, be its undoing.”
I share in that pious hope. I cling to it when, after a day spent shuddering at the incessant stream of bad news, I go to bed at night and try to get some sleep. But then I wake up next morning, and this is the world I wake up to:
In Bidar, northern Karnataka, a 11-year-old breaks down in tears over the plight of her mother, who is in police custody, along with the principal of her school, Shaheen Primary and High School, on charges of sedition. For the crime of staging a play that sought to educate the students on the inequities of the CAA. A court decided to defer hearing their bail application by a week.
Meanwhile, also in Karnataka, a court ordered the police to serve notice on Nityananda, who on securing bail in a case of rape had fled the country. The police told the court that Nityananda is on a “spiritual tour”, and hence there was no need to serve notice on him.
In Allahabad, a court has granted bail to rape accused BJP leader Chinmayanand; the court order is, put mildly, problematic. Remember that bit about protecting your friends and discrediting your opponents? While on that, the Income Tax department withdrew tax evasion cases against Tamil superstar Rajnikanth – who, yesterday, came out with a statement supporting the CAA.
But to revert to Bidar, yesterday was the 5th successive day police entered the school and subjected the students – of classes 4, 5 and 6 — to intense interrogation over the play. The police action is based on a complaint lodged by one Nilesh Rakshala, an “activist” of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS.
The “activist” alleged that there was a line in the play about whacking the Prime Minister with a chappal. The police, which has copies of the play, and video, have found no such line. But a mother and a school principal are in custody, the police enter the school every day for extensive interrogations, a chappal is among the “evidence” they have collected, and a 11-year-old wends her way to a neighbor’s home, weeping quietly over the fate of her mother.
In Bangalore, Karnataka’s capital city, BJP workers attempted to put up a pro-CAA banner outside a school, and hassled students who tried to stop them. A BJP MLA led a mob into another school objecting to anti-Modi graffiti on a wall. Also in Bangalore, where a junior BBMP official acting on an unverified complaint by a BJP leader had demolished 200-plus homes and rendered 5000 or more homeless, another shantytown is now being threatened with demolition because, “Bangladeshis”. “Do you decide nationality by looking at a person’s face?”, the court asked the police while hearing petitions relating to that earlier demolition — well, apparently they do, and will continue to do so.
Meanwhile in Punjab, school children were made to sign a pro-CAA banner. A similar attempt to force students to write postcards congratulating the PM was made in Gujarat – it failed only because outraged parents protested. In Ahmedabad, BJP workers are going around collecting postcards in praise of the PM. Praise, even by force, is good; a poster calling for national unity, though, not so much:
In Delhi, where the campaign is into its final day, the Election Commission has found DCP Rajesh Deo in gross violation of rules by attempting to “adversely affecting the elections” through his press conference where he alleged that Kapil Gujjar, the gunman who fired at Shaheen Bagh the other day, was a member of the Aam Aadmi Party. The allegation is, according to the man’s own father, untrue:
No surprise here, either in the false allegation or in the EC taking note of it (In my post yesterday, I’d made this exact same point); what is surprising though is the punishment handed out, which amounts to a day’s paid leave.
Also in Delhi, also during the campaign, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra put out a tweet suggesting that an AAP leader had called for the establishment of the Shariya nationwide. It is, of course, a lie – the word used was “zariya”, not “shariya”. It is also, of course, extremely inflammatory. And it will, of course, go unpunished. (That Patra lied is not surprising – this is your periodic reminder that it was Patra, aided by Arnab Goswami, who first aired the faked “tukde tukde” video.)
In Bihar, where student leader turned politician Kanhaiyya Kumar has been leading a ‘Jan Gan Man’ rally across the state, his car was attacked and damaged; the driver and Kumar have reportedly been injured, the former badly.
Kumar launched his month-long rally on January 30 at Champaran; it moved to Gopalganj and Siwan on day two; to Chapra and Muzzafarpur on day 3; to Sitamandi on day four; to Madhubani on day 5; and to Dharbanga yesterday, day six. The crowds have been phenomenal, and they have been growing; the pressure is correspondingly greater on the BJP which shares the government in Bihar.
