Wednesday, October 04, 2017

శ్రీ కౌముది అక్టోబరు 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

The land of soma

Botanical clues show the shared heritage of the Rig Veda and the Avesta.

Written by Rajesh Kochhar | Published:September 22, 2017 12:20 am


Soma is a celebrated plant in the RV as well as the AV where it is called haoma, later shortened to Hom in Pahalvi. (Representative image)

Theories about the homeland of the Aryans have been in news of late because of genetic studies. The theory that ascribes an indigenous origin to the Aryans can be shown to be untenable on very simple considerations based on a comparative study of the Rig Veda (RV) and the related Zoroastrian sacred text Avesta (AV). The Rig Vedic and Avestan languages are essentially the same, with very minor differences in grammar. They share a common vocabulary in the fields of mythology, ritual, culture, and religious practices. There are some phonetic differences but the changes take place according to well-defined rules (Sanskrit s into h, h into z). Ahura in AV (as in Ahura Mazda) is cognate with asura in RV with the same meaning, lord (asura as a demon is a later development.) Yama son of Vivasvan is known to AV. Nabhanedishta is a son of Manu in RV; it becomes a common noun in AV meaning “nearest in relation”.

The Avesta proper consists of three parts: Yasna, Visperad, and Vendidad. Yasna in turn includes 17 hymns, called Gathas, which are attributed to Zarathushtra himself and thus constitute the oldest parts of AV. He describes himself as a zaotar (hotr), while later texts call him athaurvan (atharvan).

Zarathushtra introduces some points of departure from the Rig Veda but does not repudiate the joint Indo-Iranian legacy. Deva and Indra become demons in AV, but Vrtrahana (slayer of Vrtra) who is identified with Indra in RV retains his position in AV as a god in his own right The Rig Vedic and the Avestan people both called themselves Arya, meaning noble. RV and AV are Aryan documents, and therefore need to be read together.

There are no dependable chronological clues in either the RV or the AV. But the common botanical information in them can be used to disceren geography. Soma, for example, is a celebrated plant in the RV as well as the AV where it is called haoma, later shortened to Hom in Pahalvi. A drink of the same name was squeezed from the plant for offering to the gods and for drinking. RV devotes a full mandala to soma, and the longest hymn in RV is addressed to it. There is a striking similarity between the Vedic agnishtoma and the Zoroastrian haoma ceremony, both of which must therefore have originated in the common Indo-Iranian period. From the textual references we learn that soma/haoma was a scented leafless plant with long-jointed finger-like juicy stalks. Though the ritual was elaborate, the process itself was very simple. The stalks and shoots of the plant were crushed either between two stones or in mortar and pestle. The juice was collected, purified and drunk unfermented.

Yasna (10.10) mentions Haraiti Bareza as the soma habitat. Haraiti is identified with Mount Elburz, which earlier denoted the whole range of mountains extending from the Hindu Kush in the east to the Caucasus in the west. RV informs us that soma grew in the mountains. RV (9.46.1) calls soma parvatavrdh ( mountain grown). The Atharvaveda (3.21.10) calls the mountains somaprashtha ( carrying soma on their back). RV (10.34.1) uses the term soma maujavata, the soma from Mujavat, which according to Yaska’s Nirukta (9.8) was a mountain.

Soma was a common plant in the places where the Rig Vedic and Avestian people lived. In RV (8.80), a maiden, Apala by name, plucks Soma twigs by the wayside and chews them with the purpose of becoming attractive to men. Anyone who maltreats haoma is cursed to remain childless (Yasna 11.3). As if aware of this, in RV (8.31.5), husband and wife “with one accord” press out the soma juice, no doubt as a prelude to sexual intercourse. While there is continuity in the Zoroastrian soma ritual, there are clear signs that the Vedic people moved away from the soma habitat. In the Baudhyayana Shrautasutra (6.14) the Adhvaryu asks the seller if the soma came from Mujavat which obviously was still a source of supply. Katyayana Shrautasutra (10.9.30) talks of rationing soma. It enjoins the priests not to give it to a kshatriya or a vaishya even if available, but asks the priests to give them a substitute. Shatapatha Brahmana ( lists the substitutes to be used in the ritual when soma is not available. In course of time, soma became a mythical plant even for medical texts. Sushruta Samhita (29.21-22) and Charaka Samhita (1.4-6) both believe that soma had 15 leaves which appeared one per day during the waxing moon (shuklapaksha) and dropoff one by one during the waning moon (krishnapaksha).

