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Archives for : Mohan Bhagwat

Justice Kolse-Patil- Jail inmates are not Kejriwal to get media/govt attention

Soumittra S Bose,TNN | Feb 8, 2014, 07.16 AM IST

justice kolse patil

NAGPUR: Urging Nagpur Central jail inmates to end their indefinite hunger strike, former High Court justice BG Kolse Patil on Friday told them that their efforts won’t be able to move the government which would rather prefer to let the protesters die rather than heed their demands. He said that there are no takers for common citizens’ grievances.The inmates have been on indefinite hunger strike for the last one week demanding speedy trial and bail.

Kolse Patil stated that AAP party supremo and Delhi chief ministerArvind Kejriwal gets media attention as his protests are orchestrated ones with government playing key motivator to his anarchism. “The inmates were arguing that death while observing hunger strike was better than life behind bars. We convinced them that their protest would neither be highlighted like Kejriwal’s by media nor government would feel sympathetic towards their issues,” said Kolse Patil, who was accompanied by Advocates Anil Kale and Surendra Gadling.

“It is the court that should take action into the allegations of retaining inmates longer than such periods of the punishment under section in which they were held accused. The court should finish trials within short periods in trivial matters,” said the retired judge.

Advocate Kale informed that the hunger strike to demand speedy trial, rejecting videoconference and bail for undertrials had began with 171 inmates, including around 32 Naxalites, participating in the protest on January 30 last month. The senior counsel, who claimed that inmates were reluctant to withdraw the stir, stated there were 71 inmates on hunger strike when the protest was made to call off.

Kolse Patil lambasted the central jail authorities stating that they had pressurized the inmates to withdraw stir and undertook different tactics to divide them. “The inmates were forced to sign the undertaking. The condition in which the jail inmates are being made to stay and ignorance meted out to them tantamount to outright trampling of their human rights,” said the senior judge, who was part of the fact-finding team that probed the Nanded blast which is associated with saffron terrorism. Kolse Patil was also part of the fact-finding team that investigated the Kandhamal riots.

Accused the government of bias, Kolse Patil said that there are more Dalits and Muslims in the jail as compared to other communities. “If Aseemananda had named any Dalit or Muslim in connection with blasts then he would have been in jail by now,” said Kolse Patil, referring to the statement made by the seer connecting RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to Samjhauta Express and Mecca Masjid blasts.

Kolse Patil stressed the fact that Supreme Court had earlier passed several judgments on the rights of undertrials to bail. “The apex court had issued direction in its earlier judgments regarding rights of undertrials, but no government seems to be keen to implement it,” he said, adding that representations made on the issues of jail inmates shall be forwarded to the concerned departments.

Read more here – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/Jail-inmates-are-no-Kejri-says-justice-Kolse-Patil/articleshow/30027658.cms?

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Saffron terror attacks: Swami Aseemanand implicates RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat

The Believer

By LEENA GITA REGHUNATH | 1 February 2014
VIVEK SINGH FOR THE CARAVAN
 
“SWAMIJI KO BULAO,” the jailer ordered Call the Swami. Two police constables scurried out of the jailer’s office and onto the grounds of the prison. A deafening noise reverberated through the room, as if a hundred men outside the walls were howling at the same time. It was visiting hours in late December 2011 at Ambala’s Central Jail.

After a few minutes, Swami Aseemanand, the Hindu firebrand accused of plotting several terrorist attacks on civilian targets across the country between 2006 and 2008, stepped into the doorway of the jailer’s office. He wore a saffron dhoti and a saffron kurta that hung down to his knees. The clothes were freshly ironed. A woollen monkey cap was pulled down over his forehead, and a saffron shawl was wrapped around his neck. He looked bemused to see me. We exchanged namastes, then he ushered me through a door into an adjoining room, where clerks in white dhoti-kurtas were poring over titanic ledgers. He sat on a large wooden trunk behind the door, and instructed me to pull a chair from a nearby desk. He was informal, like a good host, and asked me about my visit. “Somebody has to tell your story,” I said.

This was the beginning of the first of four interviews I had with Aseemanand over more than two years. He is currently under trial on charges including murder, attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy and sedition, in connection with three bombings in which at least 82 people were killed. He could also be tried for two other blast cases; he has been named in the chargesheets, but not yet formally accused. Together, the five attacks killed 119 people, and worked as a corrosive on the bonds of Indian society. If convicted, Aseemanand may face the death penalty.

In the course of our conversations, Aseemanand became increasingly warm and open. The story he told of his life was remarkable and haunting. He is fiercely proud of the acts of violence he has committed and the principles by which he has lived. For more than four decades, he has loyally promoted Hindu nationalism; during much of that time, he worked under the banner of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s tribal affairs wing, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA), spreading the Sangh’s version of Hinduism, and its vision for a Hindu Rashtra. Through all this, Aseemanand, who is now in his early sixties, has never diluted the intensity of his beliefs.

After the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi, Nathuram Godse and his accomplice Narayan Apte were executed by hanging and cremated at the Ambala jail, in 1949. Their co-conspirator, Godse’s brother Gopal, was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. “I’m kept in the same cell as Gopal Godse,” Aseemanand proudly told me. Today, Aseemanand is perhaps the most prominent face of Hindu extremist terrorism. Journalists who met him in the years before the bombings described him to me as an extraordinarily arrogant and intolerant man. What I saw in the dark records room of the jail was a man subdued by his imprisonment, but void of remorse. “Whatever happens to me, it’s a good thing for Hindus,” Aseemanand told me. “Logon me Hindutva ka bhaav aayegait will stir Hindutva among the people.

ON THE NIGHT OF 18 FEBRUARY 2007, the Samjhauta Express started on its usual course from platform 18 of the Delhi Junction railway station. The Samjhauta, also known as the “Friendship Express”, is one of only two rail links between India and Pakistan. That night, almost three-quarters of its roughly 750 passengers were Pakistanis returning home. A few minutes before midnight—an hour after the train started its journey—improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated in two unreserved compartments of the 16-coach train. Barrelling through the night, the train was now on fire.

The explosions fused shut the compartments’ exits, sealing passengers inside. “It was awful,” a railways inspector told the Hindustan Times. “Burnt and half burnt bodies of the passengers were all over in the coaches.” Two unexploded IEDs packed into suitcases were later discovered at the scene; the devices contained a mixture of chemicals including PETN, TNT, RDX, petrol, diesel and kerosene. Sixty-eight people died in the attack.

This was the second, and deadliest, of the five attacks in which Aseemanand is implicated. He is now accused number one in the Samjhauta train blasts; accused number three in a bombing at Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid that killed 11 people, in May 2007; and accused number six in a blast at the dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, that killed three people, in October 2007. He is also named, but not yet charged, in two attacks in Malegaon, Maharashtra, in September 2006 and September 2008, that together took the lives of 37 people.

Many of these cases have been investigated by multiple agencies at different points in time—including the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), the Rajasthan ATS, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). At least a dozen chargesheets have been filed in the five cases. Thirty-one people have been formally accused, and two of Aseemanand’s close associates are among them—Pragya Singh Thakur, who was a national executive member of the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP); and Sunil Joshi, who was a former RSS district leader in Indore. All of the investigative agencies determined that Aseemanand played a central role in plotting the attacks. Aseemanand, by his own account, hosted planning sessions, selected targets, provided funds for the construction of IEDs, and sheltered and otherwise aided those who planted the bombs.

In December 2010 and January 2011, Aseemanand made two judicial confessions, to courts in Delhi and Haryana, in which he admitted to planning the attacks. At the time of his confessions, Aseemanand refused legal representation. He spent 48 hours in judicial custody, insulated from investigating agencies, before making each statement, thereby giving him an opportunity to change his mind. Both times, Aseemanand resolved to confess, and had his statements recorded in court. His confessions, and the confessions of at least two of his fellow conspirators, allege that the attacks were planned with the knowledge of at least one senior member of the RSS.

On 28 March 2011, Aseemanand accepted legal representation. The next day, he retracted his confessions, claiming that they were coerced by torture. An application he submitted before the trial court read, “the leak of Aseemanand’s alleged confession to the media, which is shocking and deliberate, is a part of the design to politicise and hype the case, conduct and conclude a media trial, and to create, at the global level, the notion of Hindu terror for the political purposes of the ruling party.” Aseemanand and several of the defence lawyers working on the Samjhauta case told me that the lawyers are all members of the Sangh; one of them said that they manage the case in meetings of the Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, the RSS’s legal wing.

When I interviewed him, Aseemanand denied being tortured, or that his confessions were coerced. He said that when he was arrested for the bombings, by the CBI, he decided it was “a good time to tell all about this. I knew I could be hanged for it, but I’m old anyway.”

Over the course of our conversations, Aseemanand’s description of the plot in which he was involved became increasingly detailed. In our third and fourth interviews, he told me that his terrorist acts were sanctioned by the highest levels of the RSS—all the way up to Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief, who was the organisation’s general secretary at the time. Aseemanand told me that Bhagwat said of the violence, “It’s very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh.”

Aseemanand told me about a meeting that allegedly took place, in July 2005. After an RSS conclave in Surat, senior Sangh leaders including Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar, who is now on the organisation’s powerful seven-member national executive council, travelled to a temple in the Dangs, Gujarat, where Aseemanand was living—a two-hour drive. In a tent pitched by a river several kilometres away from the temple, Bhagwat and Kumar met with Aseemanand and his accomplice Sunil Joshi. Joshi informed Bhagwat of a plan to bomb several Muslim targets around India. According to Aseemanand, both RSS leaders approved, and Bhagwat told him, “You can work on this with Sunil. We will not be involved, but if you are doing this, you can consider us to be with you.”

Aseemanand continued, “Then they told me, ‘Swamiji, if you do this we will be at ease with it. Nothing wrong will happen then. Criminalisation nahin hoga (It will not be criminalised). If you do it, then people won’t say that we did a crime for the sake of committing a crime. It will be connected to the ideology. This is very important for Hindus. Please do this. You have our blessings.’”

Chargesheets filed by the investigative agencies allege that Kumar provided moral and material support to the conspirators, but they don’t implicate anyone as senior as Bhagwat. Although Kumar was interrogated once by the CBI, the case was later taken over by the NIA, which has not pursued the conspiracy past the level of Aseemanand and Pragya Singh. (Joshi, who was allegedly the connecting thread between several different parts of the conspiracy—including those who assembled and those who planted the bombs—was killed under mysterious circumstances in December 2007.)

Since allegations first emerged in late 2010 that Kumar had a role in the attacks, the RSS has closed ranks around him. Bhagwat, in an unprecedented act for an RSS sarsangh-chalak, participated in a dharna to protest the accusations against Kumar. The BJP has also defended him, and the BJP national spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi was his lawyer at the time he was named in the chargesheets. A lawyer for one of the accused told me that Kumar is “highly ambitious”, and “in waiting to be the sarsanghchalak”.

An officer at one of the investigating agencies, on the condition of anonymity, allowed me to inspect a secret report submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The report requested that the MHA send a show-cause notice to RSS authorities, asking why the organisation should not be banned in light of the evidence against them. The MHA has not yet acted on the recommendation.

The fear of being banned—as the organisation briefly was after the assassination of Gandhi, in 1948; during the Emergency, in 1975; and after the demolition of Babri Masjid, in 1992—looms over the RSS leadership. Whenever terrorist violence has been attributed to its members, the Sangh has taken a tack similar to the one they used with Nathuram Godse: there is no question of owning or disowning the perpetrators, the RSS says, because they have all previously left the Sangh, or were acting independently of the organisation, or alienated themselves from it by embracing violence.

Aseemanand poses a serious problem to the RSS in this regard. Since it was founded in 1952, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has been in the nucleus of the Sangh family, and Aseemanand has dedicated almost his entire adult life to serving the organisation. At the time he planned the attacks, he had been the national head of the VKA’s religious wing—a position created especially for him—for a decade. Even before the inception of the terrorist plot, organised violence (including coordinated communal riots) was a well-known part of his methods.

Bhagwat and Kumar were allegedly aware of Aseemanand’s involvement in the plot by mid 2005. Aseemanand was not excommunicated—far from it. In December of that year, according to a report in Organiser, the RSS’s weekly mouthpiece, he was honoured with a Rs. 1 lakh award marking the birth centenary of MS Golwalkar, the RSS’s second and most venerated chief; the veteran BJP leader and former party president Murli Manohar Joshi gave the ceremony’s keynote address. Even if Kumar remains insulated from a full inquiry into the allegations against him, there can be little question of the RSS convincingly denying its brotherhood with Aseemanand.

Denouncing terror attacks launched in the last decade by members of the Sangh, Swami Agnivesh, a prominent Hindu reformist, told me that the RSS “will harm themselves and others of the Hindu society” through militant Hindutva. “It is deplorable,” he said. The political scientist Jyotirmaya Sharma, who has authored three books on Hindutva, said, “the RSS involves itself in both covert and overt functions. But the organisation’s central premise is the sort of hit-and-run guerrilla warfare advocated by Ramdas, the guru of Shivaji. And the problem is that we don’t have enough liberal institutions within the country—from political parties to even strong enough media—to counter such acts of terror waged so blatantly in the name of Hindu religion.”

Despite such condemnations, the Sangh has come a long way since the ignominy of 1948. Through their efforts at man-making and nation-building, the RSS and its affiliates, particularly the BJP, now seem to represent a major current in the mainstream of Indian society. Aseemanand, too, is in many ways a product of those efforts, and he shares the RSS’s aims—albeit in magnified form: his vision for the future, he told me, is a global Hindu Rashtra.

[II]

ASEEMANAND’S PASSIONATE BELIEF in the Hindu Rashtra, and his commitment to violence as a means of securing it, emerged from two connected but radically different streams in Indian thought—the ecumenical karma yoga of the Ramakrishna Mission, and the Hindutva of the RSS. Aseemanand was shaped by both of these currents, and in some sense he chose to combine the ascetic life of the former with the extreme politics of the latter. This partly had to do with his early participation in a local RSS shakha, and it was also, in some measure, a rejection of the values of his father. In Aseemanand’s own account, it was a sort of awakening—to Hinduism as a political force.

Aseemanand was born Naba Kumar Sarkar in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, sometime in late 1951. He is the second of seven sons of the freedom fighter Bibhutibhushan Sarkar, a Gandhian who told his children that Gandhi was his god. The village where they lived, Kamarpukur, was also the birthplace of the 19th-century sage Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, who preached “yato mat, tato path” (many faiths, many paths to god). Ramakrishna’s most famous disciple, Swami Vivekananda, established the Ramakrishna Mission, in 1897, to carry on the work of karma yoga—service through selfless action. Aseemanand grew up around the corner from the mission’s local branch—a place of pilgrimage for Ramakrishna devotees—and spent many of his evenings listening to the monks there singing devotional songs.

Bibhutibhushan and his wife, Pramila, wanted their son to join the mission’s holy orders—a source of pride for many devout Bengali families. But Aseemanand and his brothers were also drawn to the RSS, whose own version of social service was burgeoning under the leadership of MS Golwalkar. “I have gone after ideologies in my youth and lived by them,” Aseemanand recalled his father telling them. “So I understand when you are influenced by an ideology and want to follow it. But the RSS is the organisation that killed Gandhi, so it is my duty to warn you against it.” The boys nevertheless grew close to local RSS workers, who often ate with the brothers at the Sarkar house, and they began participating in local shakhas. Aseemanand’s elder brother joined the RSS full time. Aseemanand and his younger brother Sushant Sarkar, whom I met in Kamarpukur, told me that their father didn’t try to prevent this, but he issued a stern warning: they were never to introduce him to a member of the Sangh.

The balance of Aseemanand’s beliefs tilted dramatically during his twenties, under the mentorship of two Sangh members. The first was Bijoy Adya, an RSS worker who guided Aseemanand towards radical Hindu politics. In his office in Kolkata, where he now edits the Bengali RSS newsweekly Swastika, Adya told me that he first met Aseemanand in 1971. Aseemanand was studying for his bachelor’s degree in physics at a local university—he eventually got his master’s degree as well—but “his parents always understood that he was different from their other sons,” Adya said. “They knew that there was no way he would lead a normal life like the other brothers.” Aseemanand was also still a regular at the Ramakrishna Mission. “It was in fact from his house that I read all the major literature” on Vivekananda, Adya said.

One of the books in the Sarkar library was A Rousing Call to the Hindu Nation, a collection of Vivekananda’s writing and speeches edited by Eknath Ranade, a stalwart of the Hindutva movement whose colleagues gave him the nickname “underground sarsanghchalak” for his leadership of the RSS during its prohibition following Gandhi’s assassination. The book emphasised Vivekananda’s call to Hindus to “Arise! Awake! And stop not until the goal is reached.” The Ramakrishna Mission had wrongfully made Vivekananda a secular figure in order to get government funding, and it took Ranade’s text to correct this, Adya said. (At the behest of the RSS chief Golwalkar, Ranade also oversaw the construction of the Rs. 1.35-crore Vivekananda Rock Memorial off Kanyakumari, which was completed in 1970.) Adya encouraged Aseemanand to read the book.

“According to Ramakrishna Mission every religion is equal,” Aseemanand told me. “They used to celebrate Christmas, Eid—so I used to do the same. When Adya said that this was not what Vivekananda preached I did not believe him.” He then took up Ranade’s text. One particular line from Vivekananda dominated Aseemanand’s reading: “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.”

“I got a huge shock after reading this,” Aseemanand said. “In the days that followed, I gave this a lot of thought. Then I realised that it is not in my limited capacity to realise or fully analyse Vivekananda’s teachings, but since he has said it, I will follow it all my life.” He never visited the Ramakrishna Mission again.

IF RANADE’S VERSION OF VIVEKANANDA became the soul of Aseemanand’s political conviction, its form was provided by an RSS worker and ascetic named Basant Rao Bhatt, who had moved to Calcutta from Nagpur, in 1956, to work under Ranade. Bhatt was fiercely dedicated to the mission of the RSS, but had a soft, disarming charisma; Aseemanand told me that even his father once remarked, “It is hard to believe that an organisation that has people like Basant working for it could be bad.” In Bhatt, who eventually became the chief of RSS operations for West Bengal, Aseemanand found an example of how to unite the ideology of the Sangh with the sort of pastoral service practised by monks of the Ramakrishna Mission.

When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency and banned the RSS in 1975, she started cracking down on its members. Thousands of Sangh workers were thrown in jail, including Aseemanand. Bhatt followed the example of his mentor, Ranade, and began operating underground, providing for the families of the imprisoned. When the ban was lifted at the end of the Emergency, Bhatt started a new wing of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, to cover Bengal and the Northeast. Soon after, Aseemanand moved in with him and began working full-time for the organisation. In 1978, they founded the first VKA ashram in the north-eastern part of the country, in the forests of Baghmundi, near Purulia, West Bengal.

The push towards the Northeast was part of a nationwide expansion of the VKA into tribal areas. Since it was founded in Jashpur (now in Chhattisgarh) by the RSS leader Balasaheb Deshpande—who began his work with a dozen children of the Oraon tribe—the organisation has strived to counter the influence of Christian missionaries and to prevent tribals from converting. Christianity, the Sangh believes, is a threat to the integrity of the nation, breeding separatist movements like those that have long operated in the Northeast. The VKA’s methods are largely derived from the successful model of Christian evangelists: it runs playgroups, primary and middle schools, hostels and health services that also serve as centres for proselytisation. Its goal is to promote Hindutva and thereby increase the cultural and political capital of the RSS.

Aseemanand spent most of the next ten years working in Purulia to advance these aims. But he also decided to follow some version of the monastic path his parents intended for him, and at 31 he resolved to take sanyaas. Bhatt told him that if working with tribals and furthering the Sangh’s cause was his mission, he didn’t need to join a holy order. But Aseemanand had made up his mind, and left Purulia for the ashram of the Bengali guru Swami Paramananda. “I chose him to be my guru because he followed Ramakrishna’s teachings,” Aseemanand said. “He worked mainly with the Dalits, but he was also involved in the propagation of Hinduism.” Paramananda administered the vows of sanyaas to Naba Kumar Sarkar, and renamed him Aseemanand—“boundless joy.”

After taking sanyaas, Aseemanand returned to Purulia and his work with the tribals. His life at the ashram there brought him into contact with the top leaders of VKA, including its all-India organising secretary, K Bhaskara Rao, who was also for much of his life the RSS chief for Kerala (which today boasts over 4,000 shakhas—more than any other state). Impressed by Aseemanand, in 1988 Rao and the VKA president, Jagdev Ram Oraon, asked him to extend the VKA’s dharma jagran—its work of spiritual awakening—to the Andamans.

Since colonial times, many of the more than 500 islands in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago have been settled by Indians from the mainland. To build townships for the settlers, tribals from areas in what is now Chhattisgarh were often shipped in. By the 1970s, the Sangh feared that tribal migrants to the Andamans were becoming increasingly enthralled by Christian missionaries, making the islands hostile to Hindus and Hindutva, Aseemanand told me. The islands had been represented in parliament for more than a decade by a Congressman, Manoranjan Bhakta. Aseemanand was to go and establish a foothold for the RSS.

“When I landed in the Andamans for the first time, there was no place to work from, no people to work with,” Aseemanand said. He set about forming bonds with tribal settlers through a combination of folksiness and unvarnished religious zeal. Although he didn’t go into detail, he told me that even in the Andamans he was using the threat of violence to coerce tribals into embracing Hindusim. He called these reformations “ghar vapasi”—homecomings. (The Sangh maintains that adivasis are fundamentally Hindus, not animists, and talks about “reconversion”.)

Aseemanand also employed more sophisticated types of propaganda. He lived among the tribal settlers, seeking out older members of the community who had not fully embraced their new religion. “They told me that though they had converted to Christianity, they still wanted to keep their traditions alive—the festivals, their dance,” he said. “So I told them that it is my job to get this done.”

Armed with the goodwill of these community elders, Aseemanand recruited half a dozen young girls, then sent them to a Vivekananda centre in Kanyakumari to teach them bhajans and get them to “start believing in Hanuman,” he said. Afterwards, he took them to the VKA headquarters at Jashpur, where they learned about Hindu culture for three months. Aseemanand and the girls then began a sort of road show, circulating through Andaman villages to lead bhajans and recruit another set of children. Because Aseemanand felt it was not right to travel in the company of young single women, the girls were married off, and the next batch of children—trained by the girls—were around 8 years old.

Aseemanand then set about formalising the Hindu community by building permanent spaces for worship and creating official bodies to look after them. In Port Blair, a man named R Damodaran became the president of the local temple committee, and a Bengali named Bishnu Pada Ray became the secretary.

Aseemanand lived full-time in the Andamans until the early 1990s. He said his efforts there laid the groundwork for Ray to become the territory’s first BJP parliamentarian, in 1999. “I told him that it’s good for him to go into politics, and so he went to Delhi and met Vajpayeeji,” Aseemanand told me. “Politics is also part of our work.” Damodaran was unanimously elected the chairman of the Port Blair Municipal Council in 2007.

Even after leaving the Andamans, Aseemanand frequently returned, sometimes to hand out medicines and food following natural disasters. But he callously restricted his relief efforts to those who declared themselves Hindu. He told me one story about the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004. “A Christian woman came for milk for her child,” he recalled. “My people said no. She said that the kid had not had any food for three days, and pleaded that it would die if we didn’t give some milk. So please give some. Then they said go ask Swamiji. I told her that what they are doing is right. You won’t get any milk here.” It is a story he likes to repeat.

[III]

THE DANGS IS THE SMALLEST, least populated district of Gujarat, and lies in its southern tail, bordered by Maharashtra to the east and west. Seventy-five percent of its population of roughly 2 lakh lives below the poverty line, and 93 percent is adivasi. Like other tribal areas, it has seen a disproportionate share of conflicts over resources and ideology. The British first subdued the area’s tribal kings in the 1830s, and obtained the rights to exploit the Dangs’ teak-rich forest, which still covers more than half the district, in 1842. Apart from Christian missionaries, the British banned all social workers and political activists from the area, fearing the influence they might exert over adivasis’ sense of entitlement to the land. The first mission school there was founded in Ahwa, the district headquarters, in 1905, and Christian evangelists of many denominations have been active in the area ever since. According to Aseemanand, Christians used to call the Dangs “Paschim ka Nagaland”—the Nagaland of the west. “The threat was as big as in the Northeast,” he said.

Aseemanand first visited the Dangs in 1996, while touring the country on behalf of the VKA. The organisation’s leaders had asked him to take his successful conversion programmes into every tribal area in India; they had even created a Shraddha Jagran Vibhag (faith awakening wing) and installed him as its president. But Aseemanand thought he could have a greater impact working in a single area, and felt a strong pull to the Dangs. The Dangs “had the kind of work that I am good at—staying among the tribals and working with them,” he said. “One should always do the work from which one gains contentment.” Unlike the Northeast, he told me, there was still a chance to reclaim the Dangs from Christians.

First and foremost, however, Aseemanand was loyal to the Sangh, and his superiors were worried that he would be unable to fulfil his national mandate from the forests of Gujarat. Aseemanand didn’t convince them to let him focus his operations on the Dangs until 1998. Their anxiety proved unwarranted: less than a year after setting up in the district, Aseemanand managed to galvanise Sangh cadres across the country with his combination of evangelical outreach and violent coercion. Rao, the VKA organising secretary and Kerala RSS chief, called it “an example for the whole nation,” Aseemanand recalled.

By the time Aseemanand stationed himself at a VKA ashram in Waghai, in 1998, religious differences were already straining adivasi communities in the Dangs, many tribals told me. Christian proselytisation in the area had been relatively limited before the 1970s; but since 1991 the Christian population in the Dangs had been growing by roughly 9 percent each year, according to census figures. When parents died, brother would fight brother over what sort of funeral rites they should perform. In the year before Aseemanand arrived, 20 attacks on Christians had been reported in the district, and they continued sporadically throughout 1998.

Every year, the VKA ashram housed around two-dozen tribal boys, providing them with free food and accommodation so they could attend a local government school. A day at the ashram began with Aseemanand leading the boys in chanting the Ekata mantra, an ode to Bharat Mata and prominent Indians—from Gandhi to Golwalkar—sung by RSS swayamsevaks to open every session at the shakhas. One of the students that Aseemanand met at the ashram was Phoolchand Bablo. Aseemanand credited Bablo, who became a sort of guide and aide-de-camp for the swami, with much of the success of his work in the Dangs.

When I visited the Waghai ashram last year, Bablo came from his village to meet me. He was plump, with a round face and a smile whose warmth reflected in his eyes—the sort of person I felt I could trust to give me directions in a strange land. Even the most disturbing stories Bablo told me were imbued with this warmth.

Aseemanand’s methods were similar to those he used in the Andamans. He trusted Bablo to guide him to communities where he would be easily welcomed and could recruit aides to extend his influence throughout the forests. He and his volunteers would then hike to remote tribal villages, where they camped for up to a week at a time, eating with the adivasis and sleeping in their huts. Aseemanand preached Hinduism; distributed chocolates, Hanuman lockets, and copies of the Hanuman chaalisa to children; sang bhajans; and told the villagers that they should not be converting to Christianity. In every village, Aseemanand and his aides would make lists of people who could be baptised into Hinduism. The lists were closely monitored by Aseemanand. When he left for the next settlement, his aides would make sure that the adivasis’ huts were flying the saffron pennant of the Sangh.

Aseemanand married these comparatively soft methods to fear mongering. “He talked of real life situations like that in the districts on the borders of Bengal,” Bablo said. “Over there, the entire Hindu community had to flee because of the Muslims who keep coming in from the other side.” In pamphlets that he printed in the thousands and distributed throughout the district, Aseemanand also denounced Christians. The header on one flier, announcing a massive rally in June 1998, warned: “Come Hindus, Beware of Thieves.” The invective below read: “The most burning problem of Dang District is the establishments being run by Christian priests … Wearing a mask of service these Satans are exploiting the adivasis … Lies and deceit are their religion.” Aseemanand soon turned these execrations into violence.

On Christmas evening 1998, the Deep Darshan High School, in Ahwa, was attacked by members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, and the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), an offshoot of the VKA. Sister Lily, one of the Carmelite nuns who ran the school, said more than 100 people armed with stones participated in the rampage, breaking windows and destroying the roof of the school’s hostel for tribal boys. “Even after all these years I can still visualise it,” Sister Lily told me when I visited her at the school. “I was so frightened that day.”

Thirty kilometres away, in Subir, another school was attacked; a grain shed there was looted and then set on fire. In Gadhvi village, a mob of reportedly 200 people demolished the local church and then set it ablaze; afterwards, they went to a neighbouring village and burnt down the church there. The church in Waki village was torched the next day; a forest department jeep was reportedly used in the attack. The day after, six village churches in the Dangs were destroyed. The homes of Christian tribals were pelted with stones. Christian and Muslim businesses were destroyed, and Christian tribals were assaulted.

The destruction carried on like this for a total of ten days. Between mid December 1998 and mid January of the next year, “40,000 Christians got converted to Hinduism,” Aseemanand proudly claimed. “We demolished 30 churches and built temples. There was some commotion.”

The violence had started with three Hindu Jagran Manch rallies on Christmas morning—one in Ahwa and two in tehsils of a neighbouring district—organised by Aseemanand. According to Dasharath Pawar, who was then a general secretary of a BJP unit in the Dangs, 3,500 Sangh members wielding trishuls and lathis participated in the Ahwa rally. Slogans echoing Aseemanand’s anti-Christian rhetoric were raised. The town’s main road was hung with saffron banners. Local priests had petitioned the district collector, Bharat Joshi, to intervene. Instead of defusing the situation, he graced the dais at the Ahwa rally with his presence.

The scale of the rioting that followed the rallies owed a great deal to Aseemanand’s skill as an organiser. Before he arrived, there were only a handful of Sangh workers in the district; Aseemanand pumped energy into the Hindutva movement and turned it into a force with thousands of members, Pawar said. “His words were powerful enough to awake the sleeping Hindutva in you.”

“To stop conversions is an easy job,” Aseemanand told me. “Use the route of religion. Make the Hindus kattar [fanatic]. The rest of the work will be done by them.”

One of the accomplishments Aseemanand claimed in this respect was the founding of the HJM, which was set up to look like a purely tribal organisation. Because of the violence involved, “we couldn’t do all the Sangh’s work through VKA,” he said. “So we had to make HJM for this with tribals. This Janubhai”—the ostensible HJM President—“didn’t know a thing. What plan of action to undertake, what to print in the pamphlets, all those decisions were taken by us. We just kept him as a face since he is a tribal. Adivasis used to do all the Sangh’s work.”

Whether by inspiration or intimidation, Aseemanand’s ghar vapasi programmes also became increasingly popular. For the next three to four years, whenever they had a roster of 50 to 100 potential converts, he and his aides would gather them up and haul them in open trucks and jeeps to the Unai temple in Surat. After a dip in a perennial hot spring next to the temple, and a tilak-pooja, the tribals were declared Hindu. They were packed back into the vehicles with a photo of Hanuman and a copy of the Hanuman chaalisa under their arms. On the way back, bhajans were blared from the vehicles so that the whole programme became a spectacle. The carnivals would stop at the Waghai ashram, where Aseemanand hosted a feast and gave each convert a Hanuman locket.

Aseemanand’s concern for the tribals rarely extended farther than the question of whether they were praying to Jesus Christ or to Ram. In an interview with The Week, in January 1999, Aseemanand said, “We are not interested in poverty alleviation or developmental activities. We are only trying to uplift the tribals spiritually.” This approach, backed by Aseemanand’s participation in local communities, had a powerful appeal. “I have never seen a person live a more difficult life than Swamiji,” Bablo said. “With utmost devotion, he goes and stays with the most backward community. He stays there, eats there, and mingles with them—and makes those people his own. The people end up getting confident that now we, too, have someone to stand up for us.”

ASEEMANAND DESCRIBED THE DANGS TO ME as one of the most beautiful places in India. Many journalists who worked there in the late 1990s agreed. When I visited the area in June 2013, the forest was grey and bare. (“You should see it during the monsoon,” Aseemanand told me in Ambala jail.) What stood out to me were the region’s roads—miles and miles of world-class highways carved into the mountains. They were built by the government of Aseemanand’s most important political patron, Narendra Modi.

Around the time Aseemanand moved to the Dangs, in early 1998, the BJP politician Keshubhai Patel was sworn in as Gujarat’s chief minister. For most of the period since Independence, the state had been a Congress stronghold, although Patel had also headed it for seven months in 1995. In March 1998, when Vajpayee became the prime minister—and the ideological compromises of his government were still in the future—there was a surge of expectation in the RSS cadre that their vision for India was coming into being.

The Christmas riots in the Dangs seemed in some small measure to herald the change they desired. An early indication of Aseemanand’s success was the appearance of Sonia Gandhi, who travelled to Ahwa to condemn what she called the “heart-breaking” violence. Other politicians and celebrities followed suit. The news coverage significantly raised Aseemanand’s public profile—and his esteem within the Sangh. Not long after, the RSS granted him its annual Shri Guruji award, another honour named after Golwalkar.

To quell the uproar in Delhi over Aseemanand’s riots, LK Advani, then the home minister, was forced to intervene. “When my conversion stories made national news, and when Sonia Gandhi flew down to make speeches against me, there was a lot of discussion in the media,” Aseemanand said. “Then Advaniji was the home minister and asked Keshubhai Patel to rein me in. So then he started stopping us from working and even arrested my people.” But Modi was already waiting in the wings, and sharpening his knives. Aseemanand said that Modi approached him at a senior RSS gathering in Ahmedabad, and told him, “I know what Keshubhai is doing to you. Swamiji there is no comparison to what you are doing. You are doing the real work. Now it has been decided that I will be the CM. Let me come and then I will do your work. Rest easy.” (Repeated attempts to contact Modi through his office went unanswered.)

Modi became the chief minister in October 2001. When the anti-Muslim riots that killed over 1,200 Gujaratis began at the end of the following February, Aseemanand orchestrated his own attacks north of the Dangs, in the Panchmahal district, he claimed: “The wiping out of Muslims from this area was also overseen by me.”

Later that year, Modi came to the Dangs to help consolidate Aseemanand’s influence. In October 2002, Aseemanand started construction on Shabari Dham, a sacred precinct dedicated to the tribal woman believed to have helped Ram during his legendary 14-year exile. To raise funds for the precinct’s ashram and temple, whose centrepiece would be a statue of Ram, he organised an eight-day Ramkatha (Ramayana recital) by the celebrated rhapsode Morari Bapu. The performance attracted at least 10,000 people. Modi, in the midst of campaigning to regain his chief ministership—his government had dissolved that July, in the aftermath of the riots—appeared on stage to help kick off the performance.

Part of Modi’s election manifesto that year was the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill, which proposed that all religious conversions be approved by a district magistrate. Four months after Aseemanand’s fundraiser, Modi’s trusted aide Amit Shah brought the bill before the state assembly; the bill passed, and was signed into law in April 2003. Soon, Aseemanand, with the help of Morari, Modi, and the leadership of the RSS, began planning a high-profile ghar vapasi in the Dangs.

At the end of his Ramkatha, Morari had proposed a new kumbh mela at Shabari Dham. The festival, which took four years to prepare, would be a demonstration against conversion and a celebration of Hindutva. Aseemanand took it upon himself to organise the mela, together with the RSS.

In the second week of February 2006, tens of thousands of Indians flooded into the forest village of Subir, six kilometres from Aseemanand’s ashram at Shabari Dham, to attend the inaugural Shabari Kumbh Mela. Like the four traditional kumbh melas which it was meant to emulate, the Shabari Kumbh centred on an act of ritual purification; by ceremonially plunging themselves into a local river, adivasis would signal their return to the Hindu fold. Thousands of people from tribal districts across central India were trucked to the event; the response to an RTI application I filed stated that the Gujarat government spent at least Rs. 53 lakh to divert water into the river—making it ample enough to accommodate the crowds.

The Shabari Kumbh was also a show of unity within the Hindu Right: over the three-day mela, well-known religious figures (such as Morari Bapu, Asaram Bapu, Jayendra Saraswati and Sadhvi Rithambhara), top leaders from the RSS and the broader Sangh Parivar (including Indresh Kumar, and the hard-line Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders Pravin Togadia and Ashok Singhal), and senior BJP politicians (including the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan) shared the dais. Hundreds of full-time RSS members and thousands of the organisation’s volunteers managed the event. As one pair of researchers put it, the Shabari Kumbh was a “confluence of … sadhus, Sangh and sarkar”.

On the festival’s opening day, Modi (who had regained power the previous December) told the audience that every attempt to take tribals away from Ram would fail. Behind the stage was a giant mural of the Hindu deity firing an arrow into a ten-headed Ravana. The then RSS chief, KS Sudarshan, took a more belligerent line. “We are up against a kapat yuddha [deceitful war] by fundamentalist Muslims and Christians,” he told a gathering of sadhus, adding that this had to be “combated with everything at our command”. Sudarshan’s deputy, Mohan Bhagwat (who became sarsanghchalak when Sudarshan retired, in March 2009), told the group, “Those opposing us will have their teeth broken.”