In the dead of night in Azamgarh, UP, police threw stones, fired teargas shells, and flooded a site where women have been holding a Shaheen Bagh-style sit-in protest. Several women are reportedly injured, some seriously.
Also in UP, police uprooted a wedding pandal because they thought it was erected for an anti-CAA protest. Elsewhere, India Today pointed to a series of discrepancies in data in the Budget presented by Nirmala Sitharaman (who apparently had time to decipher the Harappan script but not to run the numbers); the ministry without acknowledging the error quietly corrects it. In Goa, an NCP MLA demanded on the floor of the assembly that tigers who eat cows should be punished, just like humans. Air India cancelled the ticket of a man who was flying to the US because his name happened to be Kunal Kamra. Not THE Kunal Kamra, just A Kunal Kamra. Do you laugh? Do you weep? Do you “laugh, that you may not weep”? Do you, even as you weep, cling on to the few remaining shards of hope, if you can find them?
I wrote about that hope in a recent piece for The Wire. As the headlines pile one on the other in an endless cascade of misery, the combined weight pushing me into a dark, dank, dismal place, I think of Vaclav Havel’s question:
“Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope…”
I hope the “vibrations of Mother India” – vibrations you can feel as you approach any protest site, anywhere in the country, and there are plenty for you to choose from – will save us. But I also hope she’d buck up about it, because time is running out. And time is running out not because Modi and Shah are rushing to implement the CAA/NPR-NRC, but because the RSS has been prepping the soil for a very long time now, and they are nearly done.
It is not what you see – the shakas, the drills, the flag marches, the occasional shows of strength. It is what you don’t see: that for decades now, the RSS has been quietly insinuating itself into the institutions that prop up India’s democracy.
It has pushed its brightest minds into academics, had them write the prescribed exams and enter the civil services – the IFS, the IAS, the IPS; it has pushed some of its best and brightest into the armed forces and into the media. And over the years, over the decades, these seeds planted have taken root, and grown; these recruits have steadily climbed the promotion ladders and are now increasingly in places of influence.
Swamy’s piece dates back to 2000; the process was in place well before that. With apologies for the length, here is an extended quote from an interview I did with NCP chief Sharad Pawar back in 1998:
Talking of mistakes, a very senior BJP leader said that the Congress made a big one when it didn’t allow the Vajpayee government to survive the vote of confidence… Why?
The argument I heard was that if the Congress had abstained, the Vajpayee government would have survived the vote of confidence. But being in a minority, it would not have been able to achieve anything at all, and in time it would have fallen. And with its fall, the stability plank would have been lost to the party for ever…. The BJP should never be allowed to rule, it is too dangerous. For instance, Advani was a minister during the Janata government — and in his short tenure, he managed to fill his ministry with RSS people, and that gave us a headache when we came back to power.
The BJP and the RSS practise the politics of infiltration. I’ll give you an example. Before the fall of the Babri Masjid, Bhairon Singh Shekawat and I were negotiating with the Babri Masjid Action Committee and the Ram Janambhoomi people, for three days we had intense negotiations. We reached a stage where, in one more day or maybe two, we could have come to an agreement. But at that time, the senior RSS person involved in the discussions said he had to leave for three days.
I asked him why, I argued with him, told him nothing could be more important, but he was adamant. So finally I asked him where he was going, and he said Hyderabad, to attend the seminar of the Indian History Congress. I was quite shocked that he thought a seminar was more important that this.
That is when he explained. The IHC controls the way Indian history is written and studied, it approves syllabus and textbooks, it has total control. And the key weapon of the RSS is education, its goal is to rewrite Indian history to suit its agenda. In fact, the RSS is already doing it — the portrayal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as anti-Muslim is only one example, they talk of how Afzal Khan tried to trick him and how Shivaji killed Afzal Khan, that is the story the kids read about, but conveniently, no one menions that Shivaji’s chief army commander was a Muslim, that he personally constructed three mosques for Muslims… one of my candidates in the state is a direct descendant of Shivaji Maharaj, and his family still pays money for the upkeep of these mosques, but this is never mentioned. Shivaji maintained that all communities and religions should live in harmony, but look how that is being distorted today!