The Brahmana texts reverentially reserve the name soma for the original soma plant and talk of its substitutes. The reverence disappears in later times when the term soma, suffixed with lata or valli (meaning creeper) is applied to different local plants, which like the original soma are leafless.

There is a broad consensus among scholars that the ancient soma/haoma plant be identified with high-altitude varieties of ephedra which have a high alkaloid content. (ephedra grows in plains also but these varieties have no juice.) The botanical identification of soma is however not quite relevant for our present discussion.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Rig Vedic and the Avestan people had a common heritage and lived in close proximity to one another. Their joint habitat was the Somaland. Indian plains do not match the RV and AV description of Soma-growing areas. Even otherwise, if India were the Indo-Iranian homeland, it is the ancient Iranians who would have been looking for soma substitutes and not Indians. The conclusion is inescapable: Rigvedic people, like ancient Iranians, must have lived in mountainous areas where the soma plant grew.

Kochhar is the author of ‘The Vedic People’

Source: indianexpress

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Remembering the fearless Indian woman who cut off her breasts to protest a tax on the lower castes


Written by Orijit Sen
Quartz india
Republished here with permission from Guftugu. Images © Orijit Sen. We welcome your comments at


Thursday, September 14, 2017

#IamGauri protests | 'Let them send legal notices to 1.2 billion people': Medha Patkar

By Express News Service  |   Published: 12th September 2017 07:55 PM 

Last Updated: 12th September 2017 08:01 PM

Social activist Medha Patkar and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury at the Gauri Lankesh protest rally in Bangalore on Tuesday. (Nagesh Polali | EPS)

BENGALURU:  Nothing can stop voices that speak out against the cowardice of those in power. This was the refrain at the #IamGauri protests attended by thousands of people in Bengaluru. The protests were held against attempts to silence free speech, presumably the reason why journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in a murder that has similarities with that of literary scholar M M Kalburgi in Dharwad in 2015.

Speaking at the #IamGauri protests, Medha Patkar said, “Gauri Lankesh was not provocative in her articles. She spoke for Dalits, Adivasis and the backward. She spoke against anti-secular ideals. Some people are against those who speak out against the cowardice of those in power.”

“Gauri spoke out and they killed her. When Ramachandra Guha spoke out, they sent him a legal notice. Let them send 1.2 billion legal notices then. Where is Narendra Modi? Why hasn’t he spoken yet?” she demanded to know.

Rural journalist and farmers’ rights activist P Sainath warned that there will be incredible provocation in the days ahead and we should not fall into the trap of escalating hatred. He said, “They have a clear plan, ideology and coherent strategy. Look at it in different parts of the country, the strategy of violence has been different. In BJP-ruled states it is mob lynching and terror.”

“What you are up against is the largest constructed machine of hatred and intolerance ever seen since the partition of the country and perhaps greater than that since it has spread to so many more states and regions,” he said.

Chandrashekar Patil, better known as the writer ChamPa, read out a poem in memory of Gauri. “A few years ago, I was Dabholkar, then Pansare, and two years ago, when MM Kalburgi was assassinated, I became Kalburgi. Now, I’m Gauri,” he said.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “I’m a foot soldier of the Indian democracy and the idea of India. The idea of India is not abstract. It is concrete and the diversity of India along with the opportunity to speak, disagree and dissent is what makes this country. Gauri never eliminated ideas but the battle of ideas was fought with bullets.”

He said that Gauri had never disagreed violently, and she had always patiently listened to contrasting views, arguments and opinions. Though she disagreed only verbally, she was killed violently, he said.

“Those in power are creating a totalitarian state. We cannot be cowed down. It is the antithesis of India,” he said. He subtly pointed out Nathuram Godse’s association with RSS and said, “We should remember that Mahatma Gandhi was a victim of those who wanted a Hindu Rashtra.”

Prominent Kannada writer Devanur Mahadeva said we had forgotten the dreams that we had envisioned while getting independence. “Under Narendra Modi, our mentality is going backwards. The dream has become a nightmare. Kalburgi and Gauri are being killed as the majority goes forward.”

The protests, which started with a rally in the morning, went on till evening at Central College Grounds here.

Source: newindianexpress

Related Article: Massive crowds at #IamGauri protests in Bengaluru; Sitaram Yechury, Medha Patkar among prominent faces newindianexpress

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

An Indian family’s encounter with caste and untouchability that no one should ignore even in 2017

Book review

Sujatha Gidla’s ‘Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India’ should make all of us squirm.

