Monday, February 9, 2009

Intolerant India vs. Incredible India: Homegrown Civilian Terror & the Threat to Ethical Democracy

Is the current BJP-led Karnataka Govt. leading the great state of Karnataka down the treacherous path of violent cultural fundamentalism? Is the BJP at least complicit with the forces of civilian vigilantism as it flexes its communal muscle in governing the state?

Why pretend that communal vigilantism and terrorizing of civilians (by the Sri Ram Sene and others inspired by their hatred-driven example), is a foreign invention? Did we in India really need the Taliban to inspire us or is the work of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its extremist political party spinoffs like the Bajrang Dal, now bearing toxic fruit? Are we forgetting that Godse, a member of the RSS assassinated Gandhi? Was that a homegrown heinous crime or was it somehow foreign and alien to us? Did homegrown violent, criminal cultural fundamentalism result in the Gujarat pogroms?

Why pretend that civilian terror, terror against innocent individuals, unleashed in the Mangalore pub molestation and the assault on two persons because they were conversing with one another, one Hindu one Muslim, on a Kasaragod bus, is a Taliban style operation? No it's not. It's totally Indian, homegrown, civilian, communal terror and our own civil society must vigorously oppose it. The people who were the victims have to stand up in public, speak in their own voices and fight back. NGOs involved in social justice initiatives must help them. Ordinary citizens of the families and communities have to speak up. The people of Mangalore and Kasaragod have to speak up for social justice, not sweep social injustice under the rug. The students of St. Aloysius College spoke up against the ordeal suffered by their friend and fellow student on that Karasagod, Kerala bus. Good for them. They showed their courage when others were silent.

In speaking up and speaking out for a free and democratic civil society,in which we have responsibilies and rights, we have to be careful to develop our own language of anti-oppressive resistance. Therefore I would not use words like Talibanization, Islamist Jihadism, Hindutva or Saffronization. Such language evokes the symbols of oppressive civilian and partisan politics, whether in Kasaragod or Kashmir, and empowers the oppressors to defend and implement their oppressive strategies, whether in Mumbai or Mangalore.

Instead of borrowing the language of our homegrown oppressors we need to speak up, speak out and act against hate and terror crimes, anti-civilian violence, violation of civil rights, all of which are punishable under Indian law.

There are several conflicting media reports about both the Mangalore pub molestation of women as well as the Kasaragod bus detention and assault. However, regardless of the details which are yet to be clarified by the victims, police and political authorities, there is no doubt that innocent civilians were physically abused, abducted, illegally detained by anti-social, anti-secular elements. The victims' civil liberties were violated and they have a right to legal redress, which can and should include jail time for the perpetrators and cash compensation payable to the victims. Hit the hate-and- divide oppressors in the wallet, where it really hurts.

These instances of Indian homegrown civilian terror and the destructive antidemocratic, anti-secular strategy of cultural supremacist fundamentalism has its roots, not in Afghanistan, but right here at home in the divisive anti-democracy and anti human rights tactics of the RSS, BJP, VHP, BD and others playing the hate-and divide game. Religion and so-called "cultural values" are deployed as WEAPONS to terrorize civilians, ordinary folks like you and me.

Terror against civilians has its supremacist roots in patriachalism, casteism, communalism, vigilantism and it is a direct assault on the fragile construction of ethical democracy first articulated in the Gandhian liberatory era that produced the unprecedented postcolonial democracy of the sovereign Indian nation-state. With all our cultural and societal flaws, through oppression, invasion, occupation and exploitation, our diverse peoples in India have somehow hewed to the ideal of Satyameva Jayate. The Indian sovereign nation-state's central ideal of Satyameva Jayate must confront and expose the falsehood of cultural fundamentalism.

How do we in India construct the Self in Society? What is the psychosocial? That is a project for the pursuit of ethical democracy in India.

Chithra KarunaKaran
Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice