The ways of the Parivar

Published : Jul 05, 2017 12:30 IST

A statue of Mother Mary which has been standing atop a the hill at Pulipakkam village near Chengleput for 10 years now. Across it is the Sri Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal temple, which is under construction.

A statue of Mother Mary which has been standing atop a the hill at Pulipakkam village near Chengleput for 10 years now. Across it is the Sri Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal temple, which is under construction.


Saffron in Dravidian land

By Ilangovan Rajasekaran

TAMIL NADU, the Dravidian heartland, is witnessing “saffronisation” on the sly. Hindutva forces are targeting minorities, be they Christians or Muslims, and Dalits with impunity across the State in varying degrees.

In the northern part of the State, especially in the cluster of interior villages and hamlets in the district of Kancheepuram, Dalit Christians, the majority among minorities here, have been living in morbid fear since April 14, Good Friday, when the solemn occasion at the St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church at Sogandi village in Tirukazhukkundram block ended in chaos and violence.

In the southern part, in Cumbum town in Theni district, a mosque was targeted by stone-throwing miscreants on June 1 when prayers were being offered in the month of Ramzan. The incident shocked the conscience of the people of Cumbum, a plantation town located on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border. Cumbum, local people claim, has never witnessed such an incident until then, not even when the Babri Masjid was demolished. “We share a warm camaraderie as our lives are intertwined and interdependent. Both are engaged in plantation and agriculture, the mainstay of our livelihood,” says Cumbum P. Selvendran, former Member of Parliament from Periyakulam and a farmer.

Of late, similar attempts of majoritarian hooliganism aimed at polarising people along religious lines have been reported across the State with alarming regularity. At least four other such incidents were reported in the State during the Ramzan month—at the Kannappa Nagar mosque at Rathinapuri in Coimbatore city and at mosques in Ramanathapuram town in Ramanathapuram district, and in Tirupur in Tirupur district. Besides, those who transported a few cows and calves in a lorry for a farmer came under attack in the temple town of Palani in the western region.

In fact, there is a devious pattern to these seemingly sporadic and impulsive acts. The attempt in all cases has been to instil fear in the minds of minorities. “Tamil Nadu is neither Gujarat nor Uttar Pradesh to get converted into a laboratory for the Hindutva ideology. But we cannot just ignore the fact that they are working aggressively at the grass-roots level against the secularists,” said M. H. Jawahirullah, a senior functionary of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK).

Indeed, signals from the ground point to a disturbing phase ahead in a situation where governance is virtually absent and the political leadership is seen as corrupt and opportunistic. Besides, the Dravidian ideology that has held sway for many decades in the State seems to be fraying at the edges. This and the vacuum in the political leadership have led right-wing forces to believe that there is an opportunity for them to make inroads into the State. “Though the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] has been opposing the Hindutva agenda, it should activate its rank and file to fight against the oppressive forces at the grass-roots level,” Jawahirullah said.

A recent investigation by Frontline , covering some 20 villages and hamlets in a few northern districts, found that incidents of a communal nature involving members of the majority community, in the form of instigating social disturbances through acts of arrogance and vigilantism, have increased.

The targets of their attacks are Dalit Christian converts in the northern parts and Muslims in the southern and western regions.

Controversy in Arul Nagar Sogandi village is a case in point here. Some 150 Dalit Christian families live in Arul Nagar colony located between Sogandi and Alagusamudhram villages, which have a strong Hindu Vanniyar population, which is listed as a most backward class (MBC) group. The Dalit Christians regularly offer worship at the St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church in their colony. Two years ago, the village parish developed a portion of the barren hill, classified as “karadu poromboke” (barren and rough hill), as an official termed it, opposite the church into a 10 x 10 grotto and installed a statue of Our Lady in it. This is now at the centre of a controversy.

On Good Friday, residents of the colony gathered at the grotto for worship and then went in a procession when the caste Hindu Vanniyars from Alagusamudhram raised objection, saying that the hill belonged to Hindus and was known as “Perumal Malai”, though there is no such reference in government documents. “We have been celebrating festivals peacefully all these years. Besides Christmas, Palm Sunday and New Year, we also celebrate Pongal and Deepavali,” said Arul Nagar resident E. Meganathan.

In fact, villages around Sogandi have been known for inhuman levels of caste discrimination for years. Five decades ago there was mass conversion of Dalits to Christianity. In the 1960s, the district administration offered 50-odd Dalit families house-site pattas on a piece of parched land located between Sogandi and Alagusamudhram. The Dalits developed it into a picturesque settlement and named it Arul Nagar.