Courtesy FSG

Sep 03, 2017 · 08:30 am

Anu Kumar

When Sujatha Gidla was a student at the Regional Engineering College (REC) Warangal, she heard about a professor who was deliberately failing students from the lower castes. It led to several students, including Gidla, calling for a strike – one that ended badly. Though she wasn’t on the strike committee (she was, however, a member of a radical left students’ union), Gidla and other students were detained by the police. She was the only woman.

As she recounts, they were taken to destinations undisclosed to their parents and tortured. “Beat her until I can see welts on her” – she overhears the police deputy superintendent tell two policewomen

Warangal was where her uncle, KG Satyamurthy, the Left leader and a founder of the People’s War Group had been especially active. He had worked with textile mill and railway workers, and reached out to Dalits (the “untouchables” in Gidla’s title), and other marginalised communities. In the early 1960s and earlier, Satyam, as he is referred to by Gidla, had been part of the “Visalandhra” movement and the Andhra-Telengana riots that followed a few years later.

The experience of being in police custody, and the worry it caused her parents, turned Gidla off the rebel cause, despite attempts by the far Left to recruit her. She moved to the US, where after a stint as an engineer she now works as a subway conductor. A radical, even iconoclastic choice of career, but of a piece with what her uncle, Satyam and then her mother, Manjula, did with their lives. Both were unconventional and progressive in their own ways; both equally heroic in the struggles they waged.

The modernity of caste

It is particularly opportune that Gidla’s memoir of her mother and uncle appears on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. This fact itself is coincidental. Much of the remembering has been, and quite rightly too, of the Partition – the sundering of regions and communities that came with independence. But the old injustices remained alongside, only perpetuating and entrenching themselves – as with caste, a system indelibly associated with far too many Indian stories.

Gidla’s account of her untouchable family begins from the pre-independence India in coastal Andhra, then a part of the Madras Presidency. Converted to Christianity by Canadian Baptist missionaries, her grandfather Prasanna Rao became a teacher, adept at the English he learnt in missionary schools. It was his dying wife’s wish that her children – Satyam, Carey (named after the British Baptist missionary at Serampore in Bengal) and Manjula – be educated. A wish her husband did his best to fulfil despite his abandonment of his young children – an abandonment that would have lingering consequences on his children, especially Manjula, who grew into adulthood and later living in one temporary home after another.

Gidla tells this story almost 70 years later, from conversations with her uncle that she began recording only a few years ago (he died in 2012) and her own mother. It is her family’s story of seeking education and employment in post-independent India – lives spent in determined pursuit of self-respect and fulfilment. It’s a wider story of caste, its tentacles hooked into every sphere of Indian life, the oppressive burden of untouchability, and the insidious ways in which caste manipulates and adapts itself to “change”, to ideologies and political systems.

    “If you are educated like me, if you don’t seem like a typical untouchable, then you have a choice. You can tell the truth and be ostracized, ridiculed, harassed – even driven to suicide, as happens regularly in universities.

    Or you can lie. If they don’t believe you, they will try to find out your true caste some other way. They may ask you certain questions: “Did your brother ride a horse at his wedding? Did his wife wear a red sari or a white sari? How does she wear her sari? Do you eat beef? Who is your family deity?” They may even seek the opinion of someone from your region.

    If you get them to believe your lie, then of course you cannot tell them your stories, your family’s stories. You cannot tell them about your life. It would reveal your caste. Because your life is your caste, your caste is your life.

    Whether they know the truth or not, your untouchable life is never something you can talk about.

    It was like this for me in Punjab, in Delhi, in Bombay, in Bangalore, in Madras, in Warangal, in Kanpur, in Calcutta.

    At twenty-six, I came to America, where people know only skin color, not birth status. Some here love Indians and some hate them, but their feelings are not affected by caste. One time in a bar in Atlanta I told a guy I was untouchable, and he said, “Oh, but you’re so touchable.”

    Only in talking to some friends I met here did I realise that my stories, my family’s stories, are not stories of shame.”

The Left in the 1950s Andhra

In college, Satyam, a bright student and the hope of his family, had no money to pay his fees. Lodged among better off, upper caste classmates, Satyam was the “ant among elephants”. In the early 1940s, he was drawn to the Congress’s Quit India Movement, but its quiet fading away – following the imprisonment of Congress leaders and their later negotiations with the British – disillusioned him. It was around this time that, having no money to formally attend classes, he was drawn to Telugu literature, its old classics and avant-garde poetry.