ACCORDING TO NEWS REPORTS, anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 people attended the kumbh, although few reconversions were witnessed. Today, there are barely any devotees flocking to the Shabari Dham temple, and the temple cannot afford support staff. The ashram where Aseemanand lived has been demolished. Pradeep Patel, who assists the temple’s chief pujari, told me that the temple has become notorious because of its association with Aseemanand, and this has kept away all the generous Gujarati contributors the temple used to attract. The few Maharashtrians who visit the place barely drop a Rs. 10 note in the bhandaar, having spent all their money on travelling to the Dangs. A disappointed Aseemanand told me, “It is my mistake. I couldn’t build it properly.”

There is nevertheless a flurry of activity in the area. The Gujarat government seems to think that temples are what the region needs the most, so that the Dangs can earn its bread and butter through religious tourism. In 2012, the state inaugurated the Rama Trail project, a government initiative to commemorate the journey undertaken by the mythological characters of the Ramayana, and Shabari Dham features prominently in the plan.

The response to an RTI petition I filed revealed that under the Rama Trail project, the Shabari temple received Rs. 13 crore from the state government to build a Shiv temple, four fountains, a service road and compound wall, a huge parking lot, and a seating plaza—and to cover the costs of sanitation, flooring, electrification and water supply. In contrast, Modi’s government is yet to submit plans that would allow it to deploy an Rs. 11.6-crore grant handed out by the central government, under the Backward Regions Grant Fund scheme, to foster development in the Dangs. The money has been lying unclaimed for the last six years. Local Christian institutions have also been shut out by the state. “From 1998 we have been blacklisted in Gandhinagar,” Sister Lily, at Deep Darshan High School, said. “We have been putting up files for new grants for the school every year, but they don’t give us anything.”

The Unai temple in Navsari, where Aseemanand carried out his mass conversions, also received Rs. 3.63 crore under the Rama Trail project. Work on the main building was completed by the time I visited, in June 2013. The new structure was magnificent, imposing. Behind its walls, it hid the humble old temple where Aseemanand brought his tribal bands for reconversion. A priest at the temple told me grimly that the number of visitors to the temple has spiked in recent years, but the hot springs have dried up for the first time.

[IV]

FOR THE THREE YEARS PRECEDING the Shabari Kumbh, alongside preparing for the festival, Aseemanand had been meeting with several other long-time Sangh workers to discuss a problem far more distressing to them than religious conversions. At the core of this group were Pragya Singh Thakur, the executive member of the ABVP; and Sunil Joshi, the former RSS district leader in Indore.

In early 2003, Aseemanand received a phone call from Jayantibhai Kewat, who was then a BJP general secretary for the Dangs. “Pragya Singh wants to meet you,” Kewat told him. Kewat arranged for them to visit his house in Navsari, Surat, the next month.

Aseemanand remembered bumping into Singh at the house of a VHP worker in Bhopal, in the late 1990s. He was struck by her appearance—short hair, T-shirt, jeans—and her fiery rhetoric. (In a characteristic tirade delivered sometime after 2006, Singh declared, “we will put an end to [terrorists and Congress leaders] and reduce them to ashes.”) In Navsari, Singh told Aseemanand that in a month’s time she would visit him at the VKA’s Waghai ashram.

It was Aseemanand’s ardent championing of Hindutva, his “Hindu ka kaam”, Singh told me, that first drew her to him. “He was a great sanyaasi, doing great work for the country,” she said, when we met last December in Bhopal.

After the Navsari meeting, Singh soon arrived in the Dangs as promised. Three men accompanied her. One was Sunil Joshi.

People who knew Joshi described him as “eccentric and hyperactive”, according to news reports. Singh told me he was like a brother, and that they met through the RSS. Aseemanand recalled that, in later years, when he sheltered Joshi at the Shabari Dham ashram, Joshi would spend all day incanting bhajans and performing poojas while Aseemanand roamed the forest, visiting tribals. Around the time Joshi and Singh first started spending time with Aseemanand, Joshi was wanted for the murder of a Congress tribal leader and the Congressman’s son in Madhya Pradesh, a crime for which the RSS reportedly excommunicated him.

Another member soon joined their group. While working in Canada, an administrative professional named Bharat Rateshwar had also heard about Aseemanand’s work in the Dangs; he decided to give up his life abroad and return to India to help. Rateshwar built a house, in nearby Valsad district, where Aseemanand’s collaborators would stay on their way to his ashram.

Aseemanand and Pragya Singh both told me that they met frequently in the years leading up to the kumbh. Above all, they discussed the growth of the country’s Muslim population, which Aseemanand considered the biggest threat to the nation. “With Christians, we can always stand together and threaten them,” Aseemanand told me. “But Muslims were multiplying fast.” He continued, “Have you seen the videotapes in which the Taliban slaughter people? Yes, I did talk in meetings about that. I said that if Muslims multiply like this they will make India a Pakistan soon, and Hindus here will have to undergo the same torture.” The group explored “ways to curb this”, he said. They were also angered by Islamic terrorist attacks, especially on Hindu places of worship such as Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, where 30 people were killed, in 2002. Aseemanand’s solution to this problem, which he advocated frequently, was to retaliate against innocent Muslims. His refrain was bomb ka badla bomb—a bomb for a bomb.

The group’s conversations continued over the next two years, as Aseemanand prepared the kumbh. Soon, Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar gave their sanction to the plot, according to the account Aseemanand gave me. While they took centre stage at the kumbh along with other leaders of the Hindu Right, Aseemanand retreated to his ashram. Despite his seniority and popularity within the Sangh, he had agreed with Bhagwat and Kumar that he should publicly distance himself from the RSS. “It was a strategy that we took at the time,” Aseemanand told me. Instead of participating in the kumbh, he was to focus in secret on planning the attacks.

LESS THAN A MONTH AFTER THE SHABARI KUMBH, two bombs exploded in Varanasi, killing 28 people and injuring a hundred more. One of the explosives was placed at the entrance to a Hindu temple. Aseemanand, Singh, Joshi, and Rateshwar immediately convened at Shabari Dham, where they decided to conjure up a reply.

In his confession, Aseemanand said that Joshi and Rateshwar agreed to head to Jharkand to purchase pistols, and SIM cards to be used in detonators. Aseemanand gave them Rs. 25,000. He also suggested that they try to recruit other radical sadhus to the conspiracy. (In the end, the Ram bhakts he nominated chose to stick to vitriol.) In Jharkand, Joshi contacted his friend Devender Gupta, the RSS chief of Jamathada district, who helped them secure fake driving licences with which to purchase SIM cards.

In June 2006, the team rallied at Rateshwar’s house. Joshi and Singh arrived with four new members of the conspiracy—Sandeep Dange, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Lokesh Sharma, and a man known only as Amit. Dange, whose nickname was “Teacher”, was the RSS district head in Madhya Pradesh’s Shajapur district; Kalsangra was an RSS organiser from Indore.

According to chargesheets, Joshi formed three task forces to carry out the blasts. One group would motivate and shelter young men whom they would recruit to plant the bombs; one would procure materials for the bombs; and the third would assemble the devices and execute the attacks. Joshi agreed to be the only connecting thread between the various parts of the conspiracy. He then suggested that they target the Samjhauta Express in order to kill the maximum number of Pakistanis. Aseemanand proposed Malegaon, Hyderabad, Ajmer and Aligarh Muslim University.

Several months went by in the Dangs without news. Then, during Diwali celebrations, Joshi came to meet Aseemanand at Shabari Dham. According to Aseemanand’s confession statement, Joshi claimed responsibility for two explosions in Malegaon, on 8 September, that killed 31 people. Dange, along with Kalsangra, had helped Joshi procure bomb-making materials, assemble the explosives, and execute the attacks, according to chargesheets.

On 16 February 2007—a Shivratri day—Joshi and Aseemanand met again, at the Kardmeshwar Mahadev Mandir in Balpur, Gujarat. “There is going to be some good news” in the next few days, Joshi told Aseemanand, according to the confession. Two days later, the Samjhauta Express was bombed. A day or so after that, Joshi, Aseemanand and some members of the larger conspiracy met at Rateshwar’s house, where Joshi took credit for the attack. This time he told Aseemanand that Dange and his aides carried out the blast. Attacks continued over the next eight months; in May, the group bombed Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid and, in October, they bombed the Ajmer dargah.

On 19 February 2007, Singh had sat down to watch breaking news of the Samjhauta blast with her sister and her aide Neera Singh, according to a witness statement given by Neera. When images of the destruction brought Neera to tears, Singh asked her not to cry, because all the dead were Muslims. When Neera pointed out that there were some Hindus among the dead, Singh replied, “Chanay ke saath gur bhi pista hai” (A little jaggery must be ground with the gram). Then Singh treated her sister and Neera to ice cream.

AT THE END OF 2007, things in the conspiracy took a turn for the worse. On 29 December, Sunil Joshi was shot dead on an isolated stretch of road near his mother’s house, in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. Joshi had four aides—Raj, Mehul, Ghanshyam and Ustad—who lived with him and were almost always in his company. (Raj and Mehul are wanted by police for the Best Bakery arson attack, in which 14 people were burned alive during the Gujarat riots in 2002.) All four mysteriously disappeared after Joshi’s killing.

When he learned of Joshi’s death, Aseemanand, looking for information about the killing, dialled the telephone number of a Military Intelligence officer he had met at a meeting of the militant RSS offshoot Abhinav Bharat, in Nasik—Lt Col Shrikant Purohit.

Purohit is a mysterious figure. For the last three years, he has been behind bars for planning the second Malegaon blast, of 2008. Time and again, he has claimed that he was acting as a double agent under orders from his army superiors. “I have done my job properly, have kept my bosses in the loop—and everything is on paper in the army records,” he told Outlook, in 2012. “Those who need to know know the truth.” Pragya Singh’s lawyer, Ganesh Sovani, told me they are treading carefully with Purohit: “We don’t know what his real intentions are.” According to Aseemanand’s confession statements, Purohit told him that since Joshi was involved in the murder of the tribal Congressman, this must have been an act of revenge.

Five months later, three bombs exploded in Maharashtra and Gujarat—two in Malegaon, and one in Modasa—killing at least seven people and injuring roughly 80. Aseemanand soon received a call from Sandeep Dange, who asked Aseemanand to shelter him at Shabari Dham for a few days. Aseemanand was on his way to Nadiad in Gujarat and didn’t think it wise to leave Dange in the ashram in his absence. Dange asked Aseemanand to pick him up from a bus depot in Vyara, 70 kilometres from Shabari Dham, and drop him in Baroda. In Vyara, Aseemanand met a very worried Dange, along with Ramchandra Kalsangra. They said they were coming from Maharashtra. Aseemanand later recalled to police that throughout the three-hour journey to Baroda they remained completely silent.

Singh was the first of the main conspirators to be captured, in October 2008, in connection with the second Malegaon bombing, after the Mumbai ATS determined that a scooter used in the blast belonged to her. Allegations soon emerged that she had been brutally tortured while in police custody. The news deeply disturbed Aseemanand. In the first week of November, the Mumbai ATS made another major arrest in the case—Purohit. He is alleged to have trained the terror suspects in bomb assembly, and supplied RDX from army stocks. Later that month, the ATS arrested a conspirator named Dayanand Pandey. Then the arrests suddenly came to a halt; Hemant Karkare, the celebrated chief of the Mumbai ATS, who was heading the investigation, was shot dead on 26 November during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Little changed until April 2010, when the Rajasthan ATS, while investigating the Ajmer bombing, arrested Devendra Gupta, the RSS district head from Jharkhand who had provided fake identification to Joshi and Rateshwar, and two others. The NIA took over the Samjhauta case that July. Meanwhile, the CBI was investigating the Mecca Masjid case, and conducting surveillance on several members of the conspiracy, including Aseemanand.

By now, Aseemanand knew that things were closing in; Phoolchand Bablo told me that in the months before his arrest Aseemanand was very disturbed. “He would be silent, resolutely silent about the news and investigation, and we did not ask him anything,” Bablo said. Aseemanand, who was almost 60 at the time, soon left Shabari Dham and began moving around the country in order to evade arrest. The constant travel weakened him, and his health deteriorated. Eventually, he settled in a village outside Haridwar, where he lived under an assumed name until the CBI tracked him down that November. “They had arrested everyone connected to Sunil,” Aseemanand told me. “I was the last one to be nailed.”

Aseemanand was thrown in a Hyderabad jail and soon confessed. “The CBI already knew the whole story,” Aseemanand told me. One statement Aseemanand made included a surprising account of why he decided to confess. A few days after his detention, he met a Muslim boy named Kaleem, who was also imprisoned in Hyderabad. Kaleem was accused of the Mecca Masjid blasts which Aseemanand had plotted. Kaleem used to wait on Aseemanand, and his kindness aggravated Aseemanand’s conscience. He was confessing, Aseemanand claimed, out of remorse.

When I mentioned this incident in our first interview, Aseemanand gave me a mischievous look. “So how big was the news about Kaleem?” he asked. He said the story was completely fabricated by the police. “Kaleem knew that I was in the same jail, but I couldn’t meet him,” Aseemanand said. “How will I ever say such things to a Muslim boy?”

After his confession, Aseemanand drafted two letters—one to the President of India claiming responsibility for the Samjhauta blasts, and one to the president of Pakistan, which read: “Before the criminal legal system hangs me, I want an opportunity to transform/reform Hafiz Saeed, Mullah Omar and other jihadi terrorist leaders and jihadi terrorist in Pakistan. Either you can send them to me, or you can ask the Indian government to send me to you.”

[V]

SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE Vishal Garg’s office is a modest cubicle in the NIA’s swanky Delhi headquarters. Against one glass wall of the office is a filing cabinet with four drawers labelled “Ajmer Blast”, “Samjhauta Blast”, “Sunil Joshi Murder”, and “Stationery”. A white board behind Garg’s desk tracks future court dates for the Samjhauta and Ajmer cases, in which Garg is the investigating officer. On another wall is a “wanted” poster featuring Sandeep Dange, Ramchandra Kalsangra and a man named Ashok who are still absconding in the Samjhauta case. The reward for information leading to the arrests of Dange and Kalsangra is one million rupees each.

“We often refer to the Aarushi case here,” Garg said when I visited his office last year. “Three days after the crime happened, CBI was given the case and they reached the crime scene. You can imagine what valuable evidences must have been lost.” Garg looked every bit the part of a counterterrorist IPS officer—down to the aviator sunglasses. “We took over the Samjhauta case three years after the crime,” he continued. “You can imagine how difficult the investigation must have been for us.”

Garg continued, “We have not been able to nail the money trail so far, as these are not bank transactions or ones that are documented. You can call it the limitation of the investigation. We know that Aseemanand has handed over cash to Sunil Joshi, but no idea of how much it was.” The source of the explosives used in the blasts is also still under investigation. Pointing to the “wanted” poster, Garg said, “These Rs. 10-lakh-award guys are the main brain and main executives of the crime. We need to catch them to get a better picture.”

The NIA is facing a number of obstacles. In July 2012, the Supreme Court restrained the agency from interrogating Pragya Singh in the murder of Sunil Joshi, on the technical grounds that the case’s FIR was lodged before the inception of the agency, in 2009. The court has also blocked the agency from questioning Lt Col Srikant Purohit and another accused. The NIA prosecutor and legal advisor Ahmed Khan has advised the agency to club all the cases together and try them in a single court, but no further steps have been taken in this direction.

The NIA says supplementary charge sheets naming more conspirators will be filed soon, and Garg told me he was working hard. “Last week one of my subordinates met me at the lift and said, ‘Saab, aaj aap bade smart lag rahe ho.’ I told him he could also look sharp if he gave up sleeping.” He broke into a laugh, then told me that he once had a commanding officer who used tell to him that if he slept, he should dream of the good time his suspects must be having.

When I asked Garg why the NIA never questioned Indresh Kumar, he said that it was an internal matter and would not discuss it.

AFTER PRAGYA SINGH WAS ARRESTED, in 2008, Congress leaders such as P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh began decrying what they called “saffron terror”. RSS and BJP officials rushed to defend their organisations from the taint—first denouncing and then defending the accused.

“I am shocked and it is shameful that the BJP is disowning her and all their organisations are disowning her,” the senior BJP leader Uma Bharti said following Pragya Singh’s arrest. “When they wanted, they used her.” The BJP spokesperson Ravishankar Prasad countered, “There is no question of owning or disowning her. She left ABVP in 1995–96.” The party was later embarrassed when recent photographs surfaced showing Pragya Singh in the company of the BJP president, Rajnath Singh, and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Another showed her sharing a dais in Gujarat with Narendra Modi during his post-riots election campaign.

When allegations emerged that Pragya Singh was tortured, the BJP changed tack. LK Advani condemned the “barbaric treatment” meted out to her, and said that it was clear the investigating agency “was acting in a politically motivated and unprofessional manner”. (The political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta later commented, “Nothing diminished L.K. Advani before the last election more than his artless, passionate and entirely a priori defence of Sadhvi Pragya.”)

But the RSS launched its most vehement public protest (and one of the largest in its history) a week and a half before Aseemanand was arrested, in November 2010—on behalf of Indresh Kumar, whose name had begun cropping up in media reports about the investigations. The Sangh’s chiefs marshalled a nationwide protest. According to Organiser, more than a million people participated in over 700 dharnas across the country; virtually the entire leadership of the RSS and the VHP appeared on stage at the rallies. At a demonstration in Lucknow, Mohan Bhagwat stressed the importance of his own participation in Kumar’s defence. “For the first time in the history of the organisation, a sarsanghchalak has not only attended a dharna but also addressed the meetings as a conspiracy was being hatched to tag terrorism with the RSS,” he said. The dais was adorned with a poster featuring the face of Mohandas Gandhi. Bhagwat continued, “Hindu Samaj, saffron colour and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—all these terms are opposite in meaning to the term terror.”

The CBI and ATS investigations produced valuable leads and witness statements that clearly point to Kumar’s role in the bomb blasts. The NIA’s own chargesheets indicate that he was the mentor to several of the leading figures in the conspiracy (especially Sunil Joshi), and the CBI has interrogated him. In late July 2011, it was widely reported that the NIA, too, intended to question Kumar. But he was already taunting the agency in the press: “When NIA has strong evidences against me in terrorists’ act, why isn’t it arresting me?” He went on to claim that he, along with Pragya Singh and Aseemanand, had been falsely implicated. The agency is yet to question him.

The RSS and the BJP have taken every opportunity to call the on-going investigations a witch-hunt instigated by the Congress-led government. If this is true, the half-hearted way in which the cases are being handled make one wonder what influence the government really has over the agencies.