But Arul Nagar residents were surprised at the sudden resistance from the residents of Alagusamudhram on the statue issue. “On instigation from some fringe elements, the villagers, mostly Hindu Vanniyars, undertook a massive exercise on February 19 involving hundreds of school students and the general public to paint the religious identity mark of the Vaishnavite tradition, ‘tiruman’, popularly known as ‘namam’, on every boulder and stone on the hill. Even signs of the Holy Cross near the grotto were obliterated or replaced by ‘namams’, besides making markings on culverts, houses and government buildings,” said Amul Raj, a social activist who works among Arul Nagar’s residents.

Arul Nagar residents were well aware that it was a religiously motivated act. They alleged that the Hindu Munnani, which entered their village two years back, was instigating the people against the church and Christians. Even the Palm Sunday celebrations this year were disrupted. The simmering tension over the issue culminated in violence on April 14 when a mob attempted to remove the statue of Our Lady.

Youngsters of Arul Nagar retaliated, which led to a law and order problem that left many persons, including a few policemen, injured. The following day, on April 15, officials of the Revenue Department removed the statue, which Kancheepuram Sub Collector V. P. Jeyaseelan, who is also in charge of Chengleput, called “an encroachment”, and sealed the grotto. Villagers claimed that scores of Hindu temples had been built on the other side of the hill. “These temples are also on encroached lands,” said Arul, another villager.

Protesting against the incident, black flags were hoisted atop Dalit houses in the village. Two peace committee meetings that the Kancheepuram district administration convened could not usher in peace between the communities. A senior revenue official at the Tirukazhukkundram taluk office told Frontline that the church was reluctant to cooperate with the local administration to sort out the issue. Meanwhile, H. Raja, one of the national secretaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), staged a protest at Tambaram on the outskirts of Chennai urging the government to remove the shrine from the hill.

The parish priest, Fr. Jacob, told Frontline that the veneration of the cross and distribution of Holy Communion on Good Friday could not be completed because of the unsavoury incidents at the village. The Chengleput diocese bishop, Dr A. Neethinathan, urged the government to ensure the safety of Christians and other minorities. The church and other Christian outfits organised a protest rally and fast at Chengleput on April 24, condemning the violence against them.

A Vanniyar youth, however, said they did not want another Acharapakkam, where a church was constructed atop a hill, in their locality. “Ours is called Perumal Malai and it belongs to us,” he maintained. [The shrine of the Miraculous Mother Mary (Mazhai Madha) atop the hill in Acharapakkam near Chengleput is an important shrine, besides the renowned St. Thomas Mount shrine. Both fall under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic diocese of Chengleput. The Arul Nagar church also comes under the diocese.] The Catholic Bishops Conference of India, which met on April 19, asked the State government to ensure that “every person continues to feel safe and enjoys the basic right to worship freely and without fear”. It said: “The Catholic Church in India is very distressed and saddened by the happenings in Sogandi, Tamil Nadu, on Good Friday, a day very sacred to Christians everywhere.” Catholic News Agency (CNA) datelined Rome, April 21, while reporting the Sogandi incident, pointed to the rising intolerance in India towards people of all religions from “fundamentalist fringe” groups, which disturbed “the traditional peace and harmony” of the country.

‘Real issue is caste’ Muniamma, 70, a Dalit woman convert, said what really riled the Vanniyars and right-wing groups was their caste and their conversion. “We suffered cruel caste-based discrimination by birth as Hindus. No one treated us with dignity. Missionaries gave us education and economic empowerment and we voluntarily converted to Christianity. We do not depend on caste Hindus for our livelihood now since our children are well educated and happily self-sufficient. We are no longer vassals in the casteist feudal system. That we live in dignity today is their main grouse against us and the church,” she said.

The caste polarisation in the northern districts, especially between Dalits and Vanniyars, has emerged as a powerful tool of exploitation in the hands of Hindutva groups. The villages, which once had flags of the two major Dravidian political parties—the DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)—besides the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), now fly the BJP’s saffron flag and the Hindu Munnani’s. A saffron flag flutters right across the road and in front of the Arul Nagar church today, showcasing their aggressive agenda.

They also succeeded to a great extent in creating divisions among Dalits. Those who remain in the Hindu fold in the villages have been indoctrinated ideologically and offered liberal funds to carry out their plots and designs in their localities. “Many Dalit Hindus have fallen prey to them though Vanniyars, a few of whom too have embraced Christianity, continue to discriminate against them. Here no one is allowed to be identified in any group other than Vanniyars and Dalits. Only then it is easy for them to operate with the two main social entities,” said Amul Raj.

Billboards warning people that they are living in a Hindu country have sprung up in various places. Villagers have been told that any decision concerning sociocultural and developmental issues should be decided only by the village Hindus. Posters against cow slaughter and beef-eating can be seen on water tanks, and mud walls of huts and houses. “Even bhajans are being held for youngsters, especially in Dalit settlements, during evening hours,” said the Chengleput-based Dalit activist Ari.