The Telengana agitation that began in 1946 was waged by the peasants (a broad spectrum which included the landless, the wage-labourers and some rich peasants too) against the Nizam (who at that time was waging his own battle for independence) and the rich landlords. There were many grievances against the “dora system”, which institutionalised a framework of feudal obligations and services on servitors and other economic and social dependents. The Left, inspired by movements in China and the Soviet Union, championed the causes of the tiller and the toiler.

Gidla details the oppression unleashed on the protestors, the rebels and the oppressed by the Nizam and his infamous Razakars and, later, by the Indian state under Jawaharlal Nehru, who unleashed the army against the Communists and their supporters. Nehru, as Gidla recounts her uncle’s words, was a letdown in every sense. For instance, in a tragicomic scene (and this book has several of these), Nehru’s oratory – at the peak of the Visalandhra campaign for a separate state – is felled by a poorly functioning mike (the Communist workers, at Satyam’s behest, were responsible).

An incomplete transition

But Satyam’s differences with the leaders of the Communist Party were apparent from the very beginning. It began from his opposition – not vociferously aired – to the Left’s contesting independent India’s first elections in 1952, when they became the largest opposition party in Madras Presidency and then agreed to support the Congress government.

Satyam believed the movement was incomplete, that the tillers had not been emancipated yet, nor been granted land. The Communists were irrevocably divided – and caste as a factor was never acknowledged. There were the rich reddys, kammas and kapus who dominated the party in the Andhra region, and with the Dalits making up castes such as the malas, the madigas were simply disregarded.

Satyam’s disillusionment with the party continued with the split following the war with China in 1962. But the call for true revolution was never sounded, frustrating the likes of Satyam and his colleague, Kondapalli Seethramaya. Inspired by Charu Mazumdar and the Naxalbari uprising, the two would later be involved in forming the CPI(ML) (the People’s War group in the late 1960s).

In the intervening period (1962-1967), Satyam immersed himself in leading, and then calming, the Andhra-Telengana disturbance in Warangal, and winning smaller, yet vitally important, struggles: standing up for lepers whose colonies were being razed by the municipality, aiding the unorganised railway and textile mill workers, and even reaching out to students at the St Gabriel school in Warangal after they complained of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.

A sister’s struggle

Satyam’s story is intertwined with that of his (and Carey’s) sister Manjula, the youngest sibling, and Gidla’s mother. For all his compassion and empathy for the marginalised and lost, Satyam and his brother Carey dominated and regulated every aspect of their sister’s life – a stranglehold on her habits, routine and dress that became more rigid once Manjula went to college.

The divisions that Satyam came up against in the public spheres of education and politics were ones that Manjula encountered at every turn, at home and away. All too often, her struggle appeared bleak. Yet the will to seek a better life was powerful and consistent, despite being hemmed in by the forces of privilege. Privilege in the Indian context was clearly identifiable, also exercising its hold in undefined but well-entrenched ways, such as decisions over who and how one married, the friendships one formed, the jobs one could do.

Satyam’s and Manjula’s journeys were different, but there was always the insidious presence of caste as a decider. While Satyam did recognise discrimination for what it was, his idealism and faith in communism made him, especially in his younger years, blind and oblivious to the clear divide in the Communist leadership. He always had his eyes fixed on the revolution, breaking away every time the old guard made a revisionist turn. The inspiration of Naxalbari was followed by his meeting Charu Mazumdar, a man he would remain in awe of, and Naxalbari would lead to the Srikakulam peasant uprising (1967-70).

For Manjula the struggle was against something almost hydra-headed. She faced not only the punishing impositions of caste, but also strictures of religion and family. Her inclination to befriend the higher kamma and kapu girls, for instance, made her caste peers turn against her. And when her beloved older brother went underground, was tormented by her inability to secure a permanent job as a teacher.

At every temporary job that came Manjula’s way, it wasn’t so much her own ability as the benign intervention from well-meaning upper caste superiors that made the difference. There were always sadistic superiors to contend with, and Satyam’s absence in these crucial years of her life meant Manjula had no one to turn to.

Darkness visible

To slip into pathos would have been the easiest thing for a book of this kind. But Gidla has a clear-eyed view of the past, her own past, and a restraint in how she writes of it. The darkness is tinged in places with quiet comedy. In the hospital, for instance, the time her third child was due, Manjula had a close shave with death, while her sister-in-law and the janitor actually resorted to fisticuffs to resolve a misunderstanding.

But there is no comedy when Gidla writes of her own childhood, the time she was left alone with her two younger siblings with her mother at work. Instead, a stark dry-eyed practicality prevails. Desperate to have someone look after her young children (her husband worked in another town), Manjula accepted everything – a tyrant of a mother-in-law and even a chronically ill distant relative who sexually abused Gidla, an incident the writer graphically recounts.

This is a clear-eyed, unflinching look at caste, and the systems that conspire to institutionalise discrimination in every system. As Satyam realised later in his revelation to his niece long after he is “expelled” – the Left had always refused to countenance the presence of caste in all their plans and interventions.

For some, like Satyam, the response was clear and apparent, leading to his expulsion. For others, to ask questions was to invite opprobrium. Gidla doesn’t make as political a statement as this. Yet her book is personal and also, assuredly, political. Read it and despair, but read it you must.

Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India, Sujatha Gidla, Farrar Straus Giroux.

We welcome your comments at

Source: scrollin

Read review By Michiko Kakutani

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శ్రీ కౌముది సెప్టెంబర్ 2017

శ్రి కౌముది సెప్టెంబర్ 2017 
శ్రీ కౌముది సెప్టెంబర్ 2017


Monday, August 21, 2017

On a perilous path: India is being unmade, a lynching at a time

communal strife

The core of our secular-pluralist democracy has survived mass communal violence. But it may not survive the ongoing normalisation of hate and bigotry.



India, as we know it, is being unmade with every passing day. In this bewilderingly changing land, hatred and bigotry are fast becoming the new normal. Hate-mongering is led powerfully and charismatically from the top – a kind of “command bigotry” – and Muslims are fast being reduced to second class citizens. Everywhere, on the streets, in workplaces, in living rooms, in neighbourhoods, in television studios and on the internet, there is a permissive environment for hate speech and mob violence that labels and targets Muslims, but also Dalits, Adivasis, Christians, women, people of colour, ethnic minorities from India’s North East, and liberals.

A climate of everyday, mostly unspoken, dread has mounted because of the reckless stoking of embers of recurrent, divisive and considered provocative hate speech, threats, incitement and assaults. The aim is to force a single way of living upon all Indians – a homogenised faith system and set of cultural practices, with violent prohibitions on what you can eat, whom you can love and what you can think.

If this pattern of routinising systematic hate violence is not effectively resisted, the danger is that it will spiral downwards into unending cycles of dark and deepening strife, which will continue to target innocents and ultimately tear us apart as a people. India already has an ancient and troubled history of socially legitimised inequality and violence against savagely oppressed castes and women, and a more recent history of horrific bloodletting in the name of religion. But it also has an iridescent tradition of pluralism, and respect and protection for diverse religious faiths going back to the time of King Ashoka in 270 BC. A tradition sustained – after centuries of brutal violence against Buddhists, wiping them out from the land of their birth – by Emperor Akbar in 1556 AD and Mahatma Gandhi during the anti-colonial freedom struggle.

After attaining freedom, we tried to put behind us our history of cruelty and segregation against the browbeaten, subjugated castes and women, and claim instead that part of our civilizational history that was comfortable in diversity and tolerant, as we forged a compact of unity as a pluralist, humane and inclusive democratic nation.

Despite frequent failures, setbacks and betrayals, there were significant efforts over seven decades of independence to live up to those promises. Successive governments compromised cynically with secular and egalitarian principles over and over again, thereby failing both their constitutional mandate and the people of India. But through all this, the constitutional core of secular and pluralist democracy held. However, it increasingly appears that the central organising principle of the current ruling establishment is to deny religious minorities their right to exist with dignity as equal citizens.

Deadly history

Independent India has witnessed sporadic bloodletting against people because of their religious identity as part of a political and social enterprise to break their economy and spirit. These bloodbaths are often described as communal riots. These episodes typically constitute targeted hate killing, gang rape, arson of homes and businesses, large-scale looting, and destruction and desecration of places of worship. I have grave reservations with calling these riots, because the term “riot” suggests people of two communities battling each other, usually spontaneously. But this is most often not the case. For instance, it is a travesty to describe the violence against the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 as anti-Sikh riots, because it was exclusively the Sikhs who were the victims of violence in almost all these attacks. The same is the case with many, if not most, other episodes of communal violence. The survivors in Gujarat widely describe the mass violence against Muslims in 2002 as toofan, or storm.