When I interviewed Kumar last year, he complained that journalists only ask questions about the RSS’s politics, and aren’t interested in the organistation’s social initiatives. “Then they just print those questions and murder the story about our work,” he said. “Now the media is slowly realising that they have been wrong in ignoring such a diversified organisation as the Sangh.” When the conversation turned toward his role in the blast, he said, “I warn people to be careful when they write about me.” His tone was aggressive. Later, when I telephoned him to ask about the meeting in which he and Bhagwat allegedly gave their blessing to the terrorist attacks, he went completely silent. Mohan Bhagwat’s office asked me to email them for comment, but at the time this article went to press they had not responded.

ON FRIDAY, 24 JANUARY, a special NIA court in Panchkula, Haryana, framed charges against Aseemanand in the Samjhauta blast case. After three years in Ambala jail and 31 months of legal hearings, his trial can finally move forward. In an NIA court in Jaipur, he has been under trial for the Ajmer case since September 2013. His trial in the Mecca Masjid case is not yet underway; last November, he made his first visit in two years to the Hyderabad court that is hearing the case.

Pragya Singh, who is accused number one in the 2008 Malegaon blast, has approached the Bombay High Court to challenge the NIA’s constitutionality. She also claims to be suffering from cancer, and is currently under treatment at an ayurvedic hospital in Bhopal. She has filed various bail applications that are being contested by the NIA.

At this point, it seems the trials may drag on for several more years. Lawyers from both sides blame each other for delaying court proceedings. Over the year and a half that I travelled back and forth from the Panchkula court, there were few newsworthy developments until the framing of the charges.

In Ambala, Aseemanand is now being held in a special B-class cell with Ram Kumar Chaudhary, the Congress parliamentarian from Himachal Pradesh who is accused of murdering a 24-year-old woman in Haryana in November 2012. They share a cook, who prepares them meals on request, and they are only on lockdown during the night.

In our last interview, in January 2014, he asked if I would like some tea. Before I could answer, a lean teenage boy, incarcerated for petty crimes, thrust a plastic cup filled with sweet chai into my hands. Aseemanand pulled him close and said, “This is my boy. He will be released soon.” He looked into the teenager’s face and added, laughing, “This chaiwala might grow up to become Narendra Modi.”

During our interviews, prison officers often stopped by to ask Aseemanand how he was doing. “They all tell me ‘jo hua accha hua,’” Aseemanand said—whatever happened is good. “They don’t know whether I have done it or not, but they believe that whoever did it, did the right thing.”

When I visited Kamarpukur, Aseemanand’s village in West Bengal, his family members were largely reluctant to speak with me. But as I left, his younger brother Sushant said to me, “Wait for a few months. Once Modiji comes to power I will put a stage in the village centre and shout from the loudspeakers all that Aseemanand has done.”

In one of our meetings, Aseemanand paraphrased the last words of Nathuram Godse: may my bones not be discharged into the sea until the Sindhu river flows through India again. He has assured Phoolchand Bablo that although his trial might take time, he will definitely be released. And he told me that the work of people like him, Pragya Singh and Sunil Joshi will continue: “It will happen. It will happen on time.”

 

Correction: The print version of this article mistakenly states that the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 was withdrawn in 2008. An amendment to the law, passed by the state assembly in 2006, was withdrawn. This has been corrected online. The Caravan regrets the error.

LEENA GITA REGHUNATH is the Editorial Manager at The Caravan.

– See more at: http://caravanmagazine.in/reportage/believer#sthash.YWV6hZk4.dpuf

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#India – Dream Team “Nation’s Cyclone of Change” or, Who’s Who in the Pantheon of Indian Fascism

Amit Shah: Alias Mr Amnesia Shah, his standard response to all questions asked about his role in the carefully-planned encounter killings of 2003–2006 was ‘I don’t remember’; charged with extortion, murder and criminal conspiracy (in chargesheets filed between 2010 and 2012) and currently out on bail, Shah was even banned by the Supreme Court from entering Gujarat. In an interview to Headlines Today dated 21 Oct., 2013 he defended all the Gujarat encounter killings as directed at ‘anti-nationals’ and simultaneously disclaimed any prior knowledge of them. You can’t have it both ways, Amitbhai! What else was Vanzara saying to you?
Narendra Modi: Puffed up monster, constructed by the RSS and the media to win the hearts and minds of ‘the youth’. And why is he a youth icon? Because he was in charge when over 2000 Indians were slaughtered in Gujarat in 2002 and did nothing to stop the slaughter; because he spent crores of rupees to make sure Gujarat doesn’t have an independent lokayukta; ask yourself why he moves heaven and hell to make sure no independent authority can investigate potential charges of corruption in his state. The man comes across as neanderthal and monosyllabic, but there are powerful forces at work to make everyone believe he is the most ‘popular’ politician India has ever had…ever…Adept at body language, Modi has made it abundantly clear that he enjoys a specially close relationship with Mukesh Ambani. ‘Sarkaar garibon ke liye hoti hai’, indeed!
Yashwant Sinha: Walking economic disaster; both occasions when he was Finance Minister India’s economy saw severe economic downturns! In 1990 all the gold in the RBI’s vaults was shipped off to the Bank of England as collateral for a loan, and in March 2001, ‘soon after Sinha presented his Budget, India experienced one of its worst market crashes: about $32 billion worth of market capitalisation was wiped out that month’. Nor was his grasp of principle any stronger. In December 1992 he had publicly denounced the RSS/BJP as ‘obscurantist, fundamentalist and fascist’ only to join the BJP nine months later.

Uma Bharati: Firebrand demolisher of the temples of other communities; famous recently for her shameless public defense of the rapist godman Asaram whose empire of crime is matched only by the extent of Bharati’s own moksha from hatred and desire.

Arun Jaitley: The urbane face of a sordid underbelly; has spearheaded a rowdy parliamentary opposition that has systematically deranged the functioning of parliament for over 2 years, with huge benefits to the country of course; a strong supporter of Modi, Jaitley recently wrote a letter to the PM that is replete with deliberate distortions to create the impression that Amit Shah is being made the subject of dastardly persecution by the Central Government. ‘The CBI arrested Amit Shah with no prosecutable evidence against him’ (!!) says the letter, and this in the face of a 30,000-page chargesheet filed by the CBI!

Nitin Gadkari: Recently shown to be a model of corporate governance; has concocted boards of directors with as much imagination as his chauffeur shows at the red light. Widely acknowledged as the country’s leading authority on fake investing companies and fictitious addresses – Gadkari would be better off writing scripts for Bollywood but is crucial to the RSS money laundering machine. When his son Nikhil got married 3 years ago, the food alone is said to have cost Rs 5 crores. That is roughly equivalent to half a million white-collar lunches if each lunch costs, say, Rs 100/-. But don’t forget, ‘Sarkaar garibon ke liye hoti hai’, as Modi said in Kanpur.

 
Sushma Swaraj: Official leader of her parliamentary stormtroopers; as a woman, deeply committed to the emancipation of women in India – e.g. she recently described any woman who has been raped as a ‘living corpse’(!)
Mohan Bhagwat: RSS chief; such a sharp observer of his own country that he astonished many with his insight that rural India is free of sexual violence because of the high regard for women in traditional Indian culture; so now we know…(Bhagwat made his statement after extensive interviews with Dalit women. And what happened in the villages of Gujarat in 2002?)
B. S. Yeddyurappa: The notoriously corrupt former Chief Minister of Karnataka who was hung out to dry by the party’s central command, then split to form his own largely caste-based party and is now desperate to rejoin an alliance with the BJP, since he sees Modi as India’s salvation – from independent Lokayuktas no doubt. (BSY was arrested in October 2011 following a warrant issued by the Lokayukta court. Modi is keen to have Yeddyurapa’s backing in Karnataka. What unites them of course is the high level of integrity each of them has shown with respect to independent Lokayuktas and their investigations!)
 
Meenakshi Lekhi: Another SC lawyer (like Jaitley) but much less sophisticated and part of the BJP’s media mob; no one symbolises the crass combination of the hatred of India’s upper classes for the mass of their own population with repulsive communal views better than Ms Lekhi; this cocktail of class and communal bigotry was spewed forth with remarkable candour when she described Ishrat Jahan (murdered in Shah’s crusade against ‘anti-nationals’) as a ‘fit case’ for being a terrorist since she came from a ‘deprived background’. Well, then, Ms Lekhi, you and the Bharatiya Jihadi Party have your work cut out for you, with some 900 million ‘fit cases’ round the corner.
Now, seriously, who can ask for a better team than this? 

 

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#India – Tribal Woman raped in bus, helper arrested #Odisha #Vaw

RAPE

Odisha Tribal woman raped in moving bus

PTI : Bhubaneswar/Cuttack, Wed Jun 19 2013, 1

TOP ST

A 25-year-old tribal girl was allegedly raped by the helper of an air-conditioned luxury bus in which she was travelling, police today said. The accused identified as Susanta Hembram has been arrested for allegedly raping the tribal girl, resident of Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, in the moving bus on Sunday night when other passengers were fast asleep, they said.

In her complaint, the victim alleged that Hembram raped her in the rear seat of the private bus en route Jagatpur near Cuttack, between 3 to 3.30 am when there were only few passengers and all of them were asleep, City DCP S Praveen Kumar said.

Hembram is believed to be an acquaintance of the victim,who works as a domestic help in Jagatpur, on the outskirts of Cuttack city. The incident came to light when the girl was rescued by some people at Gatiroutpatna, about 5 km from Cuttack on Cuttack-Jagatsinghpur road yesterday.

The Mahila police station of the city after registering a case sent both the accused and the victim for medical examination on the day. A police scientific team is also assisting the city police in investigating the case.

The State Transport Commissioner Surendra Kumar informed that the permit of the passenger bus in which the crime was committed has been cancelled. “It is one of the primary duties of the bus staff to ensure that the passengers boarding the buses travel safely and reach their destinations unharmed,” Kumar said. Meanwhile, the Private Bus Owners’ Association condemning the incident has demanded that stringent punishment should be given to the bus helper and urged the bus owners to ensure that the credentials of the persons are verified properly before they are recruited to perform duties in the buses plying at night.

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#India -Sexual Violence, Consumer Culture and Feminist Politics #Vaw # Sexuality

 – Rethinking the Critique of Commodification : Sreenanti Banerjee

FEBRUARY 3, 2013

Guest Post by SREENANTI BANERJEE

I will begin with the by now well-known interview of author and social activist Arundhati Roy, conducted by Channel 4 (a British Media House), about the widespread protests after the horrific December 16th incident of the brutal gangrape of the 23 year old medical student in Delhi. Permit me to quote Roy at length as I do not wish to take bits and pieces from her talk, and pluck them out of their context.

We are having an unexceptional reaction to an event which isn’t exceptional […] But the problem is that why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, the vegetable vendor, the gym instructor, the bus driver actually assaulting a middle-class girl. But when rape is used as a means of domination by upper castes, by the army or the police it’s not even punished.

Question: Is there any chance that this protest is going to lead to genuine change, that the political class will accept that this is not what modern India is all about?

Answer: I think it will lead to some laws perhaps, and increased surveillance. But, all of that, I repeat, all of that will protect middle class women.

Question: This is such a contrast from the image of modern India that is being potrayed by the film-making industry in Mumbai, by the whole sort of new tech India. I mean as if there are many worlds competing here [……] So you are suggesting that this new India is fuelling disrespect for women?

Answer: The feudal India has a huge history and legacy of disrespect and violence against women, I mean, any accounts of partition or what is done to dalit women contains that. But, now there is a sort of psychosis. First of all the army and the police are using rape as a weapon against people in places like Chattisgarh, Kashmir and Manipur and so on [……]

But, the other thing is that there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor.Earlier atleast the rich did what they did with a fair amount of discretion. Now it’s all out there, on television, all the sort of conspicuous consumption, and there is ananger and a psychosis building up. Women at the top, at the middle and the bottom are going to pay the price for it, not so much at the top but certainly the dalit women are continuously going to be subjected to violence, and young urban women like the one to whom this happened are very very vulnerable to this kind ofpsychotic rage.” (emphasis added).

Now, although the interview appears to state the ‘real’ conditions of Indian democracy and how the state always permits only a particular class to vent its grievance against violence, here I would urge you to read with me in this interview something that appears to be a central conundrum of cultural politics in what we come to know as the “Global South” today.

The anchor of the programme here speaks in his generic Orientalist “civilizing” tone of a “new and a modern India”, accompanied by a commonplace bewilderment about a supposed “clash of civilization” (in the Hutingtonian sense), about how a “modern” country can exhibit such entrenched misogyny (as if women’s emancipation is always and already another synonym for ‘modernity’) – a country which in fact was supposed to have ‘transcended’ its erstwhile ‘uncivilized’ past and by now gotten rid of its taint of being a “fallen civilization”. And this amazement on the part of the anchor is nothing unusual since this was typical of the whole of Western media after the ghastly event of December 16th when it was always poor “Indian men” raping its modern civilized ‘other’ (in the form of urban women), not being able to cope with rapid processes westernization and globalization.

However, it is interesting to note Arundhati Roy’s response to these questions, especially her notion of “conspicuous consumption” leading to anger and psychosis amongst the urban youth, and women “paying the price” for capitalism’s “pornographic” seductions with its obnoxiously rising concomitant gap between the rich and the poor.  Now, for quite some time, we have seen a continuum in terms of taking positions on westernization and its supposed effects on women and their ‘safety’. From Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief to the Supreme Court Judgement criticized by the Justice Verma Committee Report pp. 80 – 83 (which claimed that in India women would seldom falsely “cry rape”, as sex here is generally not for sale and hence women are more protectionist about their sexuality compared to the West where sex is used for pleasure and economic purposes), to Kakoli Ghosh Dastidaar of Trinamool Congress asserting that the “context” of the Park Street rape incident of the “pub-going woman” was qualitatively different from that of the bus gangrape as in the former (“false”) case it was a mere squabble between a prostitute and her client (as opposed to the more ‘authentic’ gangrape in the bus), to Abhijeet Mukherjee’s lament about painted and dented, non-intellectual, consumerist women’s frivolous protests – all of them (although from different standpoints) seem to be commenting on the ghastly effect that capitalism and its twin associate commodification has on the urban Indian woman. While the article published in The Hindu (quoted in the Verma Committee Report) as well as Arundhati Roy seem to be engaging in a much more nuanced analysis of how women venturing in the public sphere for work, education or leisure ‘unfortunately’ become the targets of the wrath of men who are “victims” of an ever-growing individualist consumption-oriented culture, as opposed to Kakoli Ghosh Dastidaars or Mohan Bhagwats who engage in a much more blatant eulogy of the woman who maintains all the ‘lakshman rekhas’ and is not ‘utstrinkhal’ (a term recently used by the Hindi columnist Raj Kishor in an article to describe the ‘licentious urban women’); the underlying assumption is the same. And, that is, the striking opulence of consumer capital leads to sexual violence of urban women.

Fear of the ‘Inauthentic’ Female that predates Capitalism

Although I do understand where Roy is coming from and her concerns about the injustice that global capital has been giving rise to in recent times in terms of erasing any public discourse on state-sponsored sexual violence against women and sexual violence perpetrated by the upper class and upper castes on Dalit and tribal women, the assertion of women (of all classes) “paying the price” for the pornographic exhibitionism of wealth of a particular class, I believe, is certainly problematic.

Here, I do not wish to give the elaborate and rather painstaking (although much needed) inventory of misogyny predating capitalism. However, I do wish to give one particular instance which perhaps would take us to the heart of the matter, and somewhat help me to articulate my theoretical disagreement with Roy and certain other significant social commentators who consider “mindless flaunting and display of wealth” as the “root cause” of sexual violence against middle class women, and a “paying  of price” in terms of them being brutally violated and their intestines being pulled out as a direct and inevitable outcome of the hubris of global capital. This I believe, is a classic case of the much talked about notion of “justifying” sexual violence, something that directly informs what we conceive as “rape culture”.

Here, the notion of male ‘anxiety’ demands further exploration. One of the significant instances of this vulnerability gets demonstrated in the Laws of Manu, which is commonsensically renowned for its misogynist claims. But since commonsense by definition impedes criticality, it is significant to say that it is quite possible to refrain from any crass reductionism of Manu as far as his interpretation of women is concerned. In Laws of Manu, chapter 9, Manu says,

“[14] Good looks do not matter to them (women), nor do they care about youth; ‘A man!’ they say, and enjoy sex with him, whether he is good-looking or ugly. [15] By running after men like ‘whores’, by their ‘fickle minds’, and by their natural lack of affection these women are unfaithful to their husbands even when they are zealously guarded here. [16]. [……] women, who have no virile strength and no Vedic verses, are ‘falsehood’ […]”  [i]

What we need to do here is to read Manu against Manu himself. What is interesting is that the notion of control of women’s sexuality does not stem in Manu from the assumption that women are ‘naturally’ passive and weaker. Neither, does the desire to control emerge from an understanding that women are ‘essentially’ treacherous, unaffectionate and malicious. Rather, a different reading would help us realize that one of the primary sources of men’s anxiety and vulnerability about women’s sexual excess is the notion of the ‘masquerade’, the capacity to feign ‘originality’ and ‘authenticity’ on the part of women, only to prove the fictive nature of that very notion of an ‘authentic’ uncorroded pure womanhood’; in other words, the capacity to ‘mask’ or ‘mime’ oneself, only to show that there is no ‘referent’ of a ‘real self’ behind the mask. Thus, patriarchal disgust emanates from an inherent fear.

Is Commodification and Objectification Bad for Feminism?

From the above analysis, we realize that a culture of misogyny which certainly predated the advent of capitalism, already had a deep-seated fear of the ‘inauthentic fake open feelinglesss promiscuous whore’, whose sexuality in effect had to be controlled. With the advent of capitalism, new patriarchies got introduced which denied women’s household labour, gave rise to unequal wages so on and so forth. But, along with that, the already existing culture of misogyny became all the more ingrained as the apprehension and fear about the ‘inauthenticity’ of the ‘exchangeable’ woman became all pervading now. This is because like everything else, the woman also got translated into an ‘unnatural’ fetishized commodity, got ‘reduced’ to an ‘object’ of exchange under the capitalist order.

However, it should be noted that here the words objectification and commodification are necessary phenomena (as Thomas Keenan points out in his Reading ‘Capital’ Rhetorically), used strictly in the (non-orthodox) Marxist sense of being rendered ‘abstract’ for the purpose of exchange, so that everything is made ‘equal’ (alike) in the eyes of the bourgeouis law (or in other words, rendered ‘human’). Objectification here is a necessary and determining trait of social constitution of individuals as proprietors where the notion of the ‘object’ presupposes a consciousness of ‘difference’. Thus, here the agent is constituted as a discrete ‘self’ (individual), posessing ‘natural rights’, different from ‘others’, and yet ‘equal’ to ‘others’ (since as proprietors the agents should be able to see the others as “subject to the same laws, rights, calculations”). Thus, the ‘equality’ which objectification gives rise to is certainly not false consciousness in this context (as orthodox readings of Marxism would read it), since such a misplaced Marxist reading of objectification as false and hence bad reduces the meaning of the word to a banal Rightwing moralistic cry over a sovereign ‘wholeness’ getting ‘reduced’ to a mere ‘part’.