Ari said statues of Mother Mary and Jesus and the cross sign, which could commonly be seen on hills and hillocks, had either been desecrated or replaced with Hindu shrines and idols. At Pulipakkam village off Kancheepuram, a cross and a small statue of Mother Mary were erected atop the hill some 20 years ago. But to the anguish of the people, it was found desecrated. “When we went up the hill to offer prayers to the Mother Mary statue on the hill, Vanniyars in the village objected. They broke the statue, which was later replaced after a prolonged struggle,” said A. Benjamin, a Dalit Christian of the village.

Pulipakkam has a strong presence of Vanniyars, the majority of them Hindus, and the other major caste group is Dalit Christians. Benjamin alleged: “The former village president, a Dalit Hindu, opposes us for having the statue of Mary atop the hill, part of which is ‘poromboke’ land, the rest belonging to the Forest Department. Today he is constructing an impressive-looking Sri Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Temple on an area of about 10,000 square feet on the same hill. A mud road has been laid after burrowing out a portion of the hill to reach the temple. Who gave him the permission for this pucca construction on a hill?”

A Dalit Hindu in Palur, Baraneedharan (name changed since he is a State government employee), who has been entrusted with the task of rebuilding the dilapidated Sri Paravathavarni Udanurai Parameshwarar temple at a cost of Rs.1 crore, said, “Anyone can profess and practise their religion provided they respect the Hindu culture of the country.” A member of the Sri Parameshwarar Sivanadiyar Kootam, the group that is renovating the temple, Baraneedharan said he could not “tolerate the way conversions were taking place in villages around Kancheepuram and Chengleput towns”.

“Religious conversion should not hurt the feelings of other religions,” he argued. He became a staunch Hindutva foot soldier after a “special darshan” of the Kanchi Sankaracharya at his mutt in Kancheepuram. “It was a proud moment in my life. Many like me had the privilege of meeting the swamigal,” he said. Such acts, organised by senior functionaries of the BJP and the Hindu Munnani, hold an allure to these people, especially Dalits like Baraneedharan.

Dubious practices Many dubious practices under the guise of religion are encouraged among gullible villagers to profess the philosophy of the majoritarian faith. Ari claimed that whenever a monkey died or was killed, villagers were asked to erect a huge statue of Hanuman, the monkey god of Hindus, at that site. Today many villages sport such statues of not only Hanuman but also of Siva, Kali and so on. Funding comes by way of sponsorships.

In fact, the journey through Kuravanmedu, Vadakkupathu and Olavetti villages of Kancheepuram district and a few in Tiruvallur district revealed that many temples of village deities, such as Sri Ponni Amman, which were either damaged or in a dilapidated state for long, were getting renovated. Besides, many small and medium temples rooted in the Vedic tradition that had fallen into disuse over a period of time because of various factors, such as the one in Palur, were being renovated.

Priests who had left villages and temples for greener pastures were being wooed back. “We have requested Brahmin priests who once performed pujas at our temple to return and revive the daily rituals,” said Baraneedharan. Such acts, sociologists say, will be rationalised to propagate ideological purity among the people of their faith.

The Christians of Sogandi are in a quandary about how they would celebrate Christmas this year. “It is a scary feeling being Christians here,” said Amul Raj. Jawahirullah insists that secular and democratic forces should unite under a banner to counter this cultural intimidation. “If a state fails to have power over such fundamental forces that asphyxiate the rights of the disadvantaged, it is very much a failing state,” he said.

But that is the toxic reality in Tamil Nadu today.


Break with tradition

By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

Participation in the Eid celebrations at the historic Aishbagh Eidgah in Lucknow is a custom Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh have observed for many decades. However, Yogi Adityanath, the current incumbent, chose to break with this tradition by not attending the celebrations on June 26. The absence was conspicuous since Governor Ram Naik, who also belonged to the BJP before being appointed Governor, and Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma were present on the occasion.

Rajnath Singh, as the last BJP Chief Minister (2000-02) before Yogi Adityanath, used to attend the programme regularly. Former Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Akhilesh Yadav, who was present at the Eidgah on June 26, made a reference to Yogi Adityanath’s absence, suggesting that it did not send the right message. “What can I do if he [the Chief Minister] is not here, but I wonder why?” he asked. Akhilesh Yadav’s query found great resonance among those who had gathered at the Eidgah, including several non-Muslims who came to wish their Muslim friends.

Obaidullah of Phoolpur, a member of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, a confederation of 16 Muslim organisations that is trying to build a common platform and approach amidst the several institutional and theological divides in the community, told Frontline that the central message of Yogi Adityanath’s conduct is that the Chief Minister would continue to practise a sectarian divide-and-rule policy. “He is telling the minorities not to expect him to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. And he is also telling the Hindutva fringe elements to continue with their rampage, which has already pushed the entire minority community and a section of Dalits into the grip of deep fear,” he said.