I observe three distinct phases in India’s troubled history of periodic mass attacks on Muslims and other minorities since it became free in 1947 amid the Hindu-Muslim riots that took a million lives.

Beginning with a communal conflagration in Jabalpur in 1961, 14 years after India’s freedom, many parts of the country have witnessed sporadic episodes of hate violence victimising people because of their religious identity. Especially since the 1980s, this sectarian violence has spiked, targeting Bengali Muslims in Assam in 1983; the Sikhs in the nation’s capital after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 and subsequent years of Khalistani militancy; and Muslims in many parts of the country during the movement that led to the destruction of Babri Masjid, beginning with the Bhagalpur massacre in 1989 and peaking in the Gujarat carnage in 2002.

Post-Gujarat, I believe we see the emergence of a new phase, with much in common with the phase stretching from Nellie 1983 to Gujarat 2002 – the creation of hatred around issues such as cow protection, religious conversion and alleged sexual predation, one-sided targeted pogroms, sexual violence, rural riots, violence against minorities other than Muslims, social and economic boycott, sustained social divides and population divisions, and so on. The big difference in this phase is much less loss of life than in the worst massacres of 1983, 1984, 1989, 1992-93 and 2002, but significant damage to property and far greater displacement of populations. I speculate that the intense legal accountability enforced by actions of many organisations, and the international odium and disrepute which followed in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage, has resulted in a shift to attacks with far fewer deaths but extensive social mobilisation through hate, attacks on property, and much larger displacement of populations.

In this phase, we see first the Kandhamal violence of 2008. We also see the extensive low-intensity hate mobilisation in coastal Karnataka from around 2006. The violence in Lower Assam in 2012 saw comparatively fewer deaths, but half a million people were displaced, the largest displacement by targeted violence after the Partition. (I must add strong caveats here that Assam did not see communal violence of the kind seen in other parts of India. Here, oppressed minorities attack other oppressed minorities. In this particular case, Muslims did to Bodos in Muslim-majority areas exactly what Bodos did to them). In 2013, Muzaffarnagar again saw limited number of deaths (at least 62) but more than 50,000 people were displaced in just two districts (Remember, Gujarat saw two lakh people displaced by violence that affected 20 districts and two large cities). This scale of displacement – often permanent – was rarely witnessed in the communal violence of the 1960s and 70s.


More than 50,000 Muslims were displaced by the Muzaffarnagar communal carnage in 2013. Photo credit: Reuters

Everyday dread

The current phase of lynch attacks on minorities and Dalits is another mutant of low-intensity localised communal violence. It is too early to say if this represents an evolving fourth phase of communal violence after Independence, or whether lynching will continue to coexist with low-intensity, dispersed episodes of communal violence.

Lynching is fast becoming the new normal in these times of orchestrated hate and rage in India. The targets of furious public bloodletting are most often Muslims, but Dalits are also in danger. It has become increasingly common for mobs to gatherand to publicly attack, lynch and murder people they claim have broken the law or hurt their (Hindu) sentiments. The excuse for the mob killings is often the claim that the victims were transporting cows for slaughter. In Jammu in April 2017, even women and a young girl from a pastoral Muslim tribal community that traditionally rears livestock were attacked while they were taking their animals to the higher mountain reaches, where they migrate every summer. If the animals being transported turn out not to be cows, the vigilantes claim instead to be animal rights activists, and beat the transporters for alleged cruelty to the animals. In Assam in May 2017, two young Muslim men were killed by villagers because they suspected them to be cow thieves. But the claimed love of cows is not the only reason for murderous attacks. In Jharkhand, rumours of child kidnapping circulated on social media and led to mobs brutally killing seven men. In Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, six men alleged to be members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a private militia raised by Chief Minister Adityanath, killed a 59-year-old Muslim villager only because he was the neighbour of a Muslim man who had eloped with a Hindu woman. One of the most sensational instances of lynching occurred in 2015 when a mob broke into the Dimapur Central Jail in Nagaland, dragged out a 35-year-old Muslim man accused of raping a Naga woman. He was stripped naked, paraded and beaten to death in the city square.