Sorry, but how does all this tie up with the IHC?
To be a member, you have to do post graduation, and masters, in Indian history. So over the years, the RSS has been systematically selecting students, instructing them to study history, and getting them into the IHC, at last count the RSS-oriented students are 46 per cent of the society. Another five per cent, and the RSS will control it, and then it will write Indian history to suit its own ends. That body is like that, it plans ahead, and works systematically to achieve its goals. In fact, I must say that though the RSS and the BJP are my political enemies, I admire this quality in them, they plan for the future and they work steadily towards a goal.
Think of all that as you go through the stories linked above; think of it when you next read of an inexplicably wrong court judgment or hear of an unjustifiable police action. It is not that they are following the orders from Modi and Shah – their mission predates those two, and will continue after those two.
I’m not sure what the solution is, or even if there is a solution at all. Maybe these nationwide protests are the first faint signs of those vibrations Swamy talked about. You can only hope — so I’ll leave you with an image gallery of what hope looks like:
The Auschwitz Memorial twitter handle last evening posted two images, taken less than 12 years apart:
One of the posts on that stream deserves particular mention. Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski advises her daughter and granddaughter: “DO NOT BE INDIFFERENT”. Words that resonate — or should — with every one of us today.
As it happens, I am reading a book called Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, by Stephen Greenblatt. And what he says in the preface to set up his book is worth noting (emphasis mine):
“A king rules over willing subjects,” wrote the influential sixteenth century Scottish scholar George Buchanan, “a tyrant over the unwilling.” The institutions of a free society are designed to ward off those who would govern, as Buchanan put it, “not for their country but for themselves, who take account not of the public interest but of their own pleasure.” Under what circumstances, Shakespeare asked himself, do such cherished institutions, seemingly deep-rooted and impregnable, suddenly prove fragile? Why do large numbers of people knowingly accept being lied to? …
Such a disaster, Shakespeare suggested, could not happen without widespread complicity. His plays probe the psychological mechanisms that lead a nation to abandon its ideals and even its self-interest. Why would anyone, he asked himself, be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth? Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers?
How much of what Greenblatt writes about do we recognise in ourselves, our leaders, and our country, today?
Interestingly, the official handle of the Shaheen Bagh protestors (which is worth following — there are some smart minds at work) was quick off the mark to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz, and use it to reiterate the vow that gross inhumanity will not be allowed to recur, thus linking the excesses of Nazi Germany to the current repressive policies of the Modi regime in India.
All of this is beginning to get under the collective skin of the ruling party. Home Minister Amit Shah addressed an election rally in the Babarpur area of Delhi yesterday and inter alia, said: “Your vote to the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate will make Delhi and the country safe and prevent thousands of incidents like Shaheen Bagh.”
Think about it — the home minister is publicly, falsely, implying that Shaheen Bagh — an “incident” — is somehow making the country unsafe. (It was in course of this speech that a young man, who had the courage to shout an anti-CAA slogan at an Amit Shah rally, was hit with chairs while the HM waved his hands around feebly, then continued with his speech).
Amit Shah is wrong, of course. On two counts. Firstly, as anyone who has spent even a few minutes at Shaheen Bagh will tell you, that protest is the most remarkable sign of a people’s awakening even in these fraught times, when every day brings a dozen stories about abuse of power and twice as many stories about resistance. And secondly, because repressing Shaheen Bagh will not “prevent” more such “incidents” — the protest has already inspired a legion of similar protests around the country, as this incredible thread collating sit-ins countrywide should indicate.
Shah should study this thread; it will tell him, if he doesn’t know it already, that the day he uses force against Shaheen Bagh — and that day is coming, sadly — he will unleash forces that will destroy him. In which connection, Shah might also benefit from reading this piece by Ashutosh Varshney, which lays out the current dilemma for the government: damned if you attack, doomed if you don’t.
Despite logic and common-sense dictating otherwise, why do I believe that Shaheen Bagh will see violent reprisals sooner than later? Because the growing drumbeat of propaganda against the protestors there indicates official orchestration and planning. Check out the language — of an elected member of the Lok Sabha, no less. Check out the vicious gaslighting, the open call for mass murder.
Why is this man — this genocidal maniac, son of BJP politician, former Chief Minister of Delhi and former Labour Minister of India the late Sahib Singh Verma — not facing immediate arrest, and action under the most stringent provisions of the law?
Now consider the latest example: the other day, alleged journalist Deepak Chaurasia, who on his TV program has systematically demonised the protestors, went with his entourage to the site, and was driven back. There was some jostling, shoving, pushing — which was promptly amplified into a “lynching”.
Shaheen Bagh on its official handle almost immediately put out a statement condemning the incident, but that was ignored by the media, which went into paroxysms of self-pity about journalists not being allowed to function. Arnab Goswami in his official capacity as president of the National Broadcasting Federation (the fact that he was elected to this post by his peers in the television media is in itself a comment on the state of the media) issued a lengthy condemnation.
Then, yesterday, Sudhir Chaudhary the editor in chief of Zee News landed up, escorted by a strong contingent of police (Why police? And what business does the police have, provided an escort to a journalist ostensibly going someplace to report? Who gave them the orders?). And with him was Deepak Chaurasia.
This time, Shaheen Bagh protestors changed tactics — they chanted, shouted slogans, refused to talk to the two “journalists”. And Chaudhary spun it as an indication of how riotous the Shaheen Bagh protestors are. They pushed women to the front and the men hid behind, he said — echoing, precisely, the words of Ajay Singh Bisht the other day. See how the propaganda machine works, smoothly and in tandem?
Chaudhary, it might be worth pointing out, is one of two senior “journalists” arrested by the Delhi crime branch on the charge of blackmailing industrialist and MP Naveen Jindal. Following the BJP’s rise to power, the charges have been allowed to lapse through lack of follow-up; meanwhile, the government provided him X Category protection.
PostScript to the above, added at 5.45 PM: This happened. Two men brandishing pistols intruded in Shaheen Bagh and threatened that lashein girenge. There you have it, the direct consequence of Shah talking of “shocks” while demonising Shaheen Bagh, Thakur (see below) leading hate-filled chants, the BJP hate machine including journalists getting into overdrive. Indian Express has a story.
Elsewhere, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur attended an election rally yesterday afternoon. With the critical 2020-’21 budget due for presentation in just five days. This happened:
That is a Union minister, calling for mass murder. And not just indiscriminate, either — in his speech leading up to this volley of sloganeering, he explicitly mentioned Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal as the gadaars. A Union minister. Naming “traitors”. And leading a chant that traitors should be shot dead.
In tandem with the above, read about Nalini Balakumar, who was arrested for the ‘crime’ of holding up a ‘Free Kashmir’ banner and who has just received bail. She was booked under Section 124 A (Sedition) and Section 34 (common intent) of the Indian Penal Code. This, remember, is the incident that prompted the Mysore Bar Association to declare that none of its members would defend her case — an egregious instance of lawyers sworn to defend the law violating its most basic principle, that every person is entitled to a defence. Here is the bit, though, that should really give you pause:
The government counsel noted that by opposing the CAA, Nalini held an anti-government view.
That is the India of today — it is ‘seditious’ to hold an ‘anti-government view’. Presumably it is neither seditious, nor criminal, for a federal minister to call for mass murder, as Thakur did the very same day.
India Today “debated” this. Amit Malaviya, speaking in defence of Thakur, said it was the crowd that had chanted the goli maro line — a defence as risible as it is reprehensible.
But you expect that from Malaviya and his ilk, who are officially appointed and paid to defend the actions of the party. What is indefensible is that Rajdeep Sardesai, one of the seniormost journalists in the country, and a celebrated icon of the profession, sat in the host’s chair and listened po-faced to Malaviya’s ridiculous defence, without a single attempt at push-back. Martin Luther King said it best:
“When all this is over, what we will remember is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The sheer insanity of this incident — Thakur leading a chant that calls for murder, the police doing nothing about it, the media enabling it — is best underlined by activist Saket Gokhale (who has been brilliant during these dark days, and is someone you should follow), who did this (He explains his line of reasoning in this thread):
Speaking of whether it is ok to chant that slogan, it might be worth mentioning that the man “credited” with coining it has been given a BJP ticket to contest the Delhi elections.