Satyam Singh, an Other Backward Class (OBC) Hindu who regularly takes part in Eid festivities, echoed Obaidullah’s opinion. He works in association with a number of organisations trying to build communal harmony and pointed out that while there had been no mob lynching of Muslims or other marginalised sections in Uttar Pradesh in the past three months, the activists of the BJP as well as other outfits in the Sangh Parivar had created a climate where free social interactions and movement were no longer possible. Their assaults reflected a range of crimes, from blatant communal violence to moral policing to lording over the administration.

Consider this, he said, holding up a list of assaults by the Sangh Parivar in the recent past. The list included the Saharanpur violence of May 2017 involving assaults by the upper caste Thakur community against Dalits, which was initiated when a Shobhayatra was undertaken under the leadership of local BJP leaders. In April, the list said, activists of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a Hindutva outfit founded by Yogi Adityanath himself, unleashed mayhem across western Uttar Pradesh. It started on April 12 with the assault on a couple, a Muslim man and a Hindu woman, who were living together in Meerut; this was followed by an attack on a betrothed Hindu couple the next day while they were travelling on a two-wheeler in Fatehpur Sikri.

On April 22, BJP workers disrupted the functioning of the administration at the Taj Mahal complex in Agra and the office of the Senior Superintendent of Police in Mathura. “These are just the listed instances from western Uttar Pradesh. Across the State, the Yogi government has created a situation where a piece of saffron clothing worn around the neck immediately puts you above the law. Then you can terrorise people, attack them and do what you want,” said Satyam Singh.

Satyam Singh’s contention has wide resonance in the popular perception across Uttar Pradesh. Senior government officials admitted that the high-handedness of the Hindutva elements, including at the level of day-to-day administration, had started to have a serious impact on the general law and order situation. Even a bench of the Allahabad High Court, consisting of Chief Justice D.B. Bhonsle and Justice Yashwant Verma, took note of this and directed the Principal Secretary (Home) and the Director General of Police to show more application of mind in reining in criminal and mafia elements.

Alarming statistics A comparison of the figures of the Home Department for crimes in the period from March 15 to April 15 this year and the corresponding period last year is nothing short of alarming. Rapes had shot up four times over the past year, murders had doubled and dacoity had grown manifold. As against 41 rapes last year, there were 179 in the same period this year. Murders went up from 101 to 240 and cases of dacoity rose from three to 20. Of course, all these are not communal crimes or ones engineered by Hindutva outfits. But, as Satyam Singh pointed out and as corroborated by several senior officials, the unleashing of Hindutva outfits has contributed to building up this climate of fear.


Workshop of Hindutva

By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

“Earlier, leaders of the Sangh Parivar, including those of the BJP, used to say that Jharkhand was the second laboratory of Hindutva politics, after Gujarat. But now, with the Raghubar Das-led BJP ministry completing one and a half years in office, this State has been turned into a full-fledged workshop of Hindutva. It can no longer be described as a laboratory.” This is how Supriyo Bhatta, national general secretary of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the principal opposition party in the State, summed up the situation in the wake of the spate of communal violence in Jharkhand. “Organised lynching, mob attacks and destruction of property of minority communities, especially Muslims’, are, of course, the most extreme forms of this violence, and these have risen to unprecedented levels. But these are only a few of the myriad forms of their communal machinations. The Sangh Parivar is also advancing a hundred other devious operations blatantly with the full patronage of the State government,” he said.

Even a cursory glance at the incidents of communal violence in the State corroborates the JMM leader’s contention. Official records of the State Home Department state that as many as 12 people lost their lives in sectarian violence from March 2016 to June 2017. Of them, nine belonged to the Muslim community. Other forms of communal assault have also grown by leaps and bounds. According to National Crime Records Bureau data for the years 2014 and 2015, Jharkhand is a joint first in terms of communal violence in the country. It recorded 408 incidents of communal violence (349 in 2014 and 69 in 2015), the same as Haryana which reported 207 incidents in 2014 and 201 in 2015.

The latest sectarian killing was committed by the police at Piperwar of Chatra district. Mohammad Salman, a 19-year-old Muslim boy, was dragged out of his house and shot dead by the local police on the night of June 23. The police initially sought to argue that Salman was an extortionist involved in criminal offences and that the police were forced to shoot him when he attacked them. However, this story did not gain credence and public outrage mounted in Piperwar immediately after the killing. So much so, mine workers and villagers struck work in the coal mines in the region. The Home Department was forced to retract the claim and suspend Station House Officer Piperwar Vinod Singh and five other policemen. One constable involved in the action was arrested.

Four days after this, a police team saved Mohammad Usman, a dairy farmer from Barieya village of Giridih district, from a mob that had attacked his house alleging that he had slaughtered a cow. While such actions of the police and the authorities do get reported from time to time, the majority of observers are of the view that the political climate created by the BJP government has allowed Hindutva lumpen elements a free run in the State. In this climate, large sections of the authorities also adopt Hindutva aggression, as was seen in the Piperwar incident. Several activists of minority welfare organisations belonging to both the Christian and Muslim communities told Frontline that there were moves by the government to bring in legislation to curb their activities. “Once that too comes in, the aggressions are bound to rise manifold. Evidently, that is the political objective of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar,” a Christian missionary told Frontline .

The Bihar experience The communal situation in neighbouring Bihar is starkly different and is made possible by the strict vigil by the authorities and the absence of state patronage to Hindutva hooliganism. Not a single case of gau rakshak vigilantism or mob attacks has been reported from the State throughout 2015-16. Of course, efforts have been made by many Hindutva leaders, including Union Minister Giriraj Singh, to upset the state of affairs with his extremely provocative statements, but each time the Nitish Kumar-led Grand Alliance government of the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress has held things under control.

The political observer Nalin Verma cites the Bihar experience as an example of how the humane socio-anthropological legacies of a region, including Buddhism, can get reflected in matters of statecraft and influence in moulding society. Evidently, that is not a tradition that the BJP government in Jharkhand wants to follow.


Agendas and action

By T.K. Rajalakshmi

The BJP led by Vasundhara Raje, which formed the government in Rajasthan with a sweeping majority in the Assembly elections held in December 2013, began its innings with controversial labour law reforms. A parallel agenda began to unfold in the fields of education and culture, which entailed a sectarian interpretation of history. Soon enough, the disdain for alternative streams of thought, cultural, social and political, metamorphosed into open aggression against the “other”. At least two attacks against members of the minority community turned fatal. The more recent one was in April 2017 in Alwar where the victim was labelled a “cow smuggler” by State Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria.

In the third week of March, a 100-strong mob led by the State president of the Rashtriya Mahila Gauraksha Dal stormed the popular Hayat Rabbani Hotel in Jaipur alleging that beef was being served there. According to media reports, the crowd shouted “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Narendra Modi zindabad”. At the behest of the local councillor, the Jaipur Municipal Corporation sealed the building. In May, a forensic laboratory certified that samples of the meat seized were not beef. A district and sessions court in Jaipur directed the corporation to lift the seal, but it has not been done to date.

Significantly, Rajasthan is the only State to have a ministry for cow welfare. In an incredulous attempt to glorify the cow, School Education Minister Vasudev Devnani even said the cow was the only animal to inhale and exhale oxygen.

Under the BJP, Rajasthan also became the only State in post-Independence India to have two State universities closed down—the Hardeo Joshi University of Journalism and the B.R. Ambedkar Law University, both set up during Congress regimes. This was revealed following retired professor of sociology Rajiv Gupta’s query made under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to the University Grants Commission.

Changing textbooks In 2015, drastic changes were made in school textbooks. The emphasis was on the superiority and the exclusiveness of Hindu society and culture, making it synonymous with Indian culture. Nomenclature, myths, folklore, manufacturing of facts and obfuscation of significant but politically inconvenient figures became part of the project to “Indianise education and culture”. For instance, the famous Ajmer Fort built during Akbar’s reign, also called Akbar’s Fort and known for its connection to the trade pact signed between the Mughal ruler Jahangir and Sir Thomas Roe of the East India Company, was renamed without Akbar’s name in it as “Ajmer Ka Qila Aivam Sangrahalaya” (“Demonising Akbar”, Frontline , June 9). No historian or committee of experts was consulted regarding this. Devnani told a prominent daily that the renaming was done to “respect the sentiments of the public”.

The latest preoccupation of various supporters of the ruling party is with the “greatness” of the Rajput ruler Rana Pratap vis-a-vis the “foreign invader” Akbar. Textbooks have been written to underscore the greatness of specific communities and particular historical figures. Dina Nath Batra, the convener of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, who rose to fame as the man behind the pulping of the Indologist Wendy Doniger’s books, has been helping with the new textbooks for school education in Rajasthan and also in BJP-ruled Haryana.

Prominent educationists from Delhi and Rajasthan who did a review of the textbooks in 2016 (which were introduced in 2015) found that they were “weak by every parameter of content, knowledge acquisition, pedagogy and scientific temper”. Led by Rajiv Gupta of Rajasthan University and Apoorvanand from the University of Delhi, the review found first and foremost that the Indus Valley Civilisation had been renamed as Sindhu Saraswati Sabhyata, implying that it was part of the Vedic civilisation. The establishment of the antiquity of Vedic society has been central to the idea of a Hindu Rashtra (“Fiction as history”, Frontline , May 12). Similarly, Class 9 textbooks say that Aryans were native to India and that the “Aryas” were “very good people” and praise the caste system.

A chapter on biodiversity in a Class 8 textbook begins with a Hindu religious verse which has no connection with the subject under discussion.

What is of serious concern is the manufacturing of history. Gupta told Frontline that a PhD thesis submitted by a teacher on Rana Pratap’s alleged victory of 1576 at Haldighati over Akbar’s forces, in which the teacher herself claims that it may be a preliminary conclusion, has been accepted as truth by the government and included in the syllabus of history in Rajasthan University. “The idea is to project that between ancient India and Modi’s India, there was nothing,” said Gupta, referring to the Sangh Parivar’s rejection of the idea of medieval India.

Films are also viewed through the lens of identity and sectarian politics. In January, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who was at the receiving end of Maratha identity politics for his film Bajirao Mastani , was attacked in Jaipur by members of the Karni Sena, a Rajput organisation, for his film Padmavati (“Targeting a film-maker”, Frontline , March 3). The film was on the fictional romance of Allauddin Khilji and Princess Padmini of Chittor. Many prominent names from the industry supported Bhansali, who wrapped up shooting after the assault. A tweet by the actor Shahid Kapoor at that time sums up the feelings of many people: “We need to look deep within as a society, as a country, as a people. Where are we headed.”


Moving away from multiculturalism

By Lyla Bavadam

Abou and Rabia, who were house-hunting, thought they could sell their small flat in the suburb of Andheri in Mumbai and buy a larger one in the same area—a convenience they were keen on because of their children’s schools. But after five years of being turned down because of their Muslim identity, the couple finally moved to Vasai in the neighbouring district of Thane. When they did find a home, Rabia recalls how terrified she was that this too would slip away when she told the potential sellers that they were Muslims. Fortunately the seller said neither she nor her building society was concerned with their religion and the sale went through. If the couple had been Kashmiri Muslims or, worse still, bachelors, the experience would have been nightmarish.

Maharashtra’s cosmopolitan report card has largely remained without blemish, but with Hindutva ideas gradually taking seed there are increasing examples of polarisation along communal lines. At the top of the list is Muslim baiting. At its simplest level, it is to taunt Muslims telling them they are nothing but converts from Hinduism (implying that they were low on the caste scale).

At a more dangerous level it is the deification of the cow. Sacred to Hindus but not to Muslims, the animal has become a pawn in the Hindutva game which prompted the ban on beef. It is difficult to say if Maharashtra actually supported the beef ban or just fell in line because of the violence of vigilantes, but food has become a divisive factor, especially in Mumbai. There are entire housing societies that admit only vegetarians. The underlying reason is usually to give entry only to a particular community because often vegetarian non-Hindus too are denied entry. This food tyranny reached its pinnacle in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill area where a predominantly Gujarati Jain population managed to hound out even non-vegetarian restaurants.

While Muslims are prime targets, Christians have increasingly been victimised ostensibly because of proselytising but all too frequently the real reason is something as base as an attempt to grab property owned by them.

Cult creation Proponents of Hindutva are also involved in the creation of a cult, like that of the warrior king Shivaji. The cash-strapped Maharashtra government is determined to erect a mid-sea statue of Shivaji at a cost of Rs.3,600 crore. A criminal and ferocious outcome of such deification was the 2014 lynching of a 28-year-old Muslim techie in Pune for his alleged involvement in posting some photographs denigrating Shivaji on a Facebook page. His murderers were members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena, a fringe Hindutva group.

The Shiv Sena has built itself up as the self-proclaimed keeper of the faith purely by its anti-Muslim rhetoric. The worst of this was seen in the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots in 1992-93 in Mumbai. In those dark days, a vicious fashion police targeted anyone who wore the salwar kameez. In an obvious plan to intimidate Muslims they held massive public aartis (a ritual) on the streets.

Promoters of Hindu Rashtra see secularism as inimical to their cause as was obvious by the murders of rationalist and superstition-buster Dr Narendra Dabholkar and the Communist leader Govind Pansare. Investigations have revealed the involvement of Sanatan Sanstha, a Hindu revivalist group, in the murders.

Although Maharashtra still preserves a strong vein of liberal thinking, the irony is that it is the birthplace of Hindu nationalism. V.D. Savarkar wrote “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu” when he was jailed in Ratnagiri, in Maharashtra, in the 1920s. His thinking influenced another Maharashtrian, K.B. Hedgewar, who founded the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in Nagpur which was then in the erstwhile Central Provinces. An offshoot of the RSS is the Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra, which aims to convert non-Hindu tribal people “back to their Hindu roots”. All these people and organisations have defined what Hindu nationalism is today and while the idea of a Hindu Rashtra or nation is not yet aggressively pursued in Maharashtra, there is an insidious shift in the thinking.


Emerging hub of Hindutva

By Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

Like in the rest of the country, Hindutva activists have been emboldened in Karnataka since the Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power at the Centre in 2014. One of the incidents that shook Karnataka and the nation was the murder of Prof. M.M. Kalburgi at his house in Dharwad in north Karnataka on August 30, 2015. Kalburgi was an outspoken critic of Hindutva forces. Through his scholarly work, he had demonstrated that the numerically strong and politically influential Lingayat community had a distinct identity that was not Hindu. Many in the BJP did not like his assertion about this as the party’s social base had widened among the Lingayats over the past three decades. Almost two years after the incident, the assailants have not been captured. The murder followed similar attacks on progressive intellectuals such as Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare in Maharashtra.

On July 11 last year, a day before the shocking video of Dalits in Una, where four men were beaten up for skinning a dead cow, came to light, a similar incident took place in Shantipura village of Chikkamagaluru district of Karnataka. Around 25 members of right-wing groups such as the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Hindu Jagarana Vedike (HJV) thrashed five Dalit men on suspicion that they had stolen a cow and slaughtered it. The fact that the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act of 1964 allows for the selective slaughter of cattle in the State did not prevent them from attacking the five Dalits, including a physically challenged person called Balaraj.

Later that month, two Assamese labourers became targets of Bajrang Dal activists who asked them to return to where they had come from. The bulk of the labourers working in the coffee plantations in Chikkamagaluru are Muslims.

The saffronisation of Chikkamagaluru, which adjoins the “Hindutva laboratory” of coastal Karnataka, has been going on since the mid 1990s when the Hindu right-wing saw a vested interest in transforming the syncretic shrine of Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Swamy Dargah in the hills into a “disputed” site. Since 2014, saffron activists under prominent BJP leaders have been targeting minorities and Dalits.

Coastal Karnataka Coastal Karnataka, which has emerged as a hub of aggressive Hindutva, saw the Sangh Parivar taking the life of one of its own in August last year. Praveen Poojary, a 28-year-old member of the BJP, was beaten to death by cow protection vigilantes belonging to the HJV in Hebri, a small town in Udupi district. They claimed he was transporting cows in his vehicle.

There have also been several reports of Hindu and Muslim youngsters, especially of different genders, being prevented from fraternising with each other. In one of these incidents, a Muslim man was stripped and beaten mercilessly by Hindu right-wing activists after he was seen with a Hindu girl. The video was circulated on social media.

On June 13, a communal clash erupted in the town of Kalladka, around 30 km from Mangaluru. Kalladka is home to Dr Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, a senior leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) from Karnataka who freely speaks against religious minorities. Videos of him spewing venom against Muslims and Christians are available online. A trivial issue led to the communal clash, but members of the HJV were openly threatening Muslims at the time.


Shifting into top gear

By Prafulla Das

At least three recent incidents in Odisha make it clear that Sangh Parivar outfits have gone into overdrive in the State. Significantly, the new-found enthusiasm among them follows the BJP’s emergence as the principal opposition party overtaking the Congress in the panchayat elections in February.

Violence struck the communally sensitive Bhadrak town during the Ramnavami festival in the first week of April. Although there was no loss of life, Bajrang Dal activists were out on the streets demanding action against those who apparently had posted derogatory remarks about Hindu deities on social media. About 150 persons were arrested even as a curfew remained in force in the town for several days. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik visited the town to take stock of the situation before peace was finally restored.

The violence occurred days before the BJP held its National Executive meeting in Bhubaneswar with great fanfare. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a road show on his arrival in the city in April to attend the two-day meeting.

Bajrang Dal activists were again in the news when they detained a train carrying cows at the Bhubaneswar railway station on May 24 evening and attacked four persons, including railway staff and caretakers of the cows. The 20 milch cows on the train were being transported to Meghalaya as part of the dairy mission in that State. That the firm selected by the Meghalaya government had valid papers to transport the cows from Salem in Tamil Nadu to Ampati in Meghalaya was of no significance to the group of about 20 people who attacked the train in the belief that the cows were being smuggled.

Surprisingly, the railway police failed to detain any of the attackers. Later, the Bhubaneswar station superintendent lodged a complaint with the Government Railway Police and eight youths were booked after they were identified from CCTV footage.

Again, on June 11, Bajrang Dal activists took out a rally in Boriguma block of Koraput district raising slogans against minority communities. The representatives of minority communities met the district administration officials to complain against it after a video clip of the rally made the rounds on social media.

Sangh Parivar activists who have entered the party fold have drawn up different strategies to improve the strength of the BJP. A 10-member delegation of the Sangh Parivar attended the recent Hindu convention held by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti in Goa to discuss Hindu Rashtra.

Odisha is not new to cow vigilantism and violence in the name of faith. Dara Singh, the prime accused in the killing of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Keonjhar district, has a history of attacking vehicles carrying cattle in the late 1990s.

Kandhamal district witnessed the worst ever communal violence in the State’s history when the Biju Janata Dal and the BJP were running the government in coalition from 2000 to 2009. Many Christians were killed and their houses burnt down in the violence that erupted in the aftermath of the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Lakshmanananda. In fact, the Sangh Parivar spread its wings when the BJP was a part of the ruling establishment. Hundreds of schools were opened across the State under the banner of Saraswati Shishu Mandir and Saraswati Vidya Mandir.