It is significant to note the pejorative connotations that words like objectification, commodification, consumerism and alienation have assumed in Indian feminist circles, where feminism has almost come to imply a kind of politics of asceticism, bereft of an ambiguous engagement with notions like that of desire and consumption practices. Here, desire of non-westernized women is assumed to be always and already more real, ethical and hence democratic than that of their westernized counterparts. And, I believe that it is precisely under such a climate of an uncritical collapse of rightwing and leftist critique of commodification, that the dissemination is possible of the opinions  that conspicuous consumption is the reason for sexual violence against women.

It is interesting to observe here that the Justice Verma report, along with all its commendable suggestions, makes one similar observation. It endorses the view that, “[…] the large-scale disempowerment of urban men is lending intensity to a pre-existing culture of sexual violence.” [ii] What is significant here is that, a mere stating of the ‘fact’ (as if it is self-evident) certainly does not explain the fact. It rather reifies the ‘fact’ as inevitable or ‘natural’. Hence, in my mind, in order to engage in a full-blown analysis of the ‘causes’ of sexual violence, this observation needs a qualification. And, that qualification is that neo-liberalism along with all its dissemination of social inequity across classes, in the process of commodifying people, alsomakes them ‘inauthentic’, that same inauthenticity which was much feared by Manu and his other patriarchal cohorts of those times.

And discourses on ‘teaching the promiscuous woman a lesson’ originate from an inherent fear of this very ‘inauthentic artificial’ woman, who chooses to objectify and commodify herself (although certainly “not under circumstances of her own making”). This choice, in my mind, needs to be respected, rather than dubbing it as mere false consciousness (just like we have learnt to respect the ‘choice’ of non-secular women adopting the headscarf, the hijab or the veil, by now a well-recognized aspect of postcolonial interrogation of Western Feminists’ ethnocentric spree to “Save the Other”). Hence, we need to ask the all important question that under what circumstances women’s commodification (starting from sex work to Bollywood item numbers) becomes the worst kind of objectification?[iii]

Thus, what we should keep in mind is that a real ‘critique’ of political economy should never get reduced to a mere ‘criticism’, since then our interrogation of capitalism becomes a banal moralistic one, bereft of the mentioning of the possibilities that processes of commodification give rise to, something that certainly impacts our subjectivity as well. In other words, a critique of global capital should not get reduced to a mere rightist and in turn a protectionist sob story ofcultural degeneration in terms of what capitalism does to the ‘unharmed’ body of the nation (the idea of the ‘nation’ already being a gendered concept, marked as feminine), a ‘sovereign’ body which is in need of ‘protection’ and ‘recuperation’ from the onslaughts (read harm, corrosion and injury) caused by globalization.

Now, although the larger point that the Justice Verma Report was trying to make here was that rape is not a ‘crime of passion’ but rather an “expression of power” and also how different subcultures use rape as a weapon against women to assert their collective identity, and all this can easily pass off as a mere ‘depiction’ and a resultant ‘analyses’ of ‘reality’,[ivi] it is significant to point out that this underlying assumption of the article in The Hindu about consumerist abundance and “showing off” as the root cause of sexual violence was indeed troubling. This especially becomes problematic in a climate where precisely the same words (although devoid of any sociological nunace) are used to “teach them” that this is the “price that they pay” for being brazenly commodified.

Now, the point is where do we draw the demarcating line if we are to build this continuum between sexual violence and pompous modernity? How do we intellectually separate the claims on capitalism made by thinkers like Roy with respect to sexual violence against urban women and that made by Mohan Bhagwat of RSS for instance, for whom, westernization is to be ‘blamed’ for the increase in crime against women in cities, or in other words ‘Indian’ women are more ‘rapeable’ than the auspicious ‘Bharatiya Nari’ (And Bhagwat, let me remind you, before hurling such lunacy, infact had already demanded severe punishment for the rapists and even called for their death penalty, something that can easily be used in his favour as a disclaimer to this terrible claim). Furthermore, this argument was later backed up by none other than Ashis Nandy, the eminent sociologist, for whom urban anomie and severe individualization is yet again the cause behind the increasing amount of sexual violence against women. Push the logic, and we shall easily be reminded of the words of the Toronto police officer for instance who remarked that, “woman are extremely fashionable these days and are constantly “showing off”, they should stop dressing like sluts to avoid rape”, something that triggered off the Slutwalk movement in Toronto, or for that matter someone like Abhijit Mukherjee’s contempt towards “painted and dented women”, intellectuals and protestors by morning and disco-goers by night!

Rape, Shame and Consumption

While the Justice Verma Report tries to undertake the mammoth task of addressing sexual violence as a structural problem rather than an aberrant individual act (and thus engages in a resultant critique of inequitable economic policies for giving rise to urban violence and quite rightly so), and quite commendably recommends a separation of notions of ‘honor’ and ‘shame’ from the act of rape, the language of the continuing emphasis on capitalism curbing options of recreation for migrant men and hence such “prospectless” men taking recourse to sexual violence as an articulation of their pent up frustration on urban women frequenting pubs, lounges or discotheques is certainly problematic. It creates an aura of scholarly empathy (for the lack of a better word) for the ‘deprived’ victimized men who are thought to become “psychotic” for the surrounding bourgeouis profligacy and hence engage in ghastly gangrapes as their last resort to gain some identity. Thus, it becomes a viscious argument which creates a moral, linguistic as well as an intellectual atmosphere where if the rape happens in and around what gets connoted as ‘hubs of consumerism’, since conspicuous consumption of the rich by now is already located as the indirect ‘cause’ of rape, the raped woman is judged as guilty for her ‘offence’ and hence is supposed to be ashamed for her habits of consumption, feel apologetic for a structure which “creates rapists” by ripping lower class men off their fundamental rights. This logic also at times gives rise to the age-old public spectacle of the vamp of Bollywood pleading for mercy, saying she is no more “like that” (consumerist, open and unrestricted).

Thus, conceiving capitalist exclusion as a cause of rapes in the cities creates an ambience of shaming the “slut” by claiming that such pomp-exuding ‘looseness’ furthers capitalism’s brutality of alienating the urban youth (which also strenghtens the implied logic that ‘she deserved it’). Thus, unless we put a vehement period to this perceived cause and effect chain of consumption habits of the rich and its resultant repercussion of poor optionless anxious migrants raping, we shall never be able to remove ‘shame’ out of rape, especially when the rape is that of an upper-middle class woman. It would perpetuate an atmosphere of the much talked about slut-shaming and “victim” blaming (as a ‘predictable’ outcome of ‘ugly modernity’) if not in the langauge of provocation, but certainly in the language of apparently sanitized social science ‘analyses’ of cities and urbanity leading to a culture of anonymity (devoid of community and kinship ties) which is then perceived to strengthen a culture of sexual violence against upper-class women (something that Nandy diagnoses as “anomic rape”). Here, a politically motivated continnum is established between modernization, urbanization and rape.

The point which I am trying to bring home here is that shame (for being loose, available, commodified, consumerist, accessible, frivolous and all other such cuss words) would continue to get associated with rape if we emphasize consumption practices of either the rich (as the Leftist position seems to be doing) or the woman herself (as the Rightwing generally does) as the cause of rape, and not a general culture of hatred towards the non-normative woman (consumerist or non-consumerist), who in turn needs to be “kept in place”. We cannot under any circumstances say that neo-liberalist exclusionary mechanism is one of the causes which manufacture rapists, since that would politically be as fatal as saying dress is “one of the causes” that lead to rape. We cannot and should not under any condition “justify” in the name of “analyzing” the root cause of rape, since otherwise just like demonizing the “criminal poor” or the “vegetable vendor”, the “pub-going loose and inebriated woman” would continue to be easy targets of Rightwing vengeance and Leftwing scorn. It will reinforce the view that “some women” ignite if not provokethe pent up anxiety caused by the lack of recreational options under the capitalist order, and give rise to a kind of ‘violent working class jealousy’, which when pushed to its logical and inevitableextreme causes a psychic collapse and hence ends up in rape. That would be suicidal for Feminist politics, especially at a time when detractors and digressors are all around, looking for an opportunity to hijack Feminist issues to further their own political agenda. The six rapists also perhaps thought that the woman in the bus was a non-abiding, permissive and consumeristwoman and hence needs to be punished and put to shame. Thus, let us not embellish the self-worth of rape culture and not justify sexual violence with the garb of finding ‘root causes’ of such heinous acts (in our misplaced spree to curb the self-worth of global capital).

Does the Hindu Right and the ‘Critical’ Left merge on notions of Women’s Sexuality?

Here, it is important to mention that the larger political impulse of this article is to point out that the intellectual Left should certainly be more critical and tentative about its critique of conspicuous consumption and the homogenization of its effects, to keep its theoretical distance from an atavistic nativist criticism of consumer culture of the Hindu Right or even the nationalist political project for that matter. Ruth Vanita, in her insightful article published in Seminar 2002 hinted at a similar problem where she pointed out how there is a strange congruence of the secular left and the Hindu Right (what she calls the “Hindu Left”), no matter how theoretically distant they are, as far as taking ‘positions’ on cultural debates concerning depiction of sexually explicit materials in postcolonial India was concerned. (She here cites the controversy around the Miss World contest and around such songs as “Choli ke peeche kya hai” as instances to illustrate how both rightwing as well as leftwing women’s organizations condemned such ‘degeneration’, although in different parlances, by demanding a state censorship to ban such phenomena).[v]

Towards a Defense of Painting and Denting: Can Commodities seek Citizenship Rights?

At this juncture, it is significant to point out that women in recent times have assumed this very political identity of a conspicuous consumer to get human rights against sexual violence, be it in the form of the Slutwalks, the Consortium of Loose and Forward Going Women (in the case of the Pink Chaddi Campaign) or the more recent broaching of the Society of Painted Dented Ladies of India (as a result of Mukherjee’s comment about the perceived ‘frivolity’ of the protestors in Delhi). Tired of listening to cynical leftists about capitalist inequity being the foundation of gender violence, as it is thought to put sex out there in the open, make it marketable and devoid of restraint (along with the perennial infliction of rightwing violence), these women seek human rights and seek to defend the notion of ‘bodily integrity’ against sexual assaults ‘as’ sluts, ‘as’chaddis (the pink branded female underwear in this case i.e. ‘objects’ or vendible commodities), ‘as’ painted and dented women (or in other words, ‘impure’ and ‘contaminated’ beings), only to show the performative and fluid nature of this much abused notion of ‘integrity’ and how the oft-cited idea of “non-commodifiable purity” informs rape culture (Remember the essentalist assumption based on which women are given loans under the system of Microfinance, the assumption that women are ‘essentially’ good, not money-mongerers, and hence more reliable in terms of paying back loans on time, unlike the greedy ‘materialist’ men? Doesn’t it sound strangely similar to the Supreme Court verdict derided by the Verma Committee Report which said Western woman are economically motivated and hence more likely to falsely “cry rape” for material reasons as opposed to Indian women who are ‘good’, less materialist and hence more reliable?)  [vi]

Does the ‘Postcolonial’ Collapse with the ‘National’ when it comes to Women?

Now, even for an eminent Subaltern Studies Scholar like Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Indian Feminists of today (and he actually gives the instance of the Pink Chaddi campaign)[vii], critique the hypermasculinity of the Ram Sena by a kind of ‘uncivilized’, neoliberal class-war (which, in his mind, excludes the poor), precluding any dialogue between the supposed sacred and the secular,  which, as he tries to show, erases and symbolically “gags” the ‘other’ in the name of female empowerment (what he calls a kind of “in your face Feminism”, punctuated by an undertone of superfluousness and intolerant individualism, which for him is ‘uncivilized’ in the sense that it does not offer room for self-reflexivity and self-criticism). In other words, the protestors against sexual violence (the Pink Chaddi campaigners) and the ones who perpetuate sexual violence (the Ram Sena), for Chakrabarty, occupy the same moral space, where political claims like that of ‘looseness’ and ‘forwardness’, for him, deserves vehement criticism for being significant cohorts of what he calls “economic globalization”, devoid of a kind of self-criticality that the legacy of ‘civility’ (something that he found in the nationalist political project) taught us. Now, the moot point is, does perpetration of sexual violence by the under-class or the non-secularists (a category that at times gets denoted by the postcolonial scholar as an idealizedhaven of ‘faceless crowd politics’ exhibited by global modernity’s ultimate ‘other’, a section of the society who are not only citizens and voters but also perceived as significant subversive players of Indian democracy and cultural politics), here get patronized as a mode of enraged ‘resistance’ (no matter how psychotic) against globalization’s hegemony?

At this juncture, it is important to recollect that the two categories of women that Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan pointed out in their thought-provoking article on Loitering, Gender and Public Spaces (the ones who appear in urban public spaces without an “apparent purpose”, as they call it), are the window shopper and the street walker (or the sex worker). Now, while the window-shopper is idealized as shopping is considered as a respectable act in the global city (as the authors minutely illustrate), the streetwalker is conceived as “undesirable and illegitimate.”[viii]

However, for the purpose of my argument, I would like to introduce a third category of women (although all the three are certainly overlapping each other and I draw the demarcating line solely for analytical purposes), where the buyer or the consumer woman also ‘behaves’ like a street-walker. Now, what happens when this ‘particular’ category (women in the cusp zone of window shoping and sex working), the primary one which pink-chaddi campaings, slutwalks or the feminist assertion of being painted and dented end up representing, seek ‘universal’ entitlements for protection against sexual violence? A category of women who do not feign the empty rhetoric of ‘universal sisterhood’, who are respectable on the grounds of class and their ability to get access to spaces of consumption, yet they thwart the liberal discourse and hence become ‘unrespectable’ as they, precisely in and through the tools of consumerism, violate the normative bourgeouis markers of femininity as well? Do we read the gestures of these women as mere ‘assimilation’ to the discourses of global capital, or do we read them as further ‘democratization’ precisely with the aid of the ‘tactics’ of assimilation? Moreover, are all class-marked assertions necessarily classist? What is interesting to note here is that the notion of subversive unrespectability and logic of impropriety gets instituted precisely through the discourse of consumer-driven respectability and propriety. And, we can never engage in any serious analysis of such instances of resistance by a blanket en masse debunking of phenomena like that of conspicuous consumption and an unanimous lament for its aftermaths.

To me, such women act as a ‘spectre’ which ‘haunts’ and breaks open the very limit of the normative subject ‘woman’ of human rights, i.e. the image of the ‘bhadramahila’ (a mixture of the Victorian bourgeouis emancipated mother and the Brahminic image of the ‘pure’ nationalist woman, as Chatterjee put it), a spectre that needs to be recuperated and not dismissed as ‘middle class’ and hence ‘exclusionary’. And, most significantly, they denounce a “politics of assimilation or inclusion” where the spectre is merely “integrated” into the whole (the image of the chaddi or the slut does not say that I represent a non-commodified ‘real’ woman and hence give me human rights. Remember the Park Street rape survivor asserting repeatedly that she might be an escort but that certainly does not give anyone the right to violate her? Remember her statement when she said that just because she did not choose to be a ‘victim’, and in fact carried on with her dailyconsumerist chores from the next day even after the ghastly attack, did not mean that the state could deny her justice?).

Thus, a serious critique of the eulogy of consumer imperialism getting packaged as Feminism (something that the new Feminist assertions are accused of) can never be plotted in the language of commodification as a ‘curse’, something which “alienates” women from their “authentic”native selves. This is because, adherence to such notions of reactionary nostalgia of non-consumerist lifestyles and uncritical assumption of ‘good’ and ethical national/local or working class culture (garland bedecked “innocence” of tribal women so on and so forth) leads to the dangerous assumption that westernized woman are less “authentic” and hence more condemnable (and even rapeable in certain arguments).

Welcoming the Spectre

Hence, the larger question is, can we recuperate this ‘hollowness’ and inauthenticity that capitalism gives rise to for Feminist ends? A commodified woman is an inauthentic “monster” (a term that Marx himself infact used to describe commodities in Capital), a monster who is feared across all political positions. Thus, we need to defend this present moment in Feminist politics where such abstracted spectral artificiality and monstrous frivolity are used as political ‘standpoints’ which certainly help us in our struggle against patriarchy. Although these ghosted creatures scare and haunt us, and we can never know with adequate certitude what kind of violence and exclusion embracing them would entail, nonetheless such spectres should be welcomed for Feminist politics to survive. To believe in them is a practical necessity. Commodification here is pushed to its logical limit. Thought, after all, as Althusser once put it,must be pushed to its extreme.

Thus, to me, this moment of women claiming to seek rights as ‘impure materialist reduced commodified alienated objects’ should be respected, rather than dismissing it as middle class, elite or exclusionary. This is because it is just not an emotional response to the kind of brutal violence against women that we are experiencing in urban areas in recent times, a mere unreflective ‘enough is enough’ kind of deliberation. Rather this has an intellectual underpinning. And that unsaid subtext is that, let the spectral inauthenticity caused by consumer capital be pushed to its limit, or be celebrated in order to break open that same consumer capital’s logic of manufacturing feminine respectability. It strives to create a transformation of the very meaning of personhood, of humanness, or in other words changes the very meaning of what kind of a woman ‘deserves’ human rights and state protection against sexual violence.

Sreenanti Banerjee is an M.Phil student of Social Sciences and a Junior Research Fellow at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC).

References:

[i] Manu, The Laws of Manu, ‘Chapters 3 and 9’, trans. Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1991), pp. 43-73, pp. 197-233

[ii] Praveen Swami, “Rapist in the Mirror”, The Hindu, Jan 11, 2013

[iii] This is a point which Shohini Ghosh raises in “The Troubled Existence of Sex and Sexuality: Feminists Engage with Censorship” in Women’s Studies in India: A Reader (ed. by Mary. E. John), Penguin Books, 2008.

 [iv]Justice Verma Report, Pp. 220.

[v] “Whatever happened to the Hindu Left” by Ruth Vanita, Published in  Seminar, 2002.

[vi] Shilpa Phadke had raised some key questions around these issues in in her nuanced 2005 article on Middle-Class Sexuality, “Is there a Feminist way of being a consumer?”

[vii] Shilpa Phadke, “Some Notes on Middle Class Sexuality” in Geeta Misra and Radhika Chandiramani (eds.) Gender, Sexuality and Rights: Exploring Theory and Practice, New Delhi: Sage, 2005.

[viii] Dipesh Chakrabarty. From civilization to globalization: the `West’ as a shifting signifier in Indian modernity.  Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 13, Number 1, 1 March 2012, pp. 138-152(15).

[ix] Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan, “Why Loiter? Radical Possibilities for Gendered Dissent” in Melissa Butcher and Selvaraj Velayutham (eds), Dissent and Cultural Resistance in Asia’s Cities, London: Routledge, 2009.

 

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RSS’ Tryst with Terrorism: Past and Present

Shamsul Islam

Despite shrill public denials by the RSS top-brass that its swayamsevaks or cadres never indulged in terrorist activities, the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, while addressing a meeting of the RSS members on January 10, 2011 at Surat (Gujarat) made a significant statement saying that

of the majority of the people whom the government has accused (in various blast cases), a few had left voluntarily and a few were told by the Sangh that this extremism will not work here so you go away.1

It was a candid admission by the supremo of the RSS who was naturally better informed about the happenings within his organization which works in a clandestine fashion that many of these alleged terrorists were part of the RSS. This statement raises few questions which RSS as an organization must answer. The first is that RSS must share the names of those terrorists who left ‘voluntarily’ or were asked to ‘go away’ with the people of this country and especially with the police investigating agencies of the Indian State. In fact, the latter should have by now put Mohan Bhagwat under scanner to seek the names of these ‘terrorists’ not only in order to verify whether the ones so far arrested were the same who were referred to by Mohan Bhagwat but also to know about others who may still be indulging in terrorist activities and have not been brought to book as yet.

The whole issue raises another pertinent question. When RSS claims that a particular person indulging in terrorist activities is not its member, how do we verify it? Do we have an authenticated list of RSS members which can be referred to in case of need? The reality is that there is no such list and in the absence of such a list for an organization which functions in a regime of secrecy it becomes a convenient alibi for the RSS to deny its actual linkages with the individuals and organizations indulging in terrorist activities.

The individuals and organizations indulging in recent terrorist activities having close linkages with Hindutva philosophy and organizations like RSS should not surprise anybody. Any sectarian and theocratic organization which is programmed to the cleansing of religious minorities and undoing of a democratic-secular India has to be intolerant and extremist in its ideological moorings as well as functioning. RSS is no exception to this rule. A careful perusal of the documents from the RSS archives makes it clear that terrorist activities being indulged by persons and organizations associated with it are the outcome of an ideological mould outlined by its mentors.

The RSS as flag-bearer of Hindu nationalism always believed in the superiority of the Aryan race like Hitler and the Nazis. Racism is the common tie, which binds them. Hindus happened to be Aryans belonging to the National race whereas Muslims and Christians were foreigners because they followed religions, which took birth in non-Aryan foreign lands. The RSS divided religions professed in India into two categories, Indian and foreign. Interestingly, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism were declared to be of the Indian variety but were not accorded the status of independent religions. These were simply treated as part of Hinduism. Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1906-1973), the most prominent ideologue of the RSS who came to head the organization after Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, naturally, inherited deep love for Fascism and Nazism from his seniors and stood for cleansing of the followers of religions which originated in foreign lands. He idealized the Nazi cultural nationalism of Hitler, which was nothing else but ‘ethnic cleansing’ of non-Aryans, in the following words which appeared in his book We or Our Nationhood Defined (1939); a book which became Geeta (or Bible) of the Hindutva politics:

 

The other Nation most in the eye of the world today is Germany. This Nation affords a very striking example. Modern Germany strove, and has to a great extent achieved what she strove for, to once again bring under one sway the whole of the territory, hereditarily possessed by the Germans but which, as a result of political disputes, had been portioned off as different countries under different states…German pride in their Fatherland for a definite home country, for which the race has traditional attachments as a necessary concomitant of the true Nation concept, awoke and ran the risk of starting a fresh world-conflagration, in order to establish one, unparalleled undisputed German Empire over all this ‘hereditary territory’. This natural and logical aspiration of Germany has almost been fulfilled and the great importance of the ‘country factor’ has been once again vindicated even in the living present. Come we next to the next ingredient of the Nation idea—Race, with which culture and language are inseparably connected, where religion is not the all- absorbing force that it should be. German Race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races-the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan [sic] to learn and profit by.2 [Emphasis added]

While outlining the constituent elements of the Hindu Nation Golwalkar raised a significant question,

If, as is indisputably proved, Hindusthan, is the land of Hindus and is the terra firma for the Hindu nation alone to flourish upon, what is to be the fate of all those, who, today, happen to live upon the land, though not belonging to the Hindu Race, Religion or culture?3

He answered to his own query in the following words:

At the outset we must bear in mind that so far as ‘nation’ is concerned, all those, who fall outside the five-fold limits of that idea,4 can have no place in the national life, unless they abandon their differences, adopt the religion, culture and language of the Nation and completely merge themselves in the National Race.5

Golwalkar unhesitatingly glorified the Race theory propagated by Hitler and Mussolini and subsequent cleansing of non-Aryans or minorities in the following words:

 

It is worth bearing well in mind how these old nations solve their minorities [sic] problem. They do not undertake to recognize any separate element in their polity. Emigrants have to get themselves naturally assimilated in the principal mass of the population, the National Race, by adopting its culture and language and sharing in its aspirations, by losing all consciousness of their separate existence, forgetting their foreign origin. If they do not do so, they live merely as outsiders, bound by all the codes and conventions of the Nation, at the sufferance of the Nation and deserving no special protection, far less any privilege or rights. There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race. That is the only sound view on the minorities problem. That is the only logical and correct solution. That alone keeps the national life healthy and undisturbed. That alone keeps the nation safe from the danger of a cancer developing in its body politic, of the creation of a state within a state.6

 

Golwalkar as the most important ideologue of the RSS and Hindutva brand of politics forcefully argued for adopting the models of Hitler and Mussolini for getting rid off minorities from his kind of Hindu nation in the following words:

 

From this stand point, sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not  even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation: let us deal as old nations ought to, and do deal, with the foreign races who have chosen to live in our country.7

Golwalkar did not mince words while expressing hatred for all those who differed with his notion of Hindu nation. For him all others were traitors or idiots. The use of this kind of intemperate language only showed to what extreme he and his followers could go in denigrating adversaries to be cleansed later.

Those, only are nationalist patriots, who, with the aspiration to glorify the Hindu race and nation next to their heart, are prompted into activity and strive to achieve that goal. All others are either traitors or enemies to the National cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots.8

 

This kind of philosophy was not something of the bye-gone days of 1940s for RSS. It kept on resonating even after Independence. In fact, another basic book for the RSS cadres, Bunch of Thoughts, the compilation of the writings of MS Golwalkar, which appeared in 1966 had a long chapter titled, ‘Internal Threats’, (it continued to appear in all subsequent editions) in which the Muslims and Christians are described as threats number one and two respectively. The Communists get the status of being enemy number 3. This chapter opens with the following statement:

It has been the tragic lesson of the history of many a country in the world that the hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security then aggressors from outside.9

While treating the Muslims as hostile element number one Golwalkar went on to elaborate,

Even to this day there are so many who say, ‘Now there is no Muslim problem at all. All those riotous elements who supported Pakistan have gone away once for all. The remaining Muslims are devoted to our country. After all, they have no other place to go and they are bound to remain loyal…It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan. On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased a hundredfold by the creation of Pakistan, which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country.10

Deliberating further on this enemy number one, Muslims,   Golwalkar presented his thesis in the following words which provided excuse to the VHP cadres for exterminating the Muslim localities in Gujarat in the year 2002:

Within the country there are so many Muslim pockets, i.e., so many ‘miniature Pakistans’, where the general law of the land can be enforced only with certain modifications, and the whims of the miscreants have to be given the final say. This acceptance, indirect though it may be, implies a very dangerous theory fraught with possibilities of the destruction of our national life altogether. Such ‘pockets’ have verily become the centers of a widespread network of pro-Pakistani elements in this land…The conclusion is that, in practically every place, there are Muslims who are in constant touch with Pakistan over the transmitter…11

While deliberating on the ‘Internal Threat’ number two, he stated that the Christians were indulging in activities which were not only irreligious but also anti-national.12  According to him the Christians residing in India were,

out to demolish not only the religious and social fabric of our life but also to establish political domination in various pockets and if possible all over the land.13

 

Golwalkar’s hatred for minorities specially Muslims was inexhaustible and never-ending. In this regard there was no difference in his views contained in We or Our Nationhood Definedin 1939, or his hatred for Muslims in 1960. In fact, this hatred got wilder. While addressing the leading RSS cadres of south India in Bangalore on November 30, 1960, he declared:

 

‘Right from Delhi to Rampur, Muslims are busy hatching a dangerous plot, piling up arms and mobilizing their men, and probably biding their time to strike from within […]’14

There was no substantiation or proofs offered for such a serious allegation against whole of the Muslim community residing in the western Uttar Pradesh. If this was so it should have been brought to the notice of the law and order machinery in the area. It was never done because Golwalkar and RSS were simply interested in poisoning the minds of its cadres. More importantly the Indian State took no action against Golwalkar for spreading such a canard against common Muslims. It is not difficult to understand that it was due to such hate preaching against Muslims and Christians by the top brass of the RSS that large scale cleansing of minorities could be successfully undertaken by its swayamsevaks.

 

The central publication house of the RSS, Suruchi Prakashan, Delhi, published a book in 1997, titledParam Vaibhav Ke Path Par (ON THE ROAD TO GREAT GLORY) penned by Sadanand Damodar Sapre, a senior RSS functionary. This book contained details of more than 40 organizations created by the RSS for different tasks but more importantly it described how many of these organizations are run in a clandestine manner for hidden agendas. This publication showed that the whole network ran like a well-organized mafia through its subsidiaries and satellites. There has always been a conscious attempt to create confusion about its different fronts which provide RSS with the opportunity to dissociate with any of these as per its convenience. For instance it used Hindu Jagaran Manch (HJM) for attacking Christians in late 1990s and when public opinion, media and Parliament seemed to turn against it, RSS denied any relation with HJM. However, according to this publication Hindu Jagaran Manch was created by the RSS as admitted in the above mentioned publication.

From the point of view of Hindu awakening this kind of forums [like Hindu Jagran Manch] at present are active in 17 states with different names like ‘Hindu Manch’ in Delhi, ‘Hindu Munani’ in Tamilnadu, ‘Hinduekjut’ in Maharashtra. These are forums, not associations or organizations, that’s why it is not required to have membership, registration and elections.15 [Emphasis added]

It is clear that such organizations with no record of membership, no registration and no internal elections are created by the RSS. Such an organizational model provides an opportunity to RSS to disown any individual or organization.

True to its nature RSS takes recourse to conspiracies often. It can be known by the following disclosure in Param Vaibhav Ke Path Par about a case in Delhi immediately after partition:

Swayamsevaks had posed to have adopted Musalman [sic] religion in order to gain the confidence of Delhi Muslim League for knowing their conspiracies.16

What these Swayamsevaks, impersonating as Muslims, on the eve of Independence were doing was made clear by none other than Dr. Rajendra Prasad who later became first President of the Indian Republic. In a letter to the first Home Minister of India, Sardar Patel, he wrote on March 14, 1948,

I am told that RSS people have a plan of creating trouble. They have got a number of men dressed as Muslims and looking like Muslims who are to create trouble with the Hindus by attacking them and thus inciting the Hindus. Similarly there will be some Hindus among them who will attack Muslims and thus incite Muslims. The result of this kind of trouble amongst the Hindus and Muslims will be to create a conflagration.17

 The following passage from the autobiography of the first Home Secretary of UP, Rajeshwar Dayal, ICS, clearly shows the sinister and criminal designs of the RSS to organize a pogrom of Muslims in the western Uttar Pradesh (the largest province in the Indian Union) and thus break the unity of the country just on the eve of Independence.

I must record an episode of a very grave nature when the procrastination and indecision of the UP Cabinet led to dire consequences. When communal tension was still at fever pitch, the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the Western Range, a very seasoned and capable officer, B. B. L. Jaitley, arrived at my house in great secrecy. He was accompanied by two of his officers who brought with them two large steel trunks securely locked. When the trunks were opened, they revealed incontrovertible evidence of a dastardly conspiracy to create a communal holocaust throughout the Western districts of the province. The trunks were crammed with blueprints of great accuracy and professionalism of every town and village in that vast area, prominently marking out the Muslim localities and habitations. There were also detailed instructions regarding access to the various locations, and other matters which amply revealed the sinister purport.

Greatly alarmed by those revelations, I immediately took the police party to the Premier’s [chief minister’s] house. There, in a closed room, Jaitley gave a full report of his discovery, backed by all the evidence contained in the steel trunks. Timely raids conducted on the premises of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) had brought the massive conspiracy to light. The whole plot had been concerted under the direction and supervision of the Supremo of the organization himself. Both Jaitley and I pressed for the immediate arrest of the prime accused, Shri Golwalkar, who was still in the area.

Pantji [G. B. Pant] could not but accept the evidence of his eyes and ears and expressed deep concern. But instead of agreeing to the immediate arrest of the ringleader as we had hoped, and as Kidwai would have done, he asked for the matter to be placed for consideration by the Cabinet at its next meeting. It was no doubt a matter of political delicacy as the roots of the RSS had gone deep into the body politic. There were also other political compulsions, as RSS sympathizers, both covert and overt, were to be found in the Congress Party itself and even in the Cabinet. It was no secret that the presiding officer of the Upper House, Atma Govind Kher, was himself an adherent and his sons were openly members of the RSS.

At the Cabinet meeting there was the usual procrastination and much irrelevant talk. The fact that the police had unearthed a conspiracy which would have set the whole province in flames and that the officers concerned deserved warm commendation hardly seemed to figure in the discussion. What ultimately emerged was that a letter should be issued to Shri Golwalkar pointing out the contents and nature of the evidence which had been gathered and demanding an explanation thereof. At my insistence, such a letter if it were to be sent, should be issued by the Premier himself to carry greater weight. Panditji asked me to prepare a draft, which I did in imitation of his own characteristic style. The letter was to be delivered forthwith and two police officers were assigned for the purpose.

Golwalkar, however, had been tipped off and he was nowhere to be found in the area. He was tracked down southwards but he managed to elude the couriers in pursuit. This infructuous chase continued from place to place and weeks passed.”                      

Came January 30, 1948 when the Mahatma, that supreme apostle of peace, fell to a bullet fired by an RSS fanatic. The tragic episode left me sick at heart.18

Rajeshwar Dayal’s shocking narration of Golwalkar’s evil design to cleanse western parts of Uttar Pradesh of all Muslims was further corroborated by another senior RSS pracharak(preacher or whole timer), Krishna Gopal Rastogi in his autobiography, Pracharak Jiwan (Life of Preacher).  While describing an incident in which he personally led a mob of armed Hindus against Muslims in Kaliar town situated between Roorkee and Haridwar went on to state without any remorse how he did not spare even a young Muslim girl. According to Rastogi’s heart-chilling version:

 

It was an old locality inhabited by the Muslims. They, armed with daggers, spears, guns were fully prepared to meet any situation. When I learnt of their intentions to attack some Hindu areas, I organized 250 people including some known gangsters and raided Kaliar. Then a strange thing happened. While we had been killing men in one of the houses, we spotted a very beautiful young girl. The assailants led by me were instantly enamoured. They even started fighting among themselves to take possession of the girl. I faced an extremely awkward situation and did not know what to do. I tried my best to get the assailants to focus on real issues. I abused and threatened them but they would not listen to me. And suddenly the solution came. The girl was after all causing this trouble and had to be eliminated. I took my gun and shot her. She died. My associates were shocked and returned to the work. Though it was against our principle to assault a woman, but it was done in an emergency and I still regret it.19

 

This autobiography was released with a laudatory preface by K. S. Sudarshan, the then head of the RSS. Incidentally, Rastogi was appointed in two committees of the Human Resource Development Ministry of the Government of India headed by Murli Manohar Joshi despite protests from more than 50 MPs.

 

The RSS immensely hates all those institutions and objects which symbolize a secular-democratic India. On the eve of independence when Indian Constituent Assembly adopted Tricolour as its National Flag, the English organ of the RSS, Organizer, in its issue dated August 14, 1947, denigrated this choice in the following words:

The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolour but it never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.

The RSS has been demanding since its birth in 1925 that India should have saffron (bhagwa) flag of the Hindu rashtra as the national flag. Golwalkar while addressing a gathering of leading cadres on July 14, 1946 at the RSS headquarters at Nagpur stated that it was,

the saffron flag which in totality represented Bhartiya culture. It was the embodiment of God. We firmly believe that in the end the whole nation will bow before this saffron flag.20

The RSS has another pet-project and that is replacing the Indian Constitution by Manusmritior Codes of Manu. According to Golwalkar, Uttar Pradesh (the largest province in the Indian Union)

Our Constitution too is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various articles from various Constitutions of the Western countries. It has absolutely nothing which can be called our own. Is there a single word of reference in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is and what our keynote in life is? No!21

 

For RSS there was no ambiguity about this ‘national mission’. It was the enforcement ofManusmriti as the law of the land. The Constituent Assembly of India ratified the Constitution on November 26, 1949 and on November 30, the RSS organ Organizer editorially commented:

 

But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s Laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.

 

It is to be noted that Manusmriti is known for its derogatory and inhuman references to Shudras, Untouchables and women. It was for this reason that a copy of Manusmriti was burnt as a protest in the presence of B. R. Ambedkar during historic Mahad agitation.

 

The RSS, contrary to the principles of democracy, has been constantly demanding that India be ruled under a totalitarian regime. Golwalkar while addressing the 1350 top level cadres of the RSS at its headquarters at Nagpur in 1940 declared,

 

The RSS inspired by one flag, one leader and one ideology is lighting the flame of Hindutva in each and every corner of this great land.22

 

This slogan of ‘one flag, one leader and one ideology’ was directly borrowed from the programmes of the Nazi and Fascist parties of Europe.

The extreme hatred expressed against the National Flag, the Constitution and the democratic polity of the nascent nation was clearly aimed at poisoning the minds of common Hindus thus inviting them to overthrow a secular state. It is to be noted that spread of this kind of poison against Gandhi led to his murder by persons who were directly or indirectly related to Hindu Mahasabha & RSS.