More from the chamber of horrors that this country is turning into. Remember, when you see such instances, that it is hate-sodden rants of the BJP leaders, the ministers, the TV anchors and Amit Shah’s “internet yodhao” that both permit and enable such vile behaviour. Remember that every single one of them has blood on his hands.
They said that the JNU servers had been vandalised. They filed FIRs against JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh and 17 others for this act. They said that because of the vandalism, CCTV footage of the masked thugs, armed with iron rods, hammers and bottles of acid, who entered the campus and for three hours unleashed hell, was not available.
Wait, unpack that. The charge of vandalism was used by mass media — particularly the two leading English news channels, and the leading Hindi channels — to suggest that the horrific attacks of January 5 was retaliation, and therefore somehow justifiable. The vandalism itself was used to justify the inability of the police to track down the culprits — never mind that social media did a great job of tracking several of the ring leaders down within 48 hours; never mind that a senior ABVP leader said on TV that they had taken bottles of acid with them for “self defence”.
The story has since unravelled. An RTI inquiry revealed that there was no vandalism. And now, another RTI inquiry indicates that there is in fact CCTV footage — which won’t be released because it has been “withheld by law enforcement agencies”.
Which is to say, the police filed false charges; the police know the identity of the attackers; the police were culpable in allowing the attacks to go on unhindered; the police have all the evidence they need — and, as of today, 23 days after the attack, there has not been a single arrest.
However, Bhim Army chief Chandra Sekhar Azad was arrested in Hyderabad two days ago — for the crime of arriving in the city to attend a rally that had already been announced, and had all the requisite permissions. Now this: A group of Hyderabad University students were detained for about eight hours while police “investigated” whether they had any “connection” to Azad.
For a moment, assume they had. So? What is the crime? Under what statute of the IPC is it prohibited for me, or you, or those students, to know Azad?
Alongside this, read this deeply reported piece by Anoo Bhuyan detailing how the government and the police actively prevent hospitals from treating those wounded in police actions against protestors. The police actions are illegal in themselves; the state machinery then compounds it by blocking treatment to the victims — just another artefact of this sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas regime this country voted for.
The thuggery of the police is exceeded only by the thuggery of the ruling party — and, not for the first time, the police comes off worse for wear when uniformed thuggery collides with political thuggery. Here is the latest instance:
Beaten up by lawyers owing allegiance to the BJP, and not a yip. Beaten by random MLAs in Bihar, in Gujarat, in Uttar Pradesh, and not a yip. Given half a chance, though, only too happy to beat up women, children, students. This is the state of the law and order machinery under this regime. And then there is this:
And this latest example comes from a state where, according to India Today — remember, a channel whose star anchors are Rahul Kanwal and Rajdeep Sardesai — a poll has shown that Ajay Singh Bisht is, for the second year in succession, the best performing chief minister in the country.
“When you were merely asked to bend, you crawled,” said LK Advani in the immediate aftermath of the Emergency. He hadn’t seen nothing yet, then — this is what conscienceless crawling looks like. And this is how hate is enabled, normalised, in this country.
BJP IT cell head Amit Malaviya posted a video clip suggesting that journalist Arfa Khanum had called for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. It was picked up by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra and by the serried ranks of blue-tick propagandists owing allegiance to the party (the list is contained in the story linked to). It was a classic case of suggestio falsi, a clip mischievously edited to suggest that Khanum said something she did not.
A viral video clip purportedly shows a woman protestor in Lucknow — a Muslim — complaining that the Rs 500 per day the Congress pays those who attend protests is pitifully little. It is, in case it needs mentioning, misleading.
Then there is the other kind of propaganda — suppressio veri. Back in December there was a news story about the felling of over 40,000 trees in the Talabira forest in Odisha to facilitate the expansion of an Adani mine. Shortly thereafter, Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar released the latest edition of the India State of Forest Report, and said forest cover in the country had increased by 30%.