Though the Sangh Parivar outfits went about their work silently in the State from 2009 onwards, they came to the fore after Modi assumed power in Delhi. Their activities gained momentum after Yogi Adityanath became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and the BJP put up a good performance in the panchayat elections in Odisha. Although the BJP’s performance in the civic body elections can primarily be attributed to the anti-incumbency sentiment against the BJD government and the severe infighting in the State unit of the Congress, Sangh Parivar outfits and the BJP are busy highlighting Brand Modi in the party’s bid to implement its “Look East” policy.

Non-RSS leaders, including Bijoy Mohapatra and Dilip Roy, who joined the BJP and were made members of the party’s National Executive, have been sidelined in the new avatar of the party.

The BJP is now trying to enhance its presence by highlighting welfare schemes on the plank of Modi’s “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” slogan and by organising Modi fests. And Sangh Parivar organisations are busy wooing unemployed youths at the grass-roots level into their fold. Literate youths are also engaged in increasing the Sangh Parivar’s penetration on social media.


Catching them young

By Sushanta Talukdar

In June 2016, when State Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma pronounced the BJP-led government’s desire to set up Shankardev Shishu Niketans in every panchayat in Assam, many people objected to the idea in their comments in mainstream and social media. Shankardev Shishu Niketans are a network of schools affiliated to the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, the educational wing of the RSS. The disapproval of the people was mainly because of their belief that an institution named after Srimanta Sankardeva could not be used to indoctrinate students with Hindutva ideology and Hindu Rashtra.

Srimanta Sankardeva (1449-1569), the propagator of Eksarana Naamdharma (a Vaishnava faith), was one who ushered in a sociocultural renaissance in Assam. He has influenced the Assamese way of life with his ideals of an inclusive society for six centuries.

The noted Indologist Dr Maheswar Neog, in his book Sankardeva (published by the National Book Trust), writes: “In Sankardeva’s system, therefore, we find Brahman disciples of Sudra teachers, and even people who are untouchables in other parts of India in the following of Brahman mahantas. We also find a Brahman occupying superiorship of a sattra in succession to a Sudra. Nobody, on the other hand, is to be considered unfit for securing initiation to the faith on caste considerations. Among the disciples of Sankardeva and Madhavdeva were Chandsai and Jayhari, both Mussalmans; Govinda, a Garo; Jayananda, a Bhutiya; Madhava of Jayanti of the Hira or potter’s profession; Srirama, believed to have been a Kaivarta; and Damodara, a Baniya.”

The Shankardev Shishu Niketan schools were just a camouflage for the RSS’ game plan to indoctrinate students with Hindutva ideology.

The Shishu Shiksha Samiti, a registered society formed on April 21, 1979, runs the schools. The promoters of the Samiti decided to name the Vidya Bharati schools in Assam after Sankardeva. Shankardev Shishu Niketan, Ambikagiri Nagar, was the first school established by the Samiti in Assam. Over the past 38 years the number of these schools in Assam has gone up to 493, with 1,19,000 pupils.

The vision of the Shishu Shiksha Samiti, Assam, as stated on its website, is: “Vidya Bharati is of firm opinion that education will be useful for a person and nation at large which has its roots in Hindutva. So, it is crystal clear that revival of Hindu Philosophy will be all of our educational Renaissance. The aim of education and the basic concepts of the development of the personality of the child are based of [on] this philosophy.”

One of its publications, the Vidya Bharati Sangbad, in its January-March 2016 issue which is uploaded on the website, gives an idea on how young minds are indoctrinated in these schools. The issue has an article on the significance of the “Hindu New Year Day” and how it coincides with the birth anniversary of RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar on April 1, 1889. However, there is no reference to Sankardeva or the Assamese New Year which begins in mid April.

Also on the website is a sample form that is required to be filled in by every Shankardev Shishu Niketan and submitted to the Shishu Shiksha Samiti, Assam, which says a lot about the activities undertaken by these schools. Among other information required to be provided are whether the schools have observed the Hindu Samrajya Divas, the Swadeshi Saptah (a week-long event to mark the birth anniversary of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay on September 25 and Mahatma Gandhi on October 2), the Guru Purnima Divas, and the Jammu and Kashmir Biloy Divas (the Accession of Jammu and Kashmir on October 26). The column seeking information on the observance of the death anniversary of Sankardeva figures at the bottom of the list.

Whether the government will facilitate the running of Shankardev Shishu Niketans in every panchayat remains to be seen, but the Education Minister’s statement is a pointer to the Sangh Parivar’s plans to saffronise education in the State. It also reveals a devious design to use Sankardeva’s name to replace his vision of an inclusive society with the vision of a “Hindu Rashtra”.

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