The tag of terrorism on RSS is not something new. These were the anti-national activities of the RSS due to which the organization was banned on February 4, 1948. The government communiqué banning the RSS was self-explanatory:

In their resolution of February 2, 1948 the Government of India declared their determination to root out the forces of hate and violence that are at work in our country and imperil the freedom of the Nation and darken her fair name. In pursuance of this policy the Government of India have decided to declare unlawful the RSS.23

The communiqué went on to disclose that the ban on the RSS was imposed because,

“undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by members of the Sangh. It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of the RSS have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity, and murder and have collected illicit dacoity, and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunition. They have been found circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and the military.”24

It is generally believed that the then Home Minister, Sardar Patel, had a soft-corner for the RSS and he continues to be a favourite with the RSS. However even Sardar Patel found it difficult to defend the RSS in the aftermath of Gandhiji’s assassination. In a letter written to Golwalkar, dated 11 September 1948, Sardar Patel stated:

Organizing the Hindus and helping them is one thing but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing…Apart from this, their opposition to the Congress, that too of such virulence, disregarding all considerations of personality, decency or decorum, created a kind of unrest among the people. All their speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organize for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of the sympathy of the Government, or of the people, no more remained for the RSS. In fact opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe, when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. Under these conditions it became inevitable for the Government to take action against the RSS…Since then, over six months have elapsed. We had hoped that after this lapse of time, with full and proper consideration the RSS persons would come to the right path. But from the reports that come to me, it is evident that attempts to put fresh life into their same old activities are afoot.25

Hindu Mahasabha and RSS were jointly responsible for the murder of Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was further corroborated by Sardar Patel in a letter to a prominent leader of Hindu Mahasabha, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. On July 18, 1948. Sardar wrote:

As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub-judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organizations, but our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in the conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of Government and the State. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.26

As per police investigations and press reports the training for terrorist activities to the Hindutva cadres was imparted by military personnel connected with Bhonsala Military School, Nagpur. It may be relevant to note that this military school was the offshoot of Bhonsala Military School, Nasik which was established by Dr Balkrishna Shivramji Moonje (known as Dharamaveer amongst the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha fraternity) with the help of the British rulers for imparting military training to Hindu youth. Dr Moonje formed the Central Hindu Military Education Society at Nasik in 1935 and started the school on 12th June 1937. Interestingly he also idolized militarization of Italian Fascist dictator. Mussolini.

According to its website,

The school started functioning in the Surgana Palace in Nasik city with 90 students on its roll. The Maharaja of erstwhile Gwalior state, His Highness Shriman Jivajirao Scindia27 inaugurated the main building of the school…Such was the charisma, charm and aura of the founder, that he made the then Governor of Bombay State, Sir Roger Lumley to lay the foundation stone of the present main building of the school.

Importantly, this military establishment later supplied Hindu military officers to the British army in its campaign to crush the attempt by Subhashchander Bose led INA to liberate India from the clutches of the British rule in early 1940s. It is very clear that Bhonsala Military School was a collaborative project conceived and executed by RSS-Hindu Mahasabha, the British rulers and their Indian stooges; the rulers of Native India for militarization of Indian society in order to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Indian masses. It is a matter of concern that such sectarian, fascist, communal and pro-British establishments were allowed to exist and function in independent India. The Hindutva terrorism being witnessed today could reach to this dangerous stage because a fascist ideology was able to have at its disposal the lethal military mindset and machinery made available through establishments like Bhonsala Military Schools. The most unfortunate aspect of this developing gory saga is that all this has happened despite India being run under a democratic-secular dispensation. There is no denying the fact that it presents the greatest threat to a democratic Indian polity.

Shamsul Islam

[email protected]

[This text appears as introduction in ‘Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India’ by Subhash Gatade, published by Pharos Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd., New Delhi. www.pharosmedia.com]

 

 

 


1 ‘No place for radicals in RSS, says Bhagwat’, The Indian Express, Delhi, 11-01-2011, p. 3

 

2 MS Golwalkar, We Or Our Nationhood Defined, Bharat Publications, Nagpur, 1939, pp. 34-35.

3 Ibid, p. 45.

4 Interestingly, in Golwalkar’s writings there are found only four constituents of Hindu nation. While explaining the components of the Hindu nation he wrote: “In this country, Hindusthan, the Hindu Race, with its Hindu Religion, Hindu Culture and Hindu language, [the natural family of Sanskrit and her offsprings] complete the Nation concept…”,Ibid, p. 43.

5 Ibid, p. 45

Ibid, p. 47

7 Ibid. pp. 47-48.

8 Ibid. p. 44.

9 MS Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, Sahitya Sindhu, Bangalore, 1996, p. 177.

10 Ibid, pp. 177-178

11 Ibid, p. 185

12 Ibid, p. 190

13 Ibid, p. 193

14 M. S. Golwalkar, ‘From Delhi to Rampur Muslims are Conspiring’ Organizer, December 12, 1960.

 

15 Sadanand Damodar Sapre, Param Vaibhav Ke Path Par, Suruchi Prakashan, Delhi, 1997.

16 Ibid, p. 86.

17 Rajendra Prasad to Sardar Patel (March 14, 1948)  cited in Neerja Singh (ed.), Nehru Patel: Agreement Within Difference—Select Documents & Correspondences 1933-1950, NBT, Delhi, p. 43.

18 Rajeshwar Dayal, A Life of Our Times, Delhi, 1999, pp. 93-94.

19 Cited in Khushwant Singh’s weekly column in The Hindustan Times, May 12, 2001.

20 M. S. Golwalkar, Shri Guruji Samagar Darshan, (Collected Works of Golwalkar in Hindi), Bhartiya Vichar Sadhna, Nagpur, nd, volume I, p. 98.

 

21 Bunch of Thoughts, p. 238.

 

22 Shri Guruji Samagar Darshan,  Vol. I, p. 11.

23 Cited in Justice on Trial, RSS, Bangalore, 1962, p. 64.

24 Ibid, pp. 65-66.

25 Ibid, pp. 26-28.

 

26 Letter 64 in Sardar Patel: Select Correspondence1945-1950, Volume 2, Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1977, pp. 276-77.

27 He hailed from a family of native rulers which supported the British rulers in 1857 and played crucial rule in defeating Rani Laxmi Bai.

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#India-Male-female equality is against nature, says Sunni scholar #Vaw #WTFnews

By , TNN | Jan 20, 2013, 12.54 AM IST

 

KOZHIKODE: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has got an unexpected supporter in KeralaSunni scholar and general secretary of All India Sunni Jam-Iyyathul UlemaKanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musaliyar, has come out with a statement supporting Bhagwat’s remarks on the role of women in the Indian society.

On an interview published in the Friday edition of Siraj, the mouthpiece of ‘Kanthapuram’ faction of Sunnis, he said, “The demand for male-female equality is against nature. Man and woman have different faculties and different responsibilities.”

According to the Sunni leader, the problem is with the perception that men and women can be equal. Arguing that feminism is a western concept, he said, “When we accept ideas from outside, we need to consider whether they are acceptable to our society.”

Kanthapuram, who established Markazu Ssquafathi Ssunniyya after he came out of the Samastha Kerala Jam-Iyyathul Ulema, a body of Sunni scholars, in 1989, is perceived to be close to the Left. He was in the news recently after his detractors alleged that his move to build a mosque in Kozhikode to house a holy relic of the Prophet was aimed at exploiting religious beliefs for commercial gain.

Supporting Bhagwat, Kanthapuram said, “He has shown the space that should be occupied by women in society. Though I do not agree with his entire statement, the basic issue he raised needs to be discussed.”

Referring to the debate over the relationship between dress women wear and attacks on them, Kanthapuram said the slogan raised by protesters in Delhi was unacceptable. “‘Don’t speak about our dress, tell others not to attack us’ was their slogan. It amounts to saying that we will keep our houses open, but you stop stealing.”

Claiming that atrocities against women are less in Arab countries, Kanthapuram said it was because there are strict restrictions for women in those places. “The restrictions have not posed any hardship for the women in those countries…But here it is a free-for-all situation. Unlimited freedom is the basis of our problems,” he said.

“Strong punishment for perpetrators of violence against women alone may not suffice in solving the issue; equally important is avoiding situations that lead to such crimes,” Kanthapuram said.

Times View

All religious fundamentalists are birds of a feather when it comes to, well, fundamental issues like women’s rights. However, it was shocking that someone like Kanthapuram, whose Markaz movement has for the past 30 years stressed on education as the hallmark of social progress, should speak so patronisingly about women. Both his logic and idiom belong to some nomadic or Neanderthal past and would be laughable were it not a scary reminder of how such thoughts not only exist but are so freely expressed. Since ‘unlimited freedom’ seems to be the fundamentalists’ main grouse, should there be a ban on the gender equivalent of flat-earth theory as well? Mr Kanthapuram, any thoughts?

 

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#India- Politician blames item songs in films for #Rape #Vaw #WTFnews

GIRIDHAR JHA   |   MAIL TODAY  |   PATNA, JANUARY 15, 2013 | UPDATED 19:42 IST

JDU leader Shivanand Tiwari puts foot in his mouth, blames items songs in films for the rise in crime such as rape against women in recent times

Is it right to blame item songs for reason behind crime like rape?
Is it right to blame item songs for reason behind crime like rape?
Veteran Janata Dal-United leader Shivanand Tiwari is at it again.After raising the hackles of the leaders of his party’s coalition partner Bharatiya Janata Party over his remarks on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat recently, the Rajya Sabha MP has blamed the items songs in films for the rise in crime such as rape against women in recent times.”Item songs in today’s films are extremely titillating,” he said in Patna on Monday. “Who will not get carried away after watching them?”

Ravi Kishan with Sambhavna Seth
Bhojpuri superstar Ravi Kishan with item girl Sambhavna Seth.

The 70-year-old leader, who is the national spokesman of JD-U, said that one had heard of mythological tales about the dances of the apsaras (celestial beauties) who were sent on earth to interrupt the meditation of the sages. “I think their dances must have been something like today’s item songs in films,” he stated.

Tiwari said that women were being blatantly projected as a commodity in films and advertisements in the post-liberalisation era which was casting a bad impression on the minds of the youngsters. He said that the projection of women as an object of desire and the double meaning dialogues in the films provoked men to commit crimes such as rape. He said that concerted efforts should be made by all in society to check such tendencies. “It is a very serious matter,” he said.

The Rajya Sabha MP’s statement, however, irked the item girls from the film industry. Sambhavna Seth, the highest paid item girl from the Bhojpuri cinema, said that Tiwari’s views were nothing but a bundle of rubbish. “I think his comments do not even deserve any comments,” she said. “He must be having some problems in his mind to think like that. He needs help.”
Seth, often called the “Helen of Bhojpuri cinema”, said that item songs were not a new phenomenon. “Hindi movies have had so many item numbers by Helen in the past,” she said. “Why did they not lead to rape cases earlier?.”

Shivanand Tiwari (right) with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar
Janata Dal-United leader Shivanand Tiwari (right) with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.

Seth said that crime against women was a serious issue and it should not be trivilaised by linking it to item songs.

Another item song specialist Seema Singh said that it was silly to single out item songs in the films as being responsible for the rape and other crime cases against women. “I have performed more than 250 item songs in 170 Bhojpuri films and I can tell you that I have never received any lewd remark from any of my fans,” she said.

Singh said that she was popular as an ‘item girl’ among cine-goers in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and it was not a stigma to her image as a film actress. “I get a lot of love and adulation from the family audience wherever I go,” she said. “I am rather proud of my item songs which have made me popular among my fans.”

Singh, who has performed the maximum number of item songs in the films of any language, said that some people had tried to look down upon Rakhi Sawant as an item girl in Bollywood but she fought against all prejudices to attain a respectable position in the film industry. “It is high time the politicians stopped blaming the item songs for something as serious as rape,” she said.

 

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#India -Rape. And how men see it #Vaw #Justice #Womenrights

Dozens of conversations provide a fascinating window into the psyche of the Indian male. Some of it dark. Some of it hopeful.

January 10, 2013, Issue 3 Volume 10

Drenched in pain Angry women at Rajpath, Photo: AP

THIS IS A MOMENT THAT COULD GO EITHER WAY. It can deepen a crucial engagement or it can leave one with the chaotic debris of a fierce, but passing storm. As the intense outrage over the gangrape in New Delhi on 16 December begins to live out its heat, it’s imperative to question, which of these will we be left with?

Over the past few weeks, many angry questions have been hurled at the police, the judiciary and the political establishment. The failures of the State are staggering and one cannot be grateful enough for the initial rage and outpouring on the street. Without that, there would have been no conversation.

Click to Read More

But there is an urgent need now for calmer review, for genuine and calibrated suggestions that can lead to long- and short-term change. There is a need also to ask, are we framing this discourse wisely? Can its shrillness or the suggested remedies have adverse impacts one did not intend?

Before examining any of that though, there is a big missing piece that must find voice. The anger against the State — the demand for greater efficiencies and accountability — is hugely legitimate. But what about the giant shadow in the room? How endemic is the prejudice that stalks our society? What produces and perpetuates it? What creates the idea of women as ‘fair game’ for sexual violence? What, in effect, do Indian men think about women?

It would have been comforting if vile foolishness in India had been the domain of the few. But Asaram Bapu is not alone when he says one hand cannot clap by itself. Or that taking diksha, reciting a mantra and pleading with her rapists as brothers might have saved the young girl that fateful night.

The clergy of the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind are not alone when they advocate co-educational institutes to be shut down, pre-marital sex to be outlawed and girls to dress in sober and dignified clothes as ways to prevent rape.

Mohan Bhagwat is not alone when he asserts more rapes happen in ‘India’ than ‘Bharat’ — the first a synecdoche for promiscuous modernity; the latter for a more pious and traditional order where women live within boundaries prescribed by men. Abhijit Mukherjee is not alone when he mocks women protesters as “dented, painted” girls. Nor are Abu Azmi, Kailash Vijayvargiya or the Chhattisgarh home minister who says minors in the state are being raped because their stars are not favourable.

If they had been alone — a marginal raft of clumsy old men — mere derision would have been enough. But the fear is, they are signposts of a much wider and deeper mindset. And if they are that, how is one to negotiate such a gaping cultural divide? How can a society articulate — and enforce — desired values for itself if there is such a foundational disagreement over what those values should be?

 

July 2004 Manipuri women protest against the army’s brutalities

Over the past few days, the national media has rebuffed these men with an acetylene rage. Apologise, they have shouted. Retract your thoughts. Or at least be shamed into withdrawing the impunity with which you say such things in public.

But this rage has triggered its own counter-currents. Madhu Kishwar, feminist and editor of Manushi, for instance, is scathing about the media’s tone. “What kind of imperialist vocabulary is this? If you treat everyone who does not agree with you as aliens and fools, if you refuse to accept them as your own people, what gives you the right to dictate to them? What makes you think they will even entertain your criticism?” she asks.

‘The biggest reason for rapes is alcohol. Intoxication changes everyone. Gangrapes can only happen when the men are intoxicated’

VISHWANATH, 23
Fish Vendor, Malpe, Karnataka

‘When songs like Photo ko chipkale saiyan seene pe Fevicol se become a rage from nightclubs to marriage functions, it becomes a problem’

VISHWAS NAGPAL, 22
Post-graduate Student, Hisar, Haryana

Santosh Desai, media commentator and head of Future Brands, has perhaps an even more challenging concern. “Media in India is more loud than representative,” he says. “If the framing of this debate gets too vociferous and extreme, it can galvanise the opposition in disturbing ways. Our society has always had a way of evolving organically, using a combination of strategies to create space for new ideas. As long as that change is gradual, the anxiety it produces is also gradual. If one gets too absolutist, the whole thing can boomerang.”

Yet, can change ever be catalysed without someone adamantly staking out new boundaries? Can society be jolted — or even nudged and cajoled — into new positions without bold outriders stridently rejecting the old? What is the most effective approach? Confrontation or stealth? Scorn or the patient building of bridges?

How can a society articulate — and enforce — desired values for itself if there is a foundational disagreement over what those values should be?

In this week’s cover — apart from evaluating some of the remedies for police and judiciary that have emerged over the past few weeks — TEHELKA set itself to get a sense of that ephemeral phenomenon: a mindset. Its reporters spoke to dozens of men across strata and age and region and class, asking them how comfortable they felt with ideas of freedom for women, whether they held women and modernity responsible for rape and other forms of sexual crime; whether they believed rape was more prevalent in cities than villages; and how far they felt popular culture was responsible for a perceived sense of moral decline in society.

In India — continental as it is in size and plurality — even the most extensive sociological survey can, at best, be only an anecdotal one. This, by every yardstick, is extremely anecdotal and extremely miniscule. But as a dipstick — as an intuition — of what this vast country thinks, it throws up fascinating findings. We expected darkness; we found it. But, gratefully, we also found the unexpected.

FIRST, A window into the darkness. A few days ago, the virulent Raj Thackeray asserted that migrants were responsible for a huge percentage of rapes in India’s metros. If you heard Raju, 45, a migrant auto driver in Delhi, speak, you might believe Thackeray was justified.

How can a society articulate — and enforce — desired values for itself if there is a foundational disagreement over what those values should be?

“The root problem for all these crimes is women themselves,” Raju told TEHELKA. “The mirror in my auto tells me everything, what young boys and girls are doing behind me. They are willing to pay extra because they want to make love. In my village in UP, my wife keeps her ghungat even in front of my mother. Now imagine if a person from such a strict society comes to Delhi where women flaunt their bodies and provoke men with their dresses, what will he do? You may want to close your eyes at first, but if someone offers you fruit on a plate, will you deny the invitation?

Delhi girls are like mangoes. What do you do with the fruit? You eat it, suck it, and throw it away. These women are being used and overused. Sometimes, they have 10 boyfriends. In such a situation, how can you stop rapes? The current discourse is being created by elites and it ends there. You have all these rich people talking on TV, but if the rich want to have fun, they can afford to hire women and go to a hotel. Where will a poor man go?”

Unfortunately, in keeping with the stereotype in different ways, this view — this crude bewilderment laced with latent aggression against women — repeats itself across the cow belt. Ram Kishen, 53, a farmer from Bhiwani, told TEHELKA, “Of course, girls are solely responsible for the rapes that happen. We must marry them off when they are 15. Why should a girl remain unmarried even in her late 20s? Girls in big cities are given too much freedom. They are allowed to go out with men at night and roam about. What else do you expect in such a situation?”

 

Sept 2006 Dalits were paraded naked, raped and killed in Khairlanji

Kishen could be a twin for Narendra Rana, 33, a farmer from Rajasthan. “Most of the time it’s the girls who invite such problems. Look at the Delhi case. Why was the girl out at that time of night? I heard when she got onto the bus with the man, they started kissing. So it’s not the fault of the men who raped her. Why would she want to do such a thing in a public space?” he asked. “Girls are being given all the freedom in this world, which they are misusing. If you want to curb these incidents, just take away this freedom.”

‘The government’s raising the legal age for marriage has created a lot of frustration among the boys’

ALAUDDIN ANSARI, 50
Tailor, Kumhau village, Bihar

‘It’s unfortunate that for some women, education and money means showing off their body. As a result, the entire womankind is being shamed’

KRISHAN KUMAR, 40
Shopowner, Bhiwani, Haryana

These men find endless echoes. Moolchand, a 42-year-old sarpanch in Manesar. Sham Lal, 36, a labour contractor from Bhiwani. Satbir Singh, a businessman from Jind. Prashant Singh, 28, a serviceman from the Haryana Electricity Board in Faridabad. Every one of them blamed women for the breakdown in society; not one held men responsible for their own actions.