Aap chronology samjhiye — the good news comes as narrative-reshaping palliative shortly after the bad news hit the headlines. And now it turns out, according to a researched story in Scroll, that 29.5% of land claimed as forest does not in fact have any trees. See how this government works?
It is regular, predictable. It lies — even in Parliament, which is an offence in itself. It obfuscates. It fudges data. As for instance Minister for Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel did in Parliament when he claimed that the abrogation of Article 370 and the clampdown on Kashmir did not have a quantifiable impact on tourism in the Valley (a laughable claim even on the face of it — I mean, how on earth do you with a straight face say that blocking public movement does not affect tourism?)
An RTI inquiry now reveals not only that the minister was lying, but that the impact of the hit is much greater than even the pessimists had imagined. The ministry’s own figures show a 71% decline in tourism revenues. For the BJP via its official handle in Tamil Nadu, Kashmir’s plight — with its livelihood ruined, its politicians jailed, its voices silenced — which should be a matter of national concern, is a joke.
But why is any of this a surprise? In 2018, the Supreme Court castigated the real estate firm Goel Ganga for blatant violation of environmental laws and for wreaking massive environmental damage, and fined it Rs 105 crore. Almost immediately, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari — who, they say, is one of the better, more efficient ministers in a Cabinet clearly starved of talent — did this (Emphasis mine; read this slowly, the sheer scale of the effrontery, the casual disregard for even the highest court in the land, takes some getting used to):
Eight days later, Nitin Gadkari, the union minister for road transport and highways, wrote to the then environment minister, Dr. Harshvardhan, asking him to consider Goel Ganga Group’s request to effectively undo part of the Supreme Court’s judgment by reinstating an office memorandum issued by the environment ministry on 7 July 2017.
The Supreme Court had struck down that particular Office Memorandum terming it “totally illegal”. Government departments use office memoranda, or OMs, to clarify specific laws or policies.
That, in one sordid example, is the government we have, the one we re-elected recently with an even greater majority. A government where one minister tells another to reinstate an order that the Supreme Court, no less, had declared “totally illegal”.
Anti-corruption — the biggest electoral plank of the BJP — has been repeatedly shown to be a sham. Here is yet another example: the opaque electoral bonds scheme cooked up by the late Arun Jaitley. This is the scheme activists have been opposing in court ever since it was first introduced; the scheme Modi’s own law ministry said was illegal but he decided to go ahead with it anyway; the scheme the Supreme Court has enabled through the ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ route; the scheme the BJP has been by far the principal beneficiary of since the beginning. Here is the brilliant Nitin Sethi, cutting through the opacity, showing us the light — take the time out to watch, to listen. Because “You cannot be indifferent”:
That is enough corruption for the day. How about competence? The MGNREGA, a scheme to provide at least partial employment to the poorest and the most disadvantaged, is facing a severe funds crunch. Funds have run out, fifteen states “are already in the red” — that, at least, is the language of this report; what it actually means is that in fifteen states, the poorest of the poor have not been paid for work they have done. (Note: jargon obfuscates meaning.)
Elsewhere, only three in ten farmers have received actual benefits from the Pradhan Mantri Kisan scheme the government spent tons of money publicising, per another RTI request.
Last September, there was uproar when the news broke that the government had not been able to pay the CRPF its ration allowance. It is now the turn of the Border Security Force to announce that the cash crunch is so severe it is unable to pay salaries for January and February.
Or how about this? The Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar, no less, claimed in December that the uproar over pollution was unnecessary; that “no Indian studies” had shown any causal link between pollution and people’s health. He was wrong — actually, he was lying — then. Here is more news: An IndiaSpend deep dive not only causes premature death, but also infertility, birth complications, defects in newborn children, and still births. Read that, keeping in mind that 15 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India.
In this parade of grim news, I actively went searching for rays of light. And I found one such in this thread by Surekha Pillai, where she chronicles instances of regular, ordinary folk doing extraordinary things to help heal our wounds. Check out those individual stories, those people Surekha chronicles — when the history of this period is written, it is the names of such that will be starred.
“Nearly one thousand people (Muslims protesting the CAA) who had turned up for the protest transformed into volunteers to clear traffic and crowds so that the procession could move through Thrissur town without any hurdles.”
Read the story; it is just one of thousands of reasons why I am proud of my home state, which resolutely refuses to be tainted by communal poison despite the desperate efforts of the saffron brigade.
I began this post with a mention of Auschwitz and, by extent, of fascism. These days, that word is thrown around a lot, as are comparisons between the BJP and the Nazi regime of Hitler. How valid is the comparison? How much of it follows from what is happening around us, and how much of it is knee-jerk, alarmist, exaggeration?
To even begin to think of such questions, it is necessary first to wrap our heads around what fascism means, and how it differs from your common, garden variety bigotry. Given the cataclysmic nature of the Holocaust, there are literally thousands of books that examine fascism, in theory and practise; there is so much literature on the subject you could spend a lifetime reading, and still merely scratch the surface.
Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale, and the author of several books, at least three of which are must-reads for our times: How Language Works, How Propaganda Works, and How Fascism Works. What follows is an abridged, edited (in the sense that I skip paragraphs now and again, so do note that the paras are not contiguous) extract from his foundational text on fascism (Emphasis is Stanley’s):
I have chosen the label “fascism” for ultranationalism of some variety (ethnic, religious, cultural), with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf.
Fascist politics includes many distinct strategies: the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity.
The dangers of fascist politics come from the particular way in which it dehumanizes segments of the population. By excluding these groups, it limits the capacity for empathy among other citizens, leading to the justification of inhumane treatment, from repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and expulsion to, in extreme cases, mass extermination.
Fascist politics can dehumanize minority groups even when an explicitly fascist state does not arise. By some measures, Myanmar is transitioning to democracy. But five years of brutal rhetoric directed against the Rohingaya Muslim population has nevertheless resulted in one of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing since the Second World War.
The most telling symptom of fascist politics is division. It aims to separate a population into an “us” and a “them”…. appealing to ethnic, religious or racial distinctions…
Fascist politicians justify their ideas by breaking down a common sense of history by creating a mythic past to support their vision for the present. They rewrite the population’s shared understanding of reality by twisting the language of ideals through propaganda and promoting anti-intellectualism, attacking universities and educational systems that might challenge their ideas. Eventually, with these techniques, fascist politics creates a state of unreality, in which conspiracy theories and fake news replace reasoned debate.
Any progress for a minority group stokes feelings of victimhood among the dominant population. Law and order politics has mass appeal, casting “us” as lawful citizens and “them”, by contrast, as lawless criminals whose behavior poses an existential threat to the manhood of the nation. Sexual anxiety is also typical of fascist politics as the patriarchal hierarchy is threatened by growing gender equity.
As the fear of “them” grows, “we” come to represent everything virtuous. … “We” are hardworking and have earned our pride of place by struggle and merit. “They” are lazy, surviving off the goods we produce by exploiting the generosity of our welfare systems, or employing corrupt institutions, such as labor unions, meant to separate honest, hardworking citizens from their pay. “We” are makers; “they” are takers.
Done? Ok — as you read that abridged list of the symptoms of fascism, how many times did you find yourself nodding and thinking, yeah, I recognise this? How many times, as you read, did you find yourself thinking of some contemporary headline (as, to cite just one example, the bit about the attack on universities, or to cite another, sexual anxiety as exemplified by the growing pushbacks against women-led protests in the country today?)
How many times in your reading did you find yourself thinking, yeah, this is us?
If the answer is “a lot” or “all the time”, congratulations — 75 years after the horrors of Auschwitz, we have jumped out of the pages of the horrific past and, having failed to learn from our shared history, have begun to repeat it.
Here is a handy checklist of symptoms:
Remember the quote from the beginning?:
DO NOT BE INDIFFERENT
PS: I will not be updating this tomorrow due to some personal work that takes me away from the desk. Be well, see you Thursday.