Only a tiny fraction of the most dramatic of such mob killings make it to the front pages of newspapers or television screens. In most contemporary instances of mob lynching, the police are absent or merely stand by, and defend themselves by claiming they were outnumbered. Both in cases of cow vigilantism and those where Muslim men and Hindu women have even consensual relations, the police are seen to tacitly or openly encourage mob attacks. Often, the attacks are recorded on mobile phone cameras and uploaded to the social media because the attackers gloat over what they see as acts of valour. Part of the new normal is also that no one comes to the rescue of the people attacked. Afterwards, it is common for the police to charge the victims for alleged offences, thereby constructing a rationale for the mob violence, while the attackers are recorded as anonymous men enraged by the illegal activities of the victims.

The internet has become a handy tool for communal mobilisation. The carnage in Muzaffarnagar was triggered partly by an unrelated video circulated on social media, and the lynching of seven men in Jamshedpur early this year was spurred by WhatsApp rumours about child-kidnappers.
In the political and social enterprise of reducing minorities to second class citizens, lynching is a critical instrument. Mass communal and caste violence created fear among the targeted communities, but it was still bounded by geography and time. Lynching respects no boundaries, of either space or time. Every person of the targeted community feels vulnerable everywhere and at all times. For them no place feels safe – they can be attacked in their homes, or on trains, buses or public roads. Christian minorities, especially in the tribal regions, are being terrorised not by lynching but by attacks on their places of worship as well as by draconian anti-conversion laws of the kind the Jharkhand government has just approved.

Hindu Yuva Vahini is a private militia raised by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. Photo credit: Reuters

State complicity

The culpability for each of these incidents – lynch attacks as well as small decentralised communal clashes – lies with the organisations bent on fomenting communal animosities. But it is shared equally by the shamefully weak-kneed (or actively prejudiced) responses of the state and district administrations. Each of these episodes could have been prevented or rapidly quelled, if only local officials had effectively dispelled hate rumours and expeditiously arrested those who spread the falsehoods and organised violence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi periodically speaks a few lines of condemnation for lynch attacks, apparently only to allow his domestic supporters and foreign governments to absolve him of any responsibility for such crimes. IndiaSpend reported in June that of all the cow-related attacks since 2010, 97% happened after Modi was elected in May 2014. Lynching is a device by which the ruling establishment outsources violence against minorities to mobs. It creates an enabling environment for people to violently act out their hate against minorities with assured impunity, while allowing governments to absolve itself of any responsibility.

Much of the blame lies with the central government. It is true that law and order is primarily the responsibility of states, but it is no secret that the Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power with the active support of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadres. The decisive victory of 2014 has emboldened these cadres – raised on a staple diet of anti-Muslim propaganda, and further encouraged by the open deployment of these sentiments to reap a profoundly polarised vote in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Assam – to pursue their intensely divisive agendas even more vigorously. High-pitched communal tempers are not a genie that can be released and then pushed back into a bottle at will.

Now, a sense of dread mounts, almost invisibly, as communal tempers are cynically and perilously being overheated for a series of electoral harvests, and for drawing ever larger sections of low caste Hindus to stand with their upper caste oppressors against the Muslim “other”, who is cultivated as their common enemy. The Congress, socialists and the Left are too decimated and dispirited – and most importantly too weak in their convictions – to convincingly take to battle.

India has survived as a relatively peaceful nation, rebuilding itself from the ravages of colonial rule and the desperate poverty of millions of its people, because it has forestalled the path of majoritarian dominance, protected minority rights and respected difference and diversity. India’s admittedly imperfect adherence to its core constitutional values has so far enabled it to avoid the enormous civil discord and violence that several other countries in the neighbourhood and beyond have experienced since their independence. But today, we are witnessing the growing destruction of the egalitarian and humane principles of secular democracy. India as we know it – both as an idea and an aspiration – stands profoundly threatened.

After the general election of 2014, we are increasingly witnessing the dispersed low death but high hate, fear and displacement communal violence as well as lynch attacks that threaten to grow into a new normal. Is this the new normal?

It is imperative that people do not allow hatred and bigotry to be routinised into a new “normal” that would have been morally and politically unacceptable in the past. Solidarity with and between religious, ethnic and sexual minorities; oppressed castes and tribal people; women; poor and dispossessed people; immigrants and working class people; and people of colour must be forged and strengthened. Above all, in these times of normalising hate, a new imagination must be nurtured – that of people, of differences of religion, caste and gender, within and across borders, bound together by love and respect.

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