Only one thing seemed to bind the men TEHELKA spoke to: they had no concept of male accountability; no concept of the hijab of eye and action

Spiral this outwards to rates of female foeticide, dowry deaths, marital violence, early marriages, the percentage of working women and the number of honour killings and every fear about the Hindi heartland would seem to stand true.

But Raj Thackeray is wrong. The stereotype is not exclusive to the heartland. Since the debate around rape exploded into public consciousness over the past few weeks, there has been a temptation to frame the discourse through every kind of stereotype: a gender war; a class war; a religious war; a culture war; a regional war; a war between modernity and tradition, between city and village.

The hard truth is, there are enough dark voices to justify each of them. If you listen to men across India, you would know enough of them want to keep women in a box or thrust them back if they have escaped. This impulse expresses itself in a myriad ways: as brute misogyny or stifling protectionism. But running common through it all is a fear and abhorrence of women who display autonomy over their own bodies and sexuality. Women’s clothes, you would imagine, are the ‘greatest internal security threat in this country’.

No culture, profession or age group — no level of education or exposure — seems to make men immune to this. Here’s what Basheer Tawheedi, a 40-year-old lecturer in Kashmir, lists as reasons for rape: modern culture, girls wearing “inviting dresses”, less parental supervision, a decline in religious pieties, and a free mingling of the two sexes. “Of course, women’s freedom is responsible for the rise in sexual crimes,” he told TEHELKA. “How can we expect that dry grass with petrol near it under scorching heat won’t catch fire?”

Listen to Tabish Darzi, 26, a banker in Srinagar, and you get the same atavism, different metaphor. “To me, a woman is a pearl that is safe inside a shell,” he said. “Keep it open and everyone will try to snatch it.” The lofty idea of men as benign protectors flowed uncritically throughout his conversation; the narrowest interpretations of Islam formed his bedrock.

‘Dressing skimpily is like showing a red rag to a bull. You can’t complain what happens to you thereafter’

RAMEEZ SUDEN, 30
School Teacher, Uri, J&K

‘Usually, the rapes are just consensual sex where the girl later changes her mind either for money or something else’

MOOLCHAND, 42
Sarpanch, Dhana village, Haryana

“Yes, women are somewhat responsible for the crimes against them, but ultimately it is actually the responsibility of their guardians, parents and husband. We know women are easily fooled and lack reason (sic),” he said. “Men must act as protectors of women because Allah has made one to excel over the other. There can be no equality between the sexes. In Saudi Arabia, there are no rapes because women dress well and don’t mingle freely with men.”

Like the men in the Hindi heartland, Tabish and Baseer are facsimiles. You could replace them with Muhammad Rafiq, 28, a teacher in Kashmir, or Mudassir Kakroo, 32, a civil engineer, or Ahsaas Lone, a marine biology scientist, or Muhammad Afzal Wani, 30, another banker, and their thoughts would just duplicate each other in different shades.

But there is cold comfort for those who would revel in the stereotype of the regressive, patriarchal Muslim man, because here’s what Vijay Prasad Shetty, 57, president of the Udupi Bar Association, told TEHELKA: “The clothes today’s girls wear provoke even the most upright men. Women have become too wayward. They have moved away from Hindu culture. Girls wear 3/4th pants and figure-hugging clothes that leave little to the imagination. Obviously, this turns men on. Boys will never approach a girl if they don’t get the right vibes from her. They always know when they see a girl who is ready to sleep around. Why can’t women wear churidars instead of skirts? If women roam around wearing revealing tops, obviously men get the idea that she’s available and loose. The best of men can fall for that. In the olden days, our elders had a rule. A grown-up daughter would not be allowed to be in the same room as her father or her brother. We have drifted away from there. That’s why these things are happening.”

 

Jan 2009 Goons of the Sri Ram Sene manhandle pubgoers in Mangalore

At one level, how can one hear such assertions with anything except outraged rejection? The efficacy of that rejection can be evaluated later; surely one must first record the rejection?

Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. Farmer, labourer, auto driver, scientist, lawyer or teacher. Educated or illiterate. Old or young. Haryanvi, UP-wallah, or Southie. Only one thing seemed to bind the men TEHELKA spoke to: they had no concept of male accountability; no concept of the hijab of eye and action. The burden of social order lay only with the woman.

The conversations had other disturbing yields. Apart from the expected distrust of popular culture and western lifestyles, the binary of a wonderful Indian “tradition” wherein no violence ever happens versus a disruptive “modernity” that had unleashed beasts and snakes, TEHELKA’s dipstick into the Indian male psyche brought home one particularly difficult truth: for a vast majority of men, rape does not even register as a violent or heinous crime. For many, even the Delhi gangrape case was deemed worthy of condemnation only because of the brutality of the iron rod and the ripped intestines. The rape itself was too commonplace to grieve about. “Rape hua, theek hai,” many said, “par iss tarah seh marna nahi chahiye tha.” (If they raped her, that’s okay. They shouldn’t have killed her in such a brutal manner.)

Gratefully, however, the story of India can never be told through one window.

OVER THE past four weeks, there have been many outraged demands. Pressured by the outrage, the Chief Justice of India has announced fast-track courts, the Central government has set up a committee for recommendations on how to combat rape, universities have ordered sensitisation courses, and there is talk of capital punishment, castration, tougher laws and more women in the police force.

Much of this threatens to be no more than the debris of a storm. Many thoughtful citizens are trying to put in cautionary notes. Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves, for instance, laughs at the illusion of the fast-track court. “There aren’t enough judges, what’s the point of setting up new courts?” he asks. “For every fasttrack court that is set up, another one somewhere must be put on hold or dismantled. There are only 12 judges per million people in India; the average elsewhere is 80. Yet, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says he does not have enough funds to pay for more judges.”

For every regressive, reductive conversation, there were other men — across religion, culture, profession, class — who defied the stereotype

Madhu Kishwar too warns against many of the over-zealous changes that have been demanded: denying the right of appeal to a higher court in the case of a rape conviction; shifting the burden of proof to the accused; instant FIRs; and selective fasttrack courts. “The demand for special courts for rape comes from an unrealistic faith in ‘special measures’. When it is manned by the same personnel and procedures, how can it work like a magic wand? Ask the Bhopal gas tragedy victims how they fared with their special courts! Besides, rape victims are not the only aggrieved group in our society. Demands for special courts have come from many other disadvantaged groups — environmentalists, anti-corruption crusaders, and those displaced by arbitrary land acquisition laws. The list will keep growing if the entire judicial system is not reworked thoroughly. The same holds true for sensitising the police force. It’s true our colonial-minded police are very gender insensitive, but it’s not as if they treat men any better. Women are no doubt more vulnerable, but only if they are not well-connected. Ask the slumdwellers and street vendors who survive at the mercy of the police and see if they fare any better. You cannot make the police ‘gender sensitive’ unless you make them ‘citizen sensitive’,” she says. “In short, the situation calls for far-reaching police and judicial reforms, not knee-jerk tokenisms.”

 

Nov 2011 Arrested for being a Naxal sympathiser, Soni Sori was given shocks and stones were inserted into her vagina

Others are raising different flags. Activist Aruna Roy talks about the self-defeating futility of castration and capital punishment. “Even after the Bhanwari Devi rape case, there was a lot of talk of castration, but through all our discussions on ground, as women we arrived at the position that we did not want to be party to the same idea of revengeful physical violence. What we need is more governance, more rule of law and more comprehensive redressal mechanisms. It sounds boring, but that’s where the answers lie.”

In this issue of TEHELKA, activist Flavia Agnes has detailed how the police interface with rape survivors can be made more accountable, irrespective of their personal prejudice or views. Over the next few weeks, TEHELKA is committed to engaging more with such sober assessments of where the answers lie. But, for the moment, even if one were to assume one had all the answers, how could any of them yield positive outcomes unless we at least agree as a society on the nature of the crime and what causes it?

To speak of collective outrage is to assume a shared value system. Clearly, we don’t have that. As lakhs of Indians listening to Mohan Bhagwat, the Jamaat leaders and Asaram Bapu would have wondered what the media fuss was about, it’s possible many Indians will read the excerpts of conversations with Indian men listed in this story and wonder why we are calling it a window into darkness.

‘I hold women squarely responsible for the rapes. The prime reason is revealing dresses, and that hijab is now extinct from urban areas’

MAULANA UBAIDUR RAHMAN, 36
Imam of Jama Masjid, Faizabad, UP

 

‘The clothes today’s girls wear provoke even the most upright men. They have moved away from Hindu culture’ 

VIJAY PRASAD SHETTY, 57
President, Udupi Bar Association, Karnataka

It’s crucial, therefore, to outline unequivocally what the fuss is about. As a modern democracy, the right of the individual — irrespective of religion, caste, class or gender — is enshrined in our Constitution. For a woman, this ought to mean a complete autonomy over her body, her choices, her movement and her right to work. These choices may be curtailed on the ground by the cultural or personal context she inhabits, or where she herself wants to stand on the ladder of emancipation. But, in essence, there should be no curtailments.

The fuss is, many sections of Indian society don’t see this as a desired value. Where the State and its institutions are concerned, confronting this should be a fairly easy and precipitate process. If you hold any public office — as a minister, a judge, a policeman, a bureaucrat or any government functionary — voicing or acting on any misogynistic impulse should automatically invite censure or removal. This does not happen, but it is time it should. Nothing would send out a clearer message to society than a Constitutional principle made visible.

The greater muddle is in society’s own responses. India, proverbially, contains multitudes. Inevitably, there is a face-off between those who wish to live by this ideal and those who want to thwart it. How should one, as Santosh Desai puts it, keep society moving towards a positive destination without solidifying the resistance?

‘Porn is a Rs 45,000 cr empire. Kids are heavily into this; it teaches them to look at women in a certain light’

MZ KHAN, 52 
Urdu Novelist, Ranchi

 

‘I knew a guy who had a small penis, and his wife told me — he would overcompensate by assaulting her’

MUSHTAQ SHEIKH, 30
Screenplay Writer, Mumbai

One of the temptations of the past four weeks has been to frame the debate on rape and women’s rights as a war between men and women. Obviously, there is no merit in that argument. Women can be as oppressive — if not more — than men. But the exhilarating find in TEHELKA’s conversations with Indian men is that the picture is more sunlit than one had imagined.

Speaking at a discussion last week about the media’s reporting on the Delhi rape, social scientist Nivedita Menon said, one of the most gratifying aspects of watching young girls and boys protest the rape was to see that the idea of feminism and equal rights had percolated through every layer of society onto the street. The slogans and placards spoke of an emancipated consciousness that was in the skin, beyond any studied political positions or self-conscious feminism.

TEHELKA’s findings echo that. For every regressive, reductive conversation, there were others, particularly young men — across religion, culture, class and profession — who defied the stereotype. Men who expressed a profound commitment to the idea of equality and women’s rights over their own bodies, ambitions and sexuality.

 

July 2012 A TV crew egged on a mob to molest a girl for TRPs in Guwahati

There was Tejas Jain, 23, an IT engineer and music student from Indore, who told TEHELKA that his concept of a successful, modern Indian woman was “someone who can stand up for herself in all walks of life and is neither scared nor controlled by men such as her father, brother or husband”. His concept of an ideal man was equally enlightened: “Someone who not only respects women, but all of life — be it human, animal or plant.”

Like many other young students TEHELKA spoke to, Tejas poured scorn on the idea of women as objects for sex, violence or household chores. “Our rigid and orthodox societal mindset has to go. Media, cinema and TV have to own up to the responsibility of how they project women. Turn on the TV and you will see women decked in saris, sitting at home, plotting and fighting all day. We need to fight these stereotypes.”

Like Tejas again, Sukalyan Roy, 27, a marketing executive in Delhi, spoke with self-confidence. A successful woman for him was someone who is truly independent, who can live with her family or on her own, take her own decisions, dress as she wants, go where she wants and have as many sexual partners as she chooses. “I think women in many ways are the stronger sex,” he told TEHELKA. “They have a deeper strength than men are capable of. It is men who have to steadily change.”

Similar assertions rang like positive chimes through dozens of other conversations. Abhishek Verma, 25, an MCA student in Ambedkar University, Lucknow, for instance, said, “The emancipation of women is in the larger interest of society. They need more freedom, not less.”

Like these students, Pramod Kumar, a professor of history at Lucknow University, took on the easy and reductive revilement of ‘modern’ and ‘western’ culture. “It’s not modern culture but a medieval mindset that is to be blamed for rape,” he said. “The protest against rape by common people in Delhi and other places was, in fact, a product of modern culture. Earlier, we hardly ever protested. Western culture is not just about wearing jeans and short skirts. It’s about liberal values, equality, liberty, fraternity, service to mankind and the Greek values of Humanism.”

Hearteningly, these enlightened positions did not only emanate from colleges and universities. Vipul Patel, 28, an electrical goods shop owner in Udupi — a perfect foil to the chauvinistic lawyer quoted earlier from the same town — said, “As far as clothes are concerned, if women cannot tell me what to wear, how can I dictate terms to them? In Manipal, we have girls from all over roaming about in short skirts late at night. That doesn’t mean you go around harassing them sexually. I saw a placard in a newspaper that read: ‘Ask your son not to rape, instead of telling me how to dress.’ I think that’s a fair comment.”

Wonderfully, Patel’s views found a mirror in Prakash, 35, a daily wager and coconut plucker from the same town. “How can anyone hold women responsible for crimes against them? If anyone is responsible, it is the men. What women do with their lives is none of my business. I have no say in my sister’s life — she should be allowed to do what she wants with it.”

These conversations run like a redemptive stream across the country. Men and boys who spoke up to take nuanced positions, critiquing themselves, women, their upbringing and the plurality of India that enables many worlds to both collide and co-exist. Not all of them were positioned at the extreme end of total freedom for either themselves or women. Instead, they spoke rationally of freedom with responsibilities, of cultural constraints and the pragmatics of safety. What distinguished them, though, was that even their intermediary positions were thoughtful and self-critical.

As Rak Kumar Singh, a documentary filmmaker from Manipur, said, “I hold women equally responsible as men for the segregated outlook of our society that views them as a solitary object for childbearing and sexual gratification. Unless women stand up and fight for their rights, this mindset will always prevail. Giving freedom to our women would mean providing peace and brighter opportunities for our society. But even our government — both in the state and Centre — are maleoriented bodies where women have the least right of decision making.”

Many spoke of witnessing violence in their own homes and of their resolve not to subscribe anymore to the triad idea of shame, silence and honour.

Dark as India’s societal attitudes might sometimes feel, these men are testimony to the fact that the ground has been shifting radically and imperceptibly. Santosh Desai, who with a team of 25 others have visited more than 73 towns in the past two years to conduct similar, casual dipstick conversations, says he has felt a definite new assertiveness, confidence and ambition among the young girls and women he has met on these trips. Combine that with the voices of these young men and one could begin to believe that despite every misstep— despite the lack of contemporary social reformers or enlightened government or moderate platforms for real dialogue — India is embarked on a fascinating and organic journey.

The beauty is, as Nivedita Menon says, that none of this new assertion necessarily means a complete break with the past. Rather, it is evidence that social transformations in India over the past decades have seeped to the ground level. Most of these young men and women would, in fact, be spending their salaries on looking after parents and younger siblings, and taking their responsibilities seriously, in very “Indian” ways.

OFTEN, RAPE is used as a weapon to maintain status quo, a tool for feudal, upper-caste or State oppression as the rapes in Gujarat or by the army and paramilitary jawans in Kashmir, the Northeast and Chhattisgarh. The brutal Delhi gangrape — a more plainly maniacal and criminal act — had none of those complex underpinnings of power and politics. Perhaps, as writer Arundhati Roy says, this made it easier for people to respond with horror and outrage to it, while other rapes are met with greater silence.

Even then, undeniably, it has prised open — at great and horrific cost — a crucial new space for discussion. As the white heat of its horror recedes, the only real honour we can accord the woman who died is to keep the discussion meaningfully alive.

As Aruna Roy says, the deepest feminist position one can have is a commitment to participatory dialogue. The ideas that will emerge from that lengthy process will always have greater validity and acceptance by plural cross-sections of society. The idea of equality may be non-negotiable, but the paths to it are many. If we stay committed to that process, even after the clumsy water cannons are gone and the anguished candles have died, we might still have one billion rising.

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With inputs from Brijesh Pandey, Baba Umar, Aradhna Wal, Jeemon Jacob, Riyaz Wani, Soumik Mukherjee, Ratnadip Choudhury, Virendra Nath Bhatt, G Vishnu, Imran Khan, Nishita Jha and Sai Manish

 

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Give up Valentine’s Day celebrations, Asaram Bapu urges youth #WTFnews #1billionrising

Published: Thursday, Jan 10, 2013, 1
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Pune

Spiritual leader Asaram Bapu, who was recently in the eye of storm for his reported remarks on the Delhi gang-rape victim, said that the youth should celebrate parents’ day instead of Valentine’s Day on February 14. He was speaking at a satsang organised in Pandharpur on Wednesday. During his discourse, Asaram Bapu said, “The youths are adopting foreign culture which is dangerous for society.”

On the controversy revolving around his remarks on the Delhi gang-rape victim, Asaram said that the media has misinterpreted him. “The Delhi gang-rape incident was unfortunate. The victim’s family is not alone. The whole society is with them. Authorities should take more precautions to ensure that such incidents do not occur again,” he said.

Asaram on Monday had said that the 23-year-old gang-rape victim was equally responsible for the ghastly crime and said that she could have called her assailants ‘brothers’ and begged them to stop.

Asaram reached the village around 3.30 in a private helicopter. Later, he addressed around 10,000 disciples at his ashram. The Alandi police had provided security for the programe. Assistant police inspector Bapu Deshmukh said, “We had appointed extra policemen at the programme venue. We provided enough security to him,” he said.

Protest against spiritual guru
Socialist Yuvjan Sabha (SYS), on Wednesday, protested against the statements of Asaram Bapu and

Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat on the Delhi gang-rape incident.

SYS president Abhijit Vaidya said, “BJP once came out with India Shining slogan. Now leaders are saying such absurd things. How can they say such things when they have prominent leaders like Sushma Sawraj? If they feel that women should be confined to their homes, it should also be applicable to the female leaders of the party.”

Varsha Gupte, member of SYS, said, “People like Asaram and Bhagwat are sailing in the same boat. Instead of doing something to ensure strict action against the culprits, these people are misusing the freedom of speech.”

